Friday, July 30, 2010

Where shadows cling to the land

I just finished reading a book which stunned me with its honesty and atmosphere. In Ghost Swamp Blues, the sins of the past haunt the present with spirits who emerge from the walls, wearing pink feather hats or rope burns from lynchings. But even though this story whispers and hollers about horrific events tied to slavery and racism, it is more about accountability and familial and cultural nooses that strangle the truth. It's about families torn apart and glued together.
Author Laraine Herring kindly did an interview, which I've included along with some snippets. Herring has masters degrees in creative writing and counseling psychology and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her nonfiction.

The story travels back and forth from the 1850s to 1970s, weaving a web of intrigue through the voices of Roberta Du Bois, a plantation-owner's wife who walks into a snake-infested swamp in 1859, leaving behind her brutal husband and slave-born half-sister; Lillian Green, who swallows her voice in 1949 rather than reveal the terrible event she witnessed; Hannah Green who leaves letters to her mother around the house, but her mother prefers to talk to ghosts.
This tale lures you into its depths and won't let go.
Here are some snippets, followed by the interview.

Roberta: Time looped around me, caught me in its square knot, and held me tight. Held me here. Watching all of this madness unfolding in front of me, unwinding like snakeskin, dragging everyone along.

Lillian: The earth under my feet was so soft I felt the whole world was sinking. Mother and Daddy's shadows danced in the picture window, faces close, bodies apart. I knew without seeing that Mother's lips were disappearing and that Daddy's mouth was getting bigger, his lips puffier and redder with his rage at Mother's silence.

Hannah: If the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons for seven generations, what, then, is the fate of the daughters?

Q: The atmosphere in this story is so evocative of the deep South, not only the physical descriptions but the sense of hidden histories, secrets and torments. Is this a story you've long wanted to tell? How difficult was it to go so deep into this painful past?

Laraine: I didn’t know this particular story/plot was one that I wanted to tell, but I have always known that the South is a part of who I am as a writer. I have tried to write novels set in the Southwest (where I currently live) and haven’t been very successful. To me, the landscape is essential to telling the story, and I haven’t been able to access the high desert landscape in the same way as I can access the South. I remember when I was a girl sitting on the porch at my grandmother’s house (the property of Idyllic Grove Rice Plantation is loosely based on her property) and listening to the wind in the trees and all the sounds from the creek and the woods and hearing people whispering all around me. I’ve always felt very lucky that my parents didn’t think I was crazy & put me on meds. :-)

Q: Which character stepped out of the shadows first? How did the story develop from there?

Laraine: I first heard the Swamp Sirens singing. I didn’t know who they were singing to or why they were singing, but I knew where they were and that they were there in some important context in the story. Then, I saw Gabriel in the woods being chased by Tommy. I knew that was going to be the driving question for Lillian even before I knew what her arc might be. Once I had that question and that inciting incident, I just followed it to see what would happen. I didn’t know the ending until I got there. The book went through more rewrites than I can count, but if I got stuck, I always tried to maintain that authenticity with the characters and with the setting and the situation.

Q: What do you hope people come away with when they read Ghost Swamp Blues?

Laraine: I hope they’ll come away feeling they’ve been transported into the world of the story. I wanted the landscape to wrap around the reader and pull him or her into all of its complexities. I also hope that they may come away with a greater respect for and appreciation for the looping nature of time. I hope the world really won’t appear so black and white — that the nuances of what it means to be human will create some space for readers within their own hearts.

Q: Your book is published non-traditionally. Can you explain why you chose this process and what it's given you?

Laraine: This novel is actually the book that got me my agent back in 2001. While trying to sell this novel, we went on to sell three other books. This one just wasn’t hitting. We’d get great rejection letters, and many very, very close calls, one so close it still makes my heart twinge! But it’s hard for editors to take a chance on a new novel, and we also noticed the publishing industry changing so much in the last decade. We continued to love this book, and I even rewrote it as a young adult book two years ago and we sent it out that way.
After so many years, we decided to consider other ways of putting it out there. I’d already had three non-fiction books out through traditional channels and I really wanted to be able to give readers some of my fiction.
White River Press is a collaborative press — meaning both parties contribute to the financial end of the book. Both parties are invested in its success. White River only works with previously published authors, and they provide distribution, ISBN #’s, and other things that are very hard for an individual to get. I feel like I was able to get the book I wanted and not compromise on the quality or the content. I also feel like this is one of the new models of publishing for the future. The traditional model is gasping for breath. Many authors are choosing alternative ways to get their work out and to start to take some control over the income from their books.
I look at it like shopping for clothes – if the jeans aren’t fitting, I can either get depressed or take matters into my own hands and have something tailored to fit me.
I think the next decade is going to be very exciting with literature and books. There are so many more possibilities and avenues for authors. There will always be a place for good writing. People will always want to be swept into a story.
I hope Ghost Swamp Blues carries them off to a place they’ve not seen before.
Thank you so much, Laraine! I hope everyone finds this as fascinating as I do.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

And you thought your high school was hell...

Coming soon!


I was soooooo lucky to win an ARC of Lisa Desrochers' PERSONAL DEMONS. For anyone who doesn't know, that is an Advanced Reading Copy without the final cover. So the Tor Teen book you will find on the shelves in September has the illustration of Frannie with two hot boys who can't seem to stay away.


But I get to tell you what I found on the pages of that ARC. Intriguing.? Yes. Page turner? You betcha. Sizzling? Oh. Yeah.


Frannie has been kicked out of a Catholic school when she meets two new boys at the public Haden High, nicknamed Hades High. They both want something from her really bad--her soul.


I don't like to give away much plot line, and Lisa has posted sneak peaks from the book on her blog, so you can get more of a taste there, but I do love the way she's given a new twist to beliefs about demons and angels. Even the demons and angels are surprised by what finally happens.


Here are some teaser lines to give you an idea of voice.

First lines from bad boy Luc: If there's a Hell on Earth, it's high school. And if there's anyone distinctly qualified to make that statement, it would be me.


First lines from Frannie: Okay, so I'm not generally the swooning type, but Holy Mother of God, I can't believe what just walked into my English class. Tall, dark, and sorta dangerous.


And there is a little scene at a party when someone else new shows up. Frannie has just used judo to toss a guy who groped her but only seems to have enticed the jerk.

I kick myself mentally, lean against the porch rail hanging my head in defeat, and wait for the inevitable hand on my ass.

So the voice, smooth as music, scares the snot out of me.

"Looks like you could use someone to run interference."

I look up into these incredible sky-blue eyes, and, if Heaven had a face, I swear this would be it. His tight white T-shirt shows off his tan and some pretty serious muscle definition. He's leaning on the rail next to me like he's been here all along--like he belongs in this godforsaken place rather than on a beach in San Diego with a surfboard under his arm.


That's all I'm giving up. This book is too fun--and way too hot--for you not to stay up all night reading and fanning yourself.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

She waves in passing

Magic lingers in
the cottage down the path where
the hollyhocks grow
Went for a walk and found a fairytale garden and a storybook house. You don't have to believe in magic for it to exist, but if you believe you find it everywhere.
This is the meager extent of my blogging for the moment. I have written a new opening to Sea Daughters and reworked three middle chapters and done a beta read for someone else since last I posted. I also read an ARC of Lisa Desrochers' PERSONAL DEMONS, which I intend to write about more fully later in the week. But, for now, let's say that book is so hot, I'm still fanning myself.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surprise, surprise

Break out the Beach Boys. I just love surprises, so when I drove my sweat-dripping-from-my-earlobe self out of the 105-degree inland temps to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I was dreaming of cool breezes, damp sand underfoot and the whoosh of waves.

I didn't expect half the known universe to be there, too. Silly me.


But it turned out to be fantastic. I had stumbled into the San Clemente Ocean Festival where, among other things, cherry woody wagons lined the pier. The detail work was amazing, even the extra touches like the two old single-fin surfboards with inlaid-wood skegs.

There was even a gangsta surf wagon. Is this not Al Capone's beach ride or what?

I love imagination, and there's nothing like wandering into the unexpected to jumpstart creative thoughts. This car screams, "Write a flash fiction about me!"

But not this time. I am determined to spend my creative dollars wisely. I will finish Sea Daughters and get it out to beta readers this summer. Yesterday I revised two chapters so I'm paddling along as promised.

But back to the festival, which was so fun.


There were contests for dory boats, kayaks and surfboards of assorted kinds.

Lifeguards come from all over the Southern California coast to compete in the boat races. The two-person teams row out through the surf, around markers beyond the end of the pier and come back in through surf. Sometimes the waves flip them, sometimes they get a helluva ride.


There were sea creature sightings, as well.

People got up close and, um, friendly with the mermaids.


In keeping with surprises, I decided to try out something other bloggers do called Teaser Tuesday, in which you pick a random page in a book you're reading and share a few lines. I just finished the remarkable WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan. The book was a surprise in that I won an autographed copy from Frankie Diane Mallis and knew nothing about it other than good buzz. It swept me away with the voices of two entirely different Will Graysons whose paths cross. Utterly real and honest as it dealt with teen relationships, both gay and heterosexual, it was biting, funny and painful. So here's some random lines:

But nothing violates the rules of shutting up and not caring so much as flirting--except possibly for that enchantingly horrible moment when you act upon the flirting, that moment where you seal your heartbreak with a kiss. There should be a third rule, actually: 1. Shut up. 2. Don't care too much. And 3. Never kiss a girl you like.


How about you? Any refreshing surprises lately?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dog days? Nah, turtle days

It's so hot you could fry an egg on my head. Eew, gross enough?

Anyway, I struggle on days like this (several in a row of about 105 F). It exhausts me but I can't sleep. I try to write, really I do.

I remembered that on a not-quite-so-hot day I shot these photos of turtles and fish at a pond in a botanic garden.

Wouldn't it be cool to laze and float in the water, dappled with sunlight and reflections of trees?

Yeah. Floating with no particular place to go.


I may be a bit sporadic in posting this next month. Maybe I'll find somewhere to float, but most likely I'll be finishing the WIP. I see that end in sight, and I'm paddling toward it.


A big thank you to the Rainy Day Wanderer who gifted me with the Versatile Blogger and One Lovely Blog awards. Since I've received them before, I won't put the badges up again. But check out Wanderer's blog. She's worth visiting.

Couple of contests not to be missed: Janice Hardy writes one of the best advice blogs for writers and is running a contest for ARCs of BLUE FIRE. Besides her own trilogy, The Healing Wars which began with THE SHIFTER, she's nudging readers to check out the anthology EIGHT AGAINST REALITY released by Panverse Publishing, a small press with unusual funding through KickStarter.
Wen Baragrey is taunting me with pineapple lumps again! These New Zealand yummies are part of her giveaway that also includes enticing books. Enter contest before Monday.


Stay cool. I'll see you when I do.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

All things must end

Got endings on my mind. Saw this sunset while crossing an old stone bridge yesterday. The thing about sunsets is we say goodbye to the day and know another will come tomorrow.
When we come to the end of a novel, we want to feel that way, too. There should be a sense of satisfaction but not finality to the lives and world we entered. I stumbled across an article online today in The Irish Times that I found helpful as I approach writing the conclusion of my YA novel, Sea Daughters.
Several authors were asked about how they write endings and if they had any favorites. To read the whole article, click. I've pulled out a few highpoints that resonated with me.
"The best last line should be like a stone dropped in the pond, settling off ripples." That is from Jon McGregor (IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS) .
I like the quiet reflection in that quote. Sometimes when I close a good book, I feel as if the story is rippling through me and I need to be still and let it finish reverberating. Have you ever heard a Tibetan singing bowl? It's like that.
McGregor chose a favorite last line from Per Petterson's OUT STEALING HORSES. "You do decide when it hurts."
I've never read that book, but the final sentence is not one you'd turn your back on. It has such power and depth.
Tana French (IN THE WOODS) made an analogy to nature when discussing last lines. "It does need to bring the book to rest, like you're bringing a bird in to land after a long flight."
Once again, I like the sense of reflection, not closure, in this approach.
Gerbrand Bakker (THE TWIN) pointed out a similarity between ending a novel and finishing a poem that speaks to me as a sometimes writer of both. "An ending is very hard, I find; one tends to want to write too much in the end. I always strike the last two to four last lines when I write a poem, something that usually makes the poem much stronger."
Sometimes we don't trust ourselves or our readers to "get" it, I think, so we go on, burying our killer line in verbosity.
Hugo Hamilton (DISGUISE) brought up advice I'd heard before that there is a connection between the opening and ending of a good novel. "The walk-away line at the end of a novel is just as important as any opening line. It's like closing the door on the story but also leaving it ajar--"
In October, I wrote another post on last lines, including some picked by editors at the American Book Review and some favorites of mine. Please check it out if you're interested. Do you have books that left you wowed by the way the author wrapped up the story?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sidelines Blogfest gives nod to supporting players

A couple of my characters are stepping out for the Sidelines Blogfest today. The fest is hosted by Cheree at Justified Lunacy, and she's been doing posts on characters all week. I really like one in which she pointed out how sidekicks can serve different purposes--mentor, nemesis, comic, trickster, messenger, best friend, guardian.

Choosing a scene was tough. It's difficult to find something that doesn't require a lot of backstory or that doesn't give away too much plot, but I wanted something with voice. I hope I found it.

I've chosen part of a scene from SEA DAUGHTERS where the protagonist, Hallie, gets an emotional pick-me-up from her best friend, Suki. It was hard to find the right illustration for this. Rather than typical California blonds Hallie is part Polynesian and Suki is part Japanese. What's most important, they trust each other.

Even though this is YA paranormal, this isn't a scene with supernaturals or battles or mystery. It's a quiet moment and takes place after someone scratched the letters Ho on the door of Hallie's new car and a day after her first date with a popular surfer named Ben.

Hope you enjoy.


Hallie pushed aside the college letters she'd left scattered on her bed and sank down on the edge. Thinking about going to school in the morning made her stomach churn. What if Chad had been the one who defaced her car? What if Ben ignored her?

She looked at her phone screen again. The only message was a text from Suki: Where r u???

Hallie hesitated, feeling vulnerable, but Suki would be all over her at school if she didn't talk to her now. She punched in the number.

“Where have you been?” Suki blurted.


“With Ben?”

“No! We’re not joined at the hip all of a sudden.” Hallie wondered if maybe she wished they were. Why was she getting so worked up?

“Touchy much? Jeez. I’m sorry I mentioned his name. Does that mean last night was a fail? I thought you guys really liked each other.”

“I do like him, and last night was great.” Hallie drew in a breath and held it a moment before adding, “He kissed me.”

“Woo-hoo! Did you just die?”

Hallie closed her eyes, remembering every touch. "I wanted to kiss him forever.”

“But? I can hear a ‘but’ somewhere.”

“But he hasn’t called today.”

“Ah. Well, if it makes you feel any better Nathan hasn’t called me either. He told me a bunch of guys were gonna drive up to County Line in Ventura. It’s, like, a guy thing--everybody jammed into Kalani’s truck. No girls. Whatever. I wouldn’t surf that break anyway, although I know you would.”

“Maybe Ben’s with them.” Hallie stretched out, releasing the tension in her back.

“Could be. Don’t obsess. From what Nathan tells me, Ben asks questions about you non-stop. So unless you peed yourself or punched him out, I don’t think he’s backing off any time soon.”

Hallie laughed for the first time all day. “I didn’t do either of those things. But I did cry—a bunch--when he mentioned my mom. He was so nice to me, I fell apart. It was totally embarrassing.”

“I wouldn’t sweat that. Guys like to comfort girls. Just don’t wipe your snot on his hoodie.”
Hallie snorted with laughter. Suki always knew how to take the edge off. "Thanks. I promise to keep my snot to myself."


Monday, July 5, 2010

Playing with paper and a winner announced

I am the maker of this particular version of the world (with a little help from cut-up magazines). This week, I went crazy with the craftiness of collage-building. After finding pictures that suited my novel-in-progress, SEA DAUGHTERS, I played around for hours, shuffling images from one spot to another. Sigh.


But before I talk more of that, I need to announce the winner, chosen by random draw, of DELTA GIRLS by Gayle Brandeis.

Winner is: Jemi Fraser!

Jemi, please e-mail me your mailing address and I will send the book with haste.

And now back to playing with paper.


Here is my protagonist, a teenager who loves to surf and is falling for a guy at school who is aiming for the pro circuit.

They have some good times, but there's something in the water--

Here is Boyfriend. Do you require more?

I didn't paste the images down or make collage boards. I scattered these montages after photographing them. It reminds me of sand-painting, a creation made for a moment in time and then erased.

Of course, I hope my story will go on living--someday in a book that draws readers into this world. I think this visual, textile playtime was good for me as a writer. I spent time with my characters in a dimension outside my head. Sort of.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gayle Brandeis's DELTA GIRLS and contest

Gayle Brandeis has a luscious way with words. Reading her books can be like having the juice of a ripe pear fill your mouth. Her newest release, DELTA GIRLS (Ballantine) is rooted in a pear orchard within the Sacramento Delta. While it's main story follows an unusual white migrant farm worker and her daughter, it alternates chapters to a very different world of a teen-age ice skater on the brink of Olympic-size fame. The two lives collide later in a shocking end.
Gayle, who won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether prize for THE BOOK OF DEAD BIRDS, gives us a glimpse of her writing journey and what inspired this newest book in the interview below. I'll give away a copy of DELTA GIRLS by random drawing to anyone who mentions a favorite fruit in the comment section.
Here are a few snippets to show off Gayle's literary style:

Rows of pears stretched out as far as I could see, the trees shaggy vases, flaring open to the sky. The air was just on the edge of humid, the river lending a mossy tang. A few barn swallows dipped and swerved overhead, trilling.
If you leave a pear on the tree too long, he told me, it starts to rot from the inside out. It develops stone cells, little places of hardness that feel like grit in the mouth. It starts to get eaten by birds, by bugs. Better to pluck it when it's green, store it someplace cold, let it forget where it came from.

Q: What was the seed from which DELTA GIRLS grew--the initial character or situation that started your imagination going?

Gayle: My novel MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS had just been rejected by my editor at Ballantine because she saw it as a YA novel and not right for her list. I suddenly had to write a new novel in the span of a year and had no idea what to write about, so panic was really the first seed! It was around that time, though, that I started to see news stories about a mother and baby whale that had taken a wrong turn and had started swimming up the Sacramento River. This sparked something in me, especially because I had already been intrigued by the region, thanks to my friend Stephan. He had grown up in the Sacramento Delta and I had always loved his stories about his family’s orchard (and have always adored pears). So I started to envision a mother and daughter taking their own wrong turn and ending up at a pear farm in the area.

It was also around that time that I started dreaming regularly about figure skating. I had been a serious figure skater when I was a girl, and this seemed like a message for me to get back on the ice. I took lessons for a while, which I loved, but it took a real physical toll, and I realized that maybe instead of skating, I needed to write about skating. The other thread of the novel emerged from there.

I am happy to say My Life with the Lincolns did end up getting published as a YA novel a couple of months ago, so that rejection led to two published novels!

Q: There is some awesome scene setting at an organic pear farm and in the California Delta. Did you spend time there? How did you go about the research?

Gayle: I didn’t even know California had a Delta until Stephan started telling me about his childhood. Since it was only a few hours drive away, I knew I had to go up and see it for myself (I love to do research with all my senses, not just my mind, so it’s helpful for me to be able to really feel and smell the places I’m writing about.) Just thinking about the Delta now makes me relax; there is a slowness, a peace, to the region—I think it’s from all that water steadily flowing along, not to mention all those fruitful trees.

Before my first trip, I found an article about an organic pear farmer, Tim Neuharth, who wanted to increase eco-tourism to the Delta. I contacted him, thinking he’d be a good person to talk to about pear farming, since he was already hoping to spread the word. He and his wife Laura proved to be invaluable. They spent a good portion of the day taking me around Steamboat Acres and answering all my questions about the running of an orchard. Vieira Pears, the farm in Delta Girls, wouldn’t be the same without their help.

During my second research trip, I attended the Pear Fair, a wonderful small town festival celebrating all things pear during the Bartlett harvest. I ended up writing a scene set at the fair, and am excited that I’ll be returning at the end of July to promote my book there.

Q: Delta Girls has a very Bad Boy. Did you know he would behave that badly or did he surprise you?

Gayle: Oh, Nathan, Nathan, Nathan. He was full of surprises from the very beginning, but he definitely went to a darker place than I expected him to. I don’t think I’ve ever written such a “bad” character before; there was something kind of liberating about that.

Q: Was it difficult to write a novel alternating between a first-person narrator and a third-person narrator?

Gayle: I had actually done this before with THE BOOK OF DEAD BIRDS, so I worried I might be repeating myself, but that’s how the story wanted to be written. I think it’s a bit easier for me to write first person narration, because the voice feels so immediate, but the third person scenes felt fairly natural to write as well (although I have to say it took a while for any of it to feel natural. Because I had an imposed deadline and I was still smarting from the Lincolns rejection, it took some time to find the book’s true rhythm. I really had to force myself into the story, but once I was fully immersed, the words began to flow.)

Q: By the story's end, you give redemption to the main character. Did you know there would be a theme of forgiveness, of being able to start fresh?

Gayle: I rarely know what themes are going to emerge when I start to write a story, and this was no exception. That said, I think it would be unusual for me to write a story in which there wasn’t some sort of redemption at the end. And I’m sure the theme of being able to start fresh was informed by my life—I made the incredibly difficult decision to leave my first marriage around that time, so starting fresh was definitely on my mind. I remember telling my friend and first reader Laraine Herring that I was surprised that I wasn’t writing more about the separation, and she told me “But you are” and pointed out the themes in the novel. It’s quite amazing how our lives, our issues, can seep into our fiction without our even realizing it. Our writing selves are so much smarter than our daily selves—at least that’s certainly the case with me!

If you'd like to meet Gayle, she will be signing books at Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena CA on (postscript: date change)Aug. 6; Borders Books, Riverside CA on July 18; Avid Reader Bookstore, Sacramento CA on July 24; the 38th annual Pear Fair in Courtland CA on July 25; the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, Redlands CA on July 31 and the Riverside Public Library on Aug. 5. The Pear Fair is about twenty minutes south of Sacramento and features music, wines, arts and crafts and pear-inspired food. For more information on books and events check Gayle's website.
Thanks for reading the interview, and please leave a comment with some fruit love so I can enter your name in the drawing. (Book provided by the publisher)
Postscript: Today is the Festival of the Trees, so you can bloghop from this pear-tree post to more tree love than you can imagine.