Author Spotlight and Interview – Paula McLain

By Helen McIver

Author Paula McLain

Author Paula McLain

After I reviewed Paula McLain’s new book The Paris Wife earlier this year, one of my book clubs decided to read her novel. I was volunteered to do the “Author Review” that normally accompanies a book we read. Having already delved back into Hemingway, I was more than ready. However I decided to add something extra: I contacted her and asked if she would answer a few questions about her reading habits.  She decided which questions she had time to answer, and we ended up with a few more books to read!

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, CA in 1965.  After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of foster homes for the next 14 years. Eventually, she discovered she could – and wanted to – write.  She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and since then has been a resident at Yaddo and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.  She is the author of two collections of poetry, a much-praised memoir called Like Family, and one previous and well-received novel, A Ticket to Ride.  Paula McLain lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her family. Visit her website, www.pariswife.com.

Helen McIver:  Do you remember the last time you said to someone, “You really must read this book now?” and the book was? Are you part of a book club?

Paula McLain:  I haven’t been in a book club for years and years, but when I speak with book clubs or go into local Indy book stores, I’ll always ask for glowing recommendations. Recently I found Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic that way, and also Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.  Loved them both

Helen McIver:  What is your favorite line from a book?

Paula McLain:  From Willa Cather’s My Antonia: “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

Helen McIver:  A recent Book you bought just for the cover?

Paula McLain:  Amor Towles’, Rules of Civility. Isn’t that a great looking cover?

Helen McIver:  Have you heard any good books lately?  Driving?  In an airplane?  Did you choose the reader of your book?  Did you like the audio version of your book?

Paula McLain:  I just listened (yesterday!) to Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which was terrific.  I love him and also loved, lately, his On Chesil Beach, which I also got as a book on tape. In general, I love to be read to.

I had a lot of trouble with the casting for the audio for Paris Wife.  None of the actors they liked sounded like Hadley to me, including the one who actually was chosen. Maybe no one would have pleased me, though, since I had a strong “Hadley” voice in my head for years, which I just wasn’t going to hear again out in the world, if you know what I mean.

Helen McIver:  Do you have a genre to beach read?

Paula McLain:  Lord, I wish I had time to read on the beach. Oh, and a beach to read on!

Helen McIver:  Do you have a favorite literary adaptation on TV or film? Is there something coming out you can’t wait (Hemingway?!)

Paula McLain:  There’s a great BBC production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion that I HEART and have watched maybe fifty times….

Helen McIver:  What book is on your nightstand?

Paula McLain:  Rules of Civility.

Helen McIver:  Paper or electronic? Do you take notes?

Paula McLain:  Electronic, always. I take lots of notes, some of which I actually find again!

Helen McIver:  Is music important to your writing? (Do you listen to music when you write? When you read? Do you incorporate songs into your work that have “hidden” meaning or help set the tone?)

Paula McLain:  I have to listen to music, and keep my iPhone tuned to Pandora, on a sound dock for my whole working day. Usually something low-key and croon-y. I like whispery male singer-songerwriter types like Bon Iver……

Helen McIver:  What were your most cherished books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero / heroine from one of those books?

Paula McLain:  Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, tons of Roald Dahl.

Helen McIver:  Is there one book you wish all children would read?

Paula McLain:  Watership Down – those rabbits!

Helen McIver:  Is there one book you would like adults to read?

Paula McLain:  Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. A lot, there, about the act of storytelling. Why we tell stories and what they mean to our lives.

Helen McIver:  Do you tend to keep books, lend them out or give them away?

Paula McLain:  I horde them and lend the ones I feel evangelical about.

Helen McIver:  Any guilty reading pleasures?

Paula McLain:  People Magazine in airports! Ooh, and I love food magazines and cook books: essentially food porn!

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Book Review and Author Visit – Martha Fitzgerald’s “The Courtship of Two Doctors”

The Courtship of Two Doctors:  A 1930s Love Story of Letters, Hope & Healing
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Letter writing has become, unfortunately, a lost art.  In earlier generations, people would sit down and write some of the most beautiful letters to their loved ones, often including descriptive passages to give the recipient a little taste of their life and experiences.  The letter would be stamped, taken to a mail drop somewhere, and then carried by a variety of different methods to places far and wide.  Upon arrival at its destination, the letter would be placed in the hands of the recipient, who had often been counting the days until that next letter would arrive and he could finally read the words of the sender.

Many beautiful relationships were formed by these letters throughout the years, with the postal service acting as the go-between who connected the two parties together.  And then, after having been read, they were often lovingly kept together –  sometimes held together by a bit of ribbon or twine – so that they could be read again in the days to come, as the two parties waited for the next letter to arrive.

And then the internet was invented and letter writing as we once knew it quickly became a thing of the past.  These days, there’s no need for descriptive passages to describe the landscapes and events; we simply include a jpeg file of a picture in the e-mail.  Thank you notes have become a quick e-mail or text message, often reading something as brief as “Thx!”  We can’t even spell the words out anymore.   What an incredible loss!

What could be more fun, then, than to unearth the old letters of a young couple as they come to know each other and build a relationship? That’s exactly what Martha Fitzgerald has done in her book, The Courtship of Two Doctors:  A 1930s Love Story of Letters, Hope & Healing.  In tribute to her parents – and with a Prologue written by her father before his death – Fitzgerald has painstakingly collected and ordered the hundreds of letters sent and received between her parents, spanning from the early years of their beginning acquaintance as medical students visiting the Mayo Clinic in the 1930s, through their budding romance that begins to grow through their written letters as they separate to different learning institutions, and finally ending in a love that will withstand the test of time.  While separated by more than a thousand miles, the letters between the two cemented not only their friendship, but eventually became the very foundation of the love they would share for decades.

Fitzgerald’s book is not only well organized, but is also a very enjoyable read.  And what a beautiful tribute to her parents to have been able to bring their love to readers throughout the world!

Rochester readers, library patrons and area residents are in for a real treat tonight!  The Rochester Public Library will be hosting Martha Fitzgerald as she comes to speak about this wonderful book!  Join us this evening, Sept. 24th, at 7:00 PM in the auditorium hear Fitzgerald speak, and then stay around for an opportunity to have your own copy signed by the author.  You can even purchase a new copy if you don’t have one!

This is one author event you won’t want to miss!

Book Review and Visiting Author – Brenda Child – “Holding our World Together”

Holding Our World Together:
Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community

A Review by Marie Maher

History books contain many stories of great leaders, but oftentimes the stories about quiet greatness stay behind the scenes.  Holding Our World Together highlights the stories of remarkable Ojibwe women who struggled through trying times to preserve a valuable community; a culture that may very well have been otherwise lost. Unsung Ojibwe leaders, as one example, did the hard labors necessary to produce, process, and distribute wild rice in order to economically maintain a community.  The Ojibwe women handled all of these tasks as an effort to survive, and they were oftentimes the business leaders of a community that did not limit women’s roles.

The unsung leaders of the Ojibwe women maintained traditions and cultural values when patriarchal European settlers did their best to Christian-ize Native American spirituality.  These women were strongholds in preserving their culture’s traditions.  These unsung leaders fought for strong family values and stood up for their children.  When the government insisted (often forcibly) that all children be sent to boarding schools so that they could be culturally assimilated, Ojibwe women knew that wasn’t “right” and did their best to make their voices heard and regain custody of their children.  “It seems it would be much easier to get my daughter out of prison than out of your school,” stated one woman who bravely approached government officials to voice her dissent.

We all know that atrocities were committed against Native Americans as our country was developed.  Brenda Child’s book, however cognizant of these acts, looks well beyond destruction to the courage and perseverance of a nation’s women:  women  strong enough to help the nation survive and thrive.

Using oral tradition and written documents, Child brings the Ojibwe women to life.  More than a well-researched history of Native North Americans, and more than an acknowledgement of Ojibwe women’s accomplishments, this book is a tribute to the courage, resiliency and leadership of the Ojibwe women.  What a wonderful tribute Child has written!

As part of the Rochester Public Library Visiting Author Series, Brenda Child will be joining us on Sunday, September 9th, at 2:00 PM in the Library Auditorium.  Admission is free and open to the public.

Book Review and Visiting Author, Shirley Tucker – Diamonds in the Dust

Diamonds in the Dust
A Review by Mary Barrett

“The moment she had reached down and hauled Moses out of the box she had unwittingly changed the course of her life.  How could she explain the paradox of the most wonderful, frightening, energizing, helplessly-hopeful time of her life?  She’d taken a detour in her life and found her way back only to find the single thing about her that remained the same was her name.”

~ Excerpt from Diamonds in the Dust

For two years, Ida Morgan has locked herself into her safely fenced home and garden, mourning the loss of her husband and the end of her chance at happiness in life.  Now a widow living in South Africa, she discovers a child floating in the river at the bottom of her garden.  A huge storm had brought down one of Ida’s trees, and that barrier led to a complete change in her life.

Ida imagines that all the evil dangers in life are like a porcupine coming at her with quills fully extended, and she shrinks back in fear.  When she is forced to act in spite of her fears, she feels as though she was in a war, and “interestingly, the war told her she was alive.”

The book Diamonds in the Dust is both a heart-wrenching and faith-restoring novel of how people’s lives are often changed beyond their imaginings.  While this novel has strong messages of morality and the consequences of good and evil, the author keeps the focus on character development and plot movement rather than on proselytizing.  The result is a moving and thought-provoking novel that I’d highly recommend.

Join us this Thursday, August 16th, as Shirley Tucker – author of Diamonds in the Dust – presents in the library auditorium to discuss this book.  Admission is free and open to the public.

Kamala Nair – From Conception to Paperback, The Personal Story of a First Novel

The following is a repost of an article by Author Kamala Nair, author of “The Girl in the Garden.”  We are reprinting it on this blog with permission from the author.  To see the original post, you can follow this link.

Author Kamala Nair in Italy for the launch of her book, “The Girl in the Garden.”

From Conception to Paperback – The Personal Story of a First Novel
by Kamal Nair

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I was with book, as a woman is with child.” His words capture the experience of publishing my first novel. For many years before I even began writing The Girl in the Garden, it had been gestating within me. During childhood trips to India the seeds were planted, and nourished over the years as I fell in love with literature, reading and re-reading works like The Secret Garden, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca.

My immigrant parents regularly took my sister and me to visit our extended family in India, and I recall those long, scorching summers with intense clarity. I used to feel at once both intimately tied to the people and surroundings, and like a fish out of water. The tiny village in Kerala where my father grew up became a place of myth in my imagination: the lush jungles and flowers, the strange birds and animals, and the customs and rituals I longed to understand. I imagined myself as a modern-day Mary Lennox, the heroine of The Secret Garden, but in reverse, an Indian girl leaving her home in the West for the exotic and bewildering land of her roots.

I moved to New York in my early twenties with a few dollars in my bank account, and a few chapters of a novel. Shortly after I arrived, I landed a job as an assistant to the editor-in-chief of a major magazine, a job that ultimately did not live up to my glamorous and naïve expectations. Some days I felt lucky to be in my position, other days I wondered how I ever could have deluded myself into thinking I could find a place here in this ruthless city. Every morning I rose just after dawn and sat at my desk, writing from that enchanted place just between sleep and consciousness, until my bedroom was filled with sunlight. I spent long hours at the office, then went out with my friends to enjoy the city I had made my home. It was a grueling process, sometimes trying, sometimes exhilarating.

The Girl in the Garden was not a business venture or a job, it was a project of pure passion, a quest upon whose outcome my core sense of identity depended. I sometimes felt, on monotonous days spent photocopying and fetching coffee for my boss, or as I stood crammed in a crowded subway car with my cheek crushed against the glass, that if I didn’t have my book, I wouldn’t know who I was. My sentiments may have been extreme, but they were also necessary. That flickering filament of hope in my art and in myself, that confidence in the face of the doubts and disappointments of the world around me, allowed me to continue.

That sense of urgency carried me through the challenges of the process, from breaking the news to my parents that I was turning down admission to law school in order to be a writer, to completing the book, to finding a literary agent, to selling it to a publisher, to stepping out of my comfort zone to promote it.

The Girl in the Garden has taken me on a wondrous adventure, spiriting me away not only from my magazine jobs, but from a life where my most creative and exciting moments happened in secret, stolen moments, in the mornings while the rest of the city slept. For a long time, only my closest friends and family knew that I was writing a book. When it was published, acquaintances and strangers suddenly got in touch to say they had read a review, or seen it on a bookstore shelf. Suddenly people knew me as a writer, an identity I had yearned to inhabit since childhood. Over the last year, I have spoken on panels, signed piles and piles of books, and learned how to suppress the knocking of my knees as I stand at a podium reading my work aloud to an audience. Most recently I sat in a garden in Milan, Italy, speaking to journalists about the Italian translation of my book, which is called Una Casa di Petali Rossi, and has, to my unexpected delight, enjoyed three weeks on the Italian bestseller list.

I am proud of this past year, but I am also afraid of what lies ahead. Afraid of my second book. Afraid of starting over from scratch, and of fully committing myself to this new story and its cast of characters, who will be replacing Rakhee, Amma, Krishna, and all the other figures from my first novel who I have lived with and loved for so long.

The paperback version of The Girl in the Garden is out on June 12th and with its release, I feel the bittersweet emotion that accompanies the closing of one door, and the opening of another. This is the final stage of the publishing process, the equivalent of sending your child off to college. As I say goodbye to my story’s eleven-year-old heroine, Rakhee, and immerse myself entirely in my second book, a historical novel that I have spent the last year researching, I realize I’m really an adult now. This is no longer a secret passion, but my job.

Last week a box was delivered to my apartment. The striking image of two white peacocks emerged from within the folds of bubble wrap, and as I picked up the pristine book and held it in my hands, my eyes filled with tears.

I clung to the book, letting my fingertips slide across the smooth cover, this tangible thing into which I poured all of myself, my childhood innocence, the confusion of adolescence, and all the tumultuous hopes, missteps, fears, and loves of my early adulthood. I held on tightly for a few minutes, and then, at last, I let go. I slid it into an empty space in my bookshelf, opened up the document called “Novel 2” on my laptop, and threw myself without any further hesitation into the frightening and thrilling unknown of my future.

You can read an excerpt of Girl in the Garden here.

The Paris Wife

Paula McLain The Paris Wife
One good book leads to another – if you have read Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, you have your next book: The Paris Wife. I liked that he finally recognised what he had lost with his divorce, from this comment: “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her (his first wife, Hadley).” Paula McLain writes primarily in Hadley’s voice providing her version of events. A previous biography (Sokoloff, 1973) is quite good, but this novel portrays the woman who loved him, for himself, and is fascinating! McLain painstakingly researched the biographies, letters, and Hemingway’s novels, to accurately detail their lives, including their marriage (1921-1926). She is also a poet, which is evident in her language craft and evocative prose which captures the glamour, emotions and trials of the 1920s, Europe and especially Paris.
Hadley (Elizabeth Hadley Richardson 1893-1979) was a 28 year old midwestern girl when she met the 21 year old Hemingway who was already brash and ambitious. You are caught up in their whirlwind courtship and the infinite possibilities that await them in life (even knowing the baggage that came later, you love the current story). Her inheritance enabled them to move to Paris and initially provided Hemingway with the stable environment which promoted his writing and provided him with material/ experiences.
The reader is charmed by the warm generosity, beliefs and support of Hadley, delighted by the glittering expatriate world which is littered with well know literary and artistic figures as Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, Jean Rhys, and many others, and heartbroken when their marriage dissolves, unable to survive the fame, the drinking and womanizing, especially in wake of the birth of their child (John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway “Bumby”) and her family values.
Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises during this time frame, dedicating it to her (and their son) partly in recognition of her sacrifice to his art. The royalties were hers as well. I will always wonder if she had stood up to him more, what greatness they could have achieved together. He desired her because she was not the independent, modern woman, but forgot she was her own person. She struggled to find her place in his ever changing world. While she embraced his adventures, the outdoors, the bullfights, etc their romance withered with jealousy, celebrity, ambition, and depression.
McLain is also sympathetic to Hemingway, recognising his early troubles, from his controling mother, the trauma of the great war and his depression. We know the man he became. Hadley married journalist and political writer Paul Mowrer in 1933 (Pulitzer 1929), eventually moving back to Chicago. He was also the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire (1968). Bumby (1923-2000) went on to become an American writer and conservationist (he finished the memoir, A Moveable Feast).
HWM 2012