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Addiction in Fiction October 3, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in African-American literature, bestsellers, literary fiction.
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Addition is enslavement to something that exerts such power over a person, he/she loses the ability to resist. Alcohol and narcotics—whether legal or not—ensnare a person physiologically, yet addiction to habits, practices or even people can also smite a person to the point of despair, depression, death. This week in #litchat we’re discussing novels featuring the diverse forms of addition.

Joining us on Friday, October 7, is novelist Martha Southgate, whose fourth novel, The Taste of Salt, was released by Algonquin on September 13. Josie Henderson is an anomaly to everyone around her, even to herself.
From her earliest memories, Josie is drawn to the ocean and marine life. When she becomes a marine biologist, she’s among a small number of females in the profession. Add that she’s black, and the numbers descend to one. Through Josie’s eyes we meet her parents, her mother from the educated middle class, and her father, an autoworker who reads widely and tinkers at novel-writing. Alcohol rears its scaly head in the life of the father, whose novel-writing aspirations turn to vapor in the grip of the beast. A younger brother, Tick, endears and then tears the hearts out of each character as the novel progresses through the cycles of addiction. With visits back and forth in Josie’s past, we see her as the strong one determined to make her own way in a white, male-dominated profession, while addiction of another kind ripples the placid surface of the life she’s worked so hard to maintain.

Martha Southgate is the author of four novels. Her previous novel, Third Girl from the Left, won the Best Novel of the Year award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was shortlisted for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy award. Her novel The Fall of Rome received the 2003 Alex Award from the American Library Association and was named one of the best novels of 2002 by Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post. She is also the author of Another Way to Dance, which won the Coretta Scott King Genesis Award for Best First Novel. She received a 2002 New York Foundation for the Arts grant and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her July 2007 essay from the New York Times Book Review, “Writers Like Me” received considerable notice and appears in the anthology Best African-American Essays 2009. Previous non-fiction articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine,OPremiere, and Essence.

Follow Martha Southgate on Twitter: @mesouthgate.

Plot Points in History: The Holocaust August 29, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, commercial fiction, historical fiction.
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Pam Jenoff

This week in #litchat we’re debuting a reoccurring theme called Plot Points in History.” History is rich with the drama, conflict, romance, humor and mystery that makes good reading. Creating a theme tied to specific points in history allows us to examine the era and the books that have sprung from that period. We understand that these critical events are more than just scenarios for authors to use as plot fodder, and we never want to trivialize the milestones, both tragic and triumphant, that have shaped human history. Our first theme in “Plot Points in History” is The Holocaust.

Pam Jenoff, guest host of #litchat on Friday, September 2, is author of five novels. Her debut novel, the Quill Award winning bestseller, The Kommodant’s Girl, set in motion a career for writing historical fiction with specific interest in the European theater of World War II. Her most recent novel, The Things We Cherished, takes that theme into Nazi concentration camps, while also weaving through history.  The Things We Cherished tells the story of Charlotte Gold and Jack Harrington, two fiercely independent attor­eys who find themselves slowly falling for one another while working to defend the brother of a Holocaust hero against allegations of World War II–era war crimes. The defendant, wealthy financier Roger Dykmans, refuses to help in his own defense, revealing only that proof of his innocence lies within an intricate timepiece last seen in Nazi Germany. As the narrative moves from Philadelphia to Germany, Poland, and Italy, we are given glimpses of the lives that the anniversary clock has touched over the past century, and learn about the love affair that turned a brother into a traitor.

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Follow Pam Jenoff on Twitter: @PamJenoff.

All Around Writers August 22, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, creative non-fiction, non-fiction, weekly topics, winners.
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Elizabeth Letts

In the baseball world, an athlete who competently plays any position is called a utility player. In the blue-collar world, an individual skilled in many crafts is called a Jack of all trades. There is no iconic term for a writer who successfully publishes books in several genres. Paul Theroux is renowned for both fiction and travel memoirs. The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis have entertained children for decades, yet Lewis was also a prolific writer of adult fiction and Christian apologetics. Carl Hiaasen began as a journalist, then turned to humorous crime fiction, middle grade children’s books, and even nonfiction. Abraham Verghese, author of the recent bestseller, Cutting For Stone, published two critically acclaimed memoirs before turning to fiction. This week in #litchat we’re discussing all around writers, those authors whose books are shelved in multiple sections of the bookstore.

Guest host on Friday, August 26, is Elizabeth Letts, author of The Eighty Dollar Champion. Subtitled Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation, The Eighty Dollar Champion is the story of a horse with a big heart and the Dutch immigrant who saved him from the slaughterhouse. As a talented young equestrian in Holland prior to World War II, Harry de Leyer dreamed of riding for Holland in the Olympics. When the Nazis occupied his small village in Holland, Harry went from jumping horses for prizes to smuggling food in a brewer’s cart between Nazi checkpoints. Following the war, Harry and his bride left their families and war ravaged village for America to begin a new life. Like many immigrants, life was rocky in the new country, but Harry rediscovered his wings when caring for other people’s horses.

When he is hired as the riding master for an exclusive girls’ boarding school on Long Island, Harry’s fate mingles with a neglected plowhorse headed for the slaughter house. What Harry saw in the horse his children named Snowman was anything but champion, but after several fluke examples of the horse’s amazing jumping ability, Harry risks his reputation and financial stability to train the plowhorse to jump fences in a show arena as well as he does paddock fences on a farm. After a season of winning against big name horses with royal pedigrees, Harry does the unthinkable. He enters Snowman, the flea-bitten gray plowhorse, in the Super Bowl of horse shows, the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. Before the eyes of the world’s upper crust of society, Snowman’s win of the Triple Crown — the American Horse Shows Association Horse of the Year, Professional Horseman’s Association Champion and National Horse Show Champion, proved to Harry and the world, that champions are more than just breeding, bearing, and beauty. The Eighty Dollar Champion is a double dose of inspiration, a two-in-one story of pursuing dreams, taking risks, and overcoming obstacles.

Elizabeth Letts is the award-winning author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and one children’s book, The Butter Man. Quality of Care was a Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Books-A-Million Book Club selection. An equestrian from childhood, Letts represented California as a junior equestrian, and was runner-up in the California Horse and Rider of the Year competition. She currently lives with her husband and four children in Baltimore, Maryland.

Follow Elizabeth Letts on Twitter: @ElizabethLetts.

Sacrifices July 10, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, women's fiction.
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Rebecca Rasmussen

The willing surrender of something valued to a god, a person or principal is said to be the greatest act of humanity. But is it? What is the motivation behind sacrifice? Is it truly to honor the entity with respect, adoration and obedience? Or is there a hidden benefit expected by or hoped for? What about sacrifices in our daily lives—giving up those prized pleasures, hopes and dreams for the betterment of someone or something else. What right do people, principles or gods have in demanding sacrifices anyway? We’ll discuss these and other questions about sacrifice as a literary theme this week in #litchat.

Joining us as guest host of #litchat on Friday, July 12, is Rebecca Rasmussen, whose debut novel, The Bird Sisters, explores the personal sacrifices we make for those we love.

In The Bird Sisters, two spinster sisters, Milly and Twiss, live together in the Wisconsin farmhouse where they grew up. The two elderly sisters drift in and out of the present and back to that golden time of father worship and familial honor. They have no vocation to speak of, unless you count nursing injured birds back to life.  When a mother and daughter bring an injured goldfinch to “the bird sisters,” as they’re known in their farming community, it takes only an innocent slip of the tongue and the responding harsh remark to trigger the landslide of memories that drives the story to its bittersweet conclusion. Rasmussen voices the two elderly sisters with wizened simplicity and character restraint, two elements that save the story from slipping into the pool of novels about  worlds crumbling when  feet of clay are revealed.

About Rebecca Rasmussen:

I live in St. Louis, Missouri with my husband and daughter, where I teach writing and literature at Fontbonne University. In addition to writing, I’m reading some wonderful nonfiction books these days (My Life in France by Julia Child is my favorite of the bunch!) and I’m training for a half-marathon this fall. I also love to bake pies. Raspberry. Blueberry. Peach. Yum. This is only miraculous because I essentially grew up in a microwave. Because of this, I am interested in all things old and outdated. I love to think about hope chests and house dresses. Sideboards are big ones, too. At the end of the day, though, when it’s 105 outside in St. Louis, I’m pretty thankful for my thermal windows and air conditioning. Still…I’m always on the brink of trying to put up jam like my great grandmother used to do.

Follow Rebecca Rasmussen on Twitter: @thebirdsisters

Breaking Away July 4, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, Latino literature, literary fiction.
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Jon Michaud

“Going separate ways isn’t a sign that two people didn’t understand one another, but an indication that they had begun to.” This anonymous quote says more about break-ups and divorces in one sentence than many books do in all of the pages between their covers. People come together and drift apart. They burn like meteors for a time, only to fizzle out when their passion hits the atmosphere of reality. Real life often gets in the way of love. If it was ever love at all. This week in #litchat we’re discussing books that feature break-ups and the questions, consequences and casualties that follow.

Joining us on Friday, July 8, is Jon Michaud, whose debut novel, When Tito Loved Clara, was named among this year’s Tantalizing Summer Reads from O magazine.  When Tito Loved Clara is about breaking up, breaking away, and breaking through everything from first love, expectations of family and the cultural ceilings of immigrant life in America. Clara and Tito were raised blocks apart in northern Manhattan’s Inwood, a neighborhood known for its large Dominican population.  Tito and Clara live a Romeo and Juliet existence as high school lovers whose warring families were once like blood. The comparison ends here. Abused and neglected as a child, Clara uses education to break away from the dysfunction she sees everywhere she looks. Tito is a boyish dreamer too content with his cushy existence in the bosom of family to see a reason for achievement. Where Shakespeare’s young lovers choose death over separation, the couple that is Michaud’s Tito and Clara dissolves when the consequences of young love threaten Clara’s plan of escape. Years later, Tito still carries a torch for Clara and fantasizes about life with her, while Clara carries the burden of guilt from her hard decisions. A cast of mostly endearing, yet quirky characters, absorb some of the angst from Tito and Clara with secrets and consequences of their own.

Jon Michaud was born in Washington, D.C. in 1967. The son of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, he grew up in Tehran, Iran, Bombay, India, Bethesda, Maryland, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. Jon was educated at the Methodist College, Belfast and at the University of East Anglia. He holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Michaud is the head librarian at The New Yorker magazine. Before becoming a librarian, Michaud worked as a passport courier, a bookseller, and a bakery assistant. As a librarian, he has also been employed by Time Inc. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. His writing has been published in IronNorth American ReviewSouth Dakota ReviewDenver QuarterlyFawlt, and other periodicals. He writes regularly for the Back Issues and Book Bench blogs on newyorker.com. Michaud lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with his wife and their two sons. He is at work on his next novel.

Follow Jon Michaud on Twitter: @JonMichaud.

Note: There will not be a moderated #litchat on Monday, July 4th, as we take the day off to celebrate American Independence Day. 

LitChat’s Summer Round-Up June 13, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers.
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Can you tell by the title of this year’s summer reading week that I’m on a roadtrip through the West? Packed in my bag are four wonderful books that have kept me company at 30,000 feet over the USA, on the beach, snuggled in bed, and now in the car during a coast to coast roadtrip. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

BREAK THE SKIN by Lee Martin

THINGS WE DIDN’T SAY by Kristina Riggle.

PRIDE AND AVARICE by Nicholas Coleridge

CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese

Except for CUTTING FOR STONE, which was published in 2009, each of these books are hot new titles for this summer. We’ll discuss these and other sizzlers this week during #litchat’s Summer Reading Round-Up. Making the talks even more fun, we have a host of surprise authors dropping in to tell us about their new books and share their summer reading plans

Just to give you an idea of what other lit gurus are recommending, check out this list of summer reads from Oprah’s O magazine: http://www.oprah.com/book-list/Paging-Summer-Tantalizing-Beach-Reads.

Decisions and Do-Overs June 6, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, fiction, women's fiction.
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Ellen Meister (Hy Goldberg, Visions Photography)

A poster hung in my high school English classroom stating the obvious: “Not to decide is to decide.” At least I thought it was obvious back then. Like many teenagers, I already I knew everything. When one of the girls in my high school delayed having an abortion until she was seven months gone, she found it was too late when she went to the clinic. Her failure to decide forced the decision. She had the baby that summer and didn’t go back for her senior year. The next time I stepped into the English classroom and read the poster, I realized the obvious is often masked by its simplicity. Decisions—whether we make them consciously or they’re made when we fail to choose—live with us forever. This week in #litchat we’re discussing novels with themes of do-overs and decisions.

Ellen Meister joins us Friday, June 10, as guest host of #litchat. Her new novel, The Other Life, asks the question, “What if you could return to the road not taken?” Quinn Braverman faces that question when she discovers she can slip through a portal into a parallel life that seems only to exist when she enters. Drawn from the choice she didn’t make, it’s a life where loved ones now gone still live and speak and give answers, where the excruciating decision overshadowing her real life will simply not exist. Most compelling of all, it’s a do-over life as real as the one she leaves behind, tempting and seductive and safe. Pure escape. While Meister’s first two novels showcased her comedic talents, and The Other Life has moments of humor, its power comes from the hard choices facing Quinn, not just the struggle to stay in her authentic life, but the inevitable decision that shapes her future.

Meister is the author of two other novels, The Smart One and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, as well as numerous short stories. In addition to writing, she served as editor for a literary magazine, runs an online mentoring group for women authors, and curates for DimeStories, a literary radio program. Ellen does public speaking about her books and other writing-related issues. She is working on her fourth novel, Farewell, Dorothy Parker.  She lives on Long Island with her husband and three children.

Follow Ellen Meister on Twitter: @EllenMeister.

Lit Kids: Memorable Children in Mainstream Fiction May 22, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, commercial fiction, literary fiction.
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Caroline Leavitt

Charles Dickens was a master of reflecting both the light and dark sides of culture, yet his books featuring children as characters are among the most beloved novels of all time. Mark Twain made life on the Mississippi in a bygone era believable through two precocious boys. To Kill a Mockingbird wouldn’t have the same brilliance had it been written from the perspective of Scout’s father, rather than through the eyes of a feisty grade-school girl. These, along with many other contemporary novels, feature memorable children as protagonists in stories larger than life. This is our topic of the week for May 23-27.

Joining us to talk about writing memorable children on Friday, May 27, is Caroline Leavitt, author of nine notable novels, including the recent NY Times Bestseller, Pictures of You. In Pictures of You, two runaway women collide on a foggy Cape Cod highway; one of them lives, the other one perishes. Nothing bound the two women before the accident, yet afterwards they become entwined in the life of one little boy, the precious Sam who loses his mother in the tragedy. This beguiling story is wrought with restraint, the story unfolding through a fog of realism that resists predictability, lifting to a bittersweet ending. Pictures of You, features a child so perfect and yet so damaged, you want to reach through the pages and pull him to your heart.

In addition to writing fiction, Leavitt is a book critic for The Boston Globe and People. She won a 2005 honorable mention, Goldenberg Prize for Fiction from the Bellevue Literary Review, for “Breathe,” a portion of Pictures of You. Leavitt has been a judge in both the Writers’ Voice Fiction Awards in New York City and the Midatlantic Arts Grants in Fiction. She is an award-winning senior instructor at UCLA Writers Program online, where she teaches “Writing The Novel” online, and she also mentors privately.

Leavitt’s essays, stories and articles have appeared in Salon, Psychology Today, New York Magazine, Parenting, The Chicago Tribune, Parents, Redbook, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and numerous anthologies. She has appeared on The Today Show, Diane Rehm, German and Canadian TV, and more, and she has been featured on The View From The Bay. Leavitt lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, New York City’s unofficial sixth borough, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their teenage son Max.

Follow Caroline Leavitt on Twitter: @leavittnovelist.

Suspense May 9, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, e-books, fiction, suspense.
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M.J. Rose

Learning to control fear is a milestone along life’s journey. Educators and psychologists agree that reading scary books actually helps people face and overcome fear. With suspense as our topic of the week, we’ll begin on Monday discussing what makes a suspense novel work, why it’s different from a thriller, and how suspense works to help people through their own personal phobias and fears. On Wednesday, we’ll continue the conversation with discussion of specific suspense novels and the authors who write them. Friday’s guest host, award-winning suspense author M.J. Rose, will complete the week’s topic.

Rose is the international bestselling author of 11 novels, her most recent release being The Hypnotist, the third in her Reincarnationist series which includes The Reincarnationist and The Memorist. Her other novels are Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex and The Venus Fix.

Getting published has been an adventure for Rose who self-published Lip Service late in 1998 after several traditional publishers turned it down. Editors had loved it, but didn’t know how to position it or market it since it didn’t fit into any one genre.

Frustrated, but curious and convinced that there was a readership for her work, she set up a web site where readers could download her book for $9.95 and began to seriously market the novel on the Internet.

After selling over 2500 copies (in both electronic and trade paper format) Lip Service became the first e-book and the first self-published novel chosen by the LiteraryGuild/Doubleday Book Club.

Rose is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How to Publish and Promote Online, and with Doug Clegg of Buzz Your Book .

She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She runs two popular blogs; Buzz, Balls & Hype andBackstory.

Follow M.J. Rose on Twitter: @MJRose.

Connections April 18, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, commercial fiction, fiction, food, literary fiction.
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Jael McHenry

The information superhighway has bridged oceans, united diverse voices, and placed virtual libraries in the palm of your hand. It’s the age of connection, when reaching out to strangers through chatrooms, forums, blogs and other forms of social media such as Twitter, is not only common, it’s expected. This week in #litchat we’re discussing connections and how they inform our reading choices, our writing practices, and the way we interact with other people.

On Friday, April 22, #litchat welcomes Jael McHernry, author of the recently released novel, The Kitchen Daughter. In this brilliant debut, McHenry brings us a sheltered young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, whose struggle for independence following the death of her parents is a poignant buffet of surprises. McHenry’s protagonist, Ginny, has difficulty connecting with people, but can connect with the dead when cooking from their handwritten recipes.

The invoking of ghosts puts one in mind of horror or other spine-chilling scenarios, but don’t expect screams and wails and rattling of chains in this high concept literary novel. The real story within The Kitchen Daughter is discovery of self, acceptance of family, letting go of and reaching out to others through simple things such as touch, talk, and trust—each an essential element of connection. Read more about The Kitchen Daughter here.

McHenry is a passionate amateur cook who grew up in Michigan and Iowa before moving from city to city along the East Coast: Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and now New York, where she blogs about food and cooking at the Simmer blog. The Kitchen Daughter includes ten of her original recipes, ranging in simple cocktail concoctions to complex ethnic cuisine. McHenry tantalizes readers of The Kitchen Daughter with descriptions of food and its preparation, layering the text with fascinating cooking lore and culinary techniques.

In addition to cooking and writing fiction, McHenry is a monthly pop culture columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing.

Follow Jael McHenry on Twitter: @JaelMcHenry.