Meeting Your Heroes

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It’s not everyday you get to meet one of your heroes. I got one of those rare opportunities Monday night. Mary Doria Russell visited Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC to talk about her new novel Epitaph. I was glad to be one of a crowd of people who came out to hear her speak.

If you are unfamiliar with Mary Doria Russell, she is awesome. Her first novel, The Sparrow (and its sequel, Children of Men) captured many people’s imaginations. It is the story of a group of Jesuits and scientists who follow a song into space in search of other inhabited planets. It is science fiction with a punch. I loved those books when I first read them in the early 90’s and still reread them today. Mary went on to write about Jews in WWII Italy, the middle east after WWI, and now has released her second book set in Texas at the end of the 19th century. I never thought I would love books about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, but I do. Doc was great and I’m sure Epitaph will be too.

Anyway, what I wanted to discuss here was Mary’s slightly unconventional author event style. I’ve been to many, many author events and have a handful of them myself now, and they usually go the same way – the author talks about themselves a little, they read from their latest book a little, and they talk about the inspiration for the book, then take a few questions. Mary didn’t do any of the usual self-deprecating, aww-shucks kind of things. She spoke for twenty minutes or so about the people she writes about and the historical research she did. She didn’t read from the book at all. She spoke with authority and humor in a way that made the audience feel a personal connection to her, yet also made it very plain that she knows her stuff backwards and forwards and upside down. This sense of authority really came out during the question and answer portion of the event. Some one in the audience asked a question about how she did the research for her two books set on another planet. Mary then spoke about how she used her training in anthropology and biology to imagine sentient beings that did not evolve from an ape-like creature. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how she arrived at the beings in The Sparrow from her research. It was also refreshing to see her not laugh off the question with a self-deprecating comment like ‘I just made them up.’

I enjoyed the author event because I am a complete book nerd and love to meet the authors of the books I read, but I was also inspired. A large chunk of an author’s life is taken up by the minutia of editing and marketing. We don’t get to talk about the big ideas behind our words very often. It’s easy to doubt the importance and weight of what we do all day.  It was inspiring to listen to someone so obviously confident in what they are doing and not apologizing for being good at it.

That is why it’s good to have real life heroes and try to meet them whenever possible.

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Book Tour Update

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There are many rewarding moments in a writers life, yet one of the high points in the process of writing a book is getting the opportunity to talk to readers face to face. I’ve just returned from a weeklong book tour to Massachusetts and Virginia where I had the chance to meet a few of my readers. It was wonderful.

I was very fortunate to be able to use the beautiful event space at the Tatnuck Bookseller since we had a good size crowd dropping in and out all afternoon. Of all the events during the week, this first stop was the only one where I actually stood behind a podium and talked. I read for a few minutes then answered questions for about an hour. A friend tried taping the conversation with mixed results, but if you’d like a taste of how the afternoon went – take a glimpse at this video.

The second stop in Massachusetts was the Shrewsbury Public Library. This was a much more intimate event. I spent a half hour chatting with a lovely woman who had seen an article about me in the local newspaper.  We talked about my books for a while, then moved on to books in general. It was great. Later on, two little kids came to the library to meet a “real author.” They were adorable. We talked about their school and the books they like to read and were excited when I offered to sign bookmarks for them.

The highlight of the trip though, was talking to the Martha Circle at the church I grew up in. Many of the ladies were retired teachers so after I talked a little about my books, we had a wonderful conversation about my education and the role my English teachers played in my early life. I even got the chance to pick their brains about town history for one of the books I am currently working on.

The last stop of the week was at Fountain Bookstore. If you are ever in Richmond, VA I recommend you drop by this adorable bookstore. It is locate on a quaint brick lined street and has an incredible staff. I spent a relaxed afternoon talking to the people that wandered in and out of the store and had a fun afternoon. It was a good way to end a long week of travel.

On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened – review

Last week I introduced you to Lori Schafer when she guest posted here. Today, I’d like to talk about how much I enjoyed her touching memoir. On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is a raw unsentimental memoir of a young life shattered by her mother’s mental illness. It is the tale of the loneliness and emptiness inherent in having a mentally ill parent. Schafer obviously felt compassion for her mom and could remember when the family had happier times.

Lori Schafer does not indulge in blaming or go on angry tirades, although she had much to be angry about. She tells the story of how ‘Judy Green Hair’ became increasingly paranoid and unpredictable throughout her adolescence and her eventual escape from her family situation in a straightforward style that broke my heart with its poignance. In the end, Lori Schafer’s story is a tale of resilience and strength in the face of overwhelming odds.

There were several times while I was reading this book that I wanted to go to Lori and give her a hug. I wished I could have comforted teenaged Lori and found a way to help young adult Lori when she was all alone in the world. The sections about Lori’s life in Berkeley were difficult to read because they made me weep for a young woman so alone in the world. It helped to see glimpses of the strong adult Lori would eventually become throughout the narrative.

On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is a remarkably fast read. I read it in one sitting. Schafer breaks up the narrative of her life with short stories and essays that mirror her own experience. They felt a bit discordant at first, but I quickly saw how the short interruptions in Lori’s story were like the digressions of an unwell mind – slightly ajar yet completely relevant.


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On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness

It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change. Then came my mother’s psychosis. I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom. My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own. But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive. She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine. On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is now available in eBook and paperback from Amazon. The audiobook, which Lori narrated, is also forthcoming.

???????????????????????????????Author Bio Lori Schafer’s flash fiction, short stories, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her first two books were published this November. On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness commemorates Lori’s terrifying adolescent experience of her mother’s psychosis, while Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past is an autobiographical collection featuring stories and essays inspired by other events from Lori’s own life. In the summer of 2014, Lori began work on a second memoir, The Long Road Home, during the course of a solo two-month-long journey across the United States and Canada. She anticipates that it will be ready for publication late in 2015. When she isn’t writing (which isn’t often), Lori enjoys playing ice hockey, attending beer festivals, and spending long afternoons reading at the beach in the sunshine. For further information on Lori’s upcoming projects, please visit her website at http://lorilschafer.com/.


On a personal note – I am heading out on a short book tour this week. If you are in MA or VA, drop by one of the events and introduce yourself. I would love to chat.

  • November 16, 1:00-3:00, Tatnuck Bookseller, 18 Lyman St, Westborough, MA
  • November 18, 7:00-8:00, Shrewsbury Public Library, 214 Lake Street, Shrewsbury, MA
  • November 18, 2:00-8:00, Women’s Fiction Writers Association book launch celebration, online
  • November 22, 3:30-5:00, Fountain Bookstore, 1312 E. Cary Street Shockoe Slip, Richmond, VA

Bookstore Quest #3 – Livaria Lello & Irmao

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Livaria Lello & Irmao is a must see on any bookstore quest. The red staircase brings people into the shop but the selection will make you stay. Most of the books were in Portuguese bu they had a surprisingly good selection of English language books as well as shelves in many other languages.  I picked up several books on Oporto’s history. The staircase is breath taking. We climbed up and had a cup of tea on the upper level in order to admire the architecture as well as the stunning stained glass ceiling.

We visited Livaria Lello & Irmao on a cold rainy day in November. Portugal is a beautiful country filled with friendly, interesting people but I don’t recommend visiting in November. Oporto is a charming city with some breathtaking churches and surprising Belle Epoque architecture. If you like to drink port, this is the place for you. We toured all the port houses and learned the finer points of this wonderful elixir. If you get a chance to visit, be sure to have some grilled octopus and a bowl of sopa verde.

Bookstore Quest #2 – Shakespeare & Company

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I first visited Shakespeare & Company in 1990 while on my honeymoon. The picture here shows me standing in front of the shop in 2000, when my husband and I went back to Paris. If you look closely, you can see I am drenched. If you ever go visit Notre Dame Cathedral, walk across the street and poke around the wonderful shop.

Shakespeare and Company was opened by George Whitman in August 1951 and has hosted many of the most important authors of the last fifty years.

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History of the shop (from Shakespeare & Co. website)

Related posts:
City Lights
Shakespeare and Company

Bookstore Quest #1 – City Lights

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My husband and I love to travel. Over the years, we have made a point of finding the interesting bookstores in whatever city we are in. Over Easter break, we took a trip to San Francisco and sought out City Lights Bookstore. This was our second trip to the charming shop. I was pregnant with our youngest daughter during our first trip in 1996. We had fun wandering the stacks with her this trip.

City Lights was founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin as a meeting place for the local literary crowd. It came to be known as a hangout for the “beatniks” and played an important role in furthering their careers by publishing their work. Today, the shop is a jumble of rooms cobbled together on three floors. I spent an hour wandering around the fiction room on the main floor and found more interesting titles than I could possibly pack into my suitcase. The international section was amazing. If you ever get a chance to spend an afternoon in San Francisco, go visit the nice people at City Lights then get an espresso at the coffee shop a few doors up.