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An Evening with Neil Gaiman

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Last Wednesday I drove down to Santa Barbara just to see Neil Gaiman speak. And let me say, it was totally worth it. If you ever have a chance to see him speak, go. He is as much performer as author. He’s an outstanding extemporaneous speaker, relaxed, like he’s just having a chat with a few (hundred) people. And listening to him read his stories is amazing, as they truly come to life.

Gaiman spoke for almost an hour and a half. He read two stories, and chatted about a variety of things (including twitter, which he mentioned a lot), then answered audience questions at the end. And I read later that he signed books until 1:15 in the morning! No, I didn’t stick around for the signing…the crowd was huge.

So here are my notes and memories from that night. I hope they make sense.


Gaiman started by saying “I have planned nothing, so nothing can go wrong.” He added that he wanted to talk about what fiction is for and to also read a few things.

He referred to the first story he read, “My First Landlady” as “a spoken thing that might be a bit poemy around the edges.” It was set in an English seaside town, which are “strange, wonderful, depressing places.” The description of the landlady included this line: “Her face could have curdled beans.”

He loves doing his own audio books, and considers audio books to be “magical things,” as they force you to have a slightly different relationship with the text. Audio books keep to the same speed, unlike readers. You can’t skim. They are more intimate. But as a narrator, there is always a point where you curse the idiot who wrote the book.

He likes book signings, as the numbers turn back into people.

He talked about his peculiar year…going on a date, winning the Newbery Medal, the Coraline movie, his father’s death, and his engagement to Amanda Palmer. But he realized in the middle of the year that he had stopped writing fiction. Then a story crept into his head, one that he wrote for Amanda when she had the flu. It grew into a set of stories about love and identity and loneliness.

The second story he read, “The Thing about Cassandra,” was part of this group of stories. It starts out with a stag weekend in Amsterdam involving Starsky and Hutch wigs and goes places you’d never expect.

After the story was finished, he jokingly said “if you do something 2-3 times you’re repeating yourself. After 5 or 6 times, it’s a theme.”

Questions from the audience:

Favorite children’s book: James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks.

Will the Other Mother’s Hand ever makes its way out of the well: “You should hope not.”

Are logistics and research needed to be a writer, or is imagination and reading enough: Living is necessary, you need to have something to write about.

Do you write characters or do they write themselves: Said he loves the idea of a world where characters would write themselves…then he could just sit there and drink tea.

Did you choose writing or did writing choose you: “I chose writing. I love the idea of a world where…”

Favorite books/movies as a kid: Narnia books where his “favoritist.” Wizard of Oz, although he was terrified of the witch. Hobbit/Lord of the Rings.

What book are you the proudest of: The Graveyard Book, as it did “everything I wanted it to do in my head.”

Will “The Thing about Cassandra” appear in print: It will be in an upcoming anthology entitled Star-Crossed, or Star-Crossed Lovers.

Any nicknames: No, but he did think that as a kid, if only he had a nickname he’d be cool.

Why get up in the morning: Because staying in bed is boring, nothing to do but lie there and twitter.

Will there be a Bod/Silas reunion: After a long pause, he admitted there is a book in his head. It would be the

Lord of the Rings to The Graveyard Book’s Hobbit. What was actually happening v. what was in the book.

Is the graveyard in The Graveyard Book based on an actual cemetery: 3 cemeteries. The chapel is from Stoke Newington. The topography is from Glasgow’s Necropolis. And other bits he liked are from Highgate Cemetery West.

A question from someone pursuing a PhD in Super-Hero-ology (really, that’s what they said) – How would you characterize America’s relationship with super-heroes: “I love living a world where someone can get a PhD in Super-Hero-ology.”

Favorite Amanda Palmer Track: “Trout Heart Replica” is his favorite song, as it was written after they visited a trout farm. The owner picked out a trout, bashed it over the head, and then showed them the still beating heart. But he considers her best song to be “The Bed Song.”


So there it is…the highlights from probably the best author talk I’ve ever attended. Even if you’re not a Gaiman fan, I’d encourage you to go see him speak.

And since this week’s Weekly Geeks asks us to talk about author fun facts, I figure this post works. 😀

Written by softdrink

February 9, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in authors

Guest Post – Lisa Tucker

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Today I am pleased to host Lisa Tucker, as part of her TLC Book Tour for A Promised World.

lisa tucker

Lisa Tucker is also the author of The Song Reader, Shout Down the Moon, Once Upon a Day, and The Cure for Modern Life, and her work has been featured in Seventeen, Pages, and The Oxford American. She has advanced degrees in English and Math, and she has taught creative writing at the Taos Conference and at UCLA.  Lisa Tucker lives in Pennsylvania.

Yesterday I posted my review of Lisa’s wonderful new novel, and today she shares part of the development of A Promised World.


How I Accidentally Wrote A Suspense Novel

When I started writing The Promised World, I knew only two things about the story: that it would be about siblings and that one of the central characters would be an English professor.  All of my previous books (except Shout Down the Moon) were concerned in some way with the intense bond between siblings, but in The Promised World, I wanted to push it further by creating not only the twins Lila and Billy, whose secret history is the main mystery of the novel, but also William and Pearl, Billy’s children, who are at risk in the present time of the book.  Making Lila an English professor allowed me to focus on the power of words in a way I hadn’t since my first book, The Song Reader.  It was also very natural to write about a character who has the same background I do: from her job as a professor to her fascination with nineteenth-century American literature.

As the writing progressed, I discovered that Lila’s husband, Patrick, and Billy’s wife, Ashley, needed to tell their stories too, and the book became more centrally concerned with marriage than any of my other novels except Once Upon a Day. There are two flawed romances in this story, only one of which can have a future.  In this way, the marriage stories are similar to the sibling stories, and similar to the central relationship between Lila and Billy.  They’re also similar to the two stories of motherhood in The Promised World: one told by Ashley, and one that Lila is desperately trying to figure out.  In every “doubling” in the novel, only one side can still be saved.

Though the story starts with a suicide, I think of it as about the tremendous power of love.   The family can save your life in this novel, but they can also fail you when you need them most.   If love can be an incredible force, then the lack of it can be incredibly—and sometimes permanently—devastating.  While I never intended for The Promised World to be suspense, I think I understand why early readers have said that it is.  Part of it is the mystery of Lila and Billy’s past, but the other part is that readers can sense this incredible conflict between love and its absence and they turn the pages to see which force will win in the end.

While I was writing the book, I asked everyone I ran into if they think “evil” is real.  Of course we can see it in history and in the world, but can we see it in the family?  Doesn’t every family member have reasons for how they behave?  I think the answer is yes, every family member has their reasons—at least in the world of psychological novels—but this doesn’t mean that someone in a family can’t act in a way that is inexcusable, callous, terribly destructive and maybe . . . well . . .evil.  Certainly if the word applies anywhere, it has to apply to the mistreatment of children.  So maybe the suspense of the novel also comes from the decision I made that I wouldn’t try to excuse or explain away the behavior of anyone who acts in a way that is vicious and cruel.  Because of this, The Promised World is the first of my books to have a true “bad guy” who is central to the story.  The novel is about siblings and words and marriage and motherhood and love, but it’s also a struggle between good and evil.  This is the final and most central pairing or “twinning” in the book—good and evil—both of which I’m pretty sure I believe in now.


Thanks Lisa!

And be sure to visit all of the tour stops for A Promised World:

the promised world

The Promised World
Atria, September 2009
Hardcover, 336 pages
Available at B&N, Amazon and Powells

Written by softdrink

September 8, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in authors, TLC tour

guest post – Diana Spechler

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Today I have a guest post from the talented Diana Spechler, author of Who By Fire. Check out my post from yesterday if you want to see me gush about her book.

Will You Remember Me?

I spent four and a half years of my life writing my novel, and then another year and a half waiting for my agent to sell it, for my editor to edit it, and for my publisher to produce it and stock the shelves with it. That’s six years I spent obsessing over my novel. And believe me, now that it’s out, the obsession continues. Nothing is more gratifying than knowing that people—real people! not just, like, you know, my mom—are reading my book. I love every angle from which reviewers have considered it, every bookstore that carries it, every single person who takes the time to read it. There’s only one thing about the entire process that I have found relentlessly annoying: a question that has found its way into the collective mouth of The People I Know: “Will you remember me when you’re famous?”

I’ve been asked this question approximately seventy-two thousand times since I sold my book. Each time, it feels like someone is rubbing my nerves with a cheese-grater. Here are some of the answers I’ve been tempted to give:

  1. I am a far cry from famous. I live in a 200-square-foot apartment. Recently, I paid the last three dollars of my rent with nickels. I’m a cocktail waitress! In a bar! Where drunk men ask my breasts for scotch! Writing a book has not made me famous!
  2. Does fame cause memory loss? Are famous people forgetful? How many famous people do you know? How many of them seem to forget things more frequently than, say, you?
  3. There is no answer to this question. We all wonder about the future. Will we be cloned? Will we find contentment? Will the world end in 2012, as many confident experts have predicted? There’s no way I can say for sure whether or not I will forget you. I can guess. I can hypothesize. I can employ the scientific method. But I cannot be certain. I might forget you. I might not.
  4. Sorry…what’s your name again?
    Recently, I was working at the bar when a drunk guy approached me. “How’s the book going?” he asked.
    “Good, good,” I said, smiling. “Thanks.”
    “Yeah? You traveling all over?” “Yup,” I said. “Lots of traveling.”
    “Are you going to forget me when you’re famous?”
    I looked at the man. He was wearing a suit. He was sweating from his forehead a little, the way men sometimes do when they’ve had too many drinks. His tie was loosened and crooked, like a caricature of a drunk guy. He was grinning down at me, swaying slightly on his feet. I had no idea who he was.
    “You?” I said. I gave him a friendly punch in the arm. “You I could never forget.”

Diana Spechler
Author of
Who By Fire

Thanks to Diana for this guest post, and for writing such a wonderful book. Good luck with your next novel…I’m looking forward to reading it!

Written by softdrink

November 25, 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in authors, special guests

Who By Fire

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Who By Fire
Diana Spechler
September 2008
344 pages

This is the last time (maybe) I’m going to gloat about being at the Book Group Expo. But before I talk about Who By Fire I need to talk about one of the salons at the Expo. The opening salon on Saturday featured two authors, Andre Dubus III (the House of Sand and Fog dude, who I recognized only because I never finished his book) and Diana Spechler, who I had never heard of before. So you know, honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. But during the discussion Diana proved herself to be funny and able to poke fun at herself and also the author of a book I was starting to think I needed to read. So fast forward a few hours to me buying the book and then running over (okay, it was a fast walk) to have it signed. And then Trish was there and we talked about blogging and Diana’s (and Trish’s!) upcoming birthdays. And before I knew it, it was the evening and I had a lovely email from Diana about how it was great to meet me (*swoon*) and how she’d like to maybe do something to feature her book on my blog.

And after reading her book, this turned out to be no hardship at all. None. The only reason I haven’t posted about the book sooner is because I did a couple of other tours earlier this month and I didn’t want to do back to back to back author posts. I wanted Diana’s book to have some space, so to speak. Because this one is going on my list of favorites for 2008. Seriously. I’m not just being nice, because I think we’ve established that that’s just not the way I roll.

Now, onto Who By Fire. It’s got lots of elements I like in a book. There are interesting characters, there’s humor (but also seriousness), there are references to popular culture (guaranteed to make me happy), it didn’t make me scratch my head and wonder what the hell, and yet it also told me about things I didn’t even know existed (yeshivas anyone?). All that and an engaging story to boot.

So, what’s it about? It’s about a family torn apart by the kidnapping of its youngest child. The kidnapping, however, is not the focus of the book…it just sets the stage. Years later, we see how the kidnapping has affected the lives of the rest of the family. Ellie, the mom, is…well, she’s kind of indescribable, without resorting to the stereotype of a Jewish mother. Bits, the eldest child, turned into the Whore of Babylon (her brother’s description, and one of my favorite lines from the book). And Asher, the son, has been searching for most of his life. Only thing is, he may not really know what he’s searching for (and apologies for sounding a bit like a U2 song there). Bits and Ellie certainly don’t think he knows what he’s doing, because he ran off to Israel to study at a yeshiva, and he won’t even talk to them when they call. Ellie and Bits respond to this decision in different ways, setting in motion events that will change their family.

I found myself continuously pulling for the characters, despite the dumb-ass decisions they kept making. At first, I didn’t even like them that much. By that, I don’t mean I didn’t like their fictional existence, but that I didn’t think I’d like them if they were real people, if that makes any sense. But after awhile, they grew on me, and by the end of the book I didn’t want them to go away. In fact, I wanted to give them all hugs. Well, except for Ellie…I’m still pissed at her.

Diana Spechler turns 30 next year…so give her an early birthday present and go buy her book.

And tomorrow, the author herself will be here to post about all the gloriousness of being a published author.

Written by softdrink

November 24, 2008 at 8:00 am

The Art of Racing in the Rain

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The Art of Racing in the Rain
Garth Stein
May 2008
321 pages

Publishers Comments:

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoe, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoe at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.

I decided to resort to the publishers comments to summarize the story because I think this is an excellent synopsis of an awesome book. Yes, I said awesome. Why did I wait so long to read this book?!?

I read The Art of Racing in the Rain in almost one evening. I say almost, because I was on page 20 something when I picked it up on election night and proceeded to finish it in one sitting (well, with a few interruptions to hit refresh on the computer to see what was happening with the election…I do come out of my book bubble occasionally). By the end of the book I had laughed out loud many times, and shed quite a few tears. I dare you (no…in honor of Enzo, I double dog dare you) to read this book without falling in love with Enzo. He’s funny and smart and wise. However, lest you think he would be the perfect guy, he does watch too much tv. And he’s got a thing for racing videos.

You can’t have my copy, though, because Garth Stein signed it at the Book Group Expo. The title page now sports this warning: ”Beware the zebra!” Which does have relevance to Enzo’s story…you’ll just have to read the book to find out why.

Actually, I just lied. You can borrow my copy if your name is Rochelle. Rochelle is a friend and fellow reader with a brand new blog. (Feel free to go say hey.) Rochelle is looking for a book that will grab her husband’s attention…I’m hoping Enzo and his racing obsession will fit the bill.

Written by softdrink

November 12, 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in authors, book love

TLC tour stop – Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe

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Today I’m pleased to be a TLC tour stop for Jennie Shortridge and her latest book, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe.

Bestselling author Jennie Shortridge has three published novels: Riding with the Queen, (NAL 2003), Eating Heaven (2005), and Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe (2008). Her next book will be published in November 2009. Prior to writing novels, her nonfiction work appeared regularly in magazines and newspapers, including Glamour, Mademoiselle, Natural Home, and others. The Seattle writer has been called “an accomplished and superior novelist” by the Statesmen Journal and “a writer to watch out for,” by the Rocky Mountain News. She tries not to let it go to her head. She also has a fun website that is worth a visit.

Yesterday I posted about Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. In that post I mentioned that I was lucky enough to meet Jennie at the Book Group Expo last month. As part of the Wedlocked salon, Jennie discussed both her book and the topic of marriage. Today, Jennie talks more about the subject of marriage:


The Biology of Marriage

Little did I know when I wrote Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe that by re-imagining the age-old story of the runaway wife, I might tap the zeitgeist of that elusive fifty percent: the American married. And not just the female contingent. As I write this, nearly half of the customer reviews for the book on Amazon are from men.

For the past few months promoting this book, I’ve traveled the American West doing readings, phoned in to book club meetings across the country, and participated in numerous blog events out in cyberspace. Through all of that, I’ve been fascinated to discover that we’re all asking the same questions about the state of long-term marriage and the lack of passion that can plague it—or worse, sound the alarm or death knell of something we once thought sacred and forever.

The following Q&A is presented with these caveats: I am no expert in marriage or psychology, and I hold no degrees nor am I a licensed anything. However, my husband and I have been together for nineteen years. I have been both the dumper and the dumpee in other relationships. I read voraciously about the biology of love, the science of romance and dating and mating. And like Paul Simon says in a song of the same title, “Maybe I think too much.”

An imaginary conversation, then, performed in two parts by me:

JS1: Where the heck did all that love and romance go and will it ever come back?

JS2: How clever of you to ask that question, JS! By understanding the biological underpinnings of human love and romance, we can gain clarity and achieve a better comfort level around the inevitable changes in our marriages.

When first we fall in love, chemicals flow through our brains that make us feel euphoric, aroused, and attractive, and like the only one on earth who has ever felt this way with another person. It’s the same chemical that drives addiction. It’s the same chemical that is released when we eat chocolate. Why? So we will fulfill our biological imperative and mate with another human. That’s it. From the body’s perspective, it’s not about finding our soul mate, but about replacing ourselves on earth so our species will survive.

Once we have fulfilled that obligation, or enough time has passed to do that—say a year to a year-and-a-half—the passion chemical is replaced by a bonding chemical that encourages us to stay together long enough to raise the offspring to physical viability—say seven years old (the dreaded seven-year itch). And yes, it applies even if we don’t have children.

At that point, the partnership is no longer required, biologically speaking, and things can get dicey. That’s when we must become our most human selves and not act and react from an unthinking and solely biological place. That’s when it gets more difficult to be romantic and kind with our partners, but we have to if we want to build life-long love and respect (and fingers crossed, passion) inside our relationships.

(For more details from a real expert, read Why We Love by anthropologist Helen Fisher.)

JS1: Must we simply forego passion when it evaporates from our marriage?

JS2: There’s a reason why they say marriage takes work. It’s not the bills or the kids or the countless other obligations that are the hard work. It’s staying passionate and in love and respectful through all of those things that is the challenge. Staying conscious of the state of your relationship, staying awake a little longer at night to canoodle, rubbing your partner’s back when you should really be answering a work email or when you’d really rather watch mindless TV. Watch your partner’s eyes instead when he/she tells you about his/her day. Try to see what’s happening behind the words. Offer a hug that lasts more than two seconds. Squeeze a little harder on bad days. It’s the small kindnesses, and the reciprocation of them, that help two people stay in love.

JS1: Is it wrong to fantasize about running away? Okay, about doing the horizontal tango with someone who is not necessarily your spouse?

JS2: I hope not. I figure that anything happening between your own two ears is your business only. I’ve talked with a lot of women now about this topic, and trust me when I say you’re not the only one with a rich fantasy life.


Many thanks to Jennie Shortridge for this post, and also to TLC Book Tours for giving me the chance to participate and the opportunity to meet Jennie!

Written by softdrink

November 10, 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in authors, TLC tour

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe

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Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe
Jennie Shortridge
May 2008
400 pages

Tomorrow, as part of TLC Book Tours, I’m a tour stop for Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. I read Love and Biology a few months ago, but I’ve been unable to write about it. I was thinking I’d have this post written well in advance. Hah! So much for being an over-achiever. It’s not that I didn’t like the book…far from it. I just didn’t know what to say, because it deserves so much more than it was good, you should read it. And also because I wasn’t sure what I really thought about the main character. In fact, she’s still making me think. So I’m going to start with the author, not the book.

You see, last month I had the pleasure of meeting Jennie Shortridge at the Book Group Expo. She is bubbly and enthusiastic, and so easy to talk to. I could go on and on about the author, but this is supposed to be about her book. Except that Jennie is easy to gush about…I am now a huge fan, and not just because she introduced Trish and me to Garth Stein and his twinkly eyes. Jennie, I’d still be gushing about you even if you hadn’t introduced us to Garth!

Jennie appeared at the Book Group Expo as part of the Wedlocked salon, with other authors who had written books about marriage. As part of the conversation, Jennie explained that she wanted to write about the worst thing that could happen in a marriage…and what would happen.

Love and Biology is about Mira, a woman settled into her life and marriage. She has arranged her life perfectly. She teaches at the local high school, has remodeled her house to her specifications, is surrounded by friends and family, and is happy with her husband. Her relationship with her daughter may not be what she wishes, but all-in-all, life is good. Then whammo…Mira is blindsided. In shock, she flees her marriage and her life, and finds herself in Seattle, working at a coffee shop. There, she looks back at her life and wonders how she became so complacent and settled. What happened to the young, passionate college student? And in reflecting on her past, Mira rediscovers herself.

I thought about this book for a long time after I finished it. Mira made some decisions that I’m still questioning, but as Jennie said at the Book Group Expo, Love and Biology ends with hope. I enjoyed reading about Mira’s journey.

Read the first chapter of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe.
And check out the soundtrack for the book.

And stop back by tomorrow when Jennie will be here to talk about marriage.


Stop by the other TLC tour stops for Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe here:
Saturday, November 1st: Estella’s Revenge e-zine (author interview)
Monday, November 3rd: Booking Mama (review)
Tuesday, November 4th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, November 5th: She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, November 7th: Curly Wurly Gurly
Friday, November 7th: Curly Wurly Gurly (review)
Monday, November 10th: Fizzy Thoughts
Wednesday, November 12th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, November 14th: Literarily
Monday, November 17th: Shelf Life
Wednesday, November 19th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Friday, November 21st: Bookshipper
Monday, November 24th: Minds Alive on the Shelves
Wednesday, November 26th: Book Addiction
Sunday, November 30th: B & b ex libris

Written by softdrink

November 9, 2008 at 7:00 pm