Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For those interested in writing to make a difference, I want to let you know of two opportunities (sorry about the last minute notice--I've been meaning to post this for ages)...

--My friend, Naomi Benaron, whose incredible novel, Running the Rift, won the 2010 Bellwether Prize and will be published by Algonquin in 2012, is teaching an online short fiction class, Witness: Writing the Fine Line of Trauma. Naomi is an amazing, compassionate writer and teacher, and will help you write that which is unspeakable.

--I am guest editing the annual print issue of Magnolia Journal, which features socially engaged poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction by women. The deadline is December 30--two days from now!--so if you have work that interacts with and challenges social injustices, please send it soon.

Thanks so much! Here's to writing to change the world!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Lifting LIFT

When my friend Rebecca O'Connor's memoir, LIFT, came out last year, I meant to invite her to do a Q&A on this blog. LIFT is an amazing, honest, powerful book about her life as a falconer, and I wanted to let everyone know about it. But life, as you know, has a tendency to run off the rails, and much to my chagrin, I never got around to the interview or a post. When I read Rebecca's beautiful, passionate blog post today about her rocky journey toward (and through) publishing, I knew I had to share it and to urge all of you to buy her book. Her post and the link to the Dear Sugar column she includes within it are among the most galvanizing, inspiring--and realistic--pieces about writing I've read in a long while. It reminded me, too, how important it is for writers--and friends--to support one another.

My blurb for her book reads "Rebecca K. O’Connor writes that falconry is a religion; she has found a new and true believer in this vegetarian soul. I love how she explores both the pain and majesty of the natural world and the pain and majesty of a woman’s heart. Lift is a thrilling, moving read." Read it for yourself--you will be changed and amazed.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Happy Happy National Novel Writing Month to those of you partaking in this crazy writing adventure! I am not jumping in myself this year, but I recently unearthed the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 8 years ago, The Book of Live Wires, and was shocked to discover it has some real life in it. I honestly thought that I had written it just for myself, just to get back into my own creative flow. I honestly thought that it was an incoherent mess, that it was not anything I'd ever consider sharing with the world. Now I have enough distance to see it has some real juice. It needs work, of course, but there are passages that may be among the strongest I've written. I'm floored. My beloved first reader, Laraine is looking at it now, as is my agent. I am so eager to get their notes and see whether the story might have some potential.

The Book of Live Wires is a sequel, of sorts, to The Book of Dead Birds--perhaps it is technically more of a spin off or a follow up, since it is narrated by Darryl, not Ava. It's wild to see how much resonance the story has with my own life today--Darryl and Ava have a baby, so there's that connection, plus Darryl is still dealing with the loss of his first wife, so grief plays a major role in the story. I had not experienced much grief when I wrote the draft, and in reading it now am surprised by how much my writing about loss rings true. Again, a reminder of how we know more than we know we know when we write.

I'll keep you posted. In the meanwhile, may all of you NaNoWriMo-ers have swift fingers and wild hearts (and, most importantly, have a lot of fun!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

You've read Mama, Redux, the blog, now read Mama, Redux, the essay over at Milk and Ink. :)

You can also read a brief interview with me at Cynsations, the blog of bestselling author for young readers, Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Interesting that in both, I speak about being too exhausted to write now that I have a baby. Definitely something I need to work on...

Friday, September 17, 2010

A few events on the (very near) horizon that I've been meaning to let you know about...

Tomorrow, Saturday the 18th, at 10am, I'll be the guest speaker at the Southern California Writers Association meeting. You can find information here (it says I'll be speaking on The Art of Humor, which is funny in itself, since that isn't what I plan to talk about. I'll see if I can occasionally throw in a laugh here and there.) :)

Sunday, September 19, I'll be dancing at the Shimmy for Critters fundraising show at the Animal Shelter in Riverside. My troupe, Saahira's Gypsy Soul, led by my amazing friend Nancy/Saahira, is scheduled to perform at noon. (I'm trying to come up with my own belly dance name. What do you all think of Ghaliya? It means "beloved" in Arabic, and sounds enough like Gayle that it wouldn't feel too unfamiliar. I actually considered changing the spelling of my name to Ghael in college--I'm glad I didn't, but this could be a fun way to play with something somewhat similar. Other possibilities are Nashita, which means "full of life", Rahima, which means "compassionate", and Shairah, which means "poetess.") :)

Sunday, September 26, I'll be at the always fabulous West Hollywood Book Fair, reading from My Life with the Lincolns on the Teen Stage at 11am.

It would be lovely to see you at any of these events...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I recently heard from a man named Pat Jacobsen, who runs the website www.fruitcratelabels.com. It turns out that he supplied the label that my publisher used to make the cover for Delta Girls! Until I heard from Pat, I hadn't realized that the cover was based on an actual label; I had thought it was the art department's own creation. How cool to see the genesis, to see how the artist at Random House used the shapes of the label as design elements, to learn, after doing some research online, that the Noia family was Portugese, like the Vieira family in Delta Girls!

Thank you to everyone who came to my recent Delta Girls readings...I was especially touched by all of the hometown support at the Riverside Library. Riverside readers rock!

If you missed my readings, you can hear me reading from Delta Girls and discussing the book with David Wilk at his wonderful site, WritersCast (which is full of great interviews and readings; check it out!)

I also loved reading at the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands; thanks to all who attended. There was a new display about Abe in pop culture, complete with Abe in sunglasses--great fun to see! The Redlands Daily Facts did a little write up, which you can see below. You can also read more about my life with My Life with the Lincolns in the interview, Accessing Her Inner Lincoln at Authorlink.

Thanks again to everyone who has read the books and helped get the word out!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Pear Fair may well be my favorite book selling experience to date. It was so much fun to have my own booth (you can see a bit of it here--my little assistant definitely helped attract passersby!) Several people who stopped to chat had heard me (and Asher, crying in the background) on the radio last week, and seemed excited about having a book set in their area. What a pleasure to be back there, in the land of my characters (and the real people who helped me so much during the research process. Thank you again, Tim and Laura, for all of your kindness--and all of your pears!) I sold out of books about halfway into the festival--I should have brought more, but it was also cool to be able to walk around and enjoy the fair with Michael and Asher (who, you can see, was handed his first balloon. He loved it so much. It seemed to love him, too--that night, after he fell asleep, the balloon hovered directly above him, as if protecting him or waiting for him to wake up and play.) The day was beautiful--not at all the oven we had anticipated; we had a blast eating pear tamales and drinking pear aguas frescas and even taking a little pear portrait-painting class. Even the seven hour car trip, which I had feared with a baby, was fun (especially because I had apricot pie a la mode for lunch in apricot country on the drive home!)

I really want to find more alternative book selling venues like this. I'm excited about my event this Saturday, July 31 at the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands at 1pm. Just as I researched Delta Girls at the Pear Fair, I researched My Life with the Lincolns at the Lincoln Shrine, and it will be lovely to return there with the published book and be surrounded by Lincoln ephemera (including some of Abe's hair!) as I read and share my little power point.

Just a reminder...I will also be at more traditional--and deeply beloved--venues next week: the Riverside Public Library on Thursday, August 5 at 7pm (as part of Arts Walk) and the fabulous Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on Friday, August 6 at 7pm. Oh, and I'll be shaking my postpartum belly at the Orange County Fair tomorrow, Friday, July 30, at 4pm with Saahira's Gypsy Soul troupe. :) I'd love to see you at any of these events!

Friday, July 23, 2010

We're on our way to the Delta! I'm so excited to be able to walk the paths of my characters again (we'll even be staying at a hotel where the characters stay!) and to see the pear farmers who were so generous with their time and information as I researched Delta Girls.

If you're in the area, I'll be reading at Avid Reader Bookstore in Sacramento on Saturday, July 24 at 2pm and will have my own little booth at the Pear Fair in Courtland on July 25 from 9am-6pm (assuming we last that long in the heat; we may just put up our shingle for part of the day. I am eager to be surrounded by pears again!)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A few more links:

--A feature article about me at The Press-Enterprise

--My fantasy casting for My Life with the Lincolns over at My Book, The Movie (this was a lot of fun to do.)

--My recent interview with Book Bites for Kids is now archived and can be listened to here.

An aside: Asher is teething (his top four teeth are coming in) so none of us have had much sleep lately. A few nights ago, I had a series of sleep-deprivation-fueled lucid dreams where I was convinced that Asher's real crying and nursing were somehow being used to promote my books. It all made perfect sense in my weird awake dreaming state (and in these dreams, my cousin Bobby--who owns a wonderful book store and was just in town for a truly fabulous family reunion, which I hope to write about soon--told me that this technique is usually just used for vampire books like Twilight, but I should give it a try.) I wish that the nighttime crying/nursing cycle could actually be used for such positive purposes! In the meantime, I will continue to blearily post book promotion-related links here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Popping my head in to share a few links:

Great reviews of My Life with the Lincolns over at The Trades (which gives it an A+!) and Readergirlz, and a lovely review of Delta Girls at BookLoons.

Also, did Delta Girls pass the p. 69 test? Click here to find out. :)

Monday, July 05, 2010

I share a few thoughts about pear (and pear eau de vie) imagery in Delta Girls over at Dory Adams' wonderful blog, In This Light: A Weekly Blog of Images and Narrative. Be sure to take time to peruse her site--it's full of lovely photography and writing.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Three happy things to share re. Delta Girls today:

--Delta Girls was named a "Best New Paperback" by Entertainment Weekly. I am beyond thrilled about this. I've only seen a pdf of the article, and look forward to seeing it in real life--there's a big photo of my book cover on the top of the page.

--January Magazine gave Delta Girls a review that makes my heart flutter.

--The wonderful Tricia O'Brien interviewed me for her always thoughtful and engaging blog, Talespinning (you can win a copy of the book if you comment there!)

I know it's important to look within for a source of happiness, but sometimes having some external validation really helps. Just walking down the street with Asher in the stroller earlier today, I felt different, lighter, due to these lovely affirmations for the book. Thank you to everyone who has already embraced Delta Girls, and thank you to those who are considering reading it now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just wanted to let you know I'll be interviewed about My Life with the Lincolns on Book Bites for Kids, an online radio show, tomorrow (Wednesday, June 30) at 12pm PST. You can listen through the link above, and you can even call in with comments or questions at 646-716-9239. MLWTL received a lovely review over at the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

I've been so encouraged by early reader response I've received for Delta Girls--thank you to everyone who has emailed me about the book. I recently wrote a Delta Girls-related guest post, What We Don't Know We Know for Christina Baker Kline's fabulous and continually inspiring blog, Writing/Life. It was not an easy post for me to write--it delves into my mom's suicide and what came up for me when I remembered, through proofing the book, that one of my character's mothers in Delta Girls had also committed suicide--but it felt important to explore.

Thank you again for your support through all of it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In honor of the release date of Delta Girls, Asher and I put this little YouTube video together. Please excuse the poor video quality; it's the best I could do with my webcam. As you can see, I'm wearing my Pear Fair tshirt to celebrate the book launch. :)

I also was interviewed by the lovely Susan K. Perry, author of Writing in Flow, for her Psychology Today column, Creating in Flow.

On an unrelated, but also celebratory note, my friend Kryn let me know that The Book of Dead Birds is included in this Feminist Summer Reading List. So cool! I don't even mind that they misspelled my name. :)

Thanks to everyone for all of your support on this launch day!
I can't tell you how excited I am to welcome Laraine Herring to my blog today (the launch day for Delta Girls!) I've known and loved Laraine and her work since we were in grad school together around 10 years ago. During one of our residencies at Antioch University, I had a dream that we had gone to an indoor swimming pool together. The water was full of huge sea creatures and I chose to stay safe and dry on the concrete surrounding the pool, but Laraine didn't hesitate; she dove right in. This felt like such an apt metaphor for Laraine (I even used it when I introduced her at her senior reading)--she is fearless as a writer, able to plunge in to the darkest, most painful material and emerge with something beautiful, something that holds the light. Her books about writing, Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice and the forthcoming follow-up, The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice, are revelations--they will wake both you and your writing up and help you become a braver, stronger, truer writer. I can't recommend them enough.

It is through her amazing fiction that I first met Laraine, though, and I know that it is through her fiction that she most wants to be known as a writer. I am so thrilled to see Ghost Swamp Blues finally make its way to print after several incarnations that I've had the honor and pleasure of reading over the years. This book will knock your socks off; it will haunt you with its beauty, its rhythm, its power.

To win a copy of Ghost Swamp Blues, post a comment below about what haunts you, as a writer or a human being (make sure to include an email if you don't have a blogger profile with contact information.) I will pick a poster at random to receive this stunning novel.

Here's Laraine in her own words talking about her process of writing the book, and our process of sharing work. (In the spirit of sharing, I am also posting about the process of writing Delta Girls and our creative exchanges over on her blog--you can win a copy of Delta Girls if you comment there, as well.). Enjoy!

GHOST SWAMP BLUES: Finding the story through the swamp

I started writing Ghost Swamp Blues after reading Chitra Divakaruni’s novel The Mistress of Spices. I was fascinated by Divakaruni’s magical realism, and her primary character, Tilo, who operates a shop of spices she sells to customers to help them with their desires. I wanted to be Chitra Divakaruni, and, as long as we’re confessing, I’d read Beloved in undergrad school and I wanted to be Toni Morrison too. You can imagine the block I sustained trying to imitate them! Those two authors taught me that I could do something magical too, and I soon began to hear the voice of Lillian. However, my first connections with Lillian were not at all magical, and not at all filled with honeysuckle-laced desire. I had an image of a foggy island surrounded by tulips and a steep arched bridge that people had to cross to get to Lillian. Then I wrote a scene about her mixing tuna fish and mayonnaise in a white ceramic bowl. I bought books on tulips and put pictures of tulips in various stages of growth up around my house. A year later, I still didn’t have much writing, but I had established the most important element of fiction writing for me: the haunting.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My novel Delta Girls comes out in three days and I'm full of nerves. The two trade reviews I've received so far have not been great (the nicest thing Publishers Weekly had to say is that the book is "heartwarming but forgettable." I suppose I could be like those movie ads that take snippets from bad reviews and use them to their favor--turning something like "This movie is the most stupendous waste of time" into "Stupendous!" on billboards--and just say "Publisher's Weekly called my book heartwarming!" but that feels disingenuous.) I was starting to doubt myself as a writer, starting to think that the book is bound to bomb, that I'll never be able to publish my work or be taken seriously as an author again, but then I started hearing from readers who've read early copies and I'm feeling a little bit more hopeful (not that the doubts have gone away entirely. Why is doubt such an integral part of the writing life?)

Cindy at CindyREADS posted lovely reviews of both Delta Girls and My Life with the Lincolns on her site and ubiquitous review Harriet Klausner says "The Delta Girls is a delightful compelling character study that rotates subplots between Izzy and Karen as the tale looks deeply at mother-daughter relationships...With a great twist that brings the two sagas together, fans who appreciate a discerning look at motherhood will enjoy this thoughtful tale." (Okay, I left out the sentence in between where she says the storyline meanders a bit as the characters are established, but she still gives it five stars.)

The lousy thing about the lousy trade reviews is that they're right at the top of the Amazon page for everyone to see as they contemplate buying the book. So I am going to step outside my normal reticence over such things and gently ask that if you enjoy reading Delta Girls, please post a review at Amazon (or your favorite bookselling site--I especially love Powells.com). It's very hard for me to make such a request, but the publishing industry is hurting and writers are scared, and it's so hard for any one non-blockbuster book to get much attention, so a positive review would make a big difference in helping readers find the novel. I suggest you do this for all books you love, especially those by little known authors. Writers appreciate it beyond words. I know I do. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my warm but forgettable heart. ;)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I wrote this op-ed last week but haven't had any luck placing it, so I thought I'd post it here. After spending so much time researching the Chicago Freedom Movement as I was writing My Life with the Lincolns, I couldn't stay silent when Rand Paul made his inane comments about the "obscurity" of civil rights:

In his recent interview with Rachel Maddow, Rand Paul said he would have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s clear to me, however, that he wouldn’t have marched with the civil rights leader when Dr. King moved his campaign north to Chicago to focus on issues of housing discrimination.

The Chicago Freedom Movement, a joint effort between the Coordinating Council of City Organizations and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council, sought to end slums through open housing. In 1966, hundreds of dedicated African American volunteers (sometimes accompanied by white supporters) “tested” real estate offices all over the Chicago area to see whether they would be offered services. Most of the time, they weren’t.

If Rand Paul had his way, and private businesses were declared exempt from the Civil Rights Act, such discrimination would occur over and over again—in restaurants, in taxis, in hotels, in private schools.

I think about the marches during the Chicago Freedom Movement. Thousands demonstrated peacefully in white neighborhoods such as Marquette Park to raise awareness about fair, open housing, but members of those communities weren’t always non-violent in response. Ugly racial epithets were common; cars of the marchers were set on fire; stones were hurled (one of which struck Dr. King in the head). Comments such as Paul’s set the stage for the return of such racially motivated violence.

Civil rights are not an “intrusion” on corporate America, as Paul asserts. They are not “obscure.” They are human rights, ones that are just and have been hard won. They are what Americans should be most proud of. Let’s not let small minded people like Paul threaten the integrity of the Civil Rights Act and those who put their lives on the line to bring it into being.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Michael updated the home page of my website to include Delta Girls (and a picture of me in ice skates as a little girl). Check it out here. :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

I just read a post on Jezebel, Why the Kendra Wilkinson Sex Tape Should Make You Angry, and I definitely am upset. I have never seen any of Kendra Wilkinson's tv shows, and have no desire to view the tape in question, but I have felt a bit of a kinship with her over the last year or so because we had babies around the same time, and I would see her pregnant belly on the magazine racks growing at about the same rate as mine. Even if we didn't have this connection, though, I would still feel for her right now. I know there is some speculation that she was complicit in leaking the tape to the public, but it's hard to believe that after reading about its contents.

Supposedly in the tape, Kendra doesn't want to be filmed. She asks her partner several times to turn off the camera, tries to push it away, but he persists. His obvious disregard for her concerns, his need to put his desires before her own, is deeply troubling to me. In my novel Delta Girls, something quite similar happens. One of my characters is 18 and in her first serious relationship; her partner pulls out a video camera, which makes her incredibly nervous, but she goes with it because she feels pressured, and thinks that she needs to do whatever her partner wants in order to "keep" him. Some of the footage he takes later comes back to haunt her in ways she never could have anticipated.

As the author on Jezebel writes:
This isn't a sex tape, really. It's that thing we talk about that happens to our young women. That thing that we, as grown-ups, write about and research incessantly and condemn broadly, but don't remember so vividly. It's right here on video.

It reminds me to some extent of the Paris Hilton sex tape, but even more so here. It's that space where young women have discovered and perfected their sexuality and its value, but haven't yet figured out how it's empowering. They just know that it's something people want from them; it's something people expect from them. Something young men expect from them; something, perhaps, that young men haven't learned how to ask for politely. It's uncomfortable and new and everybody's learning, and what happens, more often than not, is that the male partner's desires come first and more forcefully, and the young woman is disrespected and disempowered and left with a sense that she's less valuable and less capable of demanding respect and control than her male counterpart - a sense than lingers into her twenties and beyond, even though she might not recognize it as such.

You should not be turned on by this. You should be pissed off.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I have a few guest blog posts to share with you...

Today, the aptly named Largehearted Boy has posted my playlist for My Life with the Lincolns as part of his great Book Notes series. I did one for Self Storage and was so happy to be invited to return with My Life with the Lincolns.

I meant to share these other two weeks ago, but life kept getting in the way. I'm so grateful to have done these guest spots, as well:

I answer five (make that six) questions over at Fictionaut Five.

I offer a few thoughts for The Laughing Yeti's series of authors writing about reading.

More to come (and I'll try to be more timely with my postings!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My first two real life copies of Delta Girls just arrived in the mail--they're gorgeous (and even though the book is no longer titled Pears, two luscious pears adorn both the front and back covers. They look just like the lovely pear brooch my aunt Sylvia gave me when I was in Chicago; I'm going to have to wear it at my book events! She also gave me a strawberry pin, both of which she had had for decades. I will treasure them always.)

It is a bit wild to think about a new book coming out in a month when I feel I've barely gotten started promoting My Life with the Lincolns. Of course I know how lucky I am to be in this position, but with the baby, I'm lucky if I am able to take a shower, so doing anything beyond that feels monumental some days. My subconscious has been preparing me for the release of Delta Girls, though--images from the book have been showing up in my dreams. I had a dream a couple of weeks ago that I was swimming in a river and a massive whale sidled up next to me. I reached out my hand and felt its slick, long belly as it swam past. Another night, I dreamed that Michael and I had to perform the Bollywood program of the Olympic ice dance team Davis and White. Asher was on the ice, too, so we got a bit distracted as we were skating.

I have a couple of events on the horizon that I am excited about:

--Women and Words, Saturday, June 5 at the UCLA Covel Commons Grand Horizon Ballroom, 9am-3pm. This all day event not only celebrates women and the literary arts; it also raises money for charity (Children's Hospital, Adolescent Medicine this time around.) I will be speaking, as will the authors Patricia Smiley, Anne Cherian, Tatjani Soli and Mary Yukari Waters. Copies of Delta Girls will be available there even though it's not officially released until June 22.

--UCLA Extension Writers' Program Publication Party, Wednesday, June 9, 7pm, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda, Los Angeles. Join me and 17 other members of the Writers' Program faculty for an evening of readings and dessert. The event is free, but you need to RSVP at writers@uclaextension.edu.

Come say hello if you're able to come to either event! I'll be the one with the pear brooch. :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I found out today that I received a starred review (my first, I believe) in Library Media Connection for My Life with the Lincolns:
This coming of age story is told through the voice of 12-year old Mina who is growing up in the challenging 1960s during the civil rights struggle and the conflict over the Vietnam War. Her father takes her to hear speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to participate in civil rights events. She is a precocious and highly intelligent Caucasian youngster who is fortunate to live history firsthand. Mina has a fantastic imagination, and she believes she is the reincarnation of one of Abraham Lincoln’s sons. Some of Mina’s thoughts are hilarious, while others are eye-opening. The story is also told through a newsletter written by Mina to promote her father’s furniture store, “Honest Abe’s,” which also provides tidbits of historical information about Lincoln and his troubled wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. One subplot involves her father’s affair with a black civil rights advocate. This is the author’s first young adult novel, but she proves her ability to capture the ways a teenager might interpret events and assign meanings to them. The intricate storylines come together and create a wonderful read for adolescents and adults. Highly Recommended. Caroline Geck, Newark (New Jersey) Public Schools
I felt a bit like a star, myself, when I spoke at a local middle school on Monday; at the end of my second presentation, one of the students asked if I would sign autographs, and when I said yes, I was mobbed. The librarian gave me a stack of blank cards from the card catalog and a purple marker that smelled like grape popsicles, and I signed my name over and over again as dozens of kids surrounded me, their hands held out, each clamoring to be next. I'm sure it's the closest I'll ever get to a taste of celebrity (and I have to say I'm grateful I won't get any closer. It was very sweet and I was touched by the enthusiasm of the kids, but I found myself also getting quite claustrophobic and overwhelmed. Talking with the kids was great, though, and I feel so lucky to have a chance to reach young readers, hopefully with words other than just my purple, sweet-smelling name.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

I am thrilled to share the news that my friend Naomi Benaron has won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for her stunning manuscript, Running the Rift. I had the pleasure and honor of helping Naomi with the project, so it almost feels as if I've won the prize a second time. :) Of course Naomi deserves all the credit--she has written a moving, gorgeous, painful, haunting, eye opening novel, which helped me understand the situation in Rwanda more deeply than any news report ever could. I am so thrilled her amazing characters are going to find their way into the world (and so auspiciously!) Congratulations, Naomi!!!!
So much has happened since my last post, it's hard to know where to begin. I've wanted to write all about my Midwestern tour, but it feels so long ago already--I'll just share a couple of snippets now. I had an amazing time, especially because I got to see so many family members and old friends, including an aunt I hadn't seen since I was a teenager, since she and my mom had become estranged. It's been very meaningful to reconnect with her after my mom's death. I saw a bit of my mom in her eyes, which was quite an amazing experience. But let me back track a bit...

This was my first family book tour--I had my little entourage with me, Michael, Asher and Hannah. Our first full day of the trip (after missing our flight and not getting into our hotel until about 1am), I got sick, one of the stomach episodes I've written about. I had been invited by a Western Michigan Humanities Council to do a couple of events (thanks to the lovely Nurya Parish), one at 9am (6am our time), and one at 4pm. With the help of some mint tea, I got through the first event with a warm and wonderful library book group. I went back to the hotel to rest afterwards, and started to feel worse and worse. When it was time to leave for the next event, a talk about crafting a writing career at Grand Valley State College, I could barely stand up. I considered canceling my talk, but didn't want to disappoint Nurya, who had worked so hard to get me there. I told her that I'd play it by ear and see how I felt after the 20 minute drive to campus. I definitely didn't feel better when we arrived, but I decided to push through after I saw how much they had been publicizing the event. I'm so glad I did.

The room was packed, and someone had even put together an amazing broadside featuring an excerpt from Fruitflesh (you can see part of it above--I have several copies; if anyone wants one, let me know. I'm not quite sure how to mail them--they're very long--but I'm sure I can figure it out.) I told the audience at the beginning that I wasn't feeling well, but said that I had been inspired by Lady Gaga, who had passed out during a recent concert and had told herself, when she came to, "Get up and finish the song, you little bitch" (not that I would ever call myself--or anyone, for that matter--that). I said that if I threw up at the podium, they could call me Lady Gag-Gag. I was worried this would mortify my daughter, but she said she was impressed; she told me she didn't think I had it in me.

I burst into a cold sweat a couple of times during the event and had to clutch the podium to stay upright, but I managed to get through the talk and book signing without passing out, and had some great conversations with the students. After the room cleared, I lay down on the floor as the pain got worse and more constant. We eventually decided I needed to get to an emergency room. On the way there, I knew I was about to throw up--I dumped as much out of my purse as I could, and then used it as a barf bag, hoping that would protect Nurya's car. Later, after several hours in the er with meds that made me goofy as Hannah sat with me and Michael tried to keep the baby happy in our hotel room (I had never been away from Asher for such a long time before), we threw the purse away, thinking the only thing still inside was Asher's rattle. Once we were almost in Chicago, though, I realized that my keys had been inside the purse, too, including the keys to the car waiting for us in a parking lot at LAX. Thankfully Michael asked if my ex husband still had a copy of the car key; I called Matt and he searched around and found the valet key, which he fed exed to us, making life so much easier than it could have been. It's all quite funny to me now, but it was quite a fraught experience at the time. I'm grateful the rest of the trip was drama-free (aside from learning my book had been censored by a couple of school librarians because it contains the word "vagina." But more on that, and my fun school visits, later.)

This is Lady Gag-Gag, over and out.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

As I was going through my mom's things, I found a tissue-thin carbon copy of a letter my dad had written on April 8, 1968 (six days before I was born), to Sue and Jon, my older sister and brother. They were 18 and 16 at the time, just about the same age difference between my older kids and my baby, and lived in New Jersey with their mom. The letter touches upon Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, so it feels appropriate to share part of it today:
This has been the most dramatic week of historical and political events I can recall. Starting with President Johnson's announcement that he will not run, Hanoi's apparent change of heart about talks and Martin Luther King's tragic death and the even more tragic senseless rioting, each day could fill an entire history book.

Even Dr. King's murder carries with it a sense of hope because it gives the black and white communities their one big chance to work together with common spirit. I hope we as whites don't flub it.

Perhaps it's only the flush of excitement from these events, but I detect the beginnings of a new sense of morality and loyalty swelling upon the land. I think Sen. McCarthy's candidacy touched it off and Pres. Johnson's announcement helped to build up a momentum. Now with Dr. King's death and a chance to use his martyrdom as a rallying point, good things could start happening.
I love seeing my dad's optimism here, and while it gives me some sadness to know our culture hasn't moved forward as much as he must have hoped it would, we have made and will continue to make strides. I know what a thrill it was for my dad, who supervised segregated troops during WWII, to see Barack Obama get elected.

I loved getting to know more of MLK's history as I researched My Life with the Lincolns. Just as I, like my character Mina, thought my dad was Lincoln reincarnated, I also used to think that maybe a little bit of Dr. King got into me when I was born, 10 days after his death. Not his whole soul--maybe just a few atoms of it. I don't believe that anymore, but I would like to live as if it's true.

The Chicago Freedom Movement, which Mina and her father get involved with in 1966, ended up being a bit of a disappointment for Dr. King; he wasn't able to bring open housing to the city quite the way he had hoped. I'm sure, however, that the Fair Housing Act wouldn't have been passed two years later (sadly, a week after MLK's assassination, so he never saw it come to pass) if it hadn't been for him and the Chicago Freedom Movement campaign. This inspires me to keep pushing for change, even when, maybe especially when, it seems impossible. We have a chance to make a difference--in my dad's 42 year old words, let's not flub it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's been a while since I checked in, so I wanted to give you an update on all things My Life with the Lincolns related.

You have another chance to win a copy of My Life with the Lincolns (one of five, actually!) To find out how, visit my KidsBuzz page.

I was delighted to hear from Sharon Hrycewicz, a librarian in Downers Grove, where my characters live in My Life with the Lincolns. She has passed the book around to several people in town, including John Mochel, whose hardware store is mentioned in the novel. I am so excited that I'll get to visit Downers Grove in a couple of weeks and connect with readers there in person! In the meanwhile, I did an interview with Sharon, which you can read here.

I will be doing a few Midwestern book events and school visits soon. Here are the ones that are open to the public; if you're in the area, please come say hello!

Thursday, April 8

9:30-11am, discussion of The Book of Dead Birds, Wisner Center at the Cascade Township Branch of Kent District Library, Grand Rapids, MI

4-5pm, Writers Talk, Grand Valley State University, Room 2263 Kirkhof Center, Allendale Campus

Sunday, April 11

4pm, reading/book signing, My Life with the Lincolns, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI

Tuesday, April 13

7pm, reading/book signing, My Life with the Lincolns, Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 South Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60607

Wednesday, April 14 (my birthday!)

7pm, reading/book signing, My Life with the Lincolns, Anderson's Bookshop, Downers Grove, IL

I so look forward to returning to my home town and seeing people I haven't seen in years. Hopefully Asher will be patient with all the traveling!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A few years ago, I did an event for The Book of Dead Birds right before Self Storage came out, and I remember feeling a stab of sadness over the fact that I wouldn't be giving readings from that book any more, since my new novel was stepping into center stage. Turns out I didn't have to worry--The Book of Dead Birds seems to have a strange little life of its own, even on the cusp of yet another book coming out. I will be reading from Dead Birds this Sunday (edit--it's actually this SATURDAY, the 13th, at 2pm) at the La Quinta Museum as part of their Salton Sea exhibit (and will be discussing it in Michigan next month--more on that to come.) If you're in the desert, please swing on by! :)

Monday, March 08, 2010

You can read my very first interview about My Life with the Lincolns, and even win a copy of the book, over at my friend Tricia (I know her as Pat) O'Brien's wonderful blog, Talespinning. If you blog or tweet about the contest, you have an even greater chance of winning!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A great review from School Library Journal... :)
It's the summer of 1966, and sixth-grader Mina has her work cut out for her. Her overactive imagination has convinced her that because her father's initials spell "ABE," the Edelmans are the Lincolns reincarnated. Now she must save her family from their fate. This means making sure that she doesn't die of bilious fever, that her dad doesn't get assassinated, and that her mother doesn't go crazy. Mina is unclear what bilious fever is, but frequently sprays herself with OFF!, just in case. Her father, inspired by the history of discrimination against his Jewish heritage, decides to take her, without her mother's knowledge, to civil-rights protests in nearby Chicago where they participate in an all-night vigil and get involved in real-estate testing to prove racism in rentals. Mina's parents grow apart, and her father forms a friendship with a fellow protester and African American, Carla. At the end, Mina is ready to let go of her notion of reincarnation and wrestles with issues of injustice and discrimination. Brandeis seamlessly intersperses serious topics with laugh-out-loud humor. Mina is a budding journalist, writing a newsletter full of Lincoln lore to promote her father's furniture store, Honest Abe's. Her voice is clear and unique; her view of life's confusions is endearing and funny. The setting is perfectly captured, from Johnny Carson on television to bouffant hairdos. While the book's humor may be the first attraction for young readers, this is also a solid addition to historical-fiction collections.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School Library, South Portland, ME

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Today, I decided to do a search on Abraham Lincoln over at Etsy to see how other people have been inspired by Abe. Apparently, he is quite a muse! Lincoln appeared...

as a pimp:

in pennies:

in the desert:

several times as a zombie (here are just a couple of examples):

and, well, I'll let you decide what this is:

I think my favorite, though, is this girl holding a "go lincoln" sign. She reminds me so much of my character Mina from My Life with the Lincolns!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I have to admit, I was hoping for a scandal. Some nice juicy scandal in the Olympic pairs figure skating competition--something that would keep people talking about pairs skaters for the next few months, so when my novel Delta Girls (which features an Olympics hopeful pairs skater) comes out in June, people would be hungry for more tales of skaterly scandal. Alas, the skaters behaved themselves; the gold medalists were a sweet married couple from China who now plan to have a baby, and while the woman from one of the American pairs teams is dating the man from the other pair, there is nothing scandalous about their situation.

The men offered a bit of drama--a broken lace in the middle of a routine, a slightly diva-ish rant from silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko about how if someone can win the Olympics without a quad, it's "not men's figure skating. It is dance." And of course the ice dancers from Russia brought loads of controversy with their outrageously offensive, culturally insensitive "aboriginal" routine and their use of ropes to aid their lifts in their free dance, but that wasn't the sort of newsmaking scandal I was hoping for. (An aside--ice dancing has gotten so much more interesting, hasn't it? When I was a competitive figure skater, I turned up my nose at ice dancing--it seemed so boring to me without the big jumps and throws, etc.--but I'm digging it now. White and Davis' Bollywood routine knocked my socks off.)

By the time the women's figure skating rolled around, though, I was no longer hoping for a scandal. I was just rooting for Joannie Rochette, the Canadian skater whose mother died unexpectedly on Sunday. I think about myself two days after getting the news of my mom's death--I felt like a skinned creature, all my nerves exposed to the wind--and can't imagine how she was able to perform with such poise and grace and courage under the circumstances. When she finished her passionate, assured program and flung her arms open, surrendering to tears, I wept, myself. I hope that when the shock of the news fades, when the adrenalin rush of the Olympics is over, when Rochette has time to face her loss head on--cold and stark as any span of ice--the memory of her performance, and the way the crowd embraced her, will be a balm.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy birthday, Abe!

Don't know how to celebrate Lincoln's birth? How about pick up a copy of My Life with the Lincolns on cd? The audio book--my first!--actually came out on February 9 (you can see the slightly different cover below); I meant to post something about it that day, but my baby came down with a fever--his first--and I was too worried and distracted to do so.

I think it's unusual for an audio cd to come out so soon before the physical book, which comes out in a little over a month, but this gives you a chance to have a sneak peek (er, listen!) You can find links to various booksellers through my website or hit up your favorite local store.

Abe's pretty spry for a 201 year old, don't you think? :)

Monday, February 08, 2010

I'm excited to unveil the updated version of gaylebrandeis.com. My sweet husband Michael just uploaded it last night. He had planned to noodle around with the site during his paternity leave, but so much of that time was consumed with dealing with my mom's death, and he didn't have a chance to get to it. I was about to hire a web designer, but Michael had a recent jolt of inspiration and dove head first into the project. I love what he came up with--it's clean and bright and has a groovy retro vibe (and he was able to re-use a lot of the content from the last version of the website--thanks, Eula!) We still have a few changes and additions to make, but it's ready to rock now. Check it out and let me know what you think!

The picture on the front page is me at close to eight years old, taken from my old modeling composite (the sort of calling card that agents use to try to get their models work.) You can see the front and back of the composite below, and you can read about my brief and awkward jaunt as a child model in my essay Shoot.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

If you've tried to pre-order My Life with the Lincoln on Amazon over the last few days, you've seen that the "Pre Order" button has disappeared. You may have noticed that the "Buy" buttons on various other books have gone missing on Amazon, as well. This is all because Amazon has decided to be a bully and stop selling all books published under the Macmillan umbrella (which includes my publisher, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, as well as St. Martin's Press, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, among others) because of a pricing dispute. I'm too tired to go into the details here--and actually I should be sleeping right now, since the baby is blessedly asleep--but you can read the details of the kerfuffle on the LA Times' book blog, Jacket Copy. Needless to say, it is quite worrisome for authors with books that have just come out from Macmillan or are coming out soon, such as my friend Ariel Gore's new book, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness--a book I can't wait to read, and one that I find myself wishing I could share with my mom. I linked to Powell's website, since hopefully this hullabaloo with Amazon will remind us to support the wonderful indie booksellers out there (and perhaps it will help to break writers--including myself!--of the compulsive-and-often-torturous-even-though-we-know-it's-pretty-meaningless past-time of checking one's own Amazon rankings.) Of course I do hope that Amazon will stop rattling its saber before My Life with the Lincolns comes out, but I have to remind myself that Amazon really only accounts for a small portion of book sales, plus I think that my book has its best chance in brick and mortar places where booksellers can put it directly into the hands of young readers.

Some more reviews are coming in. Kirkus (which is sadly going out of print soon and whose reviewers are notoriously hard to please) says
Brandeis has created an appealing, quirky protagonist, still childlike in her sensibilities and understanding. Convinced that she is going to die young, like her almost-namesake Willie Lincoln, she diagnoses the pain in her developing breasts as incipient heart failure. She worries that her mother will go crazy and her father will be assassinated. Middle-school readers will know better but enjoy this humorous first-person glimpse into her misconstrued world. Adults don’t see so clearly, either. In her first novel for young readers, the author goes beyond usual stories of the civil-rights movement, demonstrating well-intentioned but tone-deaf gestures of white supporters and the discomfort of change.
Booklist calls My Life with the Lincolns an "informative, clear, personal and passionate novel." And the PhiloBiblos blog has a fantastic review here.

Watch for a contest coming soon and a website relaunch (my husband Michael is doing the web design, which is very cool. He didn't think he'd have time, but it's coming together beautifully!)

Update: It appears Amazon has come to their senses. Pre-order away. :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's wild to think that My Life with the Lincolns will be out in the world in less than two months! I recently received two copies of the hardcover; it looks gorgeous and feels so good in my hands. With everything that's been going on, it's been hard to think about book promotion, but my mom always assumed the role of my de facto publicist (sometimes to my great embarrassment, I must admit), and I know that she would want me to do whatever I could to get the book out there. If she were still alive, I wouldn't be surprised if she were to don a Lincoln hat and wear a sandwich board of the book cover over her chest! So, in her honor, I will share a few things...

An awesome blurb from Julianna Baggott, author of Ever Breath and The Prince of Fenway Park:
"Gayle Brandeis has written a richly complex novel in the voice of her brilliant, courageous, funny, young heroine Mina Edelman. Through her whip-smart perceptions, we watch one family struggle through the turbulent 60s -- the Vietnam War, feminism, and some of the most heated moments of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago. Just as Mina sees deep connections between the nation's struggles in the 60s to those of Lincoln's presidency, readers will naturally draw correlations to present-day America -- essential ones."
My first review, a decent one from Publishers Weekly (although I think they make the book sound deathly serious; of course it deals with serious issues, but it's actually quite funny):
My Life with the Lincolns Gayle Brandeis Holt, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9013-0

In her first novel for children, adult author Brandeis entwines two historical periods through the voice of narrator Mina, who is convinced that her family members are the Lincolns reincarnated (“my three main tasks were: 1. Get through age 12 without dropping dead [like Lincoln’s son, Willie]. 2. Stop Mom from going crazy. 3. Stop Dad from getting shot in the skull”). Mina’s overexuberant father invites Mina along as he joins the civil rights movement in 1960s Chicago, and they are soon participating in marches and prayer vigils, while becoming increasingly involved with a black woman and her son. Brandeis doesn’t sidestep the brazen and discomforting inequality that existed, nor the often violent reactions to integration. She weaves in tidbits of Lincoln’s life, while subtly showing readers how history repeats itself (even as Mina works to avoid just that). Familial tension, heightened by disagreements over their involvement in “the movement,” leads to an emotional climax at—where else?—the Lincoln Memorial. This strong showing should leave readers with a trove of Lincoln trivia and gratitude for the contributions of civil rights pioneers. Ages 10–up. (Mar.)
And a link where you can hear the first couple of minutes from the audio version of the book.

It's not a sandwich board, but I think my mom would approve.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Receiving the bound galleys of one's own book is usually a thrilling experience. It's when the book really feels like a book for the first time. When I received the galleys for Fruitflesh, my first published book, I was so overcome at the sight of my name on the cover, I thought I might pass out or throw up. This time is different.

I recently received the galleys for both My Life with the Lincolns, my YA novel coming out in March, and Delta Girls, my novel coming out in June (you can see the cover here, now that I have a digital copy.) Of course it was exciting when they each showed up on my doorstep, but it was also bittersweet. For those who haven't seen the posting on my other blog, my mom committed suicide six weeks ago, one week after my son Asher was born. I had dedicated Delta Girls to her but hadn't told her; I had wanted to surprise her with it when the galleys came out. Now I deeply regret not telling her, and not sharing the manuscript, which she had wanted to read, with her earlier. I see the simple dedication--"For my mom"--and it takes on a whole other meaning now, and it breaks my heart. I never imagined she wouldn't be here to see it, herself, or that it would become a memorial of sorts.

We never know how much time we have with our loved ones; it makes me want to pull all of them even closer now.