Saturday, November 28, 2009

 

Conversation with Harold Augenbraum



Last year I participated in CLMP's Literary Writer's Conference by moderating a panel on blogging. It was a good conversation, which in the end yielded some nice friendships--and an ongoing discussion about the place of the internet in book publishing.

This year, I was asked to discuss the publication of my first novel, Picking Bones from Ash. I originally thought I'd be delivering the workshop I gave in Portland on the "True Business of Writing." But instead, I ended up with the unique opportunity to have a conversation with Harold Augenbraum. I didn't actually expect that he would come having read my novel, but he had. And we ended up really discussing the book in depth.

The exciting thing for me as a writer was just how much Harold had perceived about my work. This isn't going to happen with every critic--let alone every reader. And his questions were so smart and perceptive, I found myself slightly unnerved. He started off asking me, for example, if I'd written a "proto-feminist" book. And I, so uncomfortable with labels, gave that writerly answer about how I'd written a book about characters and how I hadn't had a particular political stance in mind. And yet, it's difficult for me to ignore the fact that many of the earliest reads have been from feminists.

Some readers have felt that the novel became confusing as it developed. I have some thoughts on this. I think that readers have often been lulled into a sense that a novel set in Asia is going to be something of a scenic ride--a trip through a pretty place, with pretty and struggling people, who often end up finding solace in the west. This is not the novel I wanted to write. It isn't a world view I uphold. I think that those with access to travel--to true cultural exposure--are going to be conflicted at times about where is the "best place to live." Most of my international friends feel this way--they see what's great about one country, but also about another. Many of them live in between worlds, so to speak. And this is all made much more complex when you consider that the US isn't the only truly wealthy and modernized country anymore--there are others. We fool ourselves into a sense of false security when we end novels in America--as though living here is the natural end to a story. I see a much more complicated world than this.

Harold also asked me if it had been my intention to start with a simple theme--which I then made much, much more complex. And of course, there is a serious side to me which was exploring a number of different themes. Most reviews have emphasized the mother-daughter themes in the book. And, yes, the novel has mothers and daughters, but it really was supposed to be about a great deal more than that. The funny thing is that as Harold got closer and closer to the things I believe in and what I wanted to write about-the more I found myself feeling guarded. I suppose this is because all writers--real fiction writers--want to express themselves through their work, and not through a public monologue. I think of myself as an open person, but I struggled a bit with being quite so open in public. It was an unexpected reaction.

I've since gone over the conversation in my head, and wished I had answered many of the questions differently. We touched briefly on animism, for example--something about which I have a great many opinions. I think, for example, that materialism is a kind of animism; objects have great power over us and they do because we can't help but imbue them with meaning, even in this so-called godless society we inhabit. Why didn't I say that outloud?

But I think our talk also made me more prepared to talk about the book more fully, should the opportunity arise again. And ultimately, it was fun to talk to someone who had perceived all this--an extremely unusual treat. And I greatly enjoyed the people in the audience who had questions for me, and came up to speak to me afterward.

More than anything, I wanted them to understand that I'm just a person who really wanted to be a writer and worked at it--it was not some magical thing that happened to me, like the hand of God reaching down and making it so. It is possible for people to work and work and work -- and accomplish and fulfill a dream.



PS--That's Robert Polito on the left.

Friday, November 27, 2009

 

The Salinas Californian

Lovely and very enthusiastic review of Picking Bones from Ash by The Salinas Californian. I was happy to share my local roots!

"Local connection: Marie Mutsuki Mockett was born and raised in Carmel. Her mother was Japanese and her father German. Fluent in German and Japanese, Mockett attended All Saint's Day School in Carmel and Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach before she went on to Columbia University in New York City."


For more, please read here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

 

The East Bay Express

I love this article on Picking Bones from Ash, which is featured in the Books section of the East Bay Express. The author was so smart and perceptive, and gave me the chance to talk about aspects of the book that haven't yet been brought up. A sample:

"Many serious 'literary' readers and editors ... shy away from anything to do with 'the occult,'" muses Mockett, who will give a talk on Japanese fairy tales and unattainable women at the Hillside Club (2286 Cedar St., Berkeley) on Monday, November 30. Given the popularity of anime, this puzzles her. And although "I'm basically a realist and a rationalist ... yes, I have had a couple of very profound experiences. I've learned that a true encounter with the unknown almost always stems from something deeply personal — something deep within the psyche," says the author, who grew up in Carmel and majored in East Asian studies at Columbia.


For more, head over here (and come hear me lecture on Japanese fairy tales and read from my novel at Berkley's Hillside Club on Monday, the 30th).

Monday, November 23, 2009

 

Bread Loafers (Not a Shoe) in New York




It's been a busy weekend--more on that soon--but I did have time to visit with some friends I made at Bread Loaf. Here is poet Tomas Morin, whose gorgeous poem "A Model for Priesthood" recently won a prize at Narrative Magazine. Here, too, is writer Hasanthika Sirisena, another Bread Loaf Scholar, who is a winner of the prestigious Rona Jaffe award. If we look particularly happy to you in this photo, it's because we've just eaten at Moustache, scene of many a happy meal for artists in particular!



(Updated to add the above photo, courtesy of Tomas. That's Hasie on the right, and Gordon in the middle, after a very tasty meal at Moustache).

Friday, November 20, 2009

 

What is Marie Mutsuki Mockett Reading?

A fun request--I was asked to list five books I'm currently reading. To be honest, I have not been the best reader of books this year--my attention span has been curtailed by the pregnancy. And as a result, I have tended to read the things I feel I just have to in order to keep the creative part of my mind working. But this was a fun exercise, and I was very pleased to share. Over at the Campaign for the American Reader, you'll find my recommendation for Hiroko Sherwin's wonderful "Eight Million Gods and Demons," a book that, to my mind, is one of the most under-appreciated novels I've ever come across. Then at Writer's Read, you can see the entire list (of five books).

A sample:

Ambiguous Bodies: Reading the Grotesque in Japanese Setsuwa Tales by Michelle Li

I do my fair share of reading literary novels; it's important to be supportive of your fellow artists. But I also do a lot of nonfiction reading. In particular, I will engage in what I sometimes call my "weird" reading. This year, I've been re-examining Japanese fairy tales in part because I realize just how much they impacted me as a child and subsequently as an adult, but also because I've started to deliver a one hour lecture on the subject. In this talk, I cover everything from animated poop cartoons, to Miyazaki's Spirited Away, to the classic Japanese fairy tale about the "Bamboo Princess." One day, while browsing on Amazon, I came across the title you see above. The product description is as follows: "This book aims to make sense of grotesque representations in setsuwa--animated detached body parts, unusual sexual encounters, demons and shape-shifting or otherwise wondrous animals—and, in a broader sense, to show what this type of critical focus can reveal about the mentality of Japanese people in the ancient, classical, and early medieval periods." I'm always trying to deepen my understanding of Japan--and consequently, find new and creative ways to tell stories. My own novel has demons and ghosts and I find that if I read good scholarly work on the things that are attractive to me-the bizarre and strange-and understand how they fit into the culture, then that will make my own creative work more precise, and more convincing. This book sounded like a fantastic read, and I'm eager to get started.


You'll note that the first book on my list was by Colum McCann, who just won the National Book Award. I've been a fan of McCann's for a long time, and was thrilled to see him honored. I don't know him at all, but know some of his students/friends, all of whom speak highly of him as a person. And that's always nice to know--that an artist you admire is one of the good guys too.

 

Keplers Guest Blogging Post #3: Advice for Writers


My last post for Keplers--a little advice for writers.

Last month, at Wordstock, Portland’s marvelous gathering for writers and readers, I taught a class on “The True Business of Writing.” I took about 30 class participants through the thorny parts of my career, trying to show them how—creativity aside—I got to the point now where I have a book. I told them that there were plenty of other places where they could go to discuss craft, and the art of writing. I wanted to talk practicalities, the things that no one really wants to discuss.

I showed them my original query letter.

I had asked my agent for query letters she'd rejected from her slush pile and shared these with my class, asking them to try to point out the predictable errors the rejected had made. (In this I guess I drew upon my experience as an SAT tutor, when I would teach kids to look for "predictable errors." It's not a bad skill to have.)

I let them read my own rejection letters from editors, then asked them what they would do if they were in my shoes.

I showed them my submission stats for a short story that ultimately did pretty well (it generated two readings, one of which had an audience of something like 150 people, and a Pushcart nomination). The stats weren’t pretty: I’d been rejected 29 times before someone took the story. Six of those rejections came from editors who said they wanted the story but didn’t have enough room in their journals, which at the time, rather felt like the people I knew in high school who told me they would love to have taken me to the party with them, except there hadn't been enough room in the car . . .

In other words, I tried to share with these writers all the things that I had learned, and wished I’d known before embarking on a real career.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

 

Newsday and Picking Bones from Ash

The lovely LA Times review for Picking Bones from Ash was reprinted this week in New York Newsday. A refresher:

Some fiction makes the world a little smaller. In this debut novel, a little girl grows up in a small Japanese village with her mother. The other women in the village are suspicious of the mother's beauty; they ban her from the public bath. But the daughter is a talented piano player and this earns the little family some respect.

 

The Morning News and The Game of Love

Over the summer, while at Bread Loaf, I was inspired to try my hand at more non fiction--in part at the urging of our instructor, Patricia Hampl. So, even though we were all advised not to really do any writing while up on the Mountain, I sat down and wrote a short essay on video games and love quests.

The result has just been published over at The Morning News. An excerpt:

From the beginning, my character was an ideal version of me, a ravishing Asian ectomorph, who was handy with her weapons and who had a mysterious past that seemed to haunt but not completely cripple her—any issues she might have were easily slain by that great Jedi power, Force Push, which involved using the Force to knock an opponent back five meters, and stunning them for three seconds during which she could utilize her light saber. I crash-landed on a planet and soon met a handsome virtual man with a husky voice to keep me company. I assembled a crew of aliens, Wookies, and droids, and battled futuristic space gangsters. I trained at the Jedi Academy under the tutelage of a short, pointy-eared creature who looked a lot like Yoda. And I talked. All the way through the game, I was given dialogue options. I always chose the righteous and noble path for myself, making sure that I insulted no one, that I defended and saved the innocent, and correctly solved all puzzles, which curiously resembled dumbed-down standardized test questions. My part-time job as an SAT tutor was good for something.


Give it a read if you like--and learn all about my virtual courtship (and how Gordon helped me).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

 

The Fictionaut Five

The folks at Fictionaut were kind enough to ask me some questions about writing (and trees!) Check it out. A sample:

Q (Meg Pokrass): What story or book do you feel closest to?

A big part of me is always going to identify with stories and books I read and loved as a kid. Even as an adult, I’m looking for that experience of being transported, and it gets harder and harder to find and is complicated by the fact that the adult part of me wants complexity from fiction, from language, situations and character. But if there is one story that I’ve turned to again and again, it’s the myth of Psyche, as told by the Greeks. Most of their mythology concerns male heroes, but Psyche is intriguing. She’s the only mortal to turn into a god. She travels to the underworld and survives. She forces the gods to reveal their true nature to her. And it’s telling that her name is the one we use today when we talk about the complexities of the mind.


For more, on how I try to stay creative, or on my mentor, etc, head over here. (Note: I'm not sure if you need to register to read the blog or not. If you do need to register, I think you need an invite, and you need to be an actual writer).

 

Guest Blogging for Keplers Books: "Japanese Fairy Tales"

Post number two for Keplers went up today: it's on Japanese fairy tales and a bit of my personal background. Also, there's a link to the lecture I've been delivering in NYC (and its environs), and will give in Berkeley, CA, on November 30th.

A sample of the post:





"Fairy tales cast a spell on the mind. And not just because they often feature magic cauldrons or evil witches. We imprint on fairy tales when we are young. We learn about brave men on dragon-battling-quests and women yearning to get out of towers. Over time, the predicaments of these princes and princesses don’t seem too far from the psychological reality of the real world.

Something else happens too—we learn to expect certain things from stories. They will unfold in a certain manner. We will encounter danger, but this tension will resolve. And even though the modern novel has come a long way from ending either in a wedding or a funeral, I think there’s still something in our culture that looks for and yearns for this kind of conclusion: the prince and princess end up together, or we will find redemption despite loss, or even death.



My mother, who is from Japan, tried to teach me her language. I resisted, but she had a powerful arsenal: Japanese fairy tales. Seductively, she’d pull out the story of “Kaguyahime: The Bamboo Princess,” who was discovered by a poor bamboo cutter inside a fat bamboo stalk. The baby grew up to be the most beautiful and accomplished woman in Japan. Men came from all the corners of the island to try to woo and win her love. Except, unlike a western fairy tale where someone would eventually succeed, no prince ever managed to capture the bamboo princess’ heart. The story takes an unexpected and dramatic turn when Kaguyahime reveals her true identity—she is from the kingdom of the moon—and flies away, leaving everyone broken-hearted. Something about this accomplished but unattainable woman always captivated me. My mother and I would sit together and she would read a line in Japanese. Then I would read a line. Then I would read a page. On we would go until we were finished, and then we would begin again."


For more, head over here (where the weather is always about as perfect as it can be . . .)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

 

Picking Bones from Ash, Barnes and Noble, Union Square, New York



I had lunch today with two other Graywolf authors--we like to call ourselves "The Wolves." Which perhaps we ought to rethink, given the impending "New Moon" release. Anyway, while there, I had a text from a friend who had just passed the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, and seen my book in the window along with Gunther Grass and Dave Eggers. So we went by to take a look. And there it was!

Barnes and Noble has been tremendously supportive of my book, which I appreciate. But it is something to walk by a window, and to see the your own book staring at you . . .


Sunday, November 15, 2009

 

Guest Blogging for Keplers Books: "Literary Prizes Seldom Make Passes at Tits and Asses"

I was invited to blog for Keplers, the venerable South Bay bookstore--which I love. A portion of my blog post appears below.

In an early interview I did before my novel was published, I was asked: "Are there enough women in leadership positions in your field?"

I said: "Publishing is full of women. Most readers of fiction are women. Stephanie Meyers and JK Rowling are, by all accounts, millionaires. And yet don’t most men win the high literary prizes?"

Fast forward to about a week ago, when Publishers Weekly announced its best books for 2009. All were by men.

"It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male. There was kicking and screaming for a science fiction title. A literary ghost story came so close, it squeaked."




Ever since, the internet, that new hub of literary discussion, has been up in arms. Furious bloggers challenged readers to create their own alternative lists. SheWrites, a recently created online community for women who write, urged participants to take action. Twitter is aflutter. There’s a lot of digital noise.



I feel like paging Dorothy Parker who famously wrote: "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." Is it too crude, if true, if I add: "Literary prizes seldom make passes at tits and asses"? The sad thing is, I accept this as a reality of my industry. The majority of fiction published by prestige magazines—okay, I’ll name one name: The New Yorker—isn’t by women. Some have complained that male authors get more marketing dollars from publishing houses, and that’s why “the smart people” are generally men. On a practical level, I can understand why this happens. If men win prizes, and prizes are good for publishers, why wouldn’t you, the publisher, support your most likely candidates?


Head over to the Kepler's blog, The Well Read Donkey, to read the rest of what I have to say.

 

Bread Loaf Readings

The Bread Loaf website (conference?) has just announced the release of conference readings from this past summer. If you already have iTunes, then you can listen here. My reading isn't up yet, but I'll post when it is, and figure out the timing for you. I heartily recommend the lectures; all the ones I attended were wonderful (and then there was David Shields, who got everyone's dander up. This is good for people to experience, from time to time).

I didn't know it at then--but this reading prepared me so much for all the readings I've done since. The lights were bright. I couldn't see the audience. We were being recorded. There was a podium and a microphone. I was pregnant and sick. I could only read for five minutes and I wanted to make an impact. And I thought, "Well, if I can do this, no other reading will be a problem." And truly, it hasn't been.

Thank you once again, Bread Loaf.

 

Sunday Asia Pop Moment

I'm going to be doing a reading in December at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. It's part of the Largehearted Boy Reading series, and you might remember that I did a playlist for the Largehearted Boy site--complete with lots of J-pop.

Well, I was craving one particular pop tune today, and looked at Youtube to see what I could find. And lo and behold "I Feel Your Breeze" (my comments on this song here) had a new upload! So I listened . . . and aside from the English chorus, could not understand a thing. It's been a year since I've been in Japan, and my language skills have degenerated--next year I'll be coming with the baby. Believe me. But I didn't think I could possibly be this bad.

And then I realized, this version of the song is in Korean. The song has had a remake.



And the original, with subtitles and scenes from Gokusen.



When I eventually get back to dance class, I'm thinking of recruiting some friends to recreate this with me after a reading some time . . . Hmm. Oh, and music friends. Which key do you like better?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

 

Centenary College, New Jersey

I was asked to read a portion of my novel at Centenary College, in Hackettstown, New Jersey, and to deliver my lecture on Japanese fairy tales. I've given the lecture once already, at Adelphi University, and will do so again at the Hillside Club in Berkeley on November 30th.



It's a fun lecture--and particularly entertaining for college kids, many of whom know all about Hayao Miyazaki and manga and anime. When I show them this still, for example, they know that I am referring to "Spirited Away." When I talk about how evil characters in Japanese fairy tales often shift shape, and don't remain purely evil, they know exactly what I am talking about. And they are also curious about the origins of this kind of storytelling-and like learning how to put it all in context.



People pay pretty close attention too when I go through the first of the fairy tales-Urashima Taro, which involves, among other things, our hero looking inside a box he has been forbidden to open.




And that's a fun contrast to the story of Bluebeard, which also includes a forbidden chamber. And I'll just point out here for anyone lurking, that I do give much credit to Hayao Kawai, who worked hard to analyze the relationship between western and Japanese fairy tales.

I really enjoy giving this lecture. When I was a child, my mother worked hard to teach me Japanese in part by reading these stories to me, and then making me read them to her. It was a challenge at the time. And yet I realize now just how much they entered my brain--in the same way that western fairy tales did. And I'm quite sure my imagination and storytelling were, in turn, shaped by these experiences.

After the lecture, it was on to the readings, with writer James Hannaham, whose book "God Says No" was published earlier this year, reading first. I loved his excerpt, and loved meeting him too--and, not surprisingly, have since learned that we have friends in common.



And then, it was my turn.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

 

Vermin on the Mount: Los Angeles



After a day of playing around in Los Angeles (and a good nap and Chinese meal), I went over to the Mountain (the other mountain) to read. As it turned out, a few of the readers were folks I knew from Bread Loaf. We were told at Bread Loaf that the effect of our experience in Vermont would only become clear over time, and I'm already finding this to be true. At Odyssey Books in South Hadley, MA, for example, I saw Elli Meeropol, who I met this summer in Vermont. And in this photo here are: yours truly, Jim Ruland, Kieren van den Blink and Alex Espinoza.



Also at the reading, was Bread Loaf's head waitress and writer Jennine Capó Crucet, who you can sort of see in the background, seated on the left. Jennine just published the much lauded "How to Leave Hiahleah" and unfortunately, she left the bar before we thought to take a photo. So, sadly, this is the only photographic evidence I have of having seen her atall.



Some old friends came out for the evening too. Here I am with David Moses, who I knew in high school--we hung with the same creative crowd, and wouldn't you know, he works in Hollywood now. And wouldn't you know--when I asked if he would be able to help me film the reading (for something I will need at a later date), he knew exactly what to do to help me. I'm quite grateful.



I've long known that there are other Mocketts in the United States, though ours is a rare name. My grandmother spoke often of Horace and Walter--brothers to my great-grandfather (I think). Horace, she said, was a "black sheep," which I have always taken to mean that he figured out warmer weather was better than the cold winters of New Jersey, and high-tailed it off to California long before it was fashionable to do so.

One of thsee Mocketts and I have connected via Facebook--and here he is, my long lost "cousin" Ken Mockett, looking all tall and fit and handsome. We must be related!

 

Los Angeles

And so it was that we went from this . . .



. . . to this.



Even though I grew up in California, I haven't actually spent much time in LA. I don't really know that much about it. Of course, there were the obligatory trips to Disneyland and Sea World, etc. And my parents used to drive down for special exhibits, or art related performances that were not going to take place in San Francisco. I played in the All State Orchestra once at the LAX Hilton. But I don't know much about LA.

We arrived on a Saturday evening, and drove to a hotel in China Town, where my reading would take place the following evening. In the morning, I decided to visit the big independent bookstores: Book Soup, and Skylight Books. And then, because there was extra time, we went to the Barnes and Noble in The Grove.



First up, Skylight Books, located in West Hollywood, a neighborhood so casual yet funky that I immediately wished we had skipped the hotel provided breakfast to eat brunch here.



There was a cat in the bookstore--a kitten named Franny--who became good friends with my mother.



And then it was over to Sunset Boulevard, to go to Book Soup. Along the way, we passed some impossibly glamorous stores--glamorous even by New York standards. I fell in love with this Badgley Mischka dress made of feathers.



And I fully expect to see some producer's child decked out in this overly precious dress. I mean, there are some nice children's clothing stores in New York. But all this felt even more whimsical to me--I hadn't expected such whimsy in LA. I liked it.



Again--here's an example of what I mean. Of course there are fur coats for sale in New York, but they are serious coats for serious people. This thing is . . . pink. And completely impractical. And from what I could tell . . . not even real fur at all!!!

At Book Soup, I learned that the guy in charge of displays, Joseph Mattson, was going to be reading with me that evening. In fact, everywhere I went, people had heard of the Vermin on the Mount reading series, which made me happy. And I have to say, on the whole I found the LA literary scene to be very supportive and gentle--not nearly as cut throat as New York. I do think there are advantages to living outside of the THE big city.



Like I said--I don't really know LA. My mother told me that my father had always promised to do touristy things with her, like take her to Mann's Chinese theater (which I guess has a new name) to look at the celebrity handprints. And, well, we decided to go. It was a madhouse. It was also quite tacky. There were several Michael Jacksons.



This one, apparently from MJ's Thriller phase, had dark makeup on his hand (I looked). There was another MJ who was much lighter. We saw superheroes all over the place. When I saw Batman later, around the corner, eating a meal, I tried to take a picture, but he put his hand over his face. He looked horribly sad. And then all those cliches about aspiration and broken dreams started going through my mind . . .



But, really, when the food is so good everywhere and the weather wonderful and everyone happy and out and about, I do begin to wonder if there aren't other places in the world to live . . .


Saturday, November 07, 2009

 

River Run Books



I was excited to read at River Run Books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for a couple of reasons. First, I was going to get to read alongside Salvatore Scibona, author of The End. Long time readers have read my gushing thoughts about him before--he's a wonderful writer and friend and intelligent thinker, and I knew we'd have a good time; when I was conscious at Bread Loaf, we had some lovely conversations.



And then there was the fact that I was going to get to spend a little time with Michele Filgate, whom I met this year on Twitter. We met in person very briefly earlier this year, but I was really battling pregnancy fatigue at that point, and not terribly conscious. We had a nice evening--capped by some pizza and good conversation. I'm grateful for the support Michele has given me personally, and also for her enthusiasm for the novel.



I've started to bring this big piece of bamboo to my readings so people can understand just how large bamboo really is in Asia. I also explain that the opening chapters of the novel were inspired by the fairy tale about the bamboo/moon princess who was born inside a fat stalk of bamboo. And I usually also point out how, at this point, I feel like a nice fat stalk of bamboo. I like the bamboo stalk--it drives home the point of just how mysterious and different a bamboo forest can be.



And then I read for a little bit, to a sizable audience. Salvatore read too. I think it's nice to do a reading with someone you know-it really does make for good chemistry.



Salvatore and I answered some questions for the audience. I hadn't realized what a veritable paradise Portsmouth is. The town isn't that large, but it is just beautiful, and has a great deal of activity-particularly on a Friday night. And everyone was very smart and well-read and well informed. It made for a fun night for us.



I enjoyed meeting some new friends--and hope that they enjoy their read!



And in the morning, we hit the road to go to the Boston airport, to fly to Los Angeles. It was a pleasure to see a little New England Fall. The leaves were beautiful, and in the wind, they really do fall down with such intensity. At one point, we were confused if we were watching birds or leaves. And then there is that compressed, amber light that you can only get up north. Gorgeous.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

 

Odyssey Books, South Hadley, MA


My apologies to everyone who went to the Boston reading looking for me--it is true that I was not there! But from what I hear, it was a great evening with a number of fantastic readers and writers. I, unfortunately, was home in bed, exhausted. I guess that trying to promote a book when one is seven and a half months pregnant has its challenges. And the week before wore me out more than I expected.

I did get it together in time to head up to Massachusetts to South Hadley, where Eli Meeropol, whom I had met at Bread Loaf over the summer, had invited me to read at Odyssey Books. I was so pleased that she had asked, and had heard so many wonderful things about this legendary book store, and I'm glad I was well enough to go. Though, to be honest, much of that is due to my mother, who arrived from California to drive me around since I fall asleep constantly.



The bookstore itself is lovely-everything carefully selected. And I learned about a program that Odyssey Books runs called the "First Edition" club, in which members can preorder a signed copy of a book that the staff has selected.



I'm not a First Edition selection, but Picking Bones from Ash was selected as a breakthrough pick for November. And so I arrived to find 30 pre-ordered copies for me to sign. This was such a surprise-and I was incredibly flattered. And this kind of thing only happens because someone took the time to read my book and because my book resonated with them! That's incredibly moving to me. Writers-especially debut novelists-don't know if anyone will ever read our work. And it's been a tremendous pleasure to connect with readers as I've been bouncing around the country.


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