Over at Ploughshares, I have an essay about the necessary humility and power of predation in short fiction, and a few thoughts on writers, opportunity, and eco-morality. Read more here.
A thoughtful review of Almost Famous Women in the New York Times. Also, Maureen Corrigan made my year with her unexpected and positive review of AFW over at NPR.
AFW also made a little mark on the NEIBA bestseller list this week. Thank you, indie booksellers!
Okay. I'll keep these horn toots brief (I'm tired of me too), but I am bursting with gratitude for what was, as a whole, a really great book launch.
With gratitude for your shared enthusiasm,
Book launches do strange things to you.
First, you have to hold your raw and precious ego in your hands and tell it to pipe down. You made art, now you have to stand behind it and deal with other people's feelings about your art. With grace.
You get crazy from lack of sleep, and then you get worn down. And when you get worn down you find yourself extra grateful for all the kind people in your life who treat you well: the husband watching the kids when you're on book tour, your reliable babysitter, the friend that brings your family a pot pie, the mother and father who offer you their cars and coffee, the sister who made green beans just the way you like them and brought them to you when she picked you up at the airport with 3 kids in the back of her car. The agent, editor, and publicist who have your back. The friends that give you their 101-year-old aunt's vintage jewelry and coats. The friends and old teachers who make it to your readings on blisteringly cold nights, or send you supportive notes and tell you when you have lipstick on your teeth before you read in front of fifty people.
I find myself thinking: please let me be the type of woman who deserves such kindness.
This morning my parents left for work and I was alone in their Raleigh house. I felt 14 again, as if I had no driver's license. I had coffee on the back porch (funny how 40 degrees feels warm after a Vermont winter). I brought my notebook with me and decided to do some work on my novel in longhand.
I love this journal - what a year it's seen me through. It's coffee-stained (hard-livin' in my purse), stuffed with old plane tickets and sanskrit alphabet guides, has irrational to-do lists, yoga teacher training notes, confessions, dreams, and the outline for my next novel. My 5 year old drew a few lovely pictures - without asking of course. But her drawings are one of the things that makes this journal representative of the beautiful mess of my life.
I actually got some great writing done this morning, and even though it consisted of two meager but magical paragraphs, it reminded me of why I do this in the first place.
Above - The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, singing "I Left My Man."
Here I am on an NC Public Radio show, The State of Things, discussing Almost Famous Women, particularly Daisy and Violet Hilton and The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
"I’ve come to believe that we’re all navigating this risk/safety continuum for ourselves, too, or perhaps I’m skewed from moving among artists and dreamers. We want autonomy, the peak experiences, the peak feelings, the moments–however fleeting–of intense love, lust, achievement. And yet so many of us, myself included, dilute ourselves, temper our wanderlust, and make compromises in order to feel safe, or in order to just live. But we love reading about the people who don’t make compromises. I happen to love a good kick in the ass from history."
-Me, from an interview with Electric Literature.
Also some cool news from GQ, who selected AFW as one of the Top Books for January, Amazon who picked AFW as a Book of the Month, and positive reviews from The Boston Globe, Seven Days, Bustle, Chicago Tribune, and Kansas City Star. And a fun interview from Bustle.
You can also hear me discuss my reading life with the very charming Jeff O'Neal of Book Riot. I sound a little unhinged and cackle-y at the beginning. Have I mentioned I have a coffee problem? I have a coffee problem. And I'm pretty sure my southern accent was running wild in this interview. But I worked it out and we have a good time.
Last year, my friend Kathy's Aunt Skippy passed away at the age of 101. Kath invited me over for a glass of wine and a look inside a few of the boxes she had taken out of Skippy's apartment. Skippy was a world traveler alongside her husband, who was an official war photographer. There are pictures of her reading books by firelight, and many beautiful cruise menus from Germany and elsewhere. The sensation I got looking through these boxes was that Skippy was always and forever really living. I felt jolted looking at her belongings: her jewelry from far flung places, the ornate foreign menus, a tray from India, the meaningful inscriptions inside of carefully-chosen books from her husband. And from that day, I've started asking myself: MMB, are you really living?
I've always been fascinated by the Greatest Generation. Many of the women in my collection are of that time period, and were, like Skippy and her husband, involved in the War. It seems to me that witnessing such moral atrocities first hand (not the virtual way most of us witness atrocity now) reshapes the self and priorities, redefines joy and luxury and what one might consider comfort. We respond to trauma in various ways - some batten down the hatches and retreat (like Romaine Brooks in my collection) while some of us seek to soothe wounds by finding more beauty in the world, like Skippy.
Kathy, who is warm and magical herself, invited me over last week to feed the chickadees by hand in her yard. She has a charming yellow cottage off a dirt road, and it was quiet (except for my 3 year old repeatedly asking about cookies), and snow was beginning to fall. We emptied a jar of seed onto our mittens, stood like statues, and waited. Then they came, swooping from low branches. I took my mitten off and the chickadees came again, to my bare hand, hardly a perceptible weight at all.
A few minutes later, Kathy took me inside her house, and presented me with one of Skippy's necklaces (a flashy gold neckerchief!) and warm vintage coats to wear on book tour. Here is a picture of me last night, channeling some Skippy before my reading at Battenkill Books.
I'm feeling the love and the love feels good.
Today was a day of gifts. As I said on Twitter earlier, "Any writer who has endured the requisite waves of rejection knows when to celebrate her good days, and this, friends, was one of mine."
NPR aired a thoughtful interview of Almost Famous Women.
There have been some nice mentions of AFW in Vanity Fair, People, O Magazine, The Miami Herald, and The Star-Tribune. The Chicago Tribune listed AFW on their 2015 Most Anticipated List.
And with the nice mentions came the occasional menacing anti-feminist emails, but those just make me feel like I'm doing a good job. There are some toes worth stepping on.
This picture represents how I feel with book tour on the horizon. Launching a book starts with a flurry of effort, and then turns into an exercise in surrender. (e.g. "Now I'm going to draw hair on your face, Mommy.")
Also, I woke up with a nasty cold this week, and one of my eyes was swollen nearly shut.
"What if I cough through the radio interviews?" I asked, worried.
My husband looked at my swollen eye, smiled, and said, "At least it's radio and not TV."
So far I have emerged from the shower with one shaved leg, put matches in the refrigerator, and stayed up late to watch a questionable Keanu Reeves movie. In other words, I'm ready.
I'll see you here.
Photo and essay by The Daily Mail.
I want to say these gals who found their way into Civil War battle are "my kind of women" - but let me be honest: I have pacifist tendencies, I'm not that great on a horse, and right away people would have been suspicious of the blonde five footer with size 6 feet.
But that aside, I like the idea of women doing as they damn well please or following their ideas at great risk.
Above: Here I am, losing a staring contest with an alpaca at Tammy White's gorgeous farm
My home store Battenkill Books and my Fairy-Godmother-in-Muck-Boots Tammy White are pairing up with me to make an Almost Famous Book Club Package.
If you order 5 or more copies of Almost Famous Women, Battenkill Books will give you a 10% discount.
To order, email the (completely wonderful) owner Connie at firstname.lastname@example.org or place a call at (518) 677-2515.
For $18 more, we will mail you a dozen Almost Famous Women biscotti - a pecan and coconut recipe Tammy developed just for the book! - and we can schedule a Skype date to discuss the book. (Or, if you live within an hour, I'm happy to discuss driving to meet with you in person).
For related reading - see Tammy's great posts on Almost Famous (Farming) Women.