Writers Who Read: Stephanie Feldman

IMG_6797Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with novelist Stephanie Feldman.

Who are you?
I’m a fiction writer from the Philadelphia area. My first novel, The Angel of Losses, literary fiction with a fabulist bent, is out this week. It explores the intersections of family secrets, Jewish myths, the legacy of war and history, and the bonds between sisters.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
I don’t revisit many books from my childhood. I loved to read but was often left unsatisfied—”kid” books were unchallenging, and the “older” books presented to me, like Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables, were a little too old-fashioned to stick with me as favorites.

That said, Maniac Magee was the first book to ever make me cry. There’s The Phantom Tollbooth. Sweet, sad, weird–everything I love in a story. I loved Christopher Pike’s books. He’s the author I was reading nonstop before taking the leap to “grown-up” fiction. I re-read one recently (I won’t say which) and was disappointed by the politics in it, something I didn’t pick up on as a kid. Now I’m afraid to re-read the others.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Everyone, go read The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson! It’s so captivating and smart and sweeping and enlightening. I read it just before it came out (thanks, Librarything!), and became an early cheerleader. The book went on to win the Pulitzer, and I felt vindicated but not satisfied–I still want more people to read it.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Books with ambitious and lyrical language. Books with ghosts. Books with young women wreaking havoc (for good or ill).

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Any time I can steal for reading is ideal! The only time I usually don’t read is at night. I have a young child, and by evening, my brain is too fried. When I lived in New York, I loved reading on the subway, and I still look forward to reading on trains. We just got a new, ultra-comfortable chair that looks out on the backyard—a perfect reading spot—but I spend more time staring longingly at it while I wash dishes than actually reading in it.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?angel
Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie was an important book for me. I wanted to write character-driven, poetic, socially conscious stories (I still do), and all of the examples my writing teachers presented were strictly realist. I love to read realism, but as a writer, I find it limiting. It’s just not my voice. That collection showed me there’s a way to do all the things I want to do as a writer.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I’m always trying to write more and read more. I find that they feed each other. The more great books I read, the more excited I am to write, and the more time I spend writing, the more I look forward to giving myself over to someone else’s story for a while.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book, all the way. I wish I could do ebooks—so much more convenient!—and I try now and again, but it’s just not a comfortable reading experience. I don’t listen to audio books. I’m a visual learner, and information doesn’t stick as well when I’m listening.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I keep a loose to-read list—more of a way to remember interesting books for the future—but otherwise I don’t impose goals on my reading. I go with the flow. Maybe this is the same reason I’ve never joined a book club. I only want to read books that are exciting to me, when they’re exciting to me. There are too many books out there to read someone else’s choice grudgingly.

What are you reading now?
I’m finishing Submergence by JM Ledgard. It’s fantastic. The novel is about two lovers, their meeting in a French resort, and their subsequent individual journeys to the Arctic—she’s a scientist studying the deepest parts of the ocean—and Somalia—he’s an intelligence officer, quickly kidnapped by jihadists. It moves between their stories, with digressions about history, art, religion, and the science of life. The first book in some time that I really could not put down.

Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and daughter. The Angel of Losses is her first novel. You can find out more by visiting her website or following her on Twitter. You can purchase the Angel of Losses at Barnes & Noble or Powell’s, among other stores.

Creativity is (Mostly) Bullshit

UntitledWhen I was in fourth grade, I got rejected from my elementary school’s gifted and talented program. My math score was too low, and I also failed in one other key area: creativity.

I wish I could remember the specifics of the creativity test the woman administering it gave me. All I remember was I asked to make up a story at one point, and at another point she showed me a picture and I was encouraged to say what the image looked like.

It was a blob, rounded on top and squiggly on the bottom, and I was probably supposed to say it looked like an alien or something, maybe an alien named Fern who would come take my family on a wild adventure. Or something else, you know, creative.

Instead I said the first thing that came to mind, what it looked like to me.

“It’s a chandelier.”

This was the start of my uncreative life.

Never mind that I was probably always going to fail the test. I’m not terribly good at thinking on my feet, and I’ve always been more of a writer, not a let-me-randomly-launch-into-an-alien-story-out-loud type. Never mind that I’d been an incurable daydreamer since at least age seven, making up stories in my head every day, usually romantic ones, so often that it was like breathing; I didn’t even realize I was doing it most of the time.

But, no: I was suddenly destined to be one of those noncreative schlubs standing in the line at the DMV during my lunch hour from my desk job while some ultra creative guy somewhere was blasting classical music and throwing a bucket of red paint on a big canvass. I was uncreative.

I think creativity is bullshit. At least the way our culture views it, like it’s something some people have and others don’t, like a vacation home or retirement plan.

I don’t mean to imply that all gifted and talented programs that recognize kids’ intelligence and creativity are useless. I have friends who’ve experienced these programs and found them to be encouraging and inspiring and fostering of wonderful connections. I just wonder if we could recognize that other kids could benefit from the gifted resources too, not just the ones who test as creative, but those that are creative in ways we don’t always measure.

I’ve talked a little here about being a special needs mom. One of the more painful experiences I had when we were realizing something was not right with my son’s development was being around other parents at playgroups. “He’s so, so smart,” a mom would say about her kid as we stood in clumps around the playground. And another mom would chime in to say the same about her offspring. And then another. All these kids were brilliant. In my more bitter moments, I thought to myself, That’s just not statistically possible.

But I was wrong to think that.

We all know the bell curves, right? The graphs that show us that most folks are in the big lump in the middle on many traits, average in intelligence and maybe creativity and whatever else. And then there are outliers: at the low end, of course, but also at the far right. The geniuses. The paint-splattering artists.

But at least with creativity and perhaps with intelligence too, this is flawed. There are multiple intelligences, and a zillion and one ways to be creative. A lot of people would’ve flunked the creativity test like I did. But maybe some of them can look at the underside of a car and tell you how to rewire it to make it go crazy fast. Maybe some of them would have seen the round squiggly thing as a chandelier and then also drawn you a picture of a room that would match it perfectly. Those are both creative.

Not everyone paints or can tell us the backstory of Fern the Alien, but we all are creative in some way. Or maybe many ways. Cooking. Piano. Writing. Storytelling at a party. Party planning. Squirrel collages. Or simply seeing the world in a way that’s uniquely ours.

It’s time we recognized that, respected it, and fostered it. If not with us adults, then at least with our kids.

Romance Writer Rebecca Brooks: In Defense of Stupidity

Above-All-CoverToday I’m welcoming a guest post by debut romance novelist Rebecca Brooks, author of the erotic romance Above All.

When my debut contemporary erotic romance Above All was published this month, I was in touch with several reviewers who wanted to know more about the book. Does it have a happy ending? (Yes!) Is there anything dark or disturbing they should be aware of? (Nope—just beautiful scenery and really good food.)

One reviewer had a specific request. Before she agreed to read Above All, I had to answer a simple question. Is there anything stupid in it? Answer honestly, she added.

I’m dying to know whether anyone actually says yes. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to see what a great question it is.

Every story needs conflict. There’s a reason Happily Ever After comes at the end, not the beginning. Hero and heroine meet, forces pull them apart, but we know they’ll find their way together again. Forces of Evil make stories juicy—well, that and great sex. But tension is the crème filling. Without it, all the chocolately goodness gets dry.

It’s hard to find interesting, plausible reasons to push hero and heroine apart. Too big an issue and there’s no reason for them to get back together—who wants to return to an asshole? Too weak and that’s exactly what the story becomes. I’ve read plenty of books where the pair could resolve their giant misunderstanding in five minutes if they sat down and talked to one another as people in love are sometimes known to do.

So I get what this reviewer was asking. Is there anything dumb, irritating, or utterly flimsy driving the hero and heroine apart? No one wants to read about characters who are whiny, petulant, and overly dramatic, jumping to conclusions and creating drama just to manufacture plot. There’s only so much I want to throttle a character before I’d rather put down the book.

But I find myself feeling a little prickly about this word stupid. The terms I’ve used to describe it, the emphasis on drama and an absence of thought, clarity, or self-reflection—aren’t these the very insults hurled at women all the time? Hysterical. Irrational. Overreacting. Overly emotional.

And so now some stubborn, contrary part of me—the part that someone reading the story of my life would probably call stupid—wants to keep a space for the illogical, the emotional, the thing that might not be perfect but is, in the moment, the truest expression of the self.

In my own novel, Above All, Casey’s family thinks she’s nuts for leaving her unhappy life in New York City and starting over in the Adirondacks. But the reader knows she’s right where she belongs. Meanwhile Ben’s overbearing father wants Ben to work at a fancy Italian restaurant in Manhattan instead of opening his dream café. If we’re going to judge whether something is stupid, then shouldn’t we be asking, stupid to whom?

The reader might want to smack Ben upside the head for even considering anything that would take him away from the woman he’s meant to be with. But is Ben stupid for finding himself pulled in different directions? Is he stupid for ever experiencing doubt? I don’t think so! I think he’s being human. The distinction between stupid and flawed comes down to whether Ben is being authentically Ben, true to his character when he vacillates over what kind of life he wants for himself.

Perfect communication and decision-making don’t make for a very good novel. But if characters are genuine and multidimensional, if they feel so real you want to invite them over for coffee and chat about their lives, if you’re sad when they’re sad and their butterflies flit around in your stomach too, if you believe their anger, confusion, and hurt, and understand why they do things that might not always look “right”—then they won’t be stupid, no matter what dumb things they might do.

Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.

You can find out more about Rebecca on her website, Facebook page, or on Twitter, and you can check out and purchase Above All on Amazon or Ellora’s Cave.

**Rebecca will also be running a giveaway with copies of her book plus an Amazon gift card through August 18th! Click here to find out more.**

Writers Who Read: Tanya Selvaratnam


Tanya with author Sylvia Whitman

Tanya with Sylvia Whitman

Our Writers Who Read series continues with writer Tanya Selvaratnam.

Who are you?
Tanya Selvaratnam, a writer, producer, actor, and activist based in New York City and Portland, OR. I was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Long Beach, CA. I’m the author of The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock. Part memoir, part manifesto, it’s about the choices women have to make and how those choices impact the future. The Big Lie is that we can do things on our own timetables. The Big Lie is that there is such a thing as work/life balance. The Big Lie is that we don’t need feminism anymore.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton

As a child, I spent a lot of time in Sri Lanka. Being a former British colony, works by British authors were abundantly available. I bought Enid Blyton books in the local bookstore.

When I was young, books were my salvation… an escape, a comfort, a window to unexpected worlds and ideas. Earlier this year, I read a story in the news that, according to Common Sense Media (the San Francisco-based nonprofit which focuses on the effects of media and technology on children), young people are reading much less than the generation before and also they are reading less proficiently. We need to fix that.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. The writing is gorgeous, spare, vivid, devastating, and ultimately uplifting.

What is your book kryptonite—those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Humanity, depth, alternative universes, rhythm, a writer who is putting their guts on the floor, courage, a wild imagination, a fantastic sense of humor, writers who think big but make the ideas accessible, compassion, empathy, and humility.

When I come across a book that blows me away, I then buy many books by the same author and read them one after another. I’ve done that with work by Michael Ondaatje, Yasunari Kawabata, and lately Anne Carson.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
On the subway or bus any time of day or night, and in bed before I fall asleep. I can never read on planes.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
When I was writing The Big Lie, I read a number of memoirs that influenced me, including Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. I was also inspired by Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography—the depth of her reporting and the openness of her voice.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
The harder aspect of my life is balancing producing and writing. At this point, I do one to support the other, but they require such different types of focus and ways of being. With reading and writing, I have to be reading something while I’m writing. I need to lose myself in one or the other. In my bag, I always keep a book to read and a notebook to write in. As for balance, if I’m actively working on a book or piece, I try to sit at my desk for a minimum of three hours. Whether I write a word or a page, I feel like I’ve done something. I also meditate every day, a practice I started two and a half years ago.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book! I like the touch, the look, the smell of it. I like folding the corners of pages I especially want to remember. I’m working on a piece about book deserts, the possible long-term effects, and tangible solutions. Recently, I saw Sylvia Whitman of Shakespeare & Co (I produced a short film about her a few years ago), and I am so inspired by her steadfastness and joy. In the face of extreme and irrationally unchecked challenges towards physical books and bookstores, she has figured out ways to adapt her business and thrive.

Do you consciously plan your future reading—i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I have a book club that meets sporadically. It’s really just me and a friend, and we invite other friends to join us for sessions. Among the books we’ve discussed are Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Asunder by Chloe Aridjis, Remainder by Tom McCarthy, and the poetry of Matthew and Michael Dickman. Aside from the book club, I read what friends recommend or what I discover while browsing in bookstores.

What are you reading now?
A lot of Cesar Aira, whom a writer friend recommended. I recently finished An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and The Hare. Now I’m on Shantytown. Aira is from Argentina and has written more than seventy books in Spanish. New Directions released translations of some last year, so now I can read them. In addition, I just started Jenny Davidson’s Reading Style: A Life in Sentences, about loving to read.

Tanya Selvaratnam‘s work has appeared in Vogue, Bust, Paper, xoJane, Huffington Post, Pop and Politics, the Toronto Review, Art Basel Magazine, the Journal of Law and Politics, on Women’s eNews and CNN. She has produced work by Gabri Christa, Chiara Clemente, Catherine Gund, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jed Weintrob; and toured around the world in shows by The Wooster Group and The Builders Association. Tanya has been a fellow at Yaddo and Blue Mountain Center. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Chinese language and history from Harvard University. 

Writing Romance: Sex as Dialogue

dinos-1.jpgThere is sometimes a tendency to read or write a book and think about sex scenes as if they are something separate from the story that is happening. It’s like the story is a salad, and the steamy scenes are cherry tomatoes thrown on top, something small and sweet to add to the lettuce, croutons, and lumps of blue cheese. You can add as many tomatoes as you like, but you can also pick out the tomatoes without ruining the salad.

I don’t think it should be like this. I think sex in a story should be like an ingredient in a casserole. Squash, maybe. Or cheese. (Because, well, cheese.) It can be added, yes, but once it is cooked it’s hard to extract because it’s part of the story, it is the story—it’s not just an add-on. It absorbs the flavors of the rest of the casserole, the characters’ personalities and dynamics and feelings and development. It is within the story, not just tossed on top.

This is what I try to do in my writing, make sex scenes reflective of what’s happening and always moving the plot forward–like a good character conversation does. Because it is dialogue. Within sex, there are actions and reactions, surprises, suppression, subtext. Game-changers. The bickering co-workers have hot angry sex in their sausage delivery van, reflecting their fiery chemistry. The college student finds herself locked in a tender kiss with the girl she’s competing for an internship with, turning the plot on a dime.

Seeing sex as dialogue helps me craft a better steamy moment. Instead of just keeping in mind the goal of writing a tantalizing kiss, I’m also trying to show the unique chemistry and relationship between the people involved. This lends itself to a one-of-a-kind love scene. Sometimes it’s strange or uncomfortable; sometimes there are stapler incidents. And sometimes there are sweet moments the characters don’t see coming.

Sex should be dialogue. Tasty, tasty dialogue.

Writers Who Read: Amy Thomas

Our Writers Who Read series continues with novelist Amy Thomas, author of The Detective and The Woman mystery series.

Who are you?

Author Amy Thomas

Author Amy Thomas

My name is Amy Thomas, and I write The Detective and The Woman mystery series about Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. As a podcaster with the Baker Street Babes, I’m always meeting new people who love Sherlock Holmes and delving deeper into my own love for the character. I wrote my first book, The Detective and The Woman, for NaNoWriMo. After it was picked up for publication by MX Publishing, I wrote two sequels (and have started a third) because I just can’t get enough of writing about one of the most intriguing male characters in literature and the woman who outsmarted him. In the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Irene is an extremely vivid character, but she appears relatively little. My books flesh her out and imagine a friendship between her and Holmes. It’s a little unusual (thankfully becoming less so) for Holmes books to have a feminist twist, but I write half of each book in Irene’s voice, and she’s a feminine force to be reckoned with.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Snarky protagonists, urbane detectives, and characters going through major personal transition.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Late morning, on my lanai, with the sun shining, a nice breeze, and cup of tea next to me.

The Detective and The WomanWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
This is a tough one to narrow down. I would say the depth of emotion and human understanding in the great Russian writers like Dostoevsky definitely influenced my desire to write in a way that truly and completely reflects the human experience. Also, I can’t possibly leave out Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created many of the brilliant characters who fill my books.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I tend to write a lot in very short spurts. I finished the first drafts of all three of my books in about a month each. I find that if I focus my energy that way, I’m able to finish, whereas if I give myself more time, I tend to write and rewrite endlessly. That way of working means I have a lot of time to read and pursue other hobbies when I’m not in a mad writing dash.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I have a NOOK device, and I definitely enjoy e-books. I also have a large collection of physical books, and I can’t see myself ceasing to collect them any time soon.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I have tracked my reading before, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not doing it right now. I’m a very spontaneous person, and I hate doing the same thing the same way over and over. I might go back to keeping a list some day. Who knows?

What are you reading now?
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. She’s a genius, and I can’t recommend her books highly enough.

Where to find me:
Twitter: @Pickwick12
Tumblr: girlmeetssherlock
Website: girlmeetssherlock.wordpress.com

Book Links:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA AmazonBarnes and Noble and Classic Specialities - and in all electronic formats including Amazon KindleiTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA AmazonBarnes and Noble and Classic Specialities - and in all electronic formats including Amazon KindleiTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including  Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.


What Orphan Black Taught Me About Revising

I’ve been binge-watching some awesome shows this summer with my husband, and the compelling storylines and characters in these shows have made me think about my own writing. Which is one of the wonders of art: the way you can connect it to different creative forms.

So I’m doing a short writing series on the blog this summer focused on what some of my favorite shows have shown me about writing.

First up: Orphan Black. We recently started watching this Canadian show. Or devouring, I should say. For those who haven’t yet watched–and you really should–it’s a science-fiction show involving a woman who discovers she’s a clone.

Between episodes, I’ve been writing and revising a couple of short stories. It has often been wonderful and exhilarating to immerse myself in the words and learn about the characters. But sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I’m writing or revising and I realize that the words aren’t right, the sentences are clunky, or something’s wobbly in the very story structure. And it’s frustrating and disheartening and I wonder what the heck I’m doing, why I’ve chosen to write when clearly I’m so very far from perfect.

But then I think of Orphan Black. Because Orphan Black, upon close look, is not perfect either–at least not yet, or not in certain scenes. I’m only halfway through the first season and the mystery is still unraveling but when I think about some of the minor characters in isolation, one seems inconsistent and one seems a little one-dimensional. But you know what? I love the pants off this show. I love it for its addictive cliffhangers, its surprising humor and explosive sex scenes, and most of all the incredible acting on the part of Tatiana Maslany, who plays a multitude of clone-characters on the show so convincingly you forget you’re watching the same actress over and over.

It reminds me that the art we love, the art that moves us, isn’t necessarily perfect all the time. But maybe loving art isn’t about watching or reading something that’s devoid of bad. Maybe it’s about enjoying a book or show that has an abundance of good. Stories are like people, I think. They’re never perfect, they are flawed in small and sometimes large ways, but you can love them anyway.

This has made me focus my revising not on trying to reach some perfect ideal, but identifying, capturing, and increasing what’s working, what’s enjoyable or moving.

What about you, my fellow writers, readers, and watchers: what imperfect shows, books, or works of art do you love?

Writers Who Read: Amanda Gale

Meredith_facebookcoverOur Writers Who Read series continues with debut novelist Amanda Gale, author of the Meredith series.

Who are you?
I’m a mid-30s mother of three boys. I have English degrees from Vassar College and Boston University. I taught high school English before leaving my job to be with the kids, and I copy edit from home for a scholarly journal. My series is contemporary women’s fiction. Writing about modern, colorful characters has been an outlet for me while I’m home, something fun and uniquely mine.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland. I read it for the first time in junior high, and for years afterward, I collected Alice memorabilia—posters, boxes of tea, and antique copies of the book itself. I also loved The Little Prince, which like many books is much more meaningful as an adult. As for the third, I can give you an author as opposed to one book: Agatha Christie. I remember one summer before junior high when I went to the bookstore every day to buy another mystery featuring Hercules Poirot (I liked Miss Marple, but Poirot was such a lovable character to me, very complex and fun to read about). That summer I think I read fifty of her books, about one a day.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I think it could be the perfect book. I love the historical setting, the depth of the characters, the romance, and the intricate plot lines. It has something for everyone. Plus, it’s long! (Like most readers, when I love a book, I never want it to end.)

Author Amanda Gale

Author Amanda Gale

What is your book kryptonite—those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
This is a tough question to answer because there are so many. However, I would have to say I can’t resist humor. I love all kinds of humor, but I especially love humor that is tied into commentary about history or even about the characters. Some examples are Catch-22, Confederacy of Dunces, Auntie Mame, and even some works by Dickens.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I like to read any time, but mostly at night when it’s quiet and I have some time to myself. My favorite spot is my living room, next to a table with a little lamp, curled up in an armchair. The walls of my living room are red, and they make the room feel warm and cozy at night.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I double majored in English and Victorian Studies, so Victorian literature had a major effect on me, for better or worse. On the one hand, I think Victorian novels taught me a certain sensibility I might not otherwise have. On the other hand, my writing tends to be verbose if I’m not careful. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Gone With the Wind. I love a good saga. I love Scarlett O’Hara, how she has so many flaws, but we just love her anyway, perhaps because of those flaws. They make her human, and she grows along her journey. I’m attracted to the idea of an imperfect woman learning as she goes, falling in and out of love, and ultimately coming to an understanding of who she is.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I try to sneak it in during the little moments of the day, like if I have fifteen minutes in car line while I wait to pick up a child from school. Mostly I end up staying up way too late at night to read and write. (As I write this, it is 2:16 am.)

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book, forever and always.

Do you consciously plan your future reading—i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I don’t, mostly because I never know what kind of mood I’m going to be in. I may see something on a table at Barnes & Noble and instantly know it was what I was looking for, even though I hadn’t known it until that moment. I tend to shy away from book clubs because I’d rather choose for myself what I’m going to read.

What are you reading now?
Actually, right now I’m not reading anything. During the last few months, I’ve been scrambling to finish my editing and finalize some business details in preparation for publication. I am looking forward to reading again once that happens!

You can find out more about Amanda Gale and her Meredith series on her website, Facebook page, or Twitter


Writers Who Read: Abby Chew

This is the first interview in the new Writers Who Read series. Click here if you’d like to read more about this series.

Poet Abby Chew with her dog, Alice.

Poet Abby Chew with her dog, Alice.

Who are you?
I’m Abby Chew. I grew up in beautiful Putnam County, Indiana along Big Walnut Creek. I studied English at DePauw Univeristy and earned my MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I worked at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio for many years. It was there, teaching and working and farming raising goats with Quakers, that I re-learned to listen and re-wrote the poems that would be published as my first book of poems, Discontinued Township Roads. In 2012, I left the Midwest for a new job in California. I teach and live here in Los Angeles now, and I’m trying to figure out how to write poems in this new ecosystem. I don’t know much about deserts, but I am finding they are just as beautiful as my Midwestern creeks. The hawks I loved to see swooping up out of the poplar trees in Ohio are some of the same ones I see circling over the mountains here.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The first book that ever made me cry: Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it the summer between second and third grade, outside in the field beside our house. I just wept. Now, when I reread it, I have to stop before the dogs die. I read almost to the end and I stop. I also loved Madeleine L’Engle’s books, The Arm of the Starfish and The Young Unicorns and A Ring of Endless light, which quotes Sir Thomas Browne’s poem that begins “If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,/ like to a shell dishabited”– I’ve never forgotten that poem. And then there was everything by Jack London. I read them all. I still do. I read White Fang and The Call of the Wild every year.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I tell everyone to read The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall, because I could’ve kept reading those adventures forever. I also recommend my friend Colin Cheney’s book Here Be Monsters—because I believe in that book and its complexity and beauty.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
When I was young, I wanted to read about the sea. I still do. But now that I live in California, now that I am far from home and unable to visit often, I hunger for books about the Midwest. Wendell Berry and Kent Haruf. I want to read about the place I lived and love.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I love reading in the morning. As a kid, I climbed the silver maple in our backyard and read there. Now, I take Alice, my big white dog, to the park and read there, under a tree. Reading outside has always been my first choice. Reading in shaded light.

abby chew book coverWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
For me, it’s more poets and authors than specific books. Jack London, as I said. But also Chris Offut, Emily Dickinson, James Wright, James Galvin, H.D., Dean Young, Wendell Berry, Willa Cather, Edward Abbey. The authors who write about land because they can’t stop. Writers who have a sense of humor but know how to strike you down with the real heart of the matter at the end.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Because I teach high school, I read for my classes. As I plan my classes, I try to choose books I want to read again or books I want to read with someone else, books I am excited to open.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I love audio books! For two years, I was driving forty miles or so between my house and my boyfriend’s house (we live together now, finally!). And audio books saved me. A gal can deal with only so much NPR. And I listen to whatever is free at the library. The Twilight series? I listened to it. But also The Tie That Binds and Prodigal Summer and The Golden Compass and some terrible mystery novels. Loved them all, though, because they were taking me off this damn California freeway.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I don’t. Or perhaps I don’t in that way. Perhaps I set a list a bit in the way I plan my classes. But often, I find a book at a library or a book store or on a friend’s shelf, and I say, “This is the one,” and I read it. It feels more like a happy treasure that way. That’s how I first read All the Pretty Horses when I was in high school. I picked it up off a remainder table at a local book store. And I felt like I had discovered a great secret. Of course, it had already won the National Book Award. But I had found it! On my own!

What are you reading now?
Ron Silliman just recommended Lorine Niedecker to me after reading a few of my poems. How did I never know about Lorine Niedecker? She is amazing! So I am reading all of her poems.

I’m also reading The Wild Braid, a beautiful book by Stanley Kunitz very late in his life—all about his garden and poems and the earth. Oh, I’m in love with it. Everyone should read this book! Give it as a gift to every gardener and poet you know. It is beautiful.

Find out more about Abby or Discontinued Township Roads at her website or on Facebook.

Introducing the Writers Who Read Series

photo (6)I’m excited to announce a new series on this blog, Writers Who Read.

I’m both a writer and a huge book nerd, and I’m thrilled at the chance to bring these two interests together through a series of writer interviews particularly focused on books and reading.

I’ll be interviewing writers–of all stripes, at all stages of their writing journey–and sending them ten questions focused on their reading lives. Questions like, How do you balance reading and writing? and What are your three favorite childhood books?

The goals of Writers Who Read:

  • to provide an opportunity for authors to talk a little about what they write and a lot about what they read
  • to help readers (and reader-writers) discover new authors and books
  • to celebrate our shared love of books

I’ve got a group of writers already scheduled, but I’d love to expand this list and make it as diverse as possible. If you are interested in participating, email me at writerggandrew AT gmail.com and I’ll send you more details! In the meantime, check out the latest interview in the series.

**Update: due to an enthusiastic response, I’m booked with interviews until July 2015! I am no longer scheduling guest interviews at this point, but if you’d like to be on the waiting list for interviews after July 2015, drop me a line and indicate if there’s a particular date you want. I’d like to continue the series past a year, I just don’t want to get too ahead of myself!**

Note: I don’t generally review books on this site, and so I won’t be reviewing the books featured in this series. It’s a time thing: between two book clubs, my own writing, and chasing two little boys I don’t have time to read all the books. But one of the joys of this series for me has been discovering new authors and stories, and I’ve been digging learning more about writers’ work as well as their reading…even if my TBR list is growing to astronomical proportions!

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