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Guest Host: Richard Holledge March 8, 2013

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction.
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Richard Holledge in #litchatAn assignment to write about the iconic American Tabasco sauce led British journalist Richard Holledge to Louisiana where he found more than a story about hot sauce. The Cajun culture that spawned the sauce fascinated him enough to explore the background of the people whose name was twisted by the Spanish from Acadian to Cajun. What Holledge found in his research grew into the novel The Scattered.  Holledge joins us in #litchat, Friday, March 8, 2013 to discuss his novel.

The Scattered follows the community and family of Jambo LeBlanc during a time history refers to as The Grand Derangement. Early in the seventeenth century several dozen families fled France for a fresh start in the new world. These French-speaking families settled in the region called Acadia, which is now Nova Scotia, where they flourished for several generations. The ScatteredThe British and French had been warring over this area for decades, with the British gaining control in 1710. Concerned that the independent minded, French-speaking Acadians would be a threat to British colonialism of the region, in 1755 Britain dictated a massive expulsion of every Acadian family. The Scattered begins here.

Having traveled through Louisiana on several occasions and spending time in New Orleans in particular, I too am fascinated with the Cajun people and how they have maintained a cultural personality distinct from other ethnic groups in America. Holledge’s fictional retelling of this period sheds tragic light on how and why these families stuck together through smallpox-riddled concentration camps in England, near starvation in France, forced labor in the sugar plantations of Haiti, until they eventually found respite in the mosquito and reptile-infested swamps of southern Louisiana.

Those familiar with the work of Longfellow will recognize within the fabric of The Scattered the tragic epic of Evangeline, the Acadian maiden torn from her beloved Gabriel during their expulsion from Nova Scotia.

Read more about The Scattered in this piece by Holledge.

Richard Holledge is a former newspaper editor and executive with several UK national newspapers including The Times and The Independent. He is a freelance journalist for the Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, International Herald Tribune and the Gulf News, Dubai. He lived in Canada as a boy and he and his wife are regular visitors to New Orleans and Louisiana, the land of Cajun music, po’boys and Tabasco sauce.

Follow Richard Holledge on Twitter: @RichardHolledg1.

Chatscript from conversation with Richard Holledge can be read here.

Historical Fact & Fiction February 27, 2013

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in commercial fiction, historical fiction.
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Author Timothy L. O'Brien in #litchatWhat relationship does historical fiction have to historical fact? The mere word fiction implies that the story is not true. Does that mean it’s false? Or does it only mean that the historical elements of the story are being told through an author’s impression of historical characters, imagined dialog and recreated events? How much latitude is acceptable for interpreting history through a contemporary lens? We’ll discuss these questions and more during Wednesday’s #litchat, then on Friday, Timothy L. O’Brien joins us to discuss his novel, The Lincoln Conspiracy.

Abraham Lincoln is a fascinating historical character. His life was rife with the dramas and intrigues that make good fiction. Shelves and more shelves are full of books about him, his presidency, his family, and his assassination. With so much written about him already, what can a contemporary author bring to Lincoln’s story?

The Lincoln ConspiracyO’Brien presents Lincoln and his assassination through a diverse and memorable cast of characters, some fictional, and some drawn from the pages of history. Leading the way is Temple McFadden, a detective with the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department. His wife, the beautiful and capable Fiona, and his good friend, the educated freeborn negro, Augustus work along side McFadden as he dodges bullets, deciphers code and pushes against powerful enemies. The story doesn’t grow from the point of view of the assassination investigation as one might suspect with a D.C. detective as the leading character, but begins several weeks later. John Wilkes Booth has already been assassinated and his co-conspirators jailed. What Detective McFadden discovers after he takes possession of a couple of diaries from a dead man is a wider conspiracy involving some of history’s most colorful characters.

O’Brien masterfully recreates nineteenth century Washington D.C. down to the dung-filthy lanes and avenues, the sewage-strewn rivers and streams, the expanding skyline and burgeoning neighborhoods. Students of history and Civil War buffs in particular will enjoy the cameo appearances of such historical dignitaries as outspoken abolitionist Sojourner Truth; the founder of Pinkerton Security, Allan Pinkerton; Secretary of War Edwin Stanton; renowned Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner, and George Armstrong Custer. The Lincoln Conspiracy is the first of a series of historic thrillers O’Brien is writing about the days following the Lincoln assassination.

O’Brien is the Executive Editor of The Huffington Post where he oversees all of the site’s original reporting efforts. O’Brien edited a ten-part series about severely wounded war veterans, “Beyond the Battlefield,” for which The Huffington Post and its senior military correspondent, David Wood, received a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2012. Previously, O’Brien was an editor and reporter at The New York Times, where he helped oversee a team of Times reporters that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2009 for coverage of the financial crisis. The Times series that emerged from that work, “The Reckoning,” was also a winner of a 2009 Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Journalism.

Prior to becoming Sunday Business editor at The New York Times in 2006, Tim was an award-winning staff writer for the Times. Before returning to the Times in 2003, Tim was the senior feature writer at Talk, a magazine founded by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown. Tim was with Talk from 2000 until it ceased publishing in 2002. Before joining Talk, Tim was a reporter with the Times and, prior to that, The Wall Street Journal.

O’Brien has a B.A. cum laude in literature from Georgetown University, an M.A. in U.S. History from Columbia University, an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University, and an MBA from Columbia University. He has lived and worked in Europe, South America and Asia.

O’Brien is also the author of a biography of Donald Trump, “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” which Warner Books published in 2005. His previous non-fiction book, “Bad Bet: The Inside Story of the Glamour, Glitz, and Danger of America’s Gambling Industry,” was published in 1998.

Follow Timothy L. O’Brien on Twitter: @TimOBrien.

Storify archive of chat with Timothy L. O’Brien is here.

Mary Sharratt, Guest Host January 10, 2013

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction, literary fiction, religion and mysticism.
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Mary Sharratt in #litchatOn 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.

Books Too Good To Finish December 17, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction, weekly topics, women's fiction.
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MediaMonday for December 17, 2012: Michael Chabon Looks Back on 2012, source media from LA Times Sunday Conversation, December 16, 2012.

Patricia Harman in #litchat

Patricia Harman (photo: Bob Kosturko)

What was the last novel you read that you couldn’t put down, and yet dreaded the final page? A novel that occupied your mind like an addict jonesing for a fix? Was it the characters who grew to feel like friends, or did the setting draw you into a world of discovery, danger or desire? On Wednesday, December 19, 2012 we’ll discuss books too good to finish, but so good you can’t stop reading.

Friday’s guest host, Patricia Hartman, has written one of these books. The Midwife of Hope River, takes you into the hills of West Virginia during the depression, where a young midwife still reeling from her own personal tragedies, must overcome poverty, bigotry, racism, and the law itself on her journey to wholeness.

MidwifeofHopeRiverBabies are born in this novel, yet the story is about so much more than midwifery. Look at the setting, Appalachia during the Depression. Hartman forges conflicts such as steel mills, mines and the development of unions into the backstory and the present. Remember the era, 1930s, where divisions cut through all manners of society, from the rich to the poor, the immigrants and the native born, the whites and the coloreds.

Hartman deftly casts birth and death as the twin fires that refine people no matter their walk of life. Add historical elements such as the terrorist activities of the Ku Klux Klan, the work of the firebrand Mary Harris “Mother” Jones at unionizing labor, and even references to the anarchist revolutionary Emma Goldman.

Patricia Harman has spent more than 30 years caring for women as a midwife, first as a lay-midwife, delivering babies in cabins and on communal farms in West Virginia, and later as a nurse-midwife in teaching hospitals and in a community hospital birthing center. Harman still lives and works with her husband, Ob/Gyn Thomas Harman, in Morgantown, West Virginia at their clinic, Partners in Women’s Health Care. Though she no longer attends births, she provides care for women in early pregnancy and through-out the life span. She brings to her writing the same dedication and compassion she brought to obstetrics. Her two previous nonfiction books, Arms Wide Open and The Blue Cotton Gown, both of them detailing her experiences in childbirth and delivery.

Follow Patricia Harman on Twitter: @PatsyHarman.

Powerful Middle Grade Fiction December 3, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in Christian fiction, historical fiction, multi-cultural fiction.
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MediaMonday for December 3, 2012: Philip Roth Calls it  Quits, from New York Times By the Book interview, November 17, 2012.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez in #litchatNever underestimate the zest of middle grade readers. The success of such series as Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson and the Olympians have kept their publishers in the black and made household names of their authors. This Wednesday in #litchat we’ll discuss the power of middle grade fiction, then on Friday, award-winning author Christina Diaz Gonzalez joins us as guest host to discuss her newest middle grade historical novel, A Thunderous Whisper.

In A Thunderous Whisper, Ani believes she is just an insignificant whisper of a 12-year-old girl in a loud world. This is what her mother tells her anyway. Her father made her feel important, but he’s been off fighting in Spain’s Civil War, and his voice in her head is fading. Then she meets Mathias. His family has just moved to Guernica and he’s as far from a whisper as a 14-year-old boy can be. Ani thinks Mathias is more like lightning. A boy of action. Mathias’s father is part of a spy network and soon Ani finds herself helping him deliver messages to other members of the underground. She’s actually making a difference in the world. And then her world explodes. A Thunderous WhisperThe sleepy little market town of Guernica is destroyed by Nazi bombers. In one afternoon Ani loses her city, her home, and more. But in helping the other survivors, Ani gains a sense of her own strength. And she and Mathias make plans to fight back in their own unique way.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the author of the award-winning and best-selling children’s novel, The Red Umbrella. Gonzalez’s debut novel (the story of a 14 year old Cuban girl who is sent to the U.S. in 1961 as part of Operation Pedro Pan) showcases the generosity of the American spirit and highlights the pain of losing one’s homeland. Reviewers from publications such as The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal have praised the book as being exceptional, compelling and inspirational.

Follow Christina Diaz Gonzalez on Twitter: @ChristinaDG.

Indie Author Showcase: Patricia Mashiter Cooper November 26, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction, memoir, novelography.

Patricia Mashiter Cooper in #litchat

Patricia Mashiter Cooper: Guest host for November 28, 2012

Patricia Mashiter Cooper was only five when World War II broke over England in 1939. Dear Cedric is her funny, insightful and poignant novelography of those war years. Novelography: Part autobiography and part novel. Dear Cedric is one of those stories based on the author’s experience, yet embellished with just enough whimsy or intrigue or composite characters to lift it over the bar from ordinary to extraordinary.

As WWII swelled over Europe, thousands of women and children from target British cities were curried away to the countryside for protection. Cooper spent the next five years at a boarding school in Wales in relative safety, seeing her mother only a handful of times and her soldiering father not at all. While Hitler was marching across Europe, Cooper and her mates at Normanhurst were learning arithmetic. As the Nazis were were bombing London, Cooper was memorizing poetry. Still, not all was rosy at Normanhurst. The children had war drills and rationing and carried gas masks in their knapsacks. Some children experienced devastating wartime losses, which Cooper reveals with gentle, yet firm, compassion.

When VE Day came, the boarding students returned to their families and the makeshift countryside schools were transformed back into fine country houses and manors. Dear Cedric is a both a romance to a bygone childhood and a keenly observed time-capsule of history that must be preserved.

Patricia Mashiter Cooper was born in Worcestershire, England. In 1968 she emigrated with her husband and four sons to Ontario, Canada where she still resides. She is currently writing another book in a totally different genre. Her first time-travel romance is due to be published in 2013.

Follow Patricia Mashiter Cooper on Twitter: @pendare

Literary Legends September 16, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, historical fiction.
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Erika Robuck in #litchat

Erika Robuck
Photo by Catherine Pelura of KC Photography

Chatscript from Erika Robuck’s visit to #litchat is here

Before the internet, and some would even argue television and Oprah, authors were rather mysterious people. They wrote books and sometimes their photo and a brief bio was included on the back cover. They might review other books, write personal essays, or be interviewed for magazines and newspapers from time to time. They didn’t generally live out loud. Unless he or she was a personality larger than life—think Hemingway—chances are that author could walk down the street of a city without ever being recognized. The internet—particularly blogs and social media—have changed the game for authors.

Have blogs and social media feeds of current authors given us a hunger to know more about the literary legends of the past? Perhaps so. Several novels about or with literary figures as secondary characters are making names for new authors, while revisioning the lives of the legends in fiction. On Friday we’ll welcome Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl.

Using Ernest Hemingway as a focus in Hemingway’s Girl could have been an excuse for using this larger than life character as a voyeuristic selling point. However, Robuck’s longtime personal interest and insightful research into the period and Key West setting of this tale elevates the story. Robuck masterfully sets Hemingway as a third in a trio that includes the tough, but tender young protagonist Mariella, and the rugged World War I veteran Gavin. Grieving from the recent death of her father and suffering from the depression in a resort community such as Key West, Mariella takes a job as a maid in the home of charismatic Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline. It’s not long before a mutual attraction begins between the big man and the maid. As Mariella dusts and sweeps her way around the Hemingway abode, dodging advances from Hemingway, parrying barbs from Pauline, she struggles to understand the complicated relationships between Hemingway and everyone else. The trivial way these relationships are played by Hemingway provide a counterpoint to the romantic interest that arises with Gavin. Hemingway may be in the title, but the story is so much more than just him and a girl.

Erika Robuck was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. Inspired by the cobblestones, old churches, Georgian homes, and mingling of past and present from the Eastern Shore, to the Annapolis City Dock, to the Baltimore Harbor, her passion for history is well nourished. Her first novel, Receive Me Falling, is a best books awards finalist in historical fiction from USA Book News. Her second novel, Hemingway’s Girl was published on September 4, 2012. Her third novel, Call me Zelda, will follow. Robuck is a contributor to popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, and maintains her own blog called Muse. She is a member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, The Hemingway Society, and The Historical Novel Society. She spends her time on the East Coast with her husband and three sons.

Follow Erika Robuck on Twitter: @ErikaRobuck.

There will be no MediaMonday #litchat today as we prepare for the next two days of LitChat Literary Salon. More about it here.

Cross-Cultural Love and Loss July 2, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction.
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MediaMonday for July 2, 2012: Library Funding Wars, source media The Advocate, Baton Rouge: Budget Omits Library Funding, June 13, 2012.

Daniel Kalla in LitChat www.litchat.netThere will be no Wednesday #litchat as those of us in the USA celebrate Independence Day. We resume on Friday with guest host Daniel Kalla, author of several novels, including the recently published The Far Side of the Sky.

A historical novel set just prior to World War II, The Far Side of the Sky takes readers into Shanghai, the last city to freely accept Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe. After the harrowing Nazi rampage through Vienna known as Kristallnacht, Franz Adler, a widower with a young, inquisitive daughter, manages to get passage and permission to leave Vienna. The widow of his recently slain brother and an undesirable artist accompany them on the journey to Shanghai. Once in Shanghai, Franz, a well-regarded surgeon, finds work in a local hospital and soon he is up to his scalpel treating other Jewish refugees. Franz finds support among a thriving Jewish community, most of them refugees, and his sister-in-law finds her own destiny. Once considered the Paris of Asia, Franz finds a Shanghai infected with Nazi spies, while the Japanese army chokes whole sections of the city. In Soon Yi (Sunny), a beguiling and determined Eurasian nurse, Franz finds a partner with the courage to confront the hunger, hopelessness and disease fermenting throughout Shanghai. Romance, drama and a glimpse into a little-known theater of Holocaust history meet with satisfying results in The Far Side of the Sky.

Born, raised, and still residing in Vancouver, Daniel Kalla spends his days (and sometimes nights) working as an emergency room physician in an major teaching hospital. In his off time, he writes and manages a dual career. He is the author seven books, including the recently published The Far Side of the Sky. Daniel’s books have been translated into 11 languages to date, and his novels Pandemic and Resistance have been optioned for feature films. He is a three-time finalist for the Spotted Owl Award for the Pacific Northwest’s best mystery novel of the year.

Follow Daniel Kalla on Twitter: @DanielKalla.

A Woman’s Calling June 18, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction.
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MediaMonday for June 18, 2012: Is Fiction Changing? Read the conversation in the New York Times Room for Debate, then joins us in #litchat at 4-5 p.m. E.T. to discuss.

Roberta Rich in #litchatThe latter half of the last century opened doors to women in business, science and academia, allowing women to achieve positions of authority, prestige and prosperity. Yet, women have always worked. The jobs they held were deemed fit only for women:  teaching young children, nursing, cooking, domestic services, midwifery. This Wednesday in #litchat we’re looking at fiction which features strong women who dominated their traditionally female jobs. We’ll follow on Friday, June 22, with Roberta Rich, author of the historically rich novel, The Midwife of Venice.

Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers—a gift aided by the secret “birthing spoons” she designed. But when a count implores her to attend to his wife, who has been laboring for days to give birth to their firstborn son, Hannah is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but the payment he offers is enough to ransom her beloved husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can Hannah refuse her duty to a suffering woman? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the baby and threatens her voyage to Malta, where Isaac, believing her dead in the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life. The Midwife of Venice transports readers intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago or so richly into a story of intrigue that transcends the boundaries of history.

The Midwife of Venice is Roberta Rich’s first novel. Through the years she has been a divorce lawyer, student, waitress, nurses’ aide, hospital admitting clerk, factory assembly line worker and child. She lives with her husband in Vancouver, B.C. and in Colima, Mexico.

Follow Roberta Rich on Twitter: @robertaannrich

Saints Alive December 12, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction, Latino literature, literary fiction, multi-cultural fiction.
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Luis Alberto Urrea

Some characters are simply to good to be true. The Pollyannas of literature. Melanie Wilkes. Pip. Forrest Gump. Sweet, kind, generous. We think of these characters as literary saints. They believe in the inherent goodness of people and can’t understand why others don’t. There’s another kind of literary saint, the ones with flaws. Ivanhoe, Atticus Finch, Jo March. There are the saints whose deep convictions are met with adversity and yet the remain true to their calling. These and others of similar cut are the literary saints we’ll be discussing this week in #litchat.

Joining us on Friday, December 16th, for his second visit to #litchat , is Luis Alberto Urrea, whose sequel to his award-winning novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter was published this month. Queen of America follows Teresita, the young Mexican woman called the Saint of Cabora, whose ability to heal the sick spread throughout Mexico near the turn of the 20th century and whose passion for freedom inspired the native peoples of Mexico to fight against the corrupt government. Queen of America opens where the The Hummingbird’s Daughter ends. Teresita and her father have fled Mexico with government assassins on their tail. It doesn’t take long for word to spread to the sick, wounded, and hopeless around their new situation in Arizona that Teresita, the Saint of Cabora, has not lost her gifts.

Urrea writes with Dickensian humor and a scope for history like Tolstoy, bringing the late 1800s to life from the border towns of the Southwest and the Indian uprisings on both sides of the border; to a San Francisco still rushed with gold, and into the parlors of New York society. Everywhere she goes, Teresita is followed by pilgrims seeking her touch, a phenomenon that both nourishes and depletes her. Among the powerful threads running throughout Queen of America is Teresita’s conflicted passion for romance and beauty against her calling as a healer. These flaws bring pain as Urrea takes readers through Teresita’s brief marriage to a violent psychopath and her later association with people bent on exploiting her gifts. Urrea paints all of this with the brush of a poet, combining the facts of Teresita’s life with the essence of her life’s work.

Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph. Born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea has published extensively in all the major genres. The critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 13 books, Urrea has won numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays. The Devil’s Highway, his 2004 non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize.

Urrea attended the University of California at San Diego, earning an undergraduate degree in writing, and did his graduate studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder. After serving as a relief worker in Tijuana and a film extra and columnist-editor-cartoonist for several publications, Urrea moved to Boston where he taught expository writing and fiction workshops at Harvard. He has also taught at Massachusetts Bay Community College and the University of Colorado and he was the writer in residence at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Urrea lives with his family in Naperville, IL, where he is a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Follow Luis Alberto Urrea on Twitter: @urrealism.