Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Emily Giffin Book Giveaway!

Dear Loaded Questions Readers.

I am happy to announce what is perhaps the biggest giveaway in Loaded Questions history. New York Times Bestselling author Emily Giffin and her wonderful staff have generously offered to send one lucky Loaded Questions reader a signed copy of each of Emily's books including her newest novel, Love the One You're With as well as her other bestsellers, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and Baby Proof.

Those who have read Giffin's books know the authors uncanny ability to provide her readers with funny and thought provoking storylines and characters that get to the heart of the very same issues we're all facing on a daily basis.

Stay tuned in the coming days for an exclusive interview with Emily Giffin!

Contest Details
: Getting yourself entered in the giveaway is easy! There are two ways:

Option 1. See the box in the left margin of the blog? It says "Subscribe to Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt". This is a great way to receive email updates whenever new posts are made to Loaded Questions. Enter your email address in order to sign yourself up for the service. You will receive an email verifying you request to be signed up. It's as easy as that. Once you have signed up, your email address will automatically entered in the contest! Already signed up this way for a previous contest? Read Option #2.


Option 2. Reply to this thread. This is an easy option, click the reply button and write a little something -- introduce yourself, share your favorite author or book with the rest of us, anything will do. Once you have written a reply and provided your email you are entered in the contest! This is also the best option to enter in the contest for those of you who have already signed up for the email list in the past.

Note: Those who are frequent readers are encouraged to continue to sign up for Loaded Questions giveaways! If you have entered one of our giveaways before you must do one of the above listed in order to be re-entered for the Autographed Emily Giffin Book Giveaway.

Friday, May 23, 2008

33 Author Interviews: the Loaded Questions Archive

Pulitzer Prize winners, award beloved children's book scribes, Oprah Book Club picks, biographies, histories, best selling authors and first time novelists -- these are the thirty-three talented individuals whose interviews have played an integral part in the success of Loaded Questions. The good news? This is just the beginning. Dozen more important literary figures are just waiting to be interviewed, to tell their stories and share their thoughts. Stay tuned for more.

Chris Bohjalian Author of Skeletons at the Feast

Lauren Groff Author of The Monsters of Templeton

Sally Varlow Author of The Lady Penelope

Jennifer Cody Epstein Author of The Painter from Shanghai

Mary Roach Author of Bonk: The Science of Sex and the Laboratory

Ty Stoller Author of The Monkey Jungle

Geraldine Brooks Author of The People of the Book

Catherine Delors Author of The Mistress of the Revolution

Audrey Niffenegger Author of The Time Traveler's Wife

Mary Doria Russell Author of Dreamers of the Day

Robert Leleux Author of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy

Sandra Worth Author of Lady of the Roses

Margaret George Author of Helen of Troy

Ed Emberley Author of The Wing of a Flee

Kate Maloy Author of Every Last Cuckoo

Frank Delaney Author of Tipperary

Ellen Baker Author of Keeping the House

Yannick Murphy Author of Signed Mata Hari

Ken Follett Author of World Without End

Michael Jecks Author of Dispensation of Death

Kevin Kling Author of The Dog Says How

Ann Packer Author of Songs Without Words

Peg Kingman Author of Not Yet Drown'd

Charles Holdefer Author of The Contractor

Erika Mailman Author of The Witch's Trinity

Susan Higginbotham Author of The Traitor's Wife

Thomas Maltman Author of The Night Birds

John Elder Robison Author of Look Me in the Eye

Kate Furnivall Author of The Russian Concubine

Charlotte Mendelson Author of When We Were Bad

Nicholas Christopher Author of The Bestiary

David Blixt Author of The Master of Verona

Michelle Moran Author of Nefertiti

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Interview with Chris Bohjalian, Author of Skeletons at the Feast

Chris Bohjalian sent out an email a few days ago to announce that this Sunday his latest novel, Skeletons At the Feast, is set to debut on the New York Times Bestseller List. Set during the final six months of WWII the book features a small group of travelers whose rank includes a Prussian aristocrat, a Scottish prisoner and a corporal with a secret past. Click here to read an excerpt from the book.

In light of the success of Chris Bohjalian's Skeletons At the Feast, I thought it might be interesting to present the Loaded Questions interview I did with Chris a year ago.

Kelly Hewitt: In doing some research about you I recently stumbled across "Idyll Banter" a column that you have been writing for the Burlington Free Press in Vermont for the last thirteen years. (The column has been turned into a book of essays that shares the same name...) Despite not having ever set foot in Vermont I found the columns very interesting. Would you share a bit with our readers about what "Idyll Banter" is about? How has it changed over the years?

Chris Bohjalian: Actually, I have been writing the column since February 1992. We are approaching the start of my 16th year.

"Idyll Banter" began as the ruminations of an idiot flandlander who moved directly from Brooklyn to a village of barely a thousand people in rural Vermont. The town in which I live sits halfway up Vermont's third highest mountain.

Over the decade and a half I have been writing the column, however, it has evolved into a chronicle of what I have learned as a father, a husband, and a resident of a community so small that you simply have to take responsibility for how you live your life and the footprint you leave on the planet.

That sounds a tad crunchy, a tad sensitive. Its true. But the column is also a reasonably funny 19 column inches each week. In the last month, for example, my columns have addressed why my wife and I went to see "Jackass 2;" how wistful fall is for everyone -- not just James Blunt; why one woman lives for Halloween and black vinyl; and why the ladies room is such a mystery to men.

To read it weekly, simply visit the front page of my website, or the Burlington Free Press.

The Columns are also brought to life periodically on the Hallmark Station's "New Morning" program weekdays at 7 a.m. To see the filmed version of "Idyll Banter", simply turn on the speakers to your computer and click here.

Kelly: A couple of profiles of you I have read have painted you as a neat-freak who can't help but write perfectly thought out and tidy novels. Does that ring true? If so, what is your biggest pet peeve as far as neatness goes?

Chris: Yes, I am very neat. Very tidy. I detest clutter, and I simply have to have an immaculate desk and an immaculate library to be productive.

I control the clutter in my library. Alas, I do not control the clutter -- at least with the same draconian vigilance -- in my family's cars. And so I think my biggest "neat freak" pet peeve is the way people view cars as really big knapsacks in which you just toss anything.

Kelly: You are an author who spends a great deal of time researching the subject of your novel. You spent time with transsexuals and their families for "Tran-Sister Radio", learned about the beliefs of gun rights activists for "Before You Know Kindness" and witnessed the birth of a baby for "Midwives". What sort of research went into your new novel, "The Double Bind"? Can you tell us a bit about the new novel?

Chris: "The Double Bind" had its origins in December 2003, when Rita Markley, the executive director of Burlington, Vermont's Committee on Temporary Shelter, shared with me the contents of a box of old photographs. The black-and-white images had been taken by a once-homeless man who had died in the studio apartment her organization had found for him. His name was Bob “Soupy” Campbell.

The photos were remarkable, both because of the man’s evident talent and because of the subject matter. I recognized the performers – musicians, comedians, actors – and newsmakers in many of them. Most of the photos were at least forty years old. We were all mystified as to how Campbell had gone from photographing luminaries from the 1950s and 1960s to winding up at a homeless shelter in northern Vermont. He had no surviving family we were aware of that we could ask.

The reality, of course, is that Campbell probably wound up homeless for any one of the myriad of reasons that most transients wind up on the streets: mental illness. Substance abuse. Bad luck.

I was profoundly moved by the work he left behind, and was inspired to write a novel. The new book is about a young social worker who works with the homeless, the elderly photographer she befriends before he dies, and the images he left behind. In the novel (versus in reality), the social worker realizes the photos are the link both to her childhood on Long Island, the old Jay Gatsby estate (which has since become a swim and tennis club in the 80-plus years since the bootlegger's death), and a violent crime in northern Vermont with which the social worker is all too familiar. The book is a bit of a thriller.

My sense is that we tend to stigmatize the homeless and blame them for their plight. We are oblivious to the fact that most had lives as serious as our own before everything fell apart. And so, long after I had finished the novel, I decided to explore the possibility of incorporating some of Campbell's work into the final book.

Consequently, there are 12 of Campbell's actual photos woven into the fictional text. Obviously, Bobbie Crocker, the homeless photographer in this novel is fictitious. But the photographs you will see in The Double Bind are real.

To see Campbell's photos and read an excerpt from The Double Bind, click here.

Kelly: Maybe you get asked this a lot and if so, so I'm sorry, but what is like to be the author of a book selected by Oprah? Some readers are turned off by the Oprah book club but it seems to like its a way to get people reading and literacy is always a good thing. Did the experience change you as an author?

Chris: Unlike some authors selected for Oprah's Book Club, I was never conflicted. I don't think anyone has done as much to remind people of the great pleasures to be found in a book as Oprah Winfrey.

And I have always been honored to be on a list with the likes of Ernest Gaines and Alice Hoffman and Joyce Carol Oates and Andre Dubus III and Toni Morrison and Sue Miller.

Kelly: Does your last name get misspelled often? If so, what kind of strange concoctions do telemarketers come up with?

Chris: My favorite? Crystal Jellian.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and authors?

Chris: A lot of books -- probably no surprise there. And I have at least 42 different editions of books by or about Scott Fitzgerald.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Monsters of Templeton Author Interview

Shortly after The Monsters of Templeton arrived in my mailbox I sat down to pour over the pages. I had seen the cover of the book months before as it graced the cover of its publishers winter book preview. After reading about the book in the catalog I emailed Lauren Groff to see how she might feel about the prospect of chatting with me. As you will see from the interview below Lauren Groff is a very gracious person. After reading the novel, however, you'll come to find that she is also a talented author.

Kelly Hewitt: Not only did your debut book The Monsters of Templeton land on the New York Times Bestseller list the week that it debuted, it got rave reviews from some very influential literary figures. Stephen King wrote about your book in Entertainment Weekly, writing about is sadness he felt for the end of the Harry Potter books and your own novel.

King wrote: "The sense of sadness I feel at the approaching end of The Monsters of Templeton isn't just because the story's going to be over; when you read a good one — and this is a very good one — those feelings are deepened by the realization that you probably won't tie into anything that much fun again for a long time. What's that like, reading Stephen King's thoughts about your book?

Lauren Groff: It was wild. I knew that Stephen King had liked some of my previous work--he selected a story of mine for the Best American Short Stories 2007 anthology--but I had no idea that he would read my book and tell the world that he enjoyed it. I thought it was an incredibly kind, gracious and generous gesture that he would lend me a little bit of his own luster. Frankly, the man can do anything he wants to do, and the mere idea that he'd be supporting a young unknown shows that he has an enormous heart.

Kelly: Are you familiar with the feeling of sadness at the end of a very good book that King writes about?

Lauren: I think that you can't be a writer without being a reader, and you can't be a reader without feeling that sadness (I think of it more as nostalgia) constantly. As a working writer, I find I read for slightly different reasons now than I did when I was little and always absorbed in some book or other. Now I'm reading not only for the ravishing excitement of a good yarn, I'm also looking to be put under the writer's lyrical spell, and am falling in love with new perfect structures or risky choices, and being blown away by ambition or power. I'm reading to "borrow" from better writers, and to be astonished. There so many great books put into the world every year that even though I read 5-7 per week, I can't possibly read all the worthy new fiction out there; and that's not even coming near all of the classics I have yet to read. The depth of literature in this world is simultaneously wonderful and maddening.

Kelly: Did you find that you had similar feelings of loss when finishing the writing of The Monsters of Templeton?

Lauren: I wrote the Epilogue of Monsters because I really couldn't let go, and finished the last line, weeping. I wrote so many drafts of this novel over so many years that, by the end of the experience, I thought the book would never be published and so I just wrote it for myself. In retrospect, that seems a very pure motive, and, now that I'm working on my third book, one that I regret I don't have any more.

Kelly: An Amazon reviewer writes that The Monsters of Templeton is the most innovative new novel since The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. How do you feel about that comparison?

Lauren: I feel very guilty, but I've actually never read The Time Traveler's Wife. But I've heard it's great, so thanks, Amazon Reviewer!

Kelly: I was really entertained by your blog recently after reading about your post that considered the existence of child birth scenes in literature and the fact that. [Click here to read Lauren's blog.] Call me an astute researcher but I am also guessing from photos and your post that you yourself are with child.

Lauren: Oh gracious. Indeed. I'm due in August, in the middle of a Florida summer. In some ways, having a child seems far less stressful than publishing a book: then again, he's not here yet, so I can't compare. We'll see.

Kelly: How did reading about childbirth in novels make you feel about your own impending birth?

Lauren: Well--the point of the blog is that there aren't really any great, joyful childbirth scenes in novels--so I didn't feel all that happy about it, to be honest. Overall, I'm concerned about balance, finding time for my work, being able to raise a healthy, happy person in this wildly frightening world.

Kelly: Birthing scenes aside, do you think that the experience of being a mother will change the way that you write or think about certain kinds of scenes?

Lauren: It's the job of the fiction writer to imagine herself fully into the heads of characters who have lived lives that are alien to the writer's own experience. I think that a good writer can write from anyone's perspective; that said, having a new experience definitely opens the doors to greater empathy, which only enriches a novel. Because I don't have children yet, I can only imagine what it feels to have them, and the reality is probably much richer and more complicated than what I could create in my own head. I'm hoping that it just adds layers to my writing.

Kelly: A lot of readers (myself included) have expressed the fact that the family trees, maps, portraits and family pictures in the book add to the authenticity of the book, the town you've created and the characters that inhabit it. When/Why did you decide to include these things? Were you involved in the selection of the photos?

Lauren: The photos came from the composition of the book--I've been a huge fan of old-time photography forever, and one of my favorite things in the world is going to antique stores to find evocative old photographs. Pre-snapshot pictures really show the soul of the human sitting there--there's no masklike grin that we nowadays fall into. I found that when I had a visual reference for some of the characters I was able to dig more deeply into who they were. It wasn't until I sold the book that I thought, "Huh. I have all these pictures...Monsters is a book about genealogy...what if I created a sort of family album effect?" Plus, it helps to keep some of the people straight, and I thought it was pretty fun.

Kelly: I really appreciated the Author's Note at the beginning of the book, it provided me with a firm understanding of what you were working to accomplish and the thought that had gone into writing the novel. It is here that you discuss the fact that you set out to write a novel about your home town of Cooperstown but found a different story, history, and characters residing in your head. And this is how we get The Monsters of Templeton set in new version of Cooper's Templeton.

You wrote that you grew up with Fenimore Cooper's Templeton and characters. At what age did you first read a James Fenimore Cooper book?

Lauren: I'll admit it--I was a ridiculous nerd when I was little (I love nerds, by the way--this isn't a disparaging remark in my world). I read The Grapes of Wrath in third grade and Gone With the Wind in fourth. There's only so much that an eight-year-old can get out of Steinbeck, but those big books gave me the confidence to attack other big books. And because Cooper was a son of Cooperstown, it was natural that I had a sort of wild mania for him in about fifth grade--I think I must have read about seven of his novels before it burned itself out.

Kelly: In one of your interviews you aknowledged the fact that James Fenimore Cooper "doesn't do characters incredibly well." Did that make it easier for you to borrow (albeit loosely) some of his characters for your novel?

Lauren: That was a very natural, very immediate idea that implanted itself in my brain as soon as I read The Pioneers, which is (in my opinion) Cooper's very best book, and the one in which characters are surprisingly well drawn. So, I never thought of it as a challenge--I just took the bare outlines of some of his characters and had an amazing amount of fun with them.

Kelly: Now that you're a bestselling novelist you need to write an autobiography. May I suggest a quote from your own writing, James Fenimore Cooper Saved Me for the title?

Lauren: Ha! Oh, gosh, no. I'll try to apply the art of fiction to every aspect of my life until it's all dry and dessicated and used up and no good to anyone anymore. Strangely, though, autobiography has fascinated me for a long time--I wrote a senior thesis about it in college. That said, I have no desire to write any of it myself.

Kelly: Wikipedia, which we know should never be entirely trusted, has a novel named Arcadia listed as your forthcoming novel. Care to comment?

Lauren: In this case, Wikipedia is correct. First I have a collection of stories coming out entitled Delicate Edible Birds--I'm just finishing up on that one and it'll be out in gorgeous hardcover in January. And then will be Arcadia, which will be out when it's out--whenever that is. We're hoping within the next few years, but novels take their time
to unfold.

Kelly: And finally, Loaded Questions readers are always looking for new books and authors to read. What authors or books would you say should be on any avid reader's list?

Lauren: Ooh, boy. My favorite five books are classics, so I'll skip them in favor of my favorite five *newish* books. They're in no particular order, with the understanding that this list would probably be entirely different tomorrow. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan; The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier; Like You'd Understand Anyway by Jim Shepherd; Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen (out in June)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tudor History: Author Interview with Lady Penelope scribe Sally Varlow

Kelly Hewitt: Your grandfather, E.L. Mann, was a historian who wrote Unknown Warriors, The Battle of Lewes, The Battle of Hastings and The Chislehurst Mystery and other books about important historical events. How much of an influence on your writing are your grandfather and his historical writings?

Sally Varlow: I was tremendously influenced by him, because he made the past so interesting. He was a born story-teller and I would listen spell-bound to his tales of Francis Drake, Boadicea, Napoleon, Mary Queen of Scots, King Arthur, Admiral Nelson, and of course Queen Elizabeth. I still remember his description of Elizabeth giving her Tilbury speech to her troops before the Spanish Armada arrived; so it was wonderful to be able to bring that episode in to The Lady Penelope. My writing style is very different from his, but l think we both aim to keep our readers turning to the next page.

Kelly: The Tudors are a very popular subject at the moment. Your work is really great because you have worked to uncover a very important historical figure. Mary Boleyn, Arabella Stuart, and now Penelope have all been rediscovered by modern writers. Do you think there are more figures out there for discovery?

Sally: Yes, I’m sure there are more figures to be “discovered”, or at least re-examined. On-line catalogues and mss have revolutionised the way we can now search thousands of documents and collections, and some – especially the Folger Library - are superbly user-friendly. Every generation needs to look again at how people from the past are evaluated, and test assumptions made about them. And sometimes, as with Lady Penelope, you find their critics are not using sound evidence. So there’s a need to challenge whether or not their reputation is deserved.

Kelly: You have written about falling in love with history as a child. Did you continue to study history through the remainder of your education? Where did you attend university?

Sally: At school I could never decide if I liked history or literature best, so I did a BA joint honours degree in English and History at the University of North Wales. We had really first-rate professors: John Danby was brilliant on Wordsworth and the Romantics; Helen Miller, famous for her work on the Tudors; and R.A Lewis, who was inspirational on the early Victorians. Doing joint-honours meant I had to skip the early dramatists, so I went on to the University of East Anglia and did an MA in English social comedy, from morality plays to Restoration drama. But I’d had enough of academic life after that, and instead of doing a PhD I went into journalism.

Kelly: Many authors have careers before being published. Did you have any interesting jobs on your way to publication?

Sally: I was lucky enough to get straight on to magazines in London, starting with a couple of financial journals. To be honest I didn’t enjoy the subject, but it was a foot on the ladder, and within a few years I moved on to “Nova” magazine, as chief sub and production editor. It was just before the UK edition of “Cosmopolitan” was launched, and “Nova” was the most exciting and ground-breaking journal in the country. I guess “Nova” strengthened my habit of challenging what other people write, or say, and it certainly stood me in good stead with “The Lady Penelope”. Most historians write her off as a libertine, the “scandal of her age”, and it’s not true.

Kelly: You recently went to a book signing and talk about Penelope Devereux, Mary Boleyn, and your new book at Hatfield House. How did it feel to be in such a historic location presenting your book and research? The historian in me certainly feels jealous.

Sally: I enjoy talking about her wherever I go, and I’ve had lovely audiences at libraries and village halls from Ludlow to Henley and Warwick. But historic houses linked to Penelope and Mary Boleyn certainly add an extra “buzz”, and I’ve had great fun speaking at Kenilworth Castle, Penshurst Place, Petworth House and Lydiard Park, as well as Hatfield – which is so important in Queen Elizabeth’s story. It’s slightly daunting, though, because there are always excellent questions from people who are very clued up on local history. But that means I’ve a chance to learn more, too, so it’s very rewarding.

Kelly: It is clear that you have a great passion for the history of Mary Boleyn and her children by Henry VIII. Is there another area of history that appeals to you?

Sally: At the moment my head is so full of Tudor and early Stuart life that it’s hard to remember other periods exist! But I do find the later 18th C. interesting: the way Romanticism and independence swept through France and North America as well as Britain.

Kelly: The Lady Penelope is an exciting book to read because so many of the most important and influential historical figures play major roles: Francis Walsingham, Walter Raleigh and Robert Cecil not to mention Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. Are there particular figures that you find more intriguing than others?

Sally: You’re quite right: one reason Lady Penelope’s life is fascinating is that all the famous figures and great events of her day are involved in it. The other reason is: why did someone so beautiful and celebrated virtually disappear from history? And that, to me, makes Penelope more intriguing than the other figures about whom we already know a lot. Or do we? I suspect there’s room for more research on Robert Cecil.

Kelly: What happens next for you Sally? Do you have another historical book that you are working on?

Sally: I have started work on another Elizabethan lady, who was well known to Penelope, though I’d better not name her yet. But I’m not making much progress because my husband, Peter, and I recently acquired the other end of our 15th-century house (formerly owned by an elderly lady artist); and though it’s not very big we’ve masses to do restoring it, and the garden.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Free Giveaway! Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

A few weeks ago I was shocked to get an email in which a good friend told me that Loaded Questions was currently being featured on the blog of James Frey, the author of A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard. After sending off a few emails and making some inquiries it came to light that some of the people over James' site, were fans of Loaded Questions, the books featured and some of the authors that I have interviewed over the last couple of months.

That email leads us to today in which I unveil the newest Loaded Questions giveaway. Love him or hate him, take him or leave him there's really no way to argue against the fact that James Frey's debut book A Million Little Pieces changed the face of publishing, the genre known as the memoir and the very relationship between the the author and the reader. Enough said.

Now we turn our attention to a new novel, Bright Shiny Morning which is perhaps a reinvention, in which the author adopts a cast of characters who are all at once lost, confused and struggling -- grasping at creating lives for themselves in the city of Los Angeles. The novel's online synopsis lays each of the characters out clearly: a bright, ambitious young Mexican-American woman who allows her future to be undone by a moment of searing humiliation; a supremely narcissistic action-movie star whose passion for the unattainable object of his affection nearly destroys him; a couple, both nineteen years old, who flee their suffocating hometown and struggle to survive on the fringes of the great city; and an aging Venice Beach alcoholic whose life is turned upside down when a meth-addled teenage girl shows up half-dead outside the restroom he calls home. Each with their own dramatic narrative, these characters appear and disappear from the novel's canvas, moving in and out of the reader's view.

I found myself genuinely interested in this book, in finding out more about Frey's style and for that reason am happy to present it as our next Loaded Questions Giveaway.

Contest Details: Getting yourself entered in the giveaway is easy! There are two ways:

Option 1. See the box in the left margin of the blog? It says "Subscribe to Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt". This is a great way to receive email updates whenever new posts are made to Loaded Questions. Enter your email address in order to sign yourself up for the service. You will receive an email verifying you request to be signed up. It's as easy as that. Once you have signed up, your email address will automatically entered in the contest! Already signed up this way for a previous contest? Read Option #2.


Option 2. Reply to this thread. This is an easy option, click the reply button and write a little something -- introduce yourself, share your favorite author or book with the rest of us, anything will do. Once you have written a reply and provided your email you are entered in the contest! This is also the best option to enter in the contest for those of you who have already signed up for the email list in the past.

Note: Those who are frequent readers are encouraged to continue to sign up for Loaded Questions giveaways! If you have entered one of our giveaways before you must do one of the above listed in order to be re-entered for the Bright Shiny Morning Giveaway.

This Summer's Movies: The Books They're Based On

Savage Grace

The Book - Savage Grace: The True Story of Fatal Relations in a Rich and Famous American Family

By Natalie Robins and Steven M Aronson
Published - 1985

A spellbinding tale of money and madness, incest and matricide, Savage Grace is the saga of Brooks and Barbara Baekeland --beautiful, rich, worldly -- and their handsome, gentle son, Tony. Alternately neglected and smothered by his parents, he was finally driven to destroy the whole family in a violent chain of events.

Savage Grace unfolds against a glamorous international background (New York, London, Paris, Italy, Spain); features a nonpareil cast of characters (including Salvador DalĂ­, James Jones, the Astors, the Vanderbilts, and European nobility); and tells the doomed Baekelands' story through remarkably candid interviews, private letters, and diaries, not to mention confidential hospital, State Department, and prison documents. A true-crime classic, it exposes the envied lives of the rich and beautiful, and brilliantly illuminates the darkest corners of the American Dream.

The Movie

Starring: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Stephen Dillane
Director: Tom Kalin
Release Date: May 30th, 2008

Fugitive Pieces

The Book - Fugitive Pieces

By Anne Michaels
Published - 1997

Fugitive Pieces is a story of World War II as remembered and imagined by one of its survivors: a poet named Jakob Beer, traumatically orphaned as a young child and smuggled out of Poland, first to a Greek island (where he will return as an adult), and later to Toronto. It is the story of how, over his lifetime, Jakob learns the power of language -- to destroy, to omit, to obliterate, but also to restore and to conjure, witness and tell -- as he comes to understand and experience what was lost to him and of what is possible for him to regain.

Profoundly moving, brilliantly written -- as sensual and lyric as it is emotionally resonant -- Fugitive Pieces delves into the most difficult workings of the human heart and mind: the grief and healing of remembrance. It is a first novel of astonishing achievement.

The Movie

Starring: Stephen Dillane, Rade Serbedzija, Robbie Kay, Rosamund Pike
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Release Date: May 2nd

Brick Lane

The Book - Brick Lane

By Monica Ali
Published - 2003

Nazneen arrived in the world in an exceptional way. The day of her birth, the bleak village midwife pronounced Nazneen stillborn. Nazneen's mother pleaded for God's mercy, and good fortune was granted her when the baby's cheeks flushed with color. Nazneen grew to be an obedient girl, unlike her sister, Hasina, who ran away from home with a "love match," defying her parents' wishes for an arranged marriage. Nazneen accepts her father's marriage match, and Chanu takes her from Bangladesh to a Bangladeshi community in London. Though he is not intentionally cruel of heart, Chanu is an old man and Nazneen cannot help but feel trapped by the restrictions of her Muslim society in a land teeming with opportunity. When she ventures into the city, she is overwhelmed but animated by the hedonistic appearance of women carrying briefcases and smoking cigarettes
in flimsy clothes. In an extremist male society, Nazneen must grasp at flecks of freedom, and Ali is extraordinary at capturing the female immigrant experience through her character's innocent perspective.

The Movie

Starring: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik
Director: Sarah Gavron
Release Date: June 20th

When Did You Last See Your Father?

The Book

By Blake Morrison
Published - 1996

When did you last see your father? Was it last weekend or last Christmas? Was it before or after he exhaled his last breath? And was it him really, or was it a version of him, shaped by your own expectations and disappointments? Blake Morrison's subject is universal: the life and death of a parent, a father at once beloved and exasperating, charming and infuriating, domineering and terribly vulnerable. In reading about Dr. Arthur Morrison, we come to ask ourselves the same searching questions that Blake Morrison poses: Can we ever see our parents as themselves, or are they forever defined through a child's eyes? What are the secrets of their lives, and why do they spare us that knowledge? And when they die, what do they take with them that cannot be recovered or inherited?

The Movie

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Juliet Stevenson
Director: Anand Tucker
Release Date: June 6th, 2008

Diminished Capacity

The Book

By Sherwood Kiraly
Published - 1995

Kiraly's second novel after California Rush traces two characters with diminished capacity-Cooper Zerbs (closed head injury) and his Uncle Rollie (leaning toward Alzheimer's)-as they take a very valuable baseball card from small-town Missouri to Chicago with hopes that some rabid Cub fans will buy the card and preserve Uncle Rollie's independence for a while. The play between the outwitted and the dimwitted, between the expected forces of evil (bad guys, faulty memory) and some unexpected forces of good (Cooper's high school sweetheart, more memory deficit) help hurtle man, uncle and card toward engaging resolution.

The Movie

Starring: Mathew Broderick, Alan Alda
Director: Terry Kinney
Release Date: July 4th, 2008

Brideshead Revisited

The Book - Brideshead Revisited

By Evelyn Waugh
Published - 1979

As a comic writer, satirist, master of English prose, Evelyn Waugh has been admired more than any other novelist of his generation. Of his many achievements Brideshead Revisited is most acclaimed. This is the story of the aristocratic Marchmain family. Rich, beautiful and fatally charming, they struggle with inherited weariness, generational fatigue. Sebastian and Julia, of the youngest generation, are vivid and palpable. Their pain is ours, their dilemmas engage us and we share in their fate. The novel, a symbol of England and her decline, mirrors upper-class decadence at Oxford in the 1920s, the abdication of responsibility in the 1930s. It has become shorthand for a fantasy era of titled elegance, dead-end hedonism and fatuous wit.

The Movie

Starring: Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Greta Scacchi, Matthew Goode
Director: Julian Jarrold
Release Date: July 25, 2008

The Book - Towelhead

By Alicia Erian
Published - 2005

The year is 1991. When Jasira's mother finds out what has been going on between her boyfriend and her thirteen-year-old daughter, she has to make a choice -- and chooses to send Jasira off to Houston' Texas, to live with her father. A remote disciplinarian prone to explosive rages, Jasira's father is unable to show his daughter the love she craves -- and far less able to handle her feelings about her changing body.

Bewildered by extremes of parental scrutiny and neglect, Jasira begins to look elsewhere for affection. Saddam Hussein has invaded Kuwait, and high school has become a lonely place for a "towelhead." When her father meets, and forbids her to see, her boyfriend, it becomes lonelier still. But there

is always Mr. Vuoso -- a neighboring army reservist whose son Jasira babysits. Mr. Vuoso, as Jasira discovers, has an extensive collection of Playboy magazines. And he doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with Jasira's body at all.

Painfully funny, tender, and sexually charged, Towelhead is that rare thing: a gloriously readable novel unafraid to take risks. The story of a girl failed by her parents and by a conflicted America, Towelhead is an ultimately redemptive and moving work that none of us can afford to ignore.

The Movie

Starring: Summer Bishil, Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello
Director: Alan Ball
Release Date: August 15, 2008


The Book - Choke

By Chuck Palahniuk
Published - 2001

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk's controversial and blazingly original debut novel, introduced a fresh and even renegade talent to American fiction, one who has retooled the classic black humor of Terry Southern and Kurt Vonnegut for the lunacy of the millennial age. In his new novel, Choke, he gives readers a vision of life and love and sex and mortality that is both chillingly brilliant and teeth-rattlingly funny.

Victor Mancini, a dropout from medical school, has devised a complicated scam to pay for his mother's elder care: Pretend to be choking on a piece of food in a restaurant and the person who "saves you" will feel responsible for the rest of his life. Multiply that a couple of hundred times and you generate a healthy flow of checks, week in, week out. Between fake choking gigs, Victor works at Colonial Dunsboro with a motley group of losers and stoners trapped in 1734, cruises sex addiction groups for action ("You put twenty sexaholics around a table night after night and don't be surprised."), and visits his mother, whose anarchic streak made his childhood a mad whirl and whose Alzheimer's disease now hides what may be the startling truth about his (possibly divine?) parentage. An antihero for our deranging times, Victor's whole existence is a struggle to wrest an identity from overwhelming forces. His creator, Chuck Palahniuk, is the visionary we need and the satirist we deserve.

The Movie

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Angelica Huston, Kelly MacDonald, Brad William Henke
Director: Clark Gregg
Release Date: August 1st, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

"The Painter of Shanghai" Author Interview: A Conversation with Jennifer Cody Epstein

Kelly Hewitt
: I have to say first and foremost that The Painter From Shanghai is a really wonderful book. It has been on my bedside table since the day it arrived.

Jennifer Epstein Cody: Thank you! I love to hear that.

Kelly: When reading the book I wondered whether or not your had read any of the Chinese historical fiction of other modern authors like Anchee Min, Lisa See, or Dai Sijie?

Jennifer: I have. I read and enjoyed Madame Mao and Wild Orchid, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. And I loved Balzaac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Other writers I came across whom I admired and got a lot from were Ye Zhaoyan (Nanjing 1937: A Love Story) and Shan Sa (The Girl who Played Go).

Kelly: Speaking of historical fiction authors I recently came across a piece you wrote in which you reexamine some of the works of Pulitzer Prize winning author Pearl Buck. (Click here to read the article). What is your final verdict as far as Pearl Buck is concerned? What books would you suggest readers read?

Jennifer: I actually concluded, after reading a lot of Buck’s work and about her life, that she’s vastly underrated as a writer. As Peter Conn (who wrote an amazing biography about her) told me, a lot of her stuff isn’t very good—but (and this is the part the Nextbook editors cut!) some of it is very good. The truth is, she wrote such an astonishing amount—over 70 works in her 80-odd years (and she didn’t start writing until her late 30’s!) that it would be shocking if some of it weren’t weak; and as she actually wrote in large part to support her various philanthropic causes I think she should get more of a break. That said, I think really do she gets a bad rap that male writers like, say, John Updike and Philip Roth don’t for having an uneven body of work behind her; in part because she’s a woman, and is seen as largely a “woman’s writer.”

As far as specific works: I happen to think The Good Earth is pretty amazing (as, incidentally, do a number of Chinese scholars now, who are translating her work into English in China because it takes such an unprecedentedly close and accurate look at rural life in pre-revolutionary China). The second book in that series is also supposed to be very strong. I also enjoyed Peony (about Chinese Jews in the 19th century—the one I centered the Nextbook piece on). Dragon Seed, about Chinese defending China against the Japanese attack of 1937, is also supposed to be really great; that’s on my bedstand. And The Exile and The Fighting Angel, her biographies of her missionary parents - are supposed to be amazing. They’re really what won her her Pulitzer.

Kelly: As the title indicates, art plays a major factor in this book. You write about painting in such a detailed manner that it both made we wish I could paint and wonder if you yourself are a painter. Have you ever picked up a brush?

Jennifer: I did—just for this book, actually. It was educational in that it gave me a sense of process and color; although the strongest sense I got was that the world is lucky I decided to be writer and not a painter!

Kelly: There certainly seems to be a rebirth of interest in Chinese art and culture in the last ten years. Would you agree with that statement? What do you think has caused it?

Jennifer: Wow—big question! I am—despite the title and subject of my book—no expert on Chinese art. But I think the interest is probably reflective, in part, of a greater interest in China in general right now. It’s a huge country and growing superpower to which our own economy and business interests are increasingly linked, and those things necessarily make people want to know more about it. America also has such an large and growing Chinese-American population that I think it no longer seems nearly as “exotic” or far away as it once did. And, of course, there is so much dynamism in Chinese art and in Asian art in general, much of it due to the energy that comes of Eastern and Western techniques being united in ways that have something new and exciting to say to the artistic traditions of both hemispheres. That’s largely what attracted me to the subject of The Painter of Shanghai to begin with; I was fascinated by the way Pan Yuliang’s work both evoked Matisse and Cezanne and quietly blended that influence with traditional Chinese brushwork.

Kelly: Have you ever visited China?

Jennifer: Many times. I backpacked through it with my mom when I was in college (that was an experience!) and then visited it quite a bit when I lived in Hong Kong (from 1995-7). I was lucky enough to have work that sent me to Shenzen and Guangzhou a fair amount, and a boyfriend who lived in Shanghai—which gave me a great opportunity to explore the city.

Kelly: What was the moment like when you discovered the real Pan Yuliang? Did you know that you wanted to write a book about her right that moment?

Jennifer: I was actually the Guggenheim with my husband and some relatives—roughly ten years ago. The exhibition—which was amazing--was on Modern Chinese Art, and there was just one image by Pan Yuliang on display. But it drew me over immediately; it was a typical Pan Yuliang in that it was very evocative of Matisse and Cezanne, and the bright, bold colors and distinctly Western setting (as compared to the huge propaganda-style images and much more subtle ink paintings around it) really stood out for me. I went over to see more and when I read about Pan’s story (prostitute-concubine-Post-Impressionist icon; really?!) it just blew me away. I’d never heard of her before—but I couldn’t, at that moment, understand why---it struck me that everyone should know about her. My husband, a filmmaker, was the one who said “Hey! This should be your first novel!” I looked at him like he was crazy…but obviously, the idea grew on me.

Kelly: It is very rare that an author of a historical fiction novel would add a Selected Bibliography at the end of the book. Why did you decide to do add a bibliography? How did your publisher feel about the extra pages?

Jennifer: The book was actually over 700 pages when I first submitted it, without the bibliography; I think the fact that I wrestled it down to under 500 impressed my publishers enough that they didn’t gripe about giving a couple of pages back! I actually added it because for me, bibliographies are great resources—in fiction and in nonfiction. If you’re interested in a book’s subject—and obviously, I hoped people were interested in mine—it’s always nice to have a sense of how an author shaped their story, and a place to look for further reading.

Kelly: Your main character, Pan Yulaing, really existed although your book is a fictional account. I have read that some of her paintings and works can be found online. Do you have a particular website you would recommend?

Jennifer: Sure-some of them are on my website. But the vast majority of her work that remains is, to my knowledge, now at the Anhui Provincial Museum. You can link to that through my site as well, or else just go here and here.

A straightforward Google Image search will also get you to a bunch of her individual works.

Kelly: The inevitable last question. What are you currently working on and when can we expect another book?

Jennifer: The “what” is something set in Tokyo during World War II. I actually have far more experience in Japan than in China (I lived there for five years and speak the language fairly well) so it’ll be a nice change! As for the “when….” Hmmm. All I can say is I hope it won’t take another decade!

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