“…Her face screwed up into a scribble.” “I feel like I pollute when I show too much mood, so I smile, even when I ache inside.” “Each time I meet him I pretend I haven’t met him, because he doesn’t remember meeting me because we are being casual, and casual means you are waterproof and no one face soaks into you”: all in the poetic prose of the novel Hornito, My Lie Life, my introduction to Mike Albo and why I fell in love with him as a writer. An M.A. from Columbia, Albo offers two novels, two novellas, three plays, several solo stage performances, screen performances, along with contributions to, among others, the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, GQ, and The Village Voice.
The holiday season finds me grateful for the profound reading experiences of childhood. Remember when reading a book was living the book? Certain books and authors left a mark on my reading, my writing, and my life. And for the reading of my childhood, I owe special gratitude to my great-aunt Mildred Campbell.
My grandfather’s baby sister Midge was small but mighty. She grew up on the family’s strawberry farm in Tennessee. Witty and determined, Mildred became a history professor at Vassar College. Her cozy house on College Avenue in Poughkeepsie was full of books─including a shelf for the Oxford English Dictionary. She loved books and words; talked a lot; read a lot; wrote a lot.
Since I had the double assignment to post at the end of November and also to invite a guest blogger for the beginning of December, I took the opportunity to make sure our readers enjoy a full introduction to the wit, charm, and wonderful writing of Ellen Prentiss Campbell, who joins us on 1 December as our guest blogger. In the spirit of the holiday season, Ellen shares her childhood memories of the powerful impact of the books selected for her by a very special relative.
Ellen’s debut novel, The Bowl with Gold Seams (Apprentice House Press, reviewed here on 11-20-2016), was inspired by the detainment of the Japanese Ambassador to Germany, his staff and their families, at the Bedford Springs Hotel in 1945.
7/1/2016 – GUEST BLOGGER BETTY MAY – WRITING ABOUT PRISON LIFE
The phone rings.
“Is this Betty May?”
“And you write and direct plays?”
“Can you write a comedy about life in prison?”
In 2008 a group of women serving life sentences in a maximum-security prison wrote a play designed to warn teenagers and young adults about the consequences of poor choices. Their efforts were not well received; the young people were disinterested and bored. The women decided the indifferent response was due to the serious nature of the play: “Kids want funny.”
Thus the rather bizarre phone call.
6-1-2016. READING WITH YOUR EARS: ALL ABOUT AUDIOBOOKS
Have you ever wished you had more time to read? If you’re like me, each week, when the new books are released, you vow to spend more time cuddled up on the couch, lost in a good story. For most of us, however, there aren’t enough quiet moments in the day to indulge. Say hello to audiobooks, your new BFFs.
Audiobooks allow you to capture all kinds of lost minutes: imagine reading at the same time you’re driving, exercising, cooking, and gardening. There is something magical about being read to that touches us deep inside, reviving memories of childhood bedtime stories and also linking us to our long-ago ancestors, who listened to tales told around the evening fire.
5/29/2016. BOOK EDITOR AND REVIEWER CANDACE LEVY IS GUEST BLOGGER ON JUNE 1
Do you enjoy listening to audiobooks or are you a hard line advocate of the printed word? I’m a devoted fan of both and usually have one of each going all the time. As guest blogger on June 1, Candace Levy will tell us why she loves audiobooks and why, if you’ve never listened to one, you really should give them a try.
Levy is a full-time freelance book editor whose clients include both major publishing firms and prominent independent presses. She is also a freelance book reviewer and journalist, covering books in a wide range of genres. When she’s not at her desk, you’ll inevitably find her listening to an audiobook while cooking, walking, making lace, or taking photographs.
5/1/16 — Bucking Convention – A Cozy Mystery on the South Side of Chicago
There’s something comforting about a world where truth and justice always prevail. In a modern society adrift in a sea of senseless violence, the cozy mystery format provides a welcome sense of moral certainty. By using time-honored conventions and well-worn tropes, the format affirms our deepest core values. It might seem predictable, perhaps even boring to some readers. But for me, a well-written cozy never fails to satisfy.
In a cozy mystery there is always an intrepid hero and there is always a murderous villain. Although crimes are committed, the messy details of the murder are kept in the background, and the story is told without gratuitous sex or violence.
Carolyn Marie Wilkins is the author of Melody for Murder: A Bertie Bigelow Mystery; They Raised Me Up: A Black Single Mother and the Women Who Inspired Her; Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success; and Tips For Singers: Performing, Auditioning, Rehearsing.
Wilkins, a Professor of Ensembles at Berklee College of Music, is also an accomplished jazz pianist, composer and vocalist. Her performance experience includes radio and television appearances with her group SpiritJazz, a concert tour of South America as a Jazz Ambassador for the US State Department, performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony as a percussionist under Andre Previn, and shows featuring Melba Moore, Nancy Wilson and the Fifth Dimension.
SHOPPING IN MY OWN CLOSET When I took one of my first creative writing classes at Auburn University, my professor, Judy Troy, suggested that we all “shop in our own closets” when writing stories. What she meant was that for a story to be real, we had to become vulnerable, and we had to place ourselves in our stories. While the characters, the settings, and the plot points were fictional, the emotions had to be real, and sometimes, we had to dig at the deepest, darkest parts of our lives to get there.
2/29/16 TAWNYSHA GREENE, AUTHOR OF A HOUSE MADE OF STARS, WILL BE OUR MARCH 1 GUEST BLOGGER.
Tawnysha Greene received her PhD from the University of Tennessee where she served as the fiction editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers. Her work has appeared in PANK, Bellingham Review, and Weave Magazine. Her first novel, A House Made of Stars, was released from Burlesque Press in 2015 and was reviewed here on Feb. 20. Cleaver Magazine described A House Made of Stars as “stunning.”
GUEST BLOGGER – MILLIE MACK
I recently attended a course on Agatha Christie. At the first class the teacher asked—what makes Agatha Christie’s mysteries as popular today as when they were first published? I found this question of interest, because I have some personal experience with the popularity of one of her characters — Miss Marple.
Back in October of 2012, I wrote a blog entitled the “Quotable Miss Marple.” To this day, this blog remains one of my most popular. Therefore, like my teacher I will ask a similar question. What is it about this detective that continues to attract readers, fans and admirers?
Miss Marple is not your typical detective. She’s elderly, she knits and she’s nosy. She lives in the tiny village of St.
12/1/2015 – How Experience Shapes Fiction
The blurry line between fact and fiction gets even more obscured when an author does extensive research into real world events, past and present, only to insert his/her personal experiences into the story which contains the fiction. For the most part realism is enhanced by personal experiences. I have for years adhered to the notion that, “There is no history written without ‘author bias’.” (unknown source). If you buy into this notion, then it becomes necessary to ask what is the difference between history and historical fiction? A short answer would be that the fiction-writing author is able to fantasize and get creative in the story telling process; nevertheless, it is critical to maintain a believable historical context.
11/30/15 Preview of December Guest Blogger David Marshall Hunt
David Marshall Hunt began a new career at the mellowing age of 70-plus years. While that can be daunting and challenging, for David it has been mostly fun. For 35 years he taught and researched at universities around the world. His home is in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and near the C’est La Vie Coffee House where he hangs out on a regular basis to imbibe delicious cappuccinos and croissants and keeps up on local politics, football (a religion in Mississippi), art, and gossip.
11/1/2015 – A Jolt of Vertigo
”The best way to think about reality is to get as far away from it as possible.” – Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
I have never been interested in magical realism, or so I’d thought. One Hundred Years of Solitude has sat in my pile of to-read books for almost a decade now, and although I enjoyed Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and his collection of short stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, I thought his use of magical realism as metaphor could be a bit gimmicky. I have always written fiction that concentrate on domestic lives, those quiet intersections of reality that ignite into disaster. In his article “Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki,” Matthew Strecher defines
10/1/15 — Women’s Fiction and Romance: Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Confusing?
Genres exist for a reason. Readers like to know what to expect, at least in general terms, when they pick out a book. And publishers want to accommodate them. As many budding writers learn during the querying process, the way they characterize a novel can be key to finding the right agent or publisher.
But what if a book doesn’t quite fit into one of the standard categories, or if it fits into too many? Or what if, to complicate matters even further, those categories aren’t all that different to begin with?
WE CELEBRATE LATE LAST NIGHT BOOKS’ 2-YEAR ANNIVERSARY WITH A REVIEW OF THE PAST YEAR’S GUEST BLOGGERS.
FOR LOVE AND MAGIC.
There was a time when I determined, with absolute certainty, that I would never seek publication for my novel, The Listeners.
It wasn’t always that way. I was still in eighth grade when it clicked with me that writing is something one can do for a living, and from that moment on it was more than anything else what I wanted to do. (Continue reading)
Author of the recently published serial novel A Cappella Drug Lord – sometimes described as a cross between “Glee” and “Breaking Bad” – as well as the non-fiction book, The International Student’s Guide to American Colleges.
08/01/15 – FIVE TIPS FOR MARKETING YOUR POETRY
“I wrote this for myself. Would you mind taking a look at it?”
One of my students at a poetry workshop asked me that recently. I asked, if she wrote it for herself, why did she care what I thought? She said, “Well, I might publish it someday.”
There are as many reasons to write poetry as there are poets. I’ve heard people say they write to express their inner feelings. Some say they write to “deal with” their depression, or understand their romantic relationships, or to heal after a loved one’s death. What I rarely, if ever, hear, is that their goal is communicate these feelings to readers.
When I started to write poetry in earnest a few years ago, I found many wonderful books filled with great advice about how to write better poetry, but none about what to do with your poetry once it was finished.
Writing is easy. Good writing is hard. Reviewing is harder.
Learning to write, until recently, was taught in schools. Reports, essays, even poems. I’m not sure it’s still taught, which would be too bad as writing is a discipline, it makes your thinking clearer and more logical. The requirements of written communication force you to look at things, with any luck in new and different ways. It requires focus, clarity and concentration.
But writing fiction is not the same as writing a report or an essay. When you decide to write fiction – unless you write solely for your own amusement, which I understand some people actually claim to do – you enter the gauzy, glittery, treacherous world of entertainment. In this world, there is one overarching rule: do not bore your reader.
Why Do Writers Act Like Robber Barons?
Several weeks ago, at the university where I teach, I noticed something that disturbed and confounded me. The visiting artists brought in by other departments, most notably Music, did a lot more work—both on and off campus—than our visiting writers ever do.