In my review of The Bookshop of Yesterdays in January, I talked about the novel’s complex interweaving of different types of stories, including a mystery, an adventure story, a love story, and a tribute to literature. This month I’m pleased to have Bookshop’s author, Amy Meyerson, tell us some of how she created this bestselling novel, which will be translated into nine languages. Amy teaches in the writing department at the University of Southern California, where she completed her graduate work in creative writing. She’s been published in numerous literary magazines and currently lives in Los Angeles.
SW. I really enjoyed the clues in the story’s scavenger hunts. How did you approach writing the ones that weren’t direct quotes?
AM. There are three different scavenger hunts in the novel, two from Miranda’s childhood and the one her uncle sends her on in the present day of the book.
Can merging two personal book collections break up a marriage? I asked this question last month and got some excellent tips on how to deal with domestic disputes that arise when “marrying” two systems of organization (or lack thereof).
Merging and Arranging Book Collections
Some people grappled directly with the issue at hand. Others responded with ways they organized their personal book collections. Some simply said, or implied, that the best system is to donate books once you’re done with them.
Beth Dietricks’ first response to my question was that she doesn’t have many books anymore because she’s “tired of accumulating things” and tries to “pass them on to get rid of them.” After trying to organize her remaining books by size, though, she discovered that she still had books in every room of her house.
In my day job, I am a project manager. I can’t help but notice some parallels between getting projects done and what we go through as writers. For example, in the continuum between the “Pantsers” and the “Planners,” I have late in life embraced the Planner philosophy. Map out your direction and then write to that plan. As someone who struggles with procrastination and closure-phobia, I value Plannerism as a way to actual complete something rather than draw it out into eternity. In project management, we would call pure plannerism the “Waterfall” methodology.
Construction or aerospace engineering projects have always benefitted from extensive planning with the final product design in mind. By all means, Boeing, keep covering every little safety detail, please!
Part 2 – Should you take a creative writing degree? And if so, how to choose one
Morris: Any general advice for writers who are wondering
whether to take such a course? Who should take them? Who shouldn’t?
Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon is a fascinating literary novel and also a treasure of quotable wisdom. On the walk to work a Bern schoolteacher experiences a life-changing moment when he saves a woman from jumping off a bridge into the river. If he doesn’t become haunted by the woman herself, he becomes haunted by her language and, after a ride on the night train to Lisbon, her country. In a secondhand bookstore he buys a little-read memoir and begins an excursion into the life of a physician who grew up devoted to his father yet in conflict about the fact that his father was a judge under the dictator Salazar. The passage on anger that so struck me, being someone who has spent a lifetime feeling that his temper is his worst enemy, comes from the fictional memoir within the novel.
As a fiction writer, I often ask myself why people read novels and how can I convince them to read mine? That question occurred to me again recently when I finished a novel that had me questioning why I read fiction. The book was engaging enough. The writer was competent and had created characters that seemed believable (though that isn’t necessarily a criterion for me). There was enough tension to keep me reading in order to discover more about these lives I had immersed myself in. But the experience felt flat, and I wondered why I had spent several precious hours on something that wasn’t more satisfying.
So why do I read? For me, reading isn’t necessarily to escape my daily life.
Money. Religion. Fidelity. Those are supposedly the top issues that destroy relationships. But for some bibliophilic couples, a more challenging issue is how to arrange the books.
My husband and I share most values, or so we’ve always believed. We have a common religious and educational background. Our lifestyles and life goals are compatible. We even survived a 3-week bicycle trip through 1980’s China before we decided we could spend a life together What we failed to realize, however, was that combining our two book collections would be harder than combining our finances.
It turns out many of our friends, usually academics and/or writers, share this problem. People who love or use or need books turn out to care quite a bit about how to shelve them.
As my first post on Late Last Night Books, I thought I’d introduce myself.
So hi there! My name is Hannah, and I am currently working toward my master’s degree in Bath, UK. Bath Spa University has an amazing MA program called Writing for Young People. Yes, the obvious answer to your question is—I’m loving it.
Even though I earned my BA in General Creative Writing, I focus on young adult literature. It’s what I write, read, and love. There are often stigmas surrounding writers who choose to write for young adults. People believe that YA is not true art or is mindless reading. But I beg to differ. If you look at some of the amazing literature that has come out of both the Middle Grade and Young Adult genres, you’ll be quite surprised at the social change they are making, as well as the beautiful literature they are writing.
Last year Roz Morris interviewed me on the subject of creative writing courses, specifically, and more generally, how to learn to write. It was a long conversation, so we’ve divided the interview into four parts. This is Part One.
Roz Morris is a professional writer, editor and
blogger. She is the author of the Nail
Your Novel series, as well as the novels My Memories of a Future Life and Life Form Three. She is also the author of Not Quite Lost: Travels Without a Sense of Direction, (for which I
interviewed Roz in this blogzine exactly one year ago, January 26th,
2018). She teaches masterclasses for The
Guardian newspaper’s writing classes, and has ghost-written bestselling
Aminatta Forna, Happiness (2018)
Happiness is a story of subtle changes. Aminatta Forna’s protagonists, an African psychiatrist specializing in trauma and an American naturalist, meet by accident on a bridge in London. Coincidence repeats and a relationship is built over a relatively short time period of time based on open-mindedness, shared natures, and eventually physical attraction, but what is this story about? Forna seeks to keep us interested in the slow evolution of these characters’ relationship by weaving each person’s past in with present events––which include the search for a lost child, dealing with the needs of a former lover institutionalized for dementia, and being tuned into a city populated by foreign nationals, foxes and escaped pet birds.
At one point, the
psychiatrist, whose name is Attila, suggests happiness might be found in a
village in Cuba which is cut off from that island’s poor infrastructure.
Years ago, I met a woman who was slim, attractive, and swimming laps in a pool. Then I learned she was 91 years old. Ninety-one! She became my role model for someone who is 90 years old, and I used that image in developing the amateur detectives in my mystery series featuring the 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement Village.
Then I submitted drafts of my chapters to critique groups. My 90-year-olds needed to be feeble, they said. Blind, deaf, using a cane or walker, wheelchair-bound, dribbling Pablum. That’s what 90-year-olds did. I disagreed and started collecting articles about people who were 90 and older running marathons, dancing, winning tennis matches, writing books, working, even learning to read for the first time.
A good novel delves deep into the psyches of its characters while also telling a story that’s intriguing enough to keep the reader turning pages. The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson succeeds on both fronts by weaving three different types of stories about the same people into a seamless whole.
The Bookshop of Yesterdays is an
adventure story developed through a clever scavenger hunt. For the first twelve
years of her life, Miranda Brooks spends happy hours following the clues to scavenger
hunts designed by her Uncle Billy. Then, after a hunt that leads Miranda to the
puppy she’s always wanted but her mother refuses to let her keep, Uncle Billy
disappears, and she doesn’t hear from him again until just before his death 16
My husband’s dream vacation is in Estonia. I kid you not. He loves Estonia for its visionary e-democracy, Why e-democracy would make Estonia a great place for a vacation eludes me, but I understand that for a political scientist like my husband, the country deserves respect.
Now, though, I may have to give Estonia some respect of my own. It turns out that Estonia tops the list of European countries that read the most.
World Book Day Statistics
I learned this intriguing fact about Estonia from new statistics released by Eurostat last spring for World Book Day. The chart above shows the fascinating numbers, gleaned from a survey conducted between 2008 and 2014 on people from aged 20-74 in 15 European Union countries.
Back in the day, most undergraduates took at least one English literature course. Sometimes it was Shakespeare, 19th century English novelists, or the American Transcendentalists. I took a modern novel course in which we read James Joyce’s Ulysses, Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, Remembrance of Things Past, and several others––a heavy load for a one semester course. The key lesson in all of these courses is that while it’s possible to read solely for enjoyment additional layers of understanding are available when you analyze and compare each work with others by the same author as well as books by other writers.
A few decades ago the Frederick Ungar Publishing Company launched a line of books about genre authors called Recognitions.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL! WE’LL SEE YOU HERE AGAIN IN EARLY JANUARY.
Now that the days are dwindling and the nights are long, it’s a good time to reflect on those who light candles for the rest of us. We were in St. Petersburg, Florida, walking in its historic neighborhood when we first came upon the Little Free Library in someone’s front yard. It was actually a small, colorfully painted wooden box with glass doors, and it rested on a pedestal about four feet high. Inside were a selection of books with a sign saying, “Take a book. Leave a book ” We’d never seen such a thing before. Since then, I’ve come across these boxes elsewhere, even in my own neighborhood in Columbia, MD. There are over 75,000 Little Free Libraries across the globe.
I can no longer deny that the holiday season has pounced down upon us, and we are once again compelled to give gifts to everyone we know. If I have to give presents to all those rascals, then, dadgummit, I’ll make them, or try to make them, read. So, I asked some of my literary friends to offer titles of books that they would recommend as holiday gifts. Most of them protested that my request is unfair, because a book gift is a personal affair: Doesn’t it demand intimate knowledge of the particular gift receiver’s literary taste? Should we mention classics or recent titles? Can I suggest my own books or ones by my associates? Can I really give books to total strangers?
I opened the I Ching at random this morning and came up with #38, K’uei / Opposition. The commentary says it is common for two opposites to exist together, needing to find relationship. I realize an opposition is being set up just in the act of writing my memoir Drop Out: my inner writer will be observing everything I do closely and recording what she finds valuable. I’m reminded of a review of Journey into the Dark: The Tunnelby William Gass that appeared in The New York Times Book Review:
Writers double themselves all the time in their fictions, of course. That’s one of the reasons for writing them: to clone yourself and set yourself out on a different path, or to reconfigure yourself as a marginal observer of your own childhood, as Lawrence does with Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, and as Woolf does with Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse; or to split yourself in two and reimagine one side of yourself through the eyes of the other, as Joyce does in Ulysses, and as Nabokov does in Pale Fire.