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  • Miwa Messer 3:30 pm on 2018/02/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , jamie quatro, , the stories behind the stories   

    Burns on the Page: Jamie Quatro and Lily King in Conversation 

    But this story begins where others end: a boy and a girl in love, a wedding, a happily-ever-after.

    Jamie Quatro’s debut novel, Fire Sermon, is a magnetic—and provocative—story of love and obsession, and the complexities of marriage; a map of one woman’s emotional, psychological and spiritual desires, and the decisions those desires inform. The booksellers who handpick titles for our Discover Great New Writers program fell immediately in love with Fire Sermon, thrilled to have found a novel that so perfectly captures imperfect—messy, even—interior lives from so many different angles.

    Not unlike Lily King’s dazzling fourth novel, Euphoria, a feverish, brooding tale that threatened to stop our hearts—while keeping us reading late into the night. (A little over a decade ago, we lingered over the pages of The Pleasing Hour, Lily’s extraordinary debut—a coming of age story so assured in character and voice that we gave it our 1999 Discover Award.)

    So here are Jamie and Lily on finding the balance between the said and the unsaid, the art and craft of writing, and marriage—including what happens when the two people in a marriage are not, in fact, experiencing the same marriage… 

    LK: Fire Sermon truly burns on the page. I tore through those pages—enthralled, shocked (and it takes a lot to shock me), mesmerized. I’d love to know what it felt like to write it.

    JQ: Ha, I love that I shocked you! And funny you should ask what writing it felt like. It felt like cheating—because it was cheating. Instead of working on the novel I was “supposed” to be writing, I was sneaking off to write these urgent prose poems and letters and prayers. When I had 100 pages of material I sent them to my agent. She read the pages and told me to keep up the affair.

    LK: That’s so funny. Once it was official did the passion cool a bit? Or did you just write the whole thing in a state of white heat?

    JQ: The fire-in-my-belly was still intense, but for a different reason: I wanted to make my deadline. I worked at my kitchen table all day every day while the kids were in school. It was exhausting and when I took breaks I felt completely disconnected from reality. It was like being slightly drunk. I’d leave to pick up my son from school and think, I shouldn’t be driving in this state. Unfortunately I seem to work best in these pressure-cooker conditions. What about you? Do you tend to write in giant intense bursts? Or are you one of those disciplined writers I envy, the thousand-words-a-day-no-matter-what type? (And I’m also curious what parts of the novel shocked you?)

    LK: That’s amazing. I’m intrigued by the short-term pressure cooker situation. I have read that Ishiguro piece in the Guardian many times, about how he wrote the first draft of Remains of the Day in four weeks. He called it the Crash, and he shut himself up in a Harry Potter-esque cupboard all day and night and never answered the phone or looked at the mail. His fictional world became the true reality, as it sounds like it did for you. I’ve only done that for a few days at a time, and I need to leave the house and stay somewhere else to do it, but I fantasize about doing a Crash a lot. I have only written a few stories under that kind of deadline pressure, never a novel. I find my creative bursts to be unpredictable, and most of the time I’m just showing up to the job every day and trying to push it a little further along. I used to say I couldn’t fix a word count because I needed to pick up my kids at school no matter what, but now one’s in college and the other drives herself so I have no excuses. But I still write slowly.

    I think what shocked me in Fire Sermon most was the husband and their relationship. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that it hurt to read those scenes, physically hurt. Did it hurt to write it? I suppose the biggest question it raises for me is, “Is any religion that requires adherence to its rules in that situation humane or loving or just?” Help me into the complexity of that, because I see it as a GET OUT OF THERE situation.

    JQ: The Crash! Yes, that’s a bit how it was, though it would have been more charming in a Cupboard-Beneath-the-Stairs, with letters delivered by owls and magical visits from a big-eared house elf.

    And right, those scenes that shocked you are intense. Drafting them actually felt highly technical. How do I say just enough to communicate what’s happening, but no more? Too much detail will drive readers away; not enough will make them scratch their heads. This is always my struggle writing about physical intimacy. You can’t use the vocabulary, and the sex has to be about something other than the sex. You have to say it without saying it, you know?

    Do you find writing sex scenes—whether the sex is good or meh or ugly—technically challenging? Have some been more difficult for you than others? Do you have any tips or suggestions—things you’ve learned along the way?

    LK: You achieved the perfect balance between the said and the unsaid in those scenes.

    I find writing sex scenes in which both people are actually enjoying themselves much more difficult than writing bad sex. Bad sex has humor or menace to it, and you can use the vocabulary in ways that only make it more awful, and it’s fun. But the writing of good sex? Blech. I get out of those situations very quickly. It’s a death trap. Good sex is all about the tension beforehand anyway, as you capture so well in this novel.

    Before Fire Sermon you published a highly acclaimed collection of stories (I Want to Show You More). Did you find that your process changed from short to long? Did old habits have to die?

    JQ: I agree with you about writing good sex. Get out of there fast. Though I think of James Salter’s sex scenes in Light Years and A Sport and a Pastime… how does he do it? The perfect lines of dialogue, maybe? The small brushstrokes of physical detail?

    As for novels versus stories: in the initial drafting phase, working on the novel felt much the same. One sentence leading to the next. I began to notice the difference as the word count grew. I started having to do things I’d never done with stories. I made a timeline and charted my characters’ ages and physical locations year by year. The revision stage was also challenging. I realized that if I changed something on page 125, it would require adjustments back on pages 7, 23, and 64. And the change on 64 would mean I had to cut pages 82-85. And so forth.

    I know some writers have a form they feel is most “native” to their abilities, and I do think mine is the story form. Did you start out as a novelist? Do you have a form—story, poetry, essay—you like best?

    LK: Like so many of us, I started out with stories. In high school I took creative writing for two semesters and we had to have a three-and-half-page short story on the teacher’s desk every Monday morning. I kept writing stories in college, after college, in grad school. But the moment grad school was over I got an idea for something that couldn’t fit in a story, and I figured I had to try to write a novel. I always have a few short stories going, and I very much want to finish a collection after this novel I’m working on, but I’ve put most of my writing energy into novels since my early thirties. I can’t say it’s a natural fit—they can often feel like a forced march at certain points—but I do like the great puzzle of it, and the slow process of solving it.

    Speaking of puzzles, I loved how you described Fire Sermon in a recent interview. You said it was about “Illicit sex, marital fidelity, loss of virginity, childbirth, parenting, sex toys, marital rape, poetry, 9/11, digital eroticism, dogs and cats, Harry Potter as therapy, the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity, the sexually ecstatic as a pathway to God.” Who doesn’t want to read that book?

    One of the biggest tensions in the novel is marriage. Maggie and Thomas are married but they are not in the same marriage. They are not playing by the same rules. She is in a position not unlike a heroine of a different time, Dorothea Brooke or Anna Karenina, though the constraints are different, seemingly more internal. She has autonomy, but she is still stuck. Why did you choose to wrestle with this beast of a topic now?

    JQ: While I was drafting the book, I didn’t know why I was writing about the things I did. I only felt a sense of urgency. I couldn’t not write it. Now that it’s come into the world at this particular cultural moment, I hope Fire Sermon might become part of the ongoing dialogue related to the sexual empowerment of women. We’re all talking about male gatekeepers and the abuses of power in the workplace. Women are stepping forward with grace and courage to speak out against harassment by men in positions of power. But what about sexual coercion and abuse within marriage? It happens. Are we talking about it? And what about religious married women, in which traditional gender roles and prohibitions related to extramarital sex might inhibit their courage to speak up?

    I believe it’s a crucial time for women to be writing frankly and openly about female sexual longing and transgression in general. The assumption that male artists can write about sex and infidelity but female artists should be more demure is passé, even dangerous. If we’re going to continue the path toward re-claiming and restoring gender equality, we must be allowed the same imaginative expression, on the page, as our male counterparts.

    LK: It really is a novel that opens up a lot of doors for discussion and debate. And I love how while you provoke the reader intellectually, the book is working on a visceral, physical level, too. Often you get one or the other in a novel.

    Tell me when you started writing and why.

    JQ: I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t writing! I began writing and illustrating short stories in second grade (I know this because my mom saved them all) and in sixth grade I won the state Young Authors’ Festival for a sci-fi piece called “In Pac-Man” about a boy who gets sucked into Pac Man and becomes one of the ghosts in the maze. The teacher published the story for the class and had everyone read and discuss it. I will never forget the visceral high: I had a readership! To quote James in Fire Sermon (who is alluding to Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking”): I’ve gone looking for that feeling ever since.

    I took the English track in college and grad school, but eventually found my way into the MFA program at Bennington. Having other people—professionals—take me seriously as a writer was crucial. It’s one of the biggest reasons I think MFA programs can be beneficial. Do you have an MFA? What do you think about MFA programs in general? Do you recommend them to your students?

    LK: I do have one. I didn’t even know about them when I graduated from college, which was probably good because it gave me most of my twenties to work a ton of different jobs and recognize that this writing thing was not going away. Somehow I got wind of these programs and their scholarships and stipends and I sent off a bunch of applications. I went to Syracuse and I have never regretted it. The feedback, the writing friendships, the academic environment—it’s all been invaluable to me. I met one of my very dearest friends there, Laura McNeal, and she influenced me to the core in terms of style, subject, language, and writing practice—the seriousness with which you have to approach it. What I learned through reading her work and watching her level of commitment changed me permanently as a writer. What is most valuable about the MFA is often the community of nascent writers you build which can sustain you for decades afterward, so I do often recommend the experience to students.

    Has there been a person who has influenced you like that? And where do you go for inspiration? There can come a moment when I am at my desk and realize that I need step away, sometimes for a day, sometimes longer, to replenish, to remember the basics—why I like to write, why I chose to write this particular book. Do you have moments like that and if so, what do you do and where do you turn to get reignited?

    JQ: David Gates was my first workshop teacher at Bennington, and I’ve never worked with a better line editor. His eye is spot-on. I learned everything about self-editing from him. He was able to show me how much superfluous language I was using, how many stupid ticks and clichés (I will never write “blinked his eyes” or “shrugged her shoulders” again!) He is also one of those generous writers who help other aspiring writers. To this day I know he’ll read a draft if I ask him too—and he’ll give it a ferocious edit. The British novelist Samantha Harvey has also had a big influence on me. We met at the MacDowell Colony in 2009 and have been close friends ever since. Her reading tastes, her writing habits—the seriousness of approach you say you learned from Laura McNeal—Sam is brilliant. I’m enormously lucky to have her example and presence in my life.

    And for inspiration I almost always turn to poetry. Jack Gilbert is my go-to, along with Sharon Olds and Marie Howe. I studied poetry at Princeton—if I’d finished, my PhD would have been in the British Romantic movement—and I often find myself returning to Wordsworth and Keats and Shelley. I re-read Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” while I was drafting Fire Sermon. The wedding of opposites leading to a kind of divine awakening…that probably explains something, though I’m not sure what.

    LK: Are there other things you turn to apart from books to clear your head?

    JQ: Spending time with Scott and my kids, going to a film, hanging out with friends. Running and yoga both clear my head, though in different ways. In yoga I don’t have space for thought, I’m so focused on my breathing and the flow of postures, whereas when I’m running my body is on auto-pilot, so my thoughts roam. I often solve story problems during long runs.

    Lately my favorite head-clearing activity is taking my golden retriever puppy, Luna, to the new dog park/beer garden downtown. It’s called Play-Wash-Pint. We sit in lawn chairs or play corn hole or ladder ball while our dogs run around like mad. There’s a real sense of community among the dog owners, and of course it’s a joy to watch the dogs interact. Luna has bonded with a French bulldog named LeRoy. The two of them are inseparable. The dog park experience is therapy, really.

    The post Burns on the Page: Jamie Quatro and Lily King in Conversation appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Miwa Messer 2:00 pm on 2018/02/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , jamie quatro, , , , ,   

    The Immortalists Author Chloe Benjamin Shares 5 Slightly Cracked Love Stories 

    If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? Chloe Benjamin’s dazzling novel, The Immortalists, asks big questions about life and death and love and family. If you loved Erika Swyler’s fantastic novel The Book of Speculation as much as we did, you’ll love this incredible story of destiny vs. choice as much as the booksellers who handpick books for our Discover Great New Writers program do.

    And because we love the way Chloe—and her characters—see the world we asked her to riff on the flip-side of Valentine’s Day. So here are her recommendations for ever-so-slightly-cracked-love-stories:

    I’m always game for a good love story—even better if it’s slightly cracked. After all, love stories don’t feel entirely human if they don’t have a sliver of something else: pain, awkwardness, humor, surprise. These reads are proof that forging a bond with another person isn’t for the faint of heart.

    The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber
    When Faber’s novel opens, pastor Peter Leigh is about to leave his wife, Bea, for the mission of a lifetime: he has been chosen to minister to an alien population on a planet called Oasis, which has been newly colonized by humans via a mysterious company called USIC. What follows is a deliciously imaginative and ultimately heartbreaking exploration of morality and faith—as well as the story of the longest long-distance relationship in human history. The Book of Strange New Things has everything I love in a novel: an epic sweep; an atmospheric setting; creative, clever worldbuilding; and characters you remember long after you turn the last page.

    Fire Sermon, by Jamie Quatro
    Quatro’s second book and first novel burns as brightly as its title promises. The story of an affair that begins in the mind and ends in the body, Fire Sermon is an exquisite, raw and often shocking exploration of female desire and embodiment. Quatro fearlessly explores the dynamics that lead Maggie, a Christian and academic, out of her marriage. Fire Sermon is committed to rigorous inquiry: of God, of our partners, but especially of ourselves.

    Euphoria, by Lily King
    Inspired by the extraordinary life and contributions of Margaret Mead, Euphoria follows a trio of anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea. Don’t be fooled: this somewhat academic premise, which becomes gripping in its own right, belies the novel’s steam and electricity. Soon, a love triangle develops between American Nell; her charismatic but combustible husband, Fen; and successful, fragile Andrew Bankson, who comes unexpectedly into their orbit. King brilliantly illuminates the ethical questions that intensify as the trio becomes embedded with the Tam, a fictitious local tribe—and with each other.

    A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro
    The rise of Galentine’s Day has shown us that romantic relationships aren’t the only ones that deserve celebrating this month. A Study in Charlotte, the first novel in Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes series, charts the complicated friendship between the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes and the great-great-great-grandson of John Watson as they solve crimes at boarding school. It’s delicious crossover YA, perfect for teenage girls who are sick of reading about boy geniuses—as well as those navigating the kind of friendships that challenge our definition of the term.

    A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
    You might have read this one, as it was one of the breakout books of 2015—but if you haven’t, consider it bookmarked. A Little Life might not seem like the kind of book you read in honor of Valentine’s Day; it is, in part, a brutal and horrific look at the legacy of abuse. But it is also an emphatic celebration of the love that sustains Yanagihara’s four central male characters. InA Little Life, friendship is profound and sustaining, sometimes equal to—but ultimately deeper than—any romantic attachment.

    The post The Immortalists Author Chloe Benjamin Shares 5 Slightly Cracked Love Stories appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Miwa Messer 2:00 pm on 2018/02/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , jamie quatro, , , , ,   

    The Immortalists Author Chloe Benjamin Shares 5 Slightly Cracked Love Stories 

    If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? Chloe Benjamin’s dazzling novel, The Immortalists, asks big questions about life and death and love and family. If you loved Erika Swyler’s fantastic novel The Book of Speculation as much as we did, you’ll love this incredible story of destiny vs. choice as much as the booksellers who handpick books for our Discover Great New Writers program do.

    And because we love the way Chloe—and her characters—see the world we asked her to riff on the flip-side of Valentine’s Day. So here are her recommendations for ever-so-slightly-cracked-love-stories:

    I’m always game for a good love story—even better if it’s slightly cracked. After all, love stories don’t feel entirely human if they don’t have a sliver of something else: pain, awkwardness, humor, surprise. These reads are proof that forging a bond with another person isn’t for the faint of heart.

    The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber
    When Faber’s novel opens, pastor Peter Leigh is about to leave his wife, Bea, for the mission of a lifetime: he has been chosen to minister to an alien population on a planet called Oasis, which has been newly colonized by humans via a mysterious company called USIC. What follows is a deliciously imaginative and ultimately heartbreaking exploration of morality and faith—as well as the story of the longest long-distance relationship in human history. The Book of Strange New Things has everything I love in a novel: an epic sweep; an atmospheric setting; creative, clever worldbuilding; and characters you remember long after you turn the last page.

    Fire Sermon, by Jamie Quatro
    Quatro’s second book and first novel burns as brightly as its title promises. The story of an affair that begins in the mind and ends in the body, Fire Sermon is an exquisite, raw and often shocking exploration of female desire and embodiment. Quatro fearlessly explores the dynamics that lead Maggie, a Christian and academic, out of her marriage. Fire Sermon is committed to rigorous inquiry: of God, of our partners, but especially of ourselves.

    Euphoria, by Lily King
    Inspired by the extraordinary life and contributions of Margaret Mead, Euphoria follows a trio of anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea. Don’t be fooled: this somewhat academic premise, which becomes gripping in its own right, belies the novel’s steam and electricity. Soon, a love triangle develops between American Nell; her charismatic but combustible husband, Fen; and successful, fragile Andrew Bankson, who comes unexpectedly into their orbit. King brilliantly illuminates the ethical questions that intensify as the trio becomes embedded with the Tam, a fictitious local tribe—and with each other.

    A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro
    The rise of Galentine’s Day has shown us that romantic relationships aren’t the only ones that deserve celebrating this month. A Study in Charlotte, the first novel in Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes series, charts the complicated friendship between the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes and the great-great-great-grandson of John Watson as they solve crimes at boarding school. It’s delicious crossover YA, perfect for teenage girls who are sick of reading about boy geniuses—as well as those navigating the kind of friendships that challenge our definition of the term.

    A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
    You might have read this one, as it was one of the breakout books of 2015—but if you haven’t, consider it bookmarked. A Little Life might not seem like the kind of book you read in honor of Valentine’s Day; it is, in part, a brutal and horrific look at the legacy of abuse. But it is also an emphatic celebration of the love that sustains Yanagihara’s four central male characters. InA Little Life, friendship is profound and sustaining, sometimes equal to—but ultimately deeper than—any romantic attachment.

    The post The Immortalists Author Chloe Benjamin Shares 5 Slightly Cracked Love Stories appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jenny Shank 7:00 pm on 2018/01/24 Permalink
    Tags: aja gabel, , , , green, halsey street, jamie quatro, meghan kenny, mick kitson, naima coster, new and noteworthy, sal, sam graham-felsen, the driest season, the ensemble   

    6 Debut Novels to Watch for in 2018 

    Many readers love the fall, when new novels by well-known authors are apt to appear in bookstores. But some of us prefer the first part of the year, when first-time novelists make their debuts. Here are six notable debut novels to watch for in the first half of 2018.

    Fire Sermon, by Jamie Quatro
    Jamie Quatro follows up her New York Times notable story collection I Want to Show You More with her debut novel, Fire Sermon, in which a middle-aged writer named Maggie whose marriage has gone cold sparks up an affair with a poet named James, with whom she bonds over their shared interest in Christian mystics. Quatro cycles back to Maggie’s past, exploring how her faith led her to marry her husband Thomas when she was 21.

    Halsey Streetby Naima Coster
    In Halsey Street, Coster explores gentrification in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn she grew up in through the character of Penelope Grand, who dropped out after a year of college at the Rhode Island School of Design and tried to make a go of it as an artist in Philly before returning home to care for her injured father, Ralph. He once ran a record store, but as the neighborhood turned over and business dwindled, he closed the place, which is now an organic grocery store. Penelope’s mother, a Dominican immigrant named Mirella who worked as a housekeeper, left Brooklyn years earlier, but seeks to renew her connection with Penelope in this engaging debut.

    Green, by Sam Graham-Felsen
    Sam Graham-Felsen, who once worked as the head blogger for the presidential campaign of President Obama, drew on his experiences growing up for this funny, heartfelt coming-of-age tale that follows narrator David Greenfield as he begins attending an almost all-African-American middle school in Boston in 1992. David seeks to gain some credibility and friends who will make his adolescence bearable.

    The Driest Season, by Meghan Kenny (February 13)
    The fate of a Wisconsin family farm in 1943 turns on the actions of a fifteen-year-old girl named Cielle in the first novel by Meghan Kenny. Kenny, who previously published a collection of stories, Love Is No Small Thing, expanded a prize-winning story into The Driest Season. When Cielle discovers her father has hanged himself, she must help the community’s efforts to portray it as an accident so they won’t violate their loan conditions and lose the farm. You’d think that would be enough for Cielle to tackle in one slim, spare book, but she also faces her first stirrings of love, and must say goodbye to a beloved neighbor who enlists for World War II during this momentous summer.

    Sal, by Mick Kitson (May 8)
    Readers who enjoyed My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent should love this novel of the resourceful, 13-year-old Sal, who escapes an abusive home in Scotland with her ten-year-old sister Peppa to live in the wilderness, armed with knowledge gleaned from YouTube survival videos. Author Mick Kitson gives narrator Sal an endearing, unique voice.

    The Ensemble, by Aja Gabel (May 15)
    Some of the best novels offer an immersion in an intense subculture, and Aja Gabel’s debut about the young members of a string quartet promises to offer such an insider’s view. Gabel played the cello for two decades, and in this novel she follows the members of a string quartet as their relationships evolve, their careers take off, and the drama between them intensifies as they rely on each other yet are pulled in different directions.

    What 2018 debut novels are you excited about?

    The post 6 Debut Novels to Watch for in 2018 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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