Monday, March 31, 2008

Author Interview: Loaded Quesetions with "Mistress of the Revolution" author, Catherine Delors

We've gotten a bit behind on announcing some of the winners of some of our great giveaways here at Loaded Questions. In honor of another upcoming giveaway (check often for details!) I wanted to take a chance to congratulate those who have won our last two giveaways...

And the winners are...

Winners of Sandra Worth's Lady of the Roses: Ladytink, Elizabeth Miller, lcbrower, Tara Robertson & Cindi! The emails are being sent out now! If you have questions or concerns please email me at Congratulations!

Winners of the Catherine Delors' Mistress of the Revolution are: Katelyn,
gautami tripathy, Claire Alley, Tisa & Todd F. I am sending out your emails now!


I was up until five in the morning the other day finishing Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors. I read a lot of historical fiction and I have to say that Mistress certainly has a place on my list of the best historical fiction novels of all time. Delors explains complicated events in French history with great ease and wonderful detail. The reader is transported to a time of chaos in which the world is changing, the King and Queen of France are regarded as citizens and powerful nobility find themselves powerless. I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book for its wonderful character, beautiful settings, and great historical content.

Catherine Delors has proven to be the kind of author that readers and interviewers love. She is happy to talk about her book, discuss history, and answer questions. We have emailed back and forth so much during the last few months that it will be strange not to have someone to chat with every day. I suspect, as a history nut, I'll find something to email her about and have no doubt she'll be happy to respond. I thought it only fair that I do an interview with Catherine so that you, the readers of this blog and her book, will get a chance to learn a bit more about this wonderful woman and great author in the making.

Kelly Hewitt: So, how did you choose your main character, Gabrielle?

Catherine Delors: Actually, I could almost say that she chose me. She is an entirely fictional character, but she could have been my ancestor. I wanted to imagine what it would have been for a woman of my family to live just before and during the Revolution.

Kelly: One of the opening scenes is of Gabrielle arriving at her family's chateau (please correct my terminology when necessary). You have written this amazing description of the kind of mortar used, the mismatched stones, and the spiral staircases. I don't know that I have ever been so struck by such a detailed, elegant, knowledgeable description of a building! Have you been to the Montserrat chateau?

Catherine: There is no such place as the Chateau de Fontfreyde, Gabrielle’s home in the novel. I made up the name! I chose it because it means “cold fountain” in Occitan, the Roman language. I think it sounds beautiful, and also it evokes the coldness of Gabrielle’s mother.

But the place I describe in Mistress of the Revolution is a real chateau, and I have been there many times. I enclose a picture of it, where you can distinguish the monumental staircase, partly hidden behind the greenery.

I am delighted to hear that the chateau felt so real to you. Whenever possible, I tried to use locales I know well for the settings of my novel. There is simply no substitute for the author’s first-hand, emotional connection to a place.

Kelly: You have been commended for the fact that you do such a great job at addressing French historical events in the book. In that sense Mistress of the Revolution is both a really great fiction and a wonderful historical lesson. How do you come by your historical knowledge, have you studied quite a bit? How much history about the French Revolution do you learn in grade school?

Catherine: Thank you! I attended high school in France, where the French Revolution is part of the curriculum. Later, when I went to law school at the Sorbonne, we had classes about legal history. I learned then that the current French legal system has its roots in the innovations of the Revolution (such as jury trials in criminal cases and what we call civil rights.)

This, however, was no preparation for the research I did to write Mistress of the Revolution. I read many memoirs of the time, and also relied on primary sources, such as trial transcripts, minutes of the debates of political clubs, the Municipality of Paris and the legislative assemblies.

Kelly: Once again, the imagery in the book is great. In one scene a character, discussing the French opinion of Marie Antoinette, discussed having seen the Queen decorate her hair with a full display of radishes, explaining that it was Marie's attempt at proving that she could inspire any trend. Do we have historic evidence that Queen of France actually used radishes?

Catherine: Ah, Marie-Antoinette’s radishes! I did not make this up. This detail comes from the Memoirs of Madame Tussaud. To the Queen’s discharge, she was not the only one to wear towers of flowers, vegetables, feathers and assorted knickknacks on top of her head. Madame Tussaud relates that the Queen was trying to make a point about her ability to be a trendsetter. Yet the radishes were apparently a failure in this regard.

As for Madame Tussaud, yes, she is indeed the lady who left us Tussaud’s wax museum in London and elsewhere. Madame Tussaud, née Marie Grosholtz, had been informally adopted by a man by the name of Monsieur Curtius, who was drawing master to Madame Elisabeth, the King’s sister. Thus Marie came of age at the Court of Versailles, in the entourage of the royal family.

Curtius and his niece had a very successful Salon de Cire, a Wax Museum, in Paris before and during the Revolution. What is still more amazing is that Curtius became a fervent Jacobin and introduced Marie to the most famous revolutionaries, such as Robespierre and the Duke d’Orléans. There is so much more to say about Marie Tussaud, her Memoirs, her museum and the story of her life, but I digress…

To go back to Marie-Antoinette’s radish headdress, this is a tiny detail, one I had not found anywhere else. Yet I felt that it was emblematic of the Queen’s passion for fashion, and the negative reactions it elicited. This is why memoirs, like those of Madame Tussaud, were irreplaceable.

Kelly: In Mistress of the Revolution you write a great deal about The Terror and the hysteria, panic, and bloodshed that were very much part of the French Revolution. There is a quote by Villers towards the end of the book in which he is talking about ideas of Robespierre in which he says. "...spreading military force is a notion that could only have taken root in the head of a fool. No one abroad will welcome armed missionaries." I wrote that down because, without getting too political, it seemed like something might say about modern politics! Did you see connections between the French Revolution and some modern day politics?

Catherine: Very much so! In fact, I recently wrote a blog post about this specific topic: whether spreading the ideals of democracy by military force is a good idea, or one that is likely to succeed. (Interviewer's Note: Click here to read Catherine's blog.)

What happened in France during the Revolution was that an “idealistic” war led to the collapse of the monarchy, the erosion of civil rights at home and eventually the loss of superpower status. Of course, the similarities go only so far. For instance, the Jacobins, though they had initially opposed the war, prosecuted it with competence once they took power and they met with great military success… I like to quote Mark Twain: history does not repeat itself, it stutters.

Kelly: There is one question that I ask all authors and it's because that's what readers want to know most. What will you be writing next? Have you already started?

Catherine: In fact, Kelly, I have already completed my second novel, For The King. It is set in 1800 Paris, and its theme will be a “terrorist” attack and the investigation that follows. It will be more of a historical thriller. As for the topic of the war, any similarities with current events… It will be released, also by Dutton/Penguin, in March 2009.

Then of course, I am already working on Book 3, still untitled. It takes place in Paris and Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Interweaving stories of murder, witchcraft, love, political conspiracy… I would also describe it as a historical thriller.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Books Turned Into Movies: Scott Smith's book The Ruins

The Book: The Ruins by Scott Smith
Release July, 2008

The novel follows a group of tourists on vacation in Cancún who find themselves prey to a deadly presence while looking for some Mayan ruins.

Four Americans (Jeff, Eric, Stacy, and Amy), along with their German friend Mathias and a Greek traveler known as Pablo, go looking for Mathias' brother Henrich, who has joined an archaeological dig at some unknown mineshaft. The trip does not begin well, as Jeff decides that they will search for Mathias's brother despite his friends' reservations. Once they get to their destination 11 miles outside of Coba, they dismiss the taxi, leaving them no way to get home. The taxi driver tells them their destination is a "bad place" and tries to convince them to leave, but he fails at the attempt and the six friends head into the jungle.

The Movie: The Ruins
, Director: Carter Smith
Starring: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone
Release: April 8th, 2008
Tagline: Terror has evolved.

Six friends on vacation in Cancun go on an excursion to visit an archaeological dig near Coba. The friends include Jeff, a type A guy who is set to begin medical school in the fall; Amy, Jeff's girlfriend, who is also set to begin medical school, and who is smart and emotional; Stacy, Amy's best friend, an aspiring social worker whose nickname is "Spacy" and who is irresponsible and promiscuous; Eric, Stacy's boyfriend, who is immature, and set to become a high school teacher; a fun-loving Greek guy who everyone calls "Pablo," but who lacks a common language with any of the others; and Mathias, an intense, thoughtful German tourist. Mathias' brother, Henrich, vanished shortly before the Americans and Greeks met Mathias--he met a beautiful Dutch archaeologist and decided to meet her at her dig, leaving a hastily drawn map for Mathias to follow in case he wanted to join him. The five others decide to accompany Mathias in his search for his brother, and take a bus to Coba for the day. Things immediately start to go wrong, as the group isn't well prepared for the heat and insects, and the journey becomes creepy. The poorly drawn map leads them to a Mayan village, where the grievously poor inhabitants appear hostile to the foreigners. Further searching leads them to an almost-hidden trail that they follow to the ruins.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blast from the Past: Loaded Questions with Audrey Niffenegger author of The Time Traveler's Wife

My interview with Audrey Niffenegger was one of the very first I had ever done. We spoke in August of 2006, just before the official release of The Adventuress a novel in pictures. I was, and remain, a big fan of Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. Because this interview originally ran on the website where I initially began posting, I decided that I wanted to share it with my readers here.

So here goes...

Kelly Hewitt
: It has been reported that your novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, received the largest advance that publisher Macadam/Cage had ever paid. Where were you when you found this out? What was your reaction?

Audrey Niffenegger: I'm sure I was standing in my dining room, which is where I conduct most of my telephone conversations. I was afraid they were making a big mistake, and hoping that my book would do okay so they would not regret it. As far as I know, they don't regret it.

Kelly: You are a visual artist and from what I gather, very dedicated to both your work and to teaching the craft. In what way did your experience as an artist help you with your writing? Did you ever find that your artist's instincts hindered you in any way?

Audrey: Being a visual artist helps me to imagine the things I write about. It's easy for me to look at people, places, objects in my head. I don't think there is a down side to the artist/writer dual identity, except that you have twice as much work to do.

Kelly: One of the things many readers say about The Time Traveler's Wife was that it so delicately straddles the fantasy genre. You are able to have characters with the ability to travel through time and yet you are careful with the extent to which this premise is used. Was there ever a time when you thought of increasing the level of fantasy in the novel?

Audrey: No, I was very enamoured of the realist aspects of TTW. I felt that it was essential to buttress the fantastic elements with enough reality that people would be convinced, at least as long as they were in the world of the book.

Kelly: You have called yourself the "person who people date before they get married". With that in mind, does it surprise you that people find such an amazing romantic context to your novel? And in a slightly trashier light, has being a best-selling author improved your personal life?

Audrey: Well, the novel is about a fairly ideal relationship that is formed and tested by a situation outside the control of the couple. So I am not surprised that people would find that attractive. Being a bestselling author is not particularly good for one's love life, I'm afraid. I travel too much and work too hard; there's not much time left over.

Kelly: While doing research for this review I came across The Three Incestuous Sisters I had forgotten that you were the author of that book! I loved it but was confused -- it was a confused love. How have your readers responded to it?

Audrey: I don't think that the audience for the Sisters is the same as the audience for TTW. Some people will like both, some neither, some one but not the other. That's okay. I make things for my own odd reasons. If other people like them too, that's great. If not, I'll live. I am very excited to have the Sisters out in the world where people can see it and form their own opinions.

Kelly: Your new book comes out soon, would you like to give us a quick rundown of what we're in for?

Audrey: The "new" book is The Adventuress, which is the picture novel I made before The Three Incestuous Sisters. So this is actually my first book. I made it between 1983 - 85. It's about a young woman who is the result of a cloning experiment in Napoleonic France, who gets loose and has a number of odd adventures.

Kelly: What kinds of books do you load your shelves with?

Audrey: Among many other things, I collect books about the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, who is one of my main influences. My favorite is the book "Aubrey Beardsley" by Brian Reade.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Upcoming Movies Based on Books: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

The Book: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
By Winifred Watson, Published in 1938

First published in 1938, it was reissued in the United Kingdom in 2000, complete with thirty-five original illustrations, and has sold over 22,000 copies. Miss Pettigrew, an approaching-middle-age governess, was accustomed to a household of unruly English children. When her employment agency sends her to the wrong address, her life takes an unexpected turn. The alluring nightclub singer, Delysia LaFosse, becomes her new employer, and Miss Pettigrew encounters a kind of glamour that she had only met before at the movies. Over the course of a single day, both women are changed forever.

Winifred Watson (1907-2002) lived in Newcastle and wrote six novels in all; she chose to stop writing after the birth of her son in 1941. The Times interviewed her at age 94 when Persephone Books reissued the book in 2000. The headline was "Bodice-Ripping Fame at 94".

The Movie: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Starring: Amy Adams as Delysia Lafosse
Frances McDormand as Guinevere Pettigrew

Release Date: March 27, 2008

Tagline: Every Woman Will Have Her Day

Guinevere Pettigrew, a middle-aged London governess, finds herself unfairly dismissed from her job. An attempt to gain new employment catapults her into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse.

This Week's New Books: Week of Mar 23 - Mar 29, 2008

Week of Mar 23 - Mar 29, 2008

Genghis: Lord of the Bows
By Conn Iggulden

Conn Iggulden’s novels are grand historical tales of conquest and vengeance, cruelty and greatness. Now the acclaimed author of Genghis: Birth of an Empire delivers a masterful new novel of the mighty Mongol conqueror—as Genghis Khan sets out to unify an entire continent under his rule.…

Buckingham Palace Gardens
By Anne Perry

The detecting and diplomatic skills of Thomas Pitt, now assigned to the Special Branch, are tested as never before in bestseller Perry's solid 25th novel to feature the Victorian sleuth (after 2005's Long Spoon Lane). In 1893, the discovery of a prostitute's mutilated corpse in a Buckingham Palace cupboard after a stag party presided over by the prince of Wales could spell political disaster for the monarchy. Pitt soon eliminates the members of the sizable household staff as suspects, narrowing his focus to the prince himself and his close friends, who, it turns out, have been planning a major construction project in Africa—a railway that would run from South Africa to Egypt. Though the sensitive nature of Pitt's assignment precludes any active involvement by Charlotte, his wife and partner in earlier cases, he's able to place her maid, Gracie Phipps, on the palace staff to assist him. Perry does a nice job with some plot twists, even if most readers will quickly discount the heir to the throne of England as a viable suspect.

Blue-Eyed Devil
By Lisa Kleypas

A Wellesley grad and daughter of a Houston energy baron, Haven Travis is an unlikely romantic heroine until her brief but ardent encounter with a man who turns out to be Hardy Cates, the East Texas roughneck from Sugar Daddy who worked his way up from poverty and then outmaneuvered the Travis clan in a business deal. Haven's engaged to Nick Tanner—a man her dad thinks is unfit for her—and though she and Hardy have a charged interaction, she elopes with Nick, and her father cuts her off. Nick turns out to be a bad guy, and a beaten and bruised Haven returns to Houston, where Hardy's still at odds with her family. Their passion proves as fervent as ever, but demons from Haven's recent past—as well as strife with her family and troubles at work and in bed—stand in the way.

Hollywood Crows
By Joseph Wambaugh

When LAPD cops Hollywood Nate and Bix Rumstead find themselves caught up with bombshell Margot Aziz, they think they're just having some fun. But in Hollywood, nothing is ever what it seems. To them, Margot is a harmless socialite, stuck in the middle of an ugly divorce from the nefarious nightclub-owner Ali Aziz. What Nate and Bix don't know is that Margot's no helpless victim: the femme fatale is setting them both up. But Ms. Aziz isn't the only one with a deadly plan. In HOLLYWOOD CROWS, Wambaugh returns once again to the beat he knows best, taking readers on a tightly plotted and darkly funny ride-along through Los Angeles with a cast of flawed cops and eccentric lowlifes they won't soon forget.

Our Story Begins
By Tobias Wolff

This work contains 10 new stories and 21 from previous works In The Marine of A Mature Student, a 41-year-old female compares her female professor's experiences in Communist-era Prague and her own son's service in Iraq. Deep Kiss movingly chronicles the fractious results when a teenaged boy, infatuated with a promiscuous classmate, neglects to bond with his dying father. A hilarious description of a brash, ignorant thug in Her Dog shows Wolff's gift for demotic speech. In an author's note, Wolff says that since he has never considered any of his stories sacred texts, he has edited some clumsy or superfluous passages in earlier works.

In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures
By Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren has been an internationally acclaimed actress -- and the recipient of many awards, transferring between stage, cinema and television -- for over 40 years.

Known in her youth for a forthright style, a liberated attitude and a bohemian outlook, she has never ceased to be out of the public eye, with legions of admiring fans all over the world. This illustrated memoir is an account of an extraordinary talent, and a life well lived.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Loaded Questions: Interview with Mary Doria Russell, Author of "Dreamers of the Day"

Loaded Questions with MARY DORIA RUSSELL

I like to interviewing Mary Doria Russell and so I make a habit of doing it often. We were able to chat the other day for a few minutes. Mary was packing, preparing to go out on tour for her brand new release, Dreamers of the Day.

Dreamers of the Day

: I have noticed that a couple of websites have been quoting a comment that I made about interviewing you a few months ago. I said. "Mary is a kind, boisterous, funny, and an honest woman who once told me that, in order to make sure she wasn't writing a 'feel-good Holocaust novel', she had quite literally flipped a coin to find out which characters would live and which would die. Mary Doria Russel likes to cuss and I like not stopping her."

Mary: Isn't it funny that got picked up!? It was quoted in an introduction for my talk last Thursday night at the Granville Library grand reopening!

Kelly: First of all, do you think this is a fair assessment of you?

Mary: It's not bad at all...

Kelly: Dreamers of the Day will be coming out in the next few days. Do you have any sort of ritual that you undertake before the release of a new book?

Mary: Usually, I am frantically trying to work out a wardrobe that will pack well, look good on TV and at bookstores, and span the weather from Long Beach CA (70 degrees and sunny) to Anchorage AL (-4 and volcanic ash). This time, I'm going to emulate male writers on tour: two pairs of fitted blue jeans, five identical black Three Dots 3/4 sleeve teeshirts, and cool jewelry.

Kelly: It is probably way too soon to be thinking about what comes after Dreamers of the Day but have you already started thinking about the next book?

Mary: I'm almost 100 pages into Our Chiefest Pleasure, a murder mystery set in Dodge City in the summer of 1878, when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday became the men who would become American icons three years later after the gunfight at the OK corral. I am TOTALLY in love with this book, and it's killing me to leave it and go on tour...
And for those of you who want a bit more ... Mary and I talked back in September when word about Dreamers of the Day had just gotten out. I wanted to get the scoop directly from the source. The result of that very candid conversation can be read below...

Kelly Hewit: When I heard that you had a new book coming out I knew I had to get in touch. Can you give my readers a teaser?

Mary Doria Russell
: Sure. I'm really curious to get into the questions for this book, because it's so different from the other three.

Are you old enough to remember Chatty Cathy dolls? Kids would pull a string in her back, and the doll would recite a random selection from a limited list of recorded remarks. That's what it feels like when you've been on a book tour for a while. I'm looking forward to developing a new list of recorded remarks!

Kelly: I think I already like your new heroine, Agnes Shanklin, who finds herself in the Egypt and the Holy Lands rubbing shoulders with a German spy, involved in dangerous geopolitical happenings and finally, perhaps most importantly, finding romance as a 40 year old who has wandered pretty far from her native Ohio. Where did you get your inspiration for Agnes? Or to be more bold ... are you Agnes?

Mary: The real Agnes Shanklin taught freshman English in 1964 at Glenbard East High School, in Lombard, Illinois. She was a tiny little "maiden lady" with 1920s bob that had remained the same for forty years, if you don't count the gray. She taught precision grammar by diagramming sentences,and there is a generation of Glenbard girls who remember her with great affection. I expect to hear from a lot of them when the book comes out. Miss Shanklin lived with her older sister, who was also unmarried and reportedly a pain in the ass. She was quiet and refined and gentle, butevery now and then, there would be a flare of her true personality: a moment of political passion, a ferocious opinion revealed.

Those moments were so startling, she remained in my memory as the years went on. As I aged, I began to put her life in context, and realized that she must have been a teenager during the Roaring Twenties. She wasn't always the retiring and sweet old lady we kids assumed she was! So that's the kernel for Agnes.

That said, I have to admit that there is a great deal more autobiographical content in this book than in my first three. The one great failure in my life was my relationship with my mother. She was a silent and opaque person who worked very hard to be above reproach. She relentlessly said and did all the correct things, but it seemed forced and, ultimately, counterfeit. Every moment with her vibrated with cognitive dissonance. What I saw and heard never matched up with the emotion I sensed.

I was never able to break through the glassy, reflective surface Mom kept polished, not even at the end of her life when I was at her side constantly while she slowly died of ovarian cancer. All of the passages about Agnes going through her dead mother's estate were directly from my life, by the way, which helped me process the experience. That sort of thing doesn't change.

Because Mom was so closed off, I spent a lifetime trying to understand what made her the person she was and made myself an expert on her family history. In writing Agnes, I took the opportunity to imagine a sort ofthree-generation amalgam: what would I be like if I had been raised by my mother's mother?

Agnes is not a portrait of Louise, or me, but her family dynamic does draw on some of my own. The idea was, Maybe if I could get a sense of how Loella raised Louise, I would understand Louise better.

I don't know that writing this novel helped me with my mother's memory much. Nevertheless, I got at some real issues in 20th century childrearing and parent-child conflicts that I think will resonate for a lot of readers.

Kelly: The last time we talked we discussed your great depth of knowledge about WW II as is evident in A Thread of Grace. Some of that knowledge, you said, had come from your father's influence and knowledge of militariana -- the rest you noted was a result of your scholarship of the time period. Did you spend as much time studying the Cairo Peace Conference and the major political figures there?

Mary: No, not as much. A Thread of Grace drew on a massive historical record and on my original research done overseas. Dreamers of the Day was written in the aftermath of that effort, during which my mother got her diagnosis. My original intent was to take a year off after A Thread of Grace, but I started writing Dreamers of the Day during the hardcover book tour for A Thread of Grace, which coincided with the last six months of my mother's long death. Amazingly dumb, but there you go. Can't seem to help myself.

I did have the brains, at least, to take on something easier, smaller scale, less sweeping and epic. For one thing, everybody in Dreamers of the Day speaks English. And it takes place partly in Ohio, so not every fucking paragraph required research. The Cairo Conference barely gets a mention in most histories, so I didn't have to read mountains of texts. And nobody who attended it is alive today, so I don't have to worry about one of them showing up at a book signing to embarrass the shit out of me.

All I had to know is what Agnes would have known or learned while she was in Cairo for ten days. She meets T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Lady Gertrude Bell, but she's not a participant in the conference, and only hears about it second hand. It's a backstage look at the events and personalities. I do suggest the larger issues behind the dialog, so that anyone who's very knowledgeable about the historical background will see what's implied.

Then I had a highly respected Lawrence scholar vet the book for me. Steve Tabachnick said the book is dead on historically and thinks I did a good job of portraying the personalities. That was a huge relief.

Kelly: You are still on my shortlist of authors I have had the funnest time interviewing. I loved that you cussed several times during the interview.

Mary: My dad was a Marine Corps drill sergeant and my mom was a Navy nurse. Try to imagine what I sounded like in kindergarten...

Kelly: Is that something I can continue to look forward to in future interviews?

Mary: Shit, yes. See "every fucking paragraph," above.


Update: Here is good an article/review of Dreamers of the Day entitled "Awakening on the Nile" with Mary Doria Russell from the Washington Post Book Section.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Books Turned Into Movies: Snow Angels by Stewart O'Nan starring Kate Beckinsale

Snow Angels

The Book: Snow Angels was Stewart O'Nan's first novel, released in 2004. It was released to great reviews. The NY Times wrote: "Stunning . . . A truthful and deeply sad picture of the American hinterland, which has lost religion and maybe also lost its capacity for sustained love. . . . Wonderfully effective . . . O'Nan sees with a vengeance."

The Movie: Snow Angels is a 2008 film starring Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. It was directed by David Gordon Green, who also wrote the screenplay adapted from Stewart O'Nan's novel of the same title. The film premiered in the dramatic competition at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It is a character driven film centered around several characters dealing with loss of innocence in a small town.

For an interview with a favorite of mine, Amy Sedaris, who talks about the novel, the movie, and her experience playing Barb in the movie,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Loaded Questions: Interview with Robert Leleux author of The Memoir of Beautiful Boy

The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy
St. Martin's Press, $23.95

Robert Leleux is a fun guy to email back and forth with. He is entirely nice, polite to a fault, and happy to tell a story. I have been interested in The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy for several months now because of the uniqueness of his story and the positive way Robert tells it. If reading the book is as much fun as interviewing Robert, then you and I both are in for a good deal of laughter.

Kelly Hewitt
: I have read some of the short pieces that you've written over at Amazon
.com, they're hilarious. Do you have a blog or a site where readers can go to read about your daily escapades?

Robert Leleux: Well, it's so funny you should ask, Kelly, because I do happen to have a website: It's a charming little spot, with oodles of lovely pictures of moi, and my mother, and all my family. And all my blogs are posted there. Or at least, all the blogs my partner Michael will let me post. I'm a highly censored author, you see. I keep firing off these fiery political pieces--and Michael keeps preventing them from ever seeing the light of day. Which, since he's the computer saavy half, isn't difficult. I'm telling you, he should have worked for Nixon! But he's probably right--the thing to do is to caste a wide net. And besides, it isn't the Christian thing to keep telling public figures how much you hate them. At least in print. But at this rate, I'll never be Molly Ivins.

Kelly: So when introducing you one should say that you are a best selling author and muted political activist? That's kind of catchy. I take it that you don't subscribe to politics as usual in Texas. Speaking of growing up in Texas (see how smooth that was?) was it all bad? Is there
any part of your writing that you attribute to a life growing up in the Lone Star State?

Robert: Oh, that's adorable of you--but I'm not sure I count as an activist, I'm just a loudmouth. The Mouth Of The South, my grandmother used to call me. And as for Texas, I dearly love it. Houston is home for me in a way that no other place ever will be. I might be alone in this, but I actually think it's a beautiful city, and every time I go back, something in me just sings. And I believe that East Texas is just about THE best place in America for a writer to come from--because it hasn't yet succumbed to that horrible homogenization of language that's stripped so much of America of its regional sounds. It seems to me that there's only a handful of places left that sound like themselves, and I think that maintaining that is so precious. Grace Paley said something like, "a writer has to listen to the world with two ears: one turned to the language of literature, and the other turned to the language of the street you grew up on." And it's so terrific to have been born to a place where the language is so charged and funny and off-kilter gorgeous.

the magical, miraculous thing about books is that you write them alone, in an empty room--a really private experience-- and then, they venture out alone in the world. They enter rooms you'll never see, they meet people who'll forever be strangers to you." -- Robert Leleux

Kelly: How do you feel about the fact that, while all of the reviews of your book have been pretty stellar, a few reviewers have warned readers that the book is "not for the faint of heart"? Do you think that's a fair label?

Robert: What's the expression? "Faint heart never won fair maiden." Something like that. Well, I don't know--practically everyone in Michael's family has a heart condition, and they all loved my book. And there have been a couple of completely lovely ladies who've written to say that they read my book in the hospital, and that they laughed so hard, their nurses thought they were having some sort of attack, and what do you know, laughter really is the best medicine. Which absolutely makes my life worthwhile--the opportunity to actually cheer up a person who really needs of a good laugh. Who could ask for anything more? I mean, the magical, miraculous thing about books is that you write them alone, in an empty room--a really private experience-- and then, they venture out alone in the world. They enter rooms you'll never see, they meet people who'll forever be strangers to you. It's very moving to me--especially since my book's a memoir, and there are people out there I'll never know, with whom I'm having this very sort of intimate experience. VERY strange, and wonderful. But to answer your question--if you want Barbara Pym (AND I love Barbara Pym), I'm not Barbara Pym. Or as Joan Crawford said, "If you want the girl next door, go next door."

Kelly: The stress of going on a book tour is enough to make any sane person go a little crazy. You go one step further though. I read that you're actually do the book tour for Memoir of a Beautiful Boy with your mother. Whose idea was that? How is it working out?

Robert: Well, I maintain that it's a real marker of virile masculinity, travelling with your mother. How many brawny He-Men would even attempt it? And it's been a total blast. If anyone out there ever contemplates a tour of any sort, I recommend taking someone with you. Because your job, out on the road, is to meet lovely strangers who've been kind enough to care enough to come out and say hello to you, and to be very, very present--and it's enormously helpful to have a person, like your mother, guiding your arm, and keeping an eye on the task at hand. ALSO, I would recommend taking MY mother with you. Because she's very funny, and it never hurts to have a gorgeous, glamorous woman with you, even if she does happen to be your mother. The whole thing started off as a joke--in a marketing meeting with my publisher, I said, "Maybe I should bring my mother with me!" And no one laughed. Which taught me a real lesson. Namely, don't make jokes in marketing meetings, because they have a tendency to become PR strategies. So then, I called Mother, and said, "What do you think of the notion of heading off on the road with me?" And she said, "I'll call you later, I'm going shopping." Which is my mother's means of preparation. So she got some gorgeous new suits, and adventure ensued. It was very much like that Eric Preminger book about being on the road with his mother, Gypsy Rose Lee. I kept looking around, and there Mother was, sitting cross-legged on the Vuitton suitcases, smoking, and looking very glamorous and world-weary.

Kelly: You've convinced me, I'll take a trip with your mother. I am going to Maui soon -- can she swim?

Robert: She's an ace. And when she was a little girl, she used to fake swim with plastic flowers in her hair, like Esther Williams.

Kelly: On a more serious note, when do you think you mother will write a book about you?

Robert: I only wish my mother would write a book about ANYTHING! I'd be first in line to buy it--I feel like my job in life is just to follow the genius, brassy women in my family around with a pen, and write down everything they say. My grandfather and I look at each other all the time, and say, "How lucky are we to be in the same room with these ladies!"

This might be a really dumb question but I'm willing to stick my neck out. Is the picture on the front of the book really you and your mother?

Robert: That's not stupid at all--you never know about these things. But YES, that's US! My mother was so adorable. She told me, "I really feel strongly that you and I should be on the cover." And I said, "Well, yes, I appreciate that, but it's not really my decision, Mother." And she said, "Then whose decision is it?" And I said, "I guess it's my editor's." And she said, "Well, I think you should call him up, and you should tell him that your mother feels very strongly that you and I should be on the cover." And I just sort of nodded, and said uh-huh. But it actually worked out! And I love the fact that when I look at my book on the shelf, I see my mama's face!

Kelly: I know you're a fan of public radio, as am I. I, too, have spent a good hour in my car after getting home listing to All Things Considered or This American Life. I am always amazed by the inane little facts that I learn from listening to NPR and often times don't realize that I knew them until I find myself telling someone about the migrating patterns of the yellow breasted pygmy sparrow. What's the favorite story or random fact you've learned from public radio?

Robert: That's very funny about the pygmy sparrow. Well, I don't know, I just love how smart it makes me feel to listen to NPR. It's like being invited to MENSA, you know? I love being able to say--"Today on NPR, I heard blah blah blah." Or, "Isn't that a coincidence, why just this afternoon, they were saying on NPR, blah blah blah...." On the other hand, I don't get to say this a great deal, because Michael is so INSUFFERABLY bored by talk radio. Or, as he refers to it, "A bunch of old people sitting around a table, talking." Michael's father, God love him, was a Rush Limbaugh listener, and I'm afraid it was a searing experience that forever spoiled his love of the format. But one of my fondest memories--one of those instances when you really feel like you've found yourself as an adult--was one bright sunny summer aftenoon in 2004, just after I'd sent off my five dollars to the Howard Dean campaign, when I was tootling around in my friend's Volvo, listening to NPR, and some political strategist said, "Howard Dean's constituency is solely comprised of people who drive around in Volvos listening to NPR." I almost spun into a ditch! It was thrilling! I thought to myself, "Robert Leleux, you have arrived!

The book is doing really well! So here's the question that you as a best-selling author will be asked repeatedly for the rest of your life. When will your next book come out and what is it about?

That's enormously sweet. Well, I've got several pots on the stove. It looks like a little picture book I did might be coming to fruition--so keep your fingers crossed. And then, I'm working on a sequel to my book. And I have what I think is the most adorable idea for a young adult series. But you know, there's that great great line about somebody saying to Baudelaire, "Mr. Baudelaire, I have the most TERRIFIC idea for a sonnet," and Baudelaire says, "Sonnets, sir, are not made of ideas." And brother, you can say that again. Sonnets, and anything like them, are made of hard, slaving work. And as you know, hard work never gets any easier. It's that awful, awful Zen thing about writing--how every time you sit down with blank paper, you're beginning again. VERY humbling. Because blank paper is no respecter of wordly success. And you just have to keep returning to that desk every day, and sometimes it's like going in for A Day of Beauty at Elizabeth Arden, and sometimes, it's like going to the salt mines.

Kelly: You and your partner meet while working on a stage production of West Side Story. What parts did the two of your play or was it a star/stage hand sort of thing? And, tell the truth, do you find yourself tearing up whenever your hear "There's A Place for Us?" And lastly, did I just out myself as a recovering theatre geek?

Well, I played Tony (THE worst Tony in the history of the American theatre), and Michael was my choreographer. So we were practically Cybill Shepherd and Peter Bogdonavich, Michael and me. It was love at first sight. Maria was devastated. But it was really thematically perfect, you know? This great romance set to music about a great romance set to music. It suited my sense of drama. Fortunately, I fell in love with a person with no sense of drama. Michael is extraordinarily level-headed, and he remains, eleven years later, the single greatest thing that could ever have happened to me. My mother feels the same way--she also thinks Michael is the greatest thing that's ever happened to her. Somebody asked me, "What's the secret to a happy marriage?" And I said, "Marry Michael." I feel entirely incidental to my own domestic happiness. Anyone who married Michael would be entirely thrilled with life. He's a person with no dark side. Only dark chocolate. Terrific. And as for "West Side Story," I do find it ENDLESSLY moving, so don't be embarrassed with me, Kelly. You know, my mother always had those showtune albums playing in our house growing up, and she was wonderful enough to treat them with real importance--like real art. And so I sort of grew up with idea that musicals were a real part of a classical education. So when I went to college, I remember flipping through the course bulletin, and thinking, "Dickinson, Tolstoy, Turgenev....Where's Molly Brown?" TRAGICALLY disappointing. But you know, I think musicals have had an enormous impact on me as a writer--I persist in believing Cole Porter to be one of the only truly great American writers. And I think that in order to be even a decent writer you have to have a sense of musical rhythm. And also, I remember PG Wodehouse writing something like, "There are two ways to write a novel. To soar gloriously above the dim reality of life--to write musicals without the music. Or to burrow deep within it." Wodehouse obviously identified with the first method, and so do I.

How tired are you of being compared to Augusten Burroughs or David Sedaris?

Well, how lovely to be compared to anybody as devastatingly funny as either of those two gentlemen! On the other hand, I've never read them. And not because I haven't heard wonderful things--it's just, given that people tend to make that comparison, I don't think it's the best possible thing to risk absorbing contemporaries working in a similar vein. I would never want to risk anything spilling over--it's the one sense in which I'm concerned about maintaining my purity! It's so interesting that because I'm gay, and some people, at least, think I'm funny, that the sort of knee-jerk response is to compare me to those two great writers. But personally, I've always wanted to be PG Wodehouse or Nora Ephron or Wendy Wasserstein or Molly Ivins. Those are the people who've kept me rolling in the aisles--the writers I go back to again and again whenever I'm stuck, which tends to happen about once every twelve-and-a-half minutes. But it is so fascinating that your very private, personal work ends up getting you publicly grouped with people you don't know, and don't really know much about. But again, who's complaining?

Robert, I would like to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I have heavily recommended this book to Loaded Questions readers and now that they've had a chance to see how much funnier you are than myself I am sure they'll be rushing out to get it.

Robert: Yes, but you're SO much prettier than I am. So, together, we're an unbeatable team!
THANK YOU so much, Kelly. This really has been fun! And my whole life I've been trying to tell people about my favorite books, and they've always ducked behind corners, so it would be a thrill for somebody to actually ask for my opinion! And thanks for doing this great blog--I'm sure it's so much work, but it's also VERY special. XX,R

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This Week's New Book Releases

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

Russell's enjoyable latest historical is told in the exuberant, posthumous voice (yes, it's narrated from the afterlife) of Agnes Shanklin, a 38-year-old schoolteacher from Cedar Glen, a town near Cleveland, Ohio. After the influenza epidemic of 1919 strikes down Agnes's family, a childless and unmarried Agnes settles the family estate, acquires financial independence and adopts an affable dachshund named Rosie. Accompanied by Rosie, Agnes travels to Cairo during the Cairo Peace Conference, where she befriends Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia among other historical heavy hitters. She also falls in love with the charismatic Karl Weilbacher, a German spy whose interest in Agnes may have less to do with romance than Agnes will allow herself to believe. Agnes's travelogues, while marvelously detailed, distract from the increasingly tense romantic play between Agnes and Karl. When a more worldly-wise Agnes returns home, her life—first as an investor wrecked by the Depression and then a librarian until her death in 1957—remains low-keyed.

Flag of Truce by David Donachie

John Pearce comes back from Corsica demanding that Captain Barclay of HMS Brilliant, the man who originally pressed him and his fellow Pelicans into the Navy, be tried at home by a civilian court. Against the background of the ongoing siege of Toulon and with the Revolutionary Army massing to attack, no one in authority sees this as a good time to accede to his requests. Barclayâs patron Admiral Hotham contrives a way out of the dilemma. He staffs the ship Pearce captured in Corsica with members of the Revolutionary Navy refusing to serve under the Bourbon flag and gives it to Henry Digby, with Pearce and his Pelicans under him, so that they may transport the renegade French sailors to an Atlantic port and set them free. Whilst Pearce is gone Hotham fixes a court martial where Barclay is found innocent for lack of evidence, a ruse that leads to an open breach with his wife Emily.

A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

Bestseller Archer (Kane and Abel) pays homage to Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo in this delicious updating of the adventure classic. Four upper-crust friends from Cambridge University known as the Musketeers conspire to frame Danny Cartwright, an illiterate London East Ender, for the murder of Danny's oldest friend and brother-in-law to be, Bernie Wilson. The outcome of the intriguing trial, which pits a relatively novice defense lawyer against a skilled prosecutor, is a 22-year sentence for Danny. In maximum-security Belmarsh prison, Danny is lucky enough to share a cell with Sir Nicholas Moncrieff, the book's Abbé Faria figure, who teaches him to read and write. In a trick familiar to those who know their Dumas, Danny escapes by impersonating Moncrieff and hatches an intricate scheme to punish the Musketeers and clear his name. While Archer doesn't explore the cost to Danny's soul his revenge exacts, the author's firsthand knowledge of prison life and legal maneuvers helps make this a thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.

Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman

Hollywood comes to Baltimore in bestseller Lippman's assured 10th PI Tess Monaghan caper (after 2006's No Good Deeds). When Tess literally stumbles onto the set of Mann of Steel, a big-budget TV miniseries shooting in her neighborhood, she finds herself hired as a bodyguard for Selene Waites, the show's 20-year-old hard-partying star. Flip Tumulty—the show's writer and son of a Baltimore-born Hollywood mogul—tells Tess the set has been plagued by vandalism and he fears for Selene's safety. Tess soon uncovers unsettling photos of Selene and learns they were taken by Wilbur Grace, a stalker who later hanged himself. When one of the crew members is murdered, Tess suspects someone may be trying to shut down more than the TV production. While the excitement level may not match that of other recent entries in the series, fans will appreciate the author's usual authentic local color and intricate plotting.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson

Jackson matches effortless Southern storytelling with a keen eye for character and heart-stopping circumstances. Laurel, a high-end quilt maker, sees the ghost of a little girl in her bedroom one night. When it leads her to the backyard and a dead girl in the swimming pool, the life Laurel had hoped to build in her gated Florida neighborhood with her video-game designer husband, David, and their tween daughter, Shelby, starts to fall apart. Though the police clear the drowning as accidental, it soon appears that Shelby and her friend Bet may have been involved. Bet, who lives in DeLop, Laurel's impoverished hometown, was staying over the night of the drowning and plays an increasingly important role as the truth behind the drowning comes to light. Meanwhile, Laurel's sister, Thalia, whose unconventional ways are anathema to Laurel's staid existence, comes to stay with the family and helps sort things out. Subplots abound: Laurel thinks David is having an affair, and Thalia reveals some ugly family secrets involving the death of their uncle. What makes this novel shine are its revelations about the dark side of Southern society and Thalia and Laurel's finely honed relationship, which shows just how much thicker blood is than water.

Blind Fall
by Christopher Rice

From three-time New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice comes this startling psychological thriller about an Iraq War vet who seeks redemption and revenge when a fellow Marine he failed to protect during the war is brutally murdered. John Houck became a Marine to become a hero. But his life changed when he failed to notice an explosive device that ended up maiming the captain of his Force Recon Company, a respected Marine who nearly sacrificed himself to save John's life. Home from Iraq, John pays a visit to his former captain, only to discover the captain has been gruesomely murdered. John pursues a strange man he sees running from the scene, but he discovers that Alex Martin is not the murderer. Alex is, in fact, the former captain's secret male lover and the killer's intended next victim. When it becomes clear that local law enforcement has direct connections to the murder itself, John realizes that to repay his debt of honor, he must teach Alex Martin how to protect himself, even if that means teaching Alex to kill. In the process, John confronts the painful truth about the younger brother he was unable to protect and the older sister he always felt he failed. Blind Fall is a story of honor and integrity, of turning failure into victory. It is a stunning departure for Christopher Rice: the story of two men, one a Marine, one gay, who must unite to avenge the death of the man they both loved--one as a brother-in-arms, one as a lover--and to survive.

Lush Life
by Richard Price

Starred Review. Master of the Bronx and Jersey projects, Price (Clockers) turns his unrelenting eye on Manhattan's Lower East Side in this manic crescendo of a novel that explores the repercussions of a seemingly random shooting. When bartender Ike Marcus is shot to death after barhopping with friends, NYPD Det. Matty Clark and his team first focus on restaurant manager and struggling writer Eric Cash, who claims the group was accosted by would-be muggers, despite eyewitnesses saying otherwise. As Matty grills Eric on the still-hazy details of the shooting, Price steps back and follows the lives of the alleged shooters—teenagers Tristan Acevedo and Little Dap Williams, who live in a nearby housing project—as well as Ike's grieving father, Billy, who hounds the police even as leads dwindle. As the intersecting narratives hurtle toward a climax that's both expected and shocking, Price peels back the layers of his characters and the neighborhood until all is laid bare. With its perfect dialogue and attention to the smallest detail, Price's latest reminds readers why he's one of the masters of American urban crime fiction.

The Silver Swan
by Benjamin Black

In this stunning follow-up to 2007's Christine Falls, Black (pseudonym of Booker Prize–winner John Banville) spins a complex tale of murder and deception in 1950s Ireland. Pathologist Garret Quirke, surprised by a visit from a college acquaintance, Billy Hunt, is even more surprised when Billy begs Quirke not to perform an autopsy on his wife, Deirdre, whose naked body was recently retrieved from Dublin Bay. Though everything points to suicide, Quirke knows something's amiss and begins to retrace Deirdre's steps. Black expertly balances Quirke's investigation with chapters detailing Deidre's past, from her marriage to Billy to her shady business deal with Leslie White, an enigmatic Englishman who knew Deidre as Laura Swan, the proprietress of their joint venture, a beauty salon called the Silver Swan. As Quirke digs deeper, he discovers a web of lies and blackmail that threatens to envelop even his own estranged daughter, Phoebe. Laconic, stubborn Quirke makes an appealing hero as the pieces of this unsettling crime come together in a shocking conclusion.
Related Posts with Thumbnails