1. What is your favourite book?
This is always difficult to answer, because my thoughts on it change from day to day. One book that consistently stays on my top ten list is Sugar Cage, by Connie May Fowler. Her characters break my heart over and over, even as I revel in her lush descriptions of Florida. And, like the author, I believe there’s magic in life, especially when we forgive those who cause us pain.
2. What are your goals? For the year? For your life?
My goals right now are to continue to promote my novel and to keep my family close. Last year was one of many changes, and we are all adjusting and looking forward, as well. Marketing myself is a challenge. I’d rather eat beets ground in glass. But connecting with readers, booksellers who really love books, and, especially, old friends who come out to readings in support are all pure joy. I’ll get better at managing the details and the on-the-fly communications, I promise. My publisher and publicist will be glad to hear that last part.
3. Are you a writer? If so, tell me about your work.
I am a writer. You can find some of my short stories and poems by googling me on line. I also wrote a nonfiction title and edited four anthologies by women writers with Jane’s Stories Press Foundation. This past year, my first novel, Eve’s Garden, was published by Twisted Road Publications. It’s a story about a girl who struggles with her identity, especially after the losses of her best friend and her role model at the same time. She finds herself through coming to terms with her secretive mother and discovering the legacy of her Romani grandmother. I wrote a lot of romance into it, because I’m a sucker for good guys who give women the space they need.
4. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
India. I want to see the land of my ancestors, visit elephants, the Ganges, and the Hindu Kush. Those are the mountains through which my ancestors traveled when they were brought as prisoners of war out of their homeland. I want to pay respects to their spirits there.
And Scotland, again. On my first trip there, I couldn’t make it to the far west Inner Hebrides, to the Isle of Canna, for which my much-loved grandmother was named. So, next time, we fly into Glasgow. Maybe I’ll get to meet Emma!
Also, reading Paul Yoon’s Snow Hunters made me want to visit Brazil.
5. What was the last movie you saw in the theatre and was it worthwhile?
Selma. Oh, my goodness, yes! I hope everyone will see it. It made me cry but also reminded me of the incredible dignity shown by the civil rights demonstrators. I saw it in real life with my own eyes, and it has always fed my soul, but the movie is like a concentrated dose of hope for human enlightenment.
6. I’m curious, are there any books that you’ve tried to read and simply couldn’t finish? This is a no judgement zone.
I really don’t like The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. It’s so claustrophobic I had to put it down. But I love her other novel, The Little Friend. And I have never finished reading any Proust work, though I like much of what he had to say. Never finished any Joyce, either. I am interested in distilled thought, rather than the experience of thinking. My own head is enough of a laboratory for me.
7. Are you currently working on a new book/project right now? If it’s secret, you don’t have to tell me about it. If so, however, I hope it’s going well.
I’m working on two novels at once. The first is called The Man Who Loved Chocolate, and it’s an offbeat love story set on Chicago’s Near West Side. It’s about the disconnects from reality that affect our understandings of each other. It takes patience for a bumbling bookseller to reach a florist who is oddly attractive yet terrified to fail, even as together they embark on trying to help a homeless woman whose stroke led to amnesia. Sometimes it takes patience to connect with people who exhibit odd behavior, but there are often rewards in befriending them.
The second novel is called Provenance. It’s set in my native Upstate South Carolina, it includes some interesting sidelights on the history of that area, and it’s about greed and what it does to us as individuals and as a species. Make no small themes, I say!
8. If you could live in any of your favourite books, which one would you choose?
Oh, Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter series, for sure. Who wouldn’t want to learn magic and have loyal friends and such strong mentors? And the animals alone are worth the trip.
But I would also love to travel back to Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley to contemplate the miniature worlds available to women of that time, and also to Edith Wharton’s turn of the century New York City.
And if I could spend just one day in Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh, I would be a very happy woman.
9. Are there any book-to-movie adaptations that you think are just incredible? That you absolutely hated?
I did not enjoy the Keira Knightley-Benedict Cumberbatch version of Pride and Prejudice. If that is the only version of Elizabeth Bennett you know, please see the Jennifer Ehle-Colin Firth version. It took me several tries before it clicked for me. Once I got Elizabeth’s determination to choose her own path, as well as the humor of the foolish minister and her mother, as well as the way they play foils to Elizabeth’s sincerity and self-assurance, it became one of my favorite books. But I know some people can’t stand it. So be it. Jane keeps marching on, and there are many books in the sea, so to speak.
10. What do you look for in a book that you want to read? What’s the first thing to capture your attention?
I read the first page. If the prose grabs me, pulls me into the author’s world, I’m done for. Then I usually look at the description on the back cover to get a better idea of what I’m in for, and sometimes I peruse the blurbs to see if any of my favorite authors liked the book. And I often will read the Acknowledgments page to get a sense of who the author really is.
11. If you’re an author, what do you do when you first get an idea for a book?
Take notes! Usually on my iPhone, then I transfer them to Word. This is often followed by many long walks in the woods, where I meditate on why this particular story might be worth exploring and how to approach it.
12. How do you feel about different genres? Romance? YA? Sci-Fi? Poetry? Do you have any favorites? Any least-favourites?
I love sci-fi and fantasy, but I’m very picky about what I read. I’m not interested in dystopias or entering a video game. I’m looking for a deeper understanding of human nature and the Universe. Give me something to chew on, and I’m in. I do often read YA, because some authors like Anne Heltzel in Circle Nine and Sherman Alexie in The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian are doing a better job of tackling subjects like domestic abuse and discrimination against mixed-blood people than we are as a society. I read them to get perspective on what we’re doing right and wrong as an older generation, and also because there’s some great writing in that genre.
13. If you could meet any writer in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
Oh, wow. Well, I have gotten to know some role models, like Connie May Fowler and Dorothy Allison and Diana Abu Jaber, and that’s been a great privilege. I try to find workshops that will put me in touch with writers I admire, so I can learn directly from them. I am Facebook friends with the poet Camille Dungy, but I would love to sit down and talk to her at length about poetry, about California, where she lives and which she loves so exquisitely in her poems, and also about the state of the world, because she takes a really long view with a calm that I don’t feel and would love to explore.
And who wouldn’t want talk to J.K. Rowlings? What a human being!
14. Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?
I much prefer fiction, but I read a lot of nonfiction, especially history, as background for my work. I adore atlases!
15. Are there any characters that everyone loves that you can’t stand? Or vice versa?
I didn’t like anyone in Gone Girl. We’re not necessarily supposed to like them, since the book is about pretense and deception, but the book tired me out.
16. What do you like to do besides reading/writing?
Traveling. Just about anywhere. It’s the feeling of not knowing what’s around the corner that I crave. And I garden and watch the skies.
17. If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?
I’ve wanted to be of practical use in changing the world. I’ve accomplished a bit of that, but no one tells you that you have to push on and on, that the world keeps throwing up problems to solve. When one campaign ends, another begins. The world–really, I mean humans, let’s face it–needs a lot of changing. Pushing the evolutionary envelop is a lifetime job. Through writing about behaviors that I feel hold us down as a species, like racism and greed, I try to put a positive but grounded-in-reality message out into the world. I really want us to deserve the whole Universe.
18. What is your favourite guilty pleasure book?
Anything by Alexander McCall Smith. I’m hooked on Scotland, ancestral home of my mother’s family, and will read or view almost anything set there. Except Trainspotting. I kept closing my eyes.
19. Do you have a reading goal set for this year?
Nope. I have given up setting goals. I am always hanging on by my fingernails.
20. Ask yourself anything that I haven’t asked. Random fact. Weird human trick. Whatever.
I’m allergic to so many foods that feeding me is pure frustration. I take food wherever I go. It can be embarrassing trying to respond to gracious hosts.
I tag everyone to do this next. Why not? Like most self-surveys, it clarifies a lot.