Blog Series: Greenville, SC, My Hometown

copy-JoesPlace-wordmark_130by538_png8

This coming Saturday, June 6, at 2:00 I’ll be at Joe’s Place,

640 S Main St, Greenville, SC 29601

with my friend, Pat Spears, author of Dream Chaser.

We’ll talk a little, read a little, and mingle a lot. I love the bookstore’s motto: Sit, sip, read! They have coffee, beer, wine, and various munchies. More importantly, some of my best friends and family have promised to come! That means YOU, right?

Greenville is my home town, the place that more than any other shaped me. Each day this week, I’ll post something that I love about the town––in no particular order. There’s so much!

Eve’s Tour, Day 12, October 13, 2014: Magritte in Chicago!

The Magritte exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago was so much more challenging than I expected– far beyond “Ceci n’est ce pas une pipe!”

The day was perfect for all the mystery and puzzlement of the Belgian painter’s symbolic logic and explorations of dream states: misty, street lights blazing even mid-day. Beautiful in its own glimmering way.

IMG_2214.JPG

IMG_2210.JPG

IMG_2218.JPG

Mortality’s Pink Slip

Today I spoke with a young romni (Romani woman) about finding my gr-gr-gr-grgrandmother’s name on a list of slaves on a Barbados plantation, and also about our attempts every year to persuade the UN’s office of Holocaust Outreach to include us in their annual remembrance ceremony. We both cried a bit. 

 

Tonight I read the poem by Rachel Hadas, “Pomegranate Variations,” with these lines:

 

The fruit we pass around is recollection

. . . .

Mortality’s pink slip,

ticket to a certain season . . .

 

In my novel, Eve’s Garden, Eve’s grandmother, Evangeline, explains to her children how her Romani ancestors came through such oppression as being driven out of their homes by arson, were denied housing and safe passage, and were ultimately sold into slavery. She plants for the children cuttings from the pomegranate trees grown by her own grandmother, trees from which she harvested the fruits, processing the seeds and pulp into extracts to help her neighbors, in that time before pharmaceuticals, to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Those same neighbors turned against her, the same lack of charity experienced again and again, experienced even today, by Romani families in France, in Italy, in Hungary, and more places, but especially in parts of Eastern Europe. 

Today, as we observe the anniversary of the night when the remaining Romani women, men, and children were murdered in Auschwitz, I think of my ancestors, what they have endured and overcome to bring us here. And what yours must have done to bring us alive, together, to this moment.

Mortality comes for us all. Compassion takes but a moment, but may be remembered for a lifetime, and celebrated for many lifetimes. May we live so that they survive forever. 

 

What’s your book about? How to answer?

I was invited to appear on a panel presentation on the topic of “Love and Loss” at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) in Norfolk. Oh, yes, I thought when I got the news, my characters know a lot about both love and loss. Then I corrected myself: Most of us know a lot about loss, though I’m convinced love is the greater mystery.

I can remember when that wasn’t true for me. When I was five, my father’s mother died, and at her funeral one of my aunts was inconsolable. She cried and wailed and threw herself on the coffin. Some of the adults whispered behind her back about her “making a spectacle of herself,” especially since my grandmother was her mother-in-law, not blood kin. Yet how can any of us know what a loss means to others?

Until I suffered a heart-stopping loss myself some years ago, I might have been skeptical, if not dismissive. The experience wrung me inside out, made me a walking Zombie for months, kept me from eating or sleeping for days at a time. I did not think it was possible to feel more bereft, more hopeless, more completely stunned by regret. Fortunately, my young son needed me. He brought me back to life, though I am still always near tears when the topic is raised.

My character in Eve’s Garden, Maisie, has a similar experience: a loss so great, so horrible in manifestation, that she wants to simply disappear down a tunnel and never come back. But Maisie has a brother and sisters to raise, and she sets about caring for them, and, later, her own children, with efficiency and compassion, though she always seems to her daughter, the Eve of the title, just a little out of reach. Grief can do that, make connections hard.

Eve, too, will experience loss of a different kind, a childhood friend whose absence leaves Eve feeling rudderless for all of her teens and much of her twenties. The friend, you see, had been the divining point for Eve’s own self-image, the one who pulled her into life from her preoccupations with learning.

For Maisie’s mother and Eve’s grandmother, Evangeline, there is another kind of loss. She does lose her mother to death early on in the book, but it’s the loss of her family and their shared traditions that troubles her most. How to raise her children as good romnia (Romani women) without her extended family? She sets about to be, as Evie describes it, the family “crow,” or gardener, cultivating, planting seeds, tending the family as if they were a precious harvest. It is her legacy that will sustain them all through future losses.

And, oh, yes, there is love aplenty in this book. Between mother and daughter, father and daughter, between husband and wife, between sisters, among friends, and between Evie and the man who makes her––well, you’ll see. I loved writing about romantic love.

But after all this rumination. I realize that it’s the love amid loss, or in spite of it, that really saves us.Image

Please join us for the Book Launch on September 25!

Park Road Books: one of the best stores anywhere!

Park Road Books: one of the best stores anywhere!

 

I’m so thrilled that Park Road Books in Charlotte will host our book launch party for Eve’s Garden! Please come join us on Thursday, September 25 (Almost the weekend!) at 7:00 p.m. to help us celebrate the publication. My wonderful publisher and editor, Joan Leggitt, will be there, and my friend Vadim Kolpakov of Via Romen, one of the best guitarists and the best Romani music ensembles in the world, respectively, will play for us.

Vadim Kolpakov

Vadim Kolpakov

I’m working on a short video depiction of Romani history to help set the stage before I share some brief excerpts from the novel. But I promise not to talk too long because I want you to savor the event with me, sipping wine or punch and nibbling some treats. ( There will be pomegranates in the mix.)

My fruity and vine-y cover.

My fruity and vine-y cover.

If you want to participate in the planning, please review and comment on some ideas for the menu and setting at  http://www.pinterest.com/womenbooks/.

I am really happy to be going on the road to visit my friends and readers all over the country, but I hope you can join me in Charlotte for a wonderful celebration of, well, getting it done. maptake3333

AN INVITATION TO TEA: HOW TO HELP YOUR FAVORITE WRITER

Unknown-1    Putting myself on the road as an author fills me with panic at times.

I’ve done lot of readings over the years, so it’s no longer the public speaking that scares me so much. (Although my knees always shake before I stand before the microphone; I’ve learned that no one ever died from trembling knees.)

The media blitz for a book you’ve edited, like the Jane’s Stories anthologies. is not the same as putting yourself out there as the sole name on the front of the book. Yes, there’s been publicity and readings and interviews based on my poetry chapbooks, but, frankly, the audience for poetry is small and most poetry publishers don’t do a full court media press.

All that changes now. My publisher, Twisted Road, is as serious as the proverbial heart attack, and my editor will definitely push me to get out there and gather lots of exposure. And I want to. I want to sell books for this publisher for two reasons. First of all, Twisted Road publishes primarily women’s stories and marginalized voices, and I believe the world needs many more women’s stories, so that we can have a social structure and social policy based on the reality of women’s lives, instead of on some romanticized notion of femininity. Heaven knows, we need those marginalized voices who look at what we’re doing aslant, from the unexamined view. Secondly, very simply, if I sell lots of books, I will have a platform from which I can publish more.

Let me be clear: I don’t expect ever to make a lot of money as an author. That’s almost impossible, unless you write very popular, throw-away fiction, like James Patterson, or you are a world-changing phenomenon like Maya Angelou or Neil Gaiman. We authors make pennies on the book and that mostly goes to pay the hotel rooms, meals, and travel tickets required to get from one book store to another. Small presses do not pay authors’ travel costs as the giant publishers do. And to be published by the giant publishers, you have to get their attention with your previous successes, or else have the luck of Athena.

So why bother? Why do I do it? It’s simple, really: I write to know what I find true about the world in all its dizzy splendor and chaos, so that I can discuss it with you, the reader. Writing a book is starting a letter to the world, as Dickinson did with her poems, and listening for the reply.

So as I go around on this upcoming book tour, I’ll talk with readers about what I find important in Eve’s Garden, and hear their views on the same. It isn’t necessary that the readers all agree with me, just that we enter the same conversation.

Which brings me back to my nervousness. There are things in this book that will be controversial. It deals pretty openly with women and fundamentalist religion, for example, and also with the precariousness of teenage girls trying to become independent and exploring their sexuality. It digs as deeply as I can into what it means to be an outsider––by identity, by race, by sensibility. And about the saving graces that help us navigate all this, especially girl friends, family, a sense of place, and community.

With exposure comes criticism. Inevitably. I’m okay with that. Like Elton John (See below), I can take the criticism, though I hope it’s fair. And even if it’s not, I have thick skin, and will survive as long as someone out there thinks I didn’t waste my time in the writing. Near-universal disapprobation might make me pause, but I’ve been there before (Fighting for civil rights, and the ERA, peace, and reproductive rights in the early years of those issues will make you tough.) The good responses from early readers have convinced me that I will live to write again. Like Winston Churchill, I don’t quit.

There is no way I can do this alone, however. Do you know how much work goes into making a book successful? It’s mind-boggling. My novel isn’t even published yet, but everyday I have tasks that run from calling bookstore event coordinators to try for a reading, to re-doing publicity photos that didn’t come out well the first time, to writing this blog, to reading and approving edits (Still, with the typos!) And so much more. My upstairs carpets may never get cleaned till this publicity sprint is over.

I need your help. If you’re reading this, you’re a friend, or a sister or fellow writer, or someone who cares about some of the same things I do. Or all those things.

My good friends have asked, what do you need? And so, here I will tell you what you can do to help Eve’s Garden and me find our audience and get that conversation rolling. If you can help me with any one or all of these things, please let me know so I can send you kisses. And maybe bake you a cake.  (more…)

%d bloggers like this: