Tag Archives: book awards

Drumroll, Please….

Therese Walsh

Last Friday, I posted a Q&A interview with author, Therese Walsh on her novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, and on her writing process. She offered great insight on setting, research, and three keys to succeeding as a writer. If you missed the interview, you can still read it here.

Thank you to everyone who left comments. I hope, if you didn’t know of Walsh’s work already, you discovered another great author to watch. You can keep up to date with Therese Walsh by bookmarking her website and following her on Twitter. You’ll also find more great articles from her on Writer Unboxed.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for….

I asked my son this morning to help me choose a winner. He shuffled the pieces of paper with the names of all who wanted to be included in the contest, closed his eyes, and pulled from the pile: rr smythe.

Congratulations! You are the lucky recipient of a hardcover copy of The Last Will of Moira Leahy, a finalist in the RWA’s 2010 RITA Award for Best First Book. I hope you love the story as much as I did. An email requesting your address is headed your way. If you don’t hear from me within 24 hours, you can track me down at writeunderpressure(at)gmail(dot)com.

And, a special thanks to Therese Walsh for your generosity, kindness, and willingness to share your wisdom. We all look forward to your next novel!

The Magic of Storytelling

Arundhati Roy wrote a beautiful and heart-wrenching story, The God of Small Things, which won her the Booker Prize in 1997. Though the book is fiction, what she writes about a Kathakali play, as the main characters Estha and Rahel watch it in the History House, is universal.

“The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t.”

I finished reading Arundhati Roy’s book the other night, and the story sat with me for a long time. I knew the fate of the characters as the story unfolded, but I read anyway. The end grabbed my heart and pulled me down for a while. It was painful. But, for me, closing the book and wandering through the rest of my day with the characters at the forefront of my mind is clear evidence of a great story (even if it hasn’t won an award).

A different author wrote a blog post on a different subject, but it resonated with me as much as the quote from Arundhati Roy’s novel. Michelle Davidson Argyle, aka. Lady Glamis from The Literary Lab, reflects about knowing when we’re writing honestly:

“Magic. That’s what seems to happen when I manage to get honesty into my writing. It’s like a memorable, catchy song where everything comes together and it makes me feel a mixture of emotions that reach more deeply than I thought was possible. I look into the mirror and I see me, but I don’t see me. It has become a creation that took on a life of its own. My honesty gave it that life.”

I’ve settled into the magic of a great story many times. And,I’ve ridden the magical roller coaster of honest writing a few times, when the details of a story pour out in smooth succession: thrills, chills, and elation.

Those are the reasons why I love literature, and why I keep coming back to writing.


Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1998 (p. 218). Print.
Argyle, Michelle Davidson. “That Song was Dinner.” The Literary Lab, November 19, 2009. Online.

Fiction vs. Memoir

On Salon.com, Laura Miller wrote “A new book says: Fiction is dead, long live the age of autobiography,” in which she reviews Ben Yagoda’s book Memoir: A History. Laura Miller quotes Ben Yagoda when he claims fiction has become “like painting in the age of photography — a novelty item.”

He isn’t the first to say that nonfiction, including memoir, sells better than fiction. Nathan Bransford, in his recent article in the Huffington post, said “for many years adult nonfiction was the bread and butter workhorse of the industry.”  It isn’t that fiction is better than non, or vice versa, it just seems to be a fact that we are drawn to the stories of real people more often than the tales of our made-up friends.

It’s easy to slide on over to the nonfiction section in the bookstore and get caught up in the lives of real people suffering, and surviving. Reality TV plays a big part in our attraction to the memoir, as does our need to know that someone out in the real world might be worse off than we are. I think Laura Miller would agree, since she says “the characters and events in memoirs are often, like real people and events, the subjects of energetic controversy….”  Even when we know the ending of the story, we still ravage ourselves with the details.

So, Laura Miller’s article got me thinking. I like memoir, but I also like good fiction. I walked into the bookstore today with my daughter determined to leave with a new novel. While she twirled and tumbled in the middle of the store, I scanned the Indie Bound bookshelves.

I’m terrible at making decisions under pressure, so I let her pick out a book. She finally sat down on a couch, and I turned and found a bookcase of all the Best American anthologies. When I saw Alice Sebold edited the The 2009 Best American Short Stories, I stopped looking.

Alice Sebold’s introduction also acknowledges recent trends in the publishing industry. She says “highlighting good fiction is more important now than it ever has been.” I agree. She could have been talking about memoir or fiction when she writes “a story about grief can comfort; a story about arrogance can shock and yet confirm; a story populated largely by landscape, whether lush or industrial, can expand the realm that we as individuals inhabit.” But, she insists that great fiction narrative is just as critical to the publishing industry as great memoir.

If nonfiction is the mainstay that pushes the publishing industry through a recession, then taking risks and publishing fiction becomes even more critical.

“Stories provide an endless access into another world, brought forth by an infinite number of gifted minds,” Alice Sebold writes. Great fiction, like memoir, must find readers. And, it can’t find an audience if it’s never published.

I can’t wait to dive into the stories Alice Sebold deems Best of the best.


Sebold, Alice, ed. The Best American Short Stories. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.

Great books, and authors, may be headed your way.

The Wisconsin Book Festival 2009 began yesterday in Madison, WI. This annual festival began in 2002 and now draws about 15,000 people – all in the name of books and writing and the love of reading.


Wow, what a line-up. A whole slew of amazing authors are being hosted, heard, and admired as you read this. Download the Program Schedule, a work of art in itself.

But, beware, when they say “it’s a large PDF file, it might take a while to download,” they mean business. Still, I waited. I flipped through it. My eyes teared up. I thought of packing my bags and camping out in Madison for the next several days.

But, if you’re like me (have a job, raise young kids, don’t bother checking your wallet because all that’s in there is a library card and crumpled receipts marking the obvious…you’re broke), leaving town is not an option.

A peek at the program is still in order, though. Even if you’re hundreds of miles away from Wisconsin, it’s an experience to read through the list of authors. I’m awed by the amount of awards and fellowships represented. And, I’m reminded about the number of books I want to list my GoodReads page as “to-read.”

If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the other statewide areas offering their own piece of the festival pie, you might still get a chance to see great authors in action. I’m checking the schedule, and I’m running through my list of babysitters (hoping for one free of charge). With a quarter tank of gas, I can make it to at least one of those events!

What are you hiding under your pillow this week?

This week (September 26th-Oct 3rd) marks  the 28th annual celebration of Banned Books Week.

bannedbooks_readout.lg_horizInterested in knowing what books have been challenged this year? Check out Robert P. Doyle’s Books Challenged & Banned in 2008-2009: Speak Read Know. Doyle compiled the list based on reports from the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, and you might be surprised at what some parents and schools are willing to consider unfit for adolescent eyes.

Among the list are classics, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Other titles are new to me, but surprising just the same. Take Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, a book about a young boy who leaves his Indian reservation to attend an all-white school. A host of awards supports the book as credible and critical for young adults (2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the National Parenting Publication Gold Winner 2007 to name just two), but the book was challenged because it mentions masturbation.

Okay, fine. But I’m curious if those same parents who challenged many of the award winning books on Doyle’s list are the same parents who dropped their 12 or 13 year old off at the cinema to watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (PG-13 for sexual material) or rented Step Up 2 for their 14 year old’s slumber party (PG-13 for “suggestive material” and really skimpy outfits)?

Then, there are the books I wish I’d read when I was young, like Esther Drill’s Deal With It!: A Whole New Approach
to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a gURL
This book reveals everything every girl wants to know, and needs to know, about her body’s evolution into womanhood. At sixteen years old, my high school friend innocently misinformed me (and embarrassed me) about the natural workings of my own body. She had no idea what she was talking about. I doubted her information, but I felt too ashamed to ask anyone else, until I was well into my thirties.  Esther Drill’s book was challenged at a Community Library close to my home. The book was thought to be “worse than an R-rated movie,” as if educating young girls about their own biology is obscene.

I don’t want my daughter to grow up in the dark.

Read the list. Find out what books have been challenged in your area, and why. If the library won’t let you borrow it, then buy it. The book they ban is most likely the best book on the shelf.