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Sizzling Summer Reads May 27, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in fiction, weekly topics.
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There will be no MediaMonday discussion today in #litchat as we observe Memorial Day.

Jennifer Miller in #litchatOn Wednesday and Friday of this week we’ll discuss Sizzling Summer Reads with previews of this summer’s hot fiction. Joining us as guest host on Friday, June 1, is Jennifer Miller, author of The Year of the Gadfly.

In The Year of the Gadfly, Miller takes us inside the hallowed halls of prestigious prep school Mariana Academy. Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom’s Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction. Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chainsmoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter’s instinct, and her own troubled past.

The Year of the Gadfly is an exhilarating journey of double-crosses, deeply buried secrets, and the lifelong reverberations of losing someone you love. Following in the tradition of classic prep school novels like Separate Peace, Prep, and The Secret History, it reminds us how these years haunt our lives forever.

Jennifer Miller, author of Inheriting the Holy Land: An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East, holds an undergraduate degree from Brown and graduate degrees in journalism and fiction from Columbia. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Marie Claire, the Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Beast, Salon, and others. She is a native of Washington, D.C. and now lives in Brooklyn. The Year of the Gadflly is her first novel.

Follow Jennifer Miller on Twitter: @propjen.

Watch the book video trailer: The Year of the Gadfly

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Writing Communities April 16, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in weekly topics, writing communities.
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Media Monday: How do you remember all of the books you’ve read? Today we’ll explore reader’s groups such as GoodReads, LibraryThing and other ways to organize reading. Take a look at how Pamela Paul, features editor and children’s books editor, of the New York Times, keeps track of the books she’s read: My Life With Bob.

Backspace Logo

Writing is a solitary endeavor. The time spent on a literary work, whether a simple haiku, a novel, or an academic text can seem endless, even with a deadline in sight. There’s hours spent alone with research, outlining, drafting and revising, followed by cycles of editing and proofing. Through the years writers have sought the camaraderie of fellow writers to help offset the solitary tendencies, for it seems no one else truly understands the misery of rejection, the triumph of acceptance, and the thrill of publication. Guilds, unions, clubs and other associations exist to provide legal assistance, support, and encouragement for writers.

Karen Dionne

This Wednesday  in #litchat we’re discussing the importance of camaraderie among writers and how to thrive in a writing community. Joining us as guest hosts on Friday, April 20, is Karen Dionne and Christopher Graham, founders Backspace, one of the top online writing communities.

I confess, I am hugely partial to Backspace. Having floundered in early online writer’s sites, I connected with Karen through one such site that had terrific reach, but dismal moderation. It was an online free-for-all, with bombastic highbrows, thinly veiled personas, and vicious trolls. But there were enough serious writers sharing their experience (or lack of), leads, advice and competent criticism to make visiting that place worth the effort. Such authors as Sara Gruen, Jon Clinch, Jackie Kessler, Heather Brewer, and many other now-published authors swam with me in that primordial pool of slush.

Christopher Graham, co-founder of Backspace

Christopher Graham

When Karen, Chris, and several others tired of the constant troll attacks and other infighting among the faithless, they banded together to create a new type of online writing forum that would have personal accountability, would be judiciously moderated, and would have a membership fee to weed out those who were not serious enough to invest in their career. Karen and Chris worked tirelessly through the end of 2003 building the initial forum which opened in early 2004 with just more than 100 members. Today, the site has more than 1,000 members and has been named by Writer’s Digest among the 101 Best Websites for Writers for several years running. Backspace also produces agent/author seminars twice yearly, as well as the annual Backspace Writers Conference.

In addition to co-founding Backspace, Karen Dionne is author of Boiling Point,an environmental thriller about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming. Karen’s first science thriller, Freezing Point, was nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. Freezing Point has been published in Germany and the Czech Republic, and both novels are available in audio from Audible.com. Her short story, “Calling the Shots,” appears in the anthology First Thrills edited by Lee Child. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. Karen blogs at The Huffington Post and writes about the publishing industry from an author’s perspective atDailyFinance. She also reviews for The New York Journal of Books.

Christopher Graham is a former independent bookstore owner and co-founder of Backspace and The Backspace Book Promotion Network. He has written for a variety of newspapers, and his fiction has appeared in BluePrintReview.

Follow Backspace on Twitter: @bksp_org.

Follow Karen Dionne on Twitter: @KarenDionne.

Follow Christopher Graham on Twitter: @cgbackspace.

Utopia Lost April 2, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, literary fiction, weekly topics.
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Lauren Groff (photo by Sarah McKune)

Lauren Groff (photo by Sarah McKune)

Like genius and madness, utopias and dystopias are two sides of the same coin. Utopias, those harmonious communities of equality, idealism, and euphoria, exist only as long as human ego and greed are sublimated. Dystopias are what happens when human ego and greed rise to the surface. As far back as 360 B.C. Plato argued in his Republic that just men could create ideal societies; centuries later in Paradise Lost, Milton blamed the destruction of utopia on a tempter, while H.G. Wells published several novels featuring utopian societies. On Wednesday in #litchat we’ll discuss utopian literature, then on Friday, Lauren Groff joins us as guest host to discuss her novel, Arcadia.

Arcadia is a novel of heartbreaking brilliance. Groff’s enchanting characters reach through the pages to grip your heart, pumping it with each beat of their own, with each enlightened conversation, with each act of selflessness, cowardice, or pride. Set in the wilds of upstate New York, Arcadia is the commune of a visionary musician known as Handy. It’s the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, when idealistic young people took refuge from the establishment in music, drugs, and free-thinking. Told through the eye and understanding of Bit, the first baby born within the tribe of hippies who would three years later found the commune, the voice reads as if disembodied from the idyllic happening that was Arcadia. While Arcadia reshapes the nature around them, it reshapes the nature within the people as well. As if on the puff of a magic dragon, Arcadia sweeps through the last quarter of the 20th century, as young idealists put their faith in a flawed messiah, whose own family doubts his potency. The great commune flourishes for several years, but when it crumbles, as all utopias are wont to do, the reverberations spread deep and wide. After the fall, Bit, his parents, and the Arcadians jaded by flaccid leadership, find the outside world a harsh mistress. Yet, the story doesn’t end there. Bit takes us into his adult life, where Arcadia continues to inform his decisions, his quests, even his own child. Arcadia brilliantly explores a multitude of themes—individuality, home, nostalgia, love, animal rights, expression, freedom, sexuality, innocence, and more—without judgment, sentimentality, or stagnation.

Lauren Groff was born in 1978 in Cooperstown, N.Y. She graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her short stories have appeared in a number of journals, including the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly,  Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, and Subtropics, and in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007 and Best American Short Stories 2010Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008.  Lauren’s first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, published in February 2008, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection and bestseller and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. Her second book, Delicate Edible Birds, is a collection of stories.

Follow Lauren Groff on Twitter: @legroff.

Celebrating the Contributions of African-American Authors February 13, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in African-American literature, bestsellers, multi-cultural fiction, weekly topics, women's fiction.
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Truth in Memoir is today’s Media Monday discussion from this Associated Press piece on NPR’s site. Greg Mortenson is asking judge to overturn the civil lawsuit claiming he fabricated events in his bestselling memoir, Three Cups of Tea, saying other authors could be subjected to similar claims and the result would be a stifling of the free exchange of ideas.

Jacqueline E. Luckett, photo by Ashley SummerFebruary is Black History Month in America. Those who don’t study American literature rarely discover the poetry of the slave Phyllis Wheatley that predates the American Revolution. While they may have heard of Frederick Douglas, the average reader is unaware of the thousands of written slave narratives that give voices to the individuals trapped in that era. Booker T. Washington and  W. E. B. Du Bois wrote widely of the post-Civil-war black experience, influencing many of those who would later contribute to the brilliant arts, music and literature movement of the 1920s-40s that became the Harlem Renaissance. One can’t speak about African-American literature without recognizing Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou, some of which have passed and others are still contributing. This week in #litchat we’re celebrating the many contributions of Aftrican-American authors, both past and present, to the literary canon.

We are delighted to have author Jacqueline E. Luckett join us as guest host on Friday, February 17. Luckett’s new novel, Passing Love, features the best of this week’s celebration of African-American literature. In Passing Love, two heroines pass through two timelines and two continents to come together for a bittersweet finish. The novel opens in contemporary California, with Nicole-Marie as primary caretaker to her embittered mother and Alzheimer’s stricken father. Still numb from her divorce several years ago, yet wrapped in guilt as the other woman to a married lover, Nicole-Marie is galvanized to take back her life after her best friend dies from cancer. Drop back sixty years to World War II-era Mississippi, when 16-year-old RubyMae, the wild and beautiful daughter of straight-laced parents, meets devilishly handsome sax player Arnett Dupree. Take both heroines across the Atlantic to Paris, where each of these determined women forge new lives that hardens one and softens the other, then combines them both through a shared history.

In between the lines of Passing Love, Luckett examines the treatment of blacks in Jim Crow America, with sensitive illumination of how black soldiers were segregated and undervalued by the American military during World War II and scoffed at by white America when they returned home, yet hailed as heroes—and rightly so—in post-war Europe. She deftly portrays the complexities of the African-American individual, in this case RubyMae, whose complexion, features and hair provide opportunity to “pass” as white. Within this miasma, Luckett recreates post-war Paris, with its jazz-age nightclubs, cafes, intrigues and challenges, contrasting the ordinary freedom available to blacks in Europe, against the racial prejudice and suffocating restrictions of America. The title, Passing Love, is drawn from a poem by Langston Hughes, to whom Nicole-Marie refers often, poetry being a link between her and her aging father. While RubyMae is seen from her teenage years, the bulk of her story occurs in her twenties, yet Nicole-Marie’s maturity as a woman of a certain age—she’s 57—is ballast to maintain the balance of this elegant novel.

Jacqueline E. Luckett’s first novel, Searching for Tina Turner, put her on the list of writers to watch. A lifelong storyteller, Luckett spent most of her professional life in corporate America. In 1999, she took a creative writing class on a dare, from herself, and happily found her love of writing reignited. By a lucky coincidence, that same year she discovered the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) writing workshops and participated over the next four years in workshops with Christina Garcia, Danzy Senna, Junot Diaz, Ruth Forman and Terry McMillan. VONA provided a safe haven for a new writer still unsure of abilities, yet eager to learn. Luckett attributes much of her growth as a writer to the VONA workshops. In 2004, Luckett formed the Finish Party (featured in O Magazine, October 2007) along with seven other women writers–of–color. An avid reader and lover of books, Luckett is an excellent cook, aspiring photographer, and world traveler. She lives in Northern California and, though she loves all of the friends there, she takes frequent breaks to fly off to foreign destinations.

Follow Jacqueline E. Luckett on Twitter: @JackieLuckett.

Photo of Jacqueline E. Luckett (above): Ashley Summer.

LitChat’s 3rd Anniversary January 2, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in weekly topics.
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Welcome to a new year on the calendar and a new year of #litchat. We are excited to enter our fourth year of literary discussion through Twitter and are anxious to introduce you to new authors, fascinating topics and trending conversations.  This week in #litchat watch for special guest visits from many of the authors we’ve hosted through the years in #litchat.

As we celebrate #litchat’s third anniversary, we’re beginning a new format for discussion.

On Mondays at 4 p.m. ET, we will discuss literature in the news. Look for topics drawn from big media interviews with top tier authors, publishing trends affecting readers, and special author surprises.

Wednesdays will continue the format #litchat introduced with our first topical chat in January 2009. The Wednesday topic will be drawn from the book recently published by our Friday guest host.

Friday continues as guest host day in #litchat. We have some fabulous authors already lined up for 2012 (see them here). We’re eager to introduce you to new authors with extraordinary debuts, as well as familiar authors with new titles releasing in the coming year.

As always, if you are an author with a book releasing through established (not self-pub’d) channels, we’d love to consider you and your book in #litchat. Email us at twitchat@gmail.com with your contact info and media materials.

Dystopian Literature November 28, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in coming-of-age, science fiction, weekly topics, YA fiction.
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Marie Lu, author of Legend trilogyStories of a grim future weren’t a new concept when Cormac McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer for The Road. The slant of a future not shiny with hope, but spoiled and shattered into a bleak landscape of struggle and survival are time-worn concepts within literature. Does the abundance of dystopian literature published and read today reflect a grave outlook for the world community? Or is it just another literary trend that will peak and slide back into a sub-category of science fiction? We’ll ask these questions and others this week in #litchat.

Marie Lu, Friday’s #litchat guest host, is something of a phenomena. Born in Shanghai, raised in Texas, and educated at USC, 27-year-old Lu has already achieved what many writers struggle for years to achieve. Her debut novel, Legend is the first in a trilogy of dystopian YA novels. Film rights to Legend have been sold and screenwriters are already at work adapting the first novel into a screenplay.

Legend is the story of two opposing characters, June and Day, thrown together in what was once the western United States and now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem. From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Before she started writing full time, Lu was the art director at a video game company. She also owns the business and brand Fuzz Academy, which was chosen by C21Media as one of the International Licensing Expo 2010’s brands with the most potential for a TV series. After graduating from USC in ’06, the California weather sweet-talked her into sticking around. She currently lives in Pasadena with her boyfriend, two Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and a chihuahua mix.

View the video trailer for Legend.

Follow Marie Lu on Twitter: @MarieLu.

Holiday Break November 21, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in fantasy, weekly topics, YA fiction.
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We are taking off the week of November 21-28, 2011 the first of our holiday breaks. We will return on November 25 for a topic on YA fantasy with Marie Lu, author of Legend. We’ll break again from December 19-30, then resume a brand new year of literary discussion as we celebrate the third anniversary of #litchat during the week of January 2-6, 2012.

Young Writers & Readers September 12, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in weekly topics, YA fiction.
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Dallas Woodburn

September is back to school month. This week in #litchat we’re reaching out to teachers, librarians, and young people who write about and for young people. We’ll discuss resources and curriculum, as well as the best books for teaching the art and craft of writing more than just book reports and class assignments. We’ll feature some young writers who are already stepping into the publishing world through the myriad opportunities available today.

On Friday, September 15, author Dallas Woodburn joins us in #litchat to discuss  Write On For Literacy, a non-profit educational organization she founded to encourage kids and teens to discover confidence, joy, a means of self-expression and connection with others through reading and writing. Write On For Literacy holds writing contests, teaches writing camps, and operates the website to feature book reviews, author interviews, and a forum for young writers to share their work.

In the past nine years, the Write On For Literacy Holiday Book Drive has collected and distributed nearly 12,000 new books to underprivileged children. Write On For Literacy recently published Dancing With the Pen, the group’s first anthology of writing by young people gleaned from workshops and submissions to the organization.

Dallas Woodburn is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Fiction Writing at Purdue University. She is a 2009 summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Creative Writing and a minor in Entrepreneurship. She published her first book, There’s a Huge Pimple On My Nose, when she was ten years old, and has been hooked on writing ever since. She is the author of a second story collection, 3 a.m., and is currently working with a literary agent on the sale of her first novel. Woodburn’s short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in numerous literary journals including Monkeybicycle, Cicada, flashquake, Arcadia Journal, The Newport Review, and Eclectic Flash. In addition, she has written dozens of articles for publications including Family CircleWriter’s Digest,  Motherwords, JustineThe Los Angeles Times, and eight Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She is a staff writer for the websites GradtoGreat.com and TweenParent.com and writes the words and storyline of a monthly comic strip for the youth anti-drug magazine Listen.For her volunteer work, Woodburn has been honored with the Congressional Award Gold Medal, the Jackie Kennedy Onassis/Jefferson Award, and most recently the “Best of You” award from Glamour Magazine.

Follow Dallas Woodburn on Twitter: @DallasWoodburn.

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.

Truth Deferred July 18, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in weekly topics, women's fiction.
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Kristina Riggle (photo by John H. Riggle)

Withholding information that would change someone’s perception of a person, place or thing; hiding one’s actions to protect or mislead; couching words away from the facts. It’s not lying, but it can be as painful, destructive, or damaging as a bold faced lie. Consider some of the world’s best-known literary classics: Hamlet; Anna Karenina, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice; Jane Eyre and it’s mirroring Wide Saragasso Sea. Where would these stories be without the great mask that hides the truth? There would be plenty of words, perhaps, but the story would be nothing but letters on the page. This week in #litchat we are discussing novels where truth is deferred.

Returning to #litchat this Friday, June 22, is Kristina Riggle, whose latest novel, Things We Didn’t Say, is a study on family and foes, with a knot of deception, repression, and good old substance abuse. The morning Casey decides to leave her fiance and move out of the house she shares with him and his three children becomes the day the middle child, 14-year-old Dylan, goes missing. The family drama becomes a crucible when ex-wife Mallory encamps at the family home to share in the mystery and stir the misery. Layered between the two women is repressed Michael, the fiance and the ex-husband, whose compass is true to his kids at the expense of his own needs. Casey’s past infects the present when the truth she’d meant to reveal all along erupts in a shameful showdown before all eyes in the family.

Kristina Riggle lives and writes in West Michigan. Her debut novel, Real Life & Liars, was a Target “Breakout” pick and a “Great Lakes, Great Reads” selection by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. Her second novel, The Life You’ve Imagined, was honored by independent booksellers as an IndieNext “Notable” book. Riggle has published short stories in the Cimarron ReviewLiterary Mama, Espresso Fiction, and elsewhere, and she works as co-editor for fiction at Literary Mama. Kristina was a full-time newspaper reporter before turning her attention to creative writing. As well as writing, she enjoys reading, yoga, dabbling in (very) amateur musical theatre, and spending lots of time with her husband, two kids and dog.

Follow Kristina Riggle on Twitter: @KrisRiggle.