Saturday, February 18th! Save the Date. This is a truly fun event for a very worthy cause. Tickets are now available. I'm looking forward to meeting readers and sharing thoughts. Hope to see you there.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Abeel effortlessly transports readers from life with the beat poets of Paris in the 1950's to the New York scene of the 1960s as her three heroines break the bonds of convention, that said marriage and motherhood where a woman's proper choice, in pursuit of their artistic dreams. Buoyed by their friendship, they find strength in their shared struggle despite the cost they must pay for their determination. Gripping, witty, and funny. Readers will find themselves smiling and nodding in understanding with every page turn.
“Erica Abeel IS a ‘Wild Girl’— she lived the life, these are her friends, and this is an insider’s peek into that world.” —Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians”
Can you offer us a couple of insights into what makes a “Wild Girl” wild?
In the context of my novel, “wild girls” is a phrase used by the heroine Brett’s professor to express his fears for her and her two free spirited classmates. The friends want to live as sexual beings in a culture that zaps women who express that aspect of themselves. They’re putting themselves in harm’s way, the professor warns; “these young men don’t value what’s freely offered.” He compares them to acrobats who leap through a ring of fire, expecting to be caught on the other end. The question hangs – and repeats itself throughout the novel: who will catch these “wild girls” on the other end?
In the 50s you married the first person you slept with. My “wild girls” scoff at that. So what makes a “wild girl” wild in my novel is the pursuit of sexual adventures during a fiercely puritanical era -- a leap through the ring of fire – and the ambition to make a life in the arts at a time when marriage and family is the be-all and end-all for women.
How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
As John Irving said in “The World According to Garp,” when you’re in the midst of writing a novel, “Everything applies.” While I was hammering out “Wild Girls,” I’d often pick up the newspaper and spot some detail in a story that’s related to a character or theme in the novel.
No one is safe from us writers! Everything is material, a writer once said – was it Nora Ephron? We schlurp up character traits, mannerisms, smells, voice timbre, details of dress – the whole spectrum of the seen and unseen world -- and stick them in our novels. Writers are ghouls, Julia, the Boston blueblood of the trio of friends, says in the first section. A dear departed friend of mine was inseparable from her ratty fur hat. That hat now belongs to my character Julia in “Wild Girls.”
I also often discover events -- such as the recent show in Paris on the Beats and Allen Ginsberg -- that reference the novel’s world. The other day I zoomed in on a theme common to both Sarah Jessica Parker’s new HBO show “Divorce” and “Wild Girls.” Both feature heroines who set forth with grand artistic dreams, but then are sidetracked by financial realities (like a husband’s failing career) into more mundane pursuits. It’s an old story, I know, but it’s all in the telling, right?
To the second part of your question I’d reply that as a writer, I often feel I’m more an observer than participant. When I’m not writing – like now, when I’m getting the word out about “Wild Girls” – I feel guilty and a little unfocused.
The writer’s life can be hazardous. People you know are sometimes convinced you’ve stuck them – or their story -- in your book, even when that’s not the case. Characters are often composites of different folks, real or imagined. So, a cautionary note: you have to be willing to offend people, even lose friends. With any luck, the bad feelings will blow over.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Writing is so demanding, it’s essential to kick back at the end of the work day. So, I head out to the gym or take a great Pilates class. Summers I play tennis and do long-distance swimming in the bays around East Hampton. And there’s always, happily, a glass or two of Rose. My very favorite non-writing activities involve hanging with my two young grandsons, who are endlessly amusing. I’m in charge of the boys’ cultural activities. I’ve been taking the older one to the theater since he was in diapers. He’s already a writer.
What led you to write the book?
Anger was a big motivating source -- anger at the damage inflicted on young women by guys who are taught there are the nice girls you marry, and the others you “use” for sex. Two of my heroines become severely damaged by sexual encounters that derail them for years. In all kinds of ways the 50s was a punishing time for women. But I also wanted to celebrate the daring and guts of kickass characters who refuse to be limited by the restrictions they’re born into. “Wild Girls” showcases the resilience, wiliness, and life force of women.
What would you like readers to take from it?
I hope they’ll identify with my characters’ ability to reinvent themselves and “follow their bliss,” in Joseph Campbell’s famous phrase. Though these women battle the rigid rules of the 50s, I’m hoping readers will recognize their own struggles today – now that there are almost too many choices -- to forge a path of their own making. And I’d like readers to laugh at the past absurdities that I mock (such as the self-disgust women were encouraged to feel about their own bodies).
What are your current/future projects?
I’m starting a new novel, a comic, satirical take on feminism in the early 70s, set among a group of writer/activists presided over by a Betty Friedan-like character. I also continue to review films and interview directors.
Your biography mentions you love to write about warrior women who lived against the grain before the upheavals of the 60s. That’s a very specific topic. Why does it have such a strong appeal for you?
Partly the topic appeals to me for its dramatic value. My characters fight for the right to live as they choose when everything around them offers only a single choice. Built into my subject is conflict and drama. The topic also allows me to foreground female feistiness and strength. My characters experience the world as resistance, much as in 19th century novels, where a hero must make his way in a society primed to advance only the rich and well-born. In “Wild Girls,” it’s heroines – not heroes – who make their way in a world mobilized to bind and limit them.
What challenges did you face in creating this manuscript?
Understanding, through many drafts, what to take out. Initially, I had a 4th woman whose story I was keen on telling – and it may yet surface in a different book – but which diluted the dramatic force of my other 3 heroines’s narratives. So the 4th character hit the cutting room floor. After the initial draft, I constantly wrestled with the challenge of how to streamline a complex, multi-pronged story that spans decades so it wouldn’t become a baggy monster.
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
I’ve always loved the 19th century French novelists, such as Stendhal and “The Red and the Black” and Balzac. I like the paradigm of a young hero – in my case, a heroine – setting out to conquer the world – or “pursue happiness,” in Stendhals phrase. “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh has long been an obsession; my 2008 novel “Conscience Point” riffs on its love triangle. I admire sections of “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, and will read anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Salter.
What are the most important elements that you want to bring to your writing?
I want to bring humor and wit to the story, so that even in grotesque or punishing situations the reader will laugh. Or at least smile. I also aspire to make the reader cry, which of course is hoping for a lot. I try to fashion characters the reader can empathize with, even when they’re shooting themselves in the foot.
Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers.
You have to learn to be your own editor. If something you’ve written doesn’t grab you, it likely won’t grab the reader either. Be prepared to chisel and cut – “kill your darlings” if necessary. Keep focused on forward momentum, and if a scene doesn’t promote that, consider getting rid of it.
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
Keep a question hanging fire throughout the novel that the reader wants answered or resolved and that will keep her reading. Learn to become inured to rejection and naysayers – or use negative reactions to improve your work. Never give up.
Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book?
I hope they’ll be inspired by it and have a good laugh over the funnier scenes. And enjoy their time with my characters, who have been great company for me over five years.
Monday, January 9, 2017
Animal Planet Farm Animals provides young readers with a chance to explore the world of domesticated animals. Of course you’ll find the familiar horses, cows, chickens, goats, and sheep one would expect to find on a farm. But the book ranges wider to offer youngsters a look at Swiss sheep, Texas Longhorn Cattle, alpacas, and honey bees as well some of the wild denizens of such as spiders, swallows and owls. Additional topics include the workers familiar on the farm from veterinarians to border collies.
Like the other books in the series, the animal sections are interspersed with thematic units with specific tabs such as Where They Live, How They Live, Vista (showing animals in their environment), Big Data (facts and figures), Animal Gallery (highlighting similarities and differences) and so on. Stunning action-filled photographs, informative notes, colorful maps and charts make for easy access to information and will delight both youngsters and adults as they explore the amazing diversity of wild life on our amazing planet.
A great addition to home, classroom or school library.
Monday, January 2, 2017
Monday, December 19, 2016
Tis the season – for getting out on the ice and enjoying hockey. And MY FIRST BOOK OF HOCKEY: A Rookie Book by Sports Illustrated for Kids is just the book to inspire and delight young hockey enthusiasts.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Blobfish, Star-nosed Mole, Vampire Squid, Thorny Dragon, Ghost Octopus! Yes, these are just a few of the remarkable animals you’ll find in Animal Planet’s Strange,Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals by Charles Ghigna.
Ghigna does an outstanding job of putting fun in the “ICK” factor and sharing startling facts with readers in this spectacular collection. Playing off the title, the book is divided into four main sections with subheadings that focus on individual animals as well as related traits such as Creatures of the Deep - Mimics - Marvelous Mammals - Fabulous Feet - Squirters and Spitters - Blobby, Slimy, Stretchy Creatures - and Fantastic Frogs – to name a few.
Information is well-organized and accessible thanks to elements such as the Gallery spreads that explore specific themes, Feature Creature which provides details about individual animals, the Creature Collection which gives readers opportunities to compare and contrast, and Macrophotographs to highlight the smallest details.
Stunning color photographs fill every page in this large format, 128 page book, with the exception of the Glossary, Index, and Additional Reading.
Maps and charts offer additional perspectives on the information for animal lovers and budding scientific minds.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Join me today for an interview with New York Times Best-selling author Lauren Belfer as she discusses her new novel -- And After The Fire.
Lauren Belfer’s passion for history shines in this well-researched story that propels readers from the elite musical world of Sara Levy’s Berlin in the 1800s through the German holocaust to Susanna Kessler’s present day New York. Fact and fiction blend seamlessly as Belfer weaves the suspenseful story of two women whose lives are linked by love, death, and a long hidden Bach cantata.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and how did you set about realizing that goal?
I decided to become a writer when I was six years old. I spent my early writing years crayoning stories about heroic pets. By high school, I was submitting my poetry to literary journals and receiving rejection letters from all the best places. Sometimes these letters included the words “thank you,” with the initials of the person doing the rejecting. I took this as a sign of enthusiastic encouragement. The first short story I ever published was rejected 42 times before it found an editor who loved it. The second short story I published was much more successful: it was rejected only 27 times. I learned early on that persistence is the most important trait a writer can have!
What do you do when you are not writing?
Although I don’t sit at my computer all day, being a writer seems to permeate every moment. Everything I come into contact with becomes a kind of research. I get ideas as I walk down the street, and as I read the newspaper. In the evening I might go to a concert, or meet friends for dinner, or simply stay home and watch TV, and small details of what I see and experience spark my imagination.
Briefly, what's your book about?
“And After the Fire” explores almost two hundred and fifty years of history through the prism of a fictional, prejudicial artistic masterpiece.
What attracted you to Fanny Mendelssohn’s story?
To me, Fanny Mendelssohn was a tragic figure. She was extraordinarily gifted as a musician and composer, but when she was a teenager, her father told her that music could never be more than an “ornament” to her true calling as a wife and mother. And she did fulfill her father’s wishes, marrying and having a child. She was also among the most gifted composers of her era. Her husband and her mother both urged her to publish her music. Alas her world-renowned brother, composer Felix Mendelssohn, discouraged her, and his opinion was the only one that mattered for Fanny. Felix did, however, publish six of her songs under his name. As I worked on the novel, I kept asking myself – why did Fanny accept this injustice?
What would you like readers to take from your novel?
I’d like readers to feel that they’d read a good story, with compelling characters who stayed with them after they finished the book.
What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on several projects, but I’m very superstitious, so I can’t reveal the details until I’m finished!
What is your writing process?
On most days, I get up early and write while the world outside my windows still seems asleep.
Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Each of my novels is separate, focused on completely different themes and settings. Once I have an idea for a novel, I think about how the issues I want to explore would play out through the eyes of my characters. Sometimes my characters surprise me, by going off in directions I couldn’t have predicted. I make a general outline of my novels before I begin, but then I put the outline away, to allow the characters and their individual concerns and interests to lead the way.
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Dozens and dozens of writers and books have influenced my work. I’ve created several shelves on my Goodreads page, listing the books that have most influenced me at different stages of my life, and as I wrote each of my three novels.
Books that inspired me as I worked on “And After the Fire” include: “Possession,” by A.S. Byatt, “The Lost,” by Daniel Mendelsohn, “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” by Edmund de Waal, “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan, “The Blind Assassin,” by Margaret Atwood, and
“Embers,” by Sándor Márai
What are the most important elements of good historical fiction?
I believe that historical fiction should, above all, portray people living their lives from day to day without knowledge of what the future will bring. Instead of looking back at the past from the perspective of the present, I think writers of historical fiction need to begin in the past, and strive to put themselves into the shoes of their characters.
What suggestions about revising would you offer for upcoming writers?
Each writer I know approaches revising differently, so upcoming writers must figure out what works best for them, through trial and error. I tend to write my first draft quickly, straight through to the end, without stopping to revise. This gives me a sense of the overall arc of the story. Then I go back to the beginning and revise, revise, revise, usually for years!
What’s one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you’d like to pass on to upcoming writers?
The most important piece of advice I can give to upcoming writers is: Never give up.