Category Archives: Books

Michele Weldon on privacy, memoir, and finding time to write

 

 

Michele Weldon on privacy, memoir, and finding time to write

Michele Weldon

 

Memoir is such a crowded genre these days. What makes your book stand out?

MW: In order for a solid piece of nonfiction to resonate it has to move far beyond the self-indulgent navel-gazing of some memoirs that capitalize on celebrity or calamity. That is why I am so proud to be included in the stable of great writers I respect at SheBooks. The goal is to have masterful writing that bears broader meaning for the writer as well as for readers—moving beyond a simple regurgitation of events into territory that is universal and compelling.

How do your sons react to you writing about them in such a public way?

The quick answer is they are used to it. I have been a newspaper and magazine columnist since before they were born. So for all of their lives—and they are 25,23 and 20– I have been writing about my life and theirs as well. But I have some deliberate rules and boundaries. I write about my reactions, not theirs and I do not assign them any emotions or feelings. I am not a mind reader. I will ask them what they think about something and write that. I do not write anything that will embarrass or hurt them or that they want to keep private. I do feel that this piece of their lives is a tender minefield—the abandonment of their father. I asked each his permission, and each one of them has read this ebook, as well as the larger work. I write about my family, my emotions and what I know. They each have different reactions to what I write and how transparent I am. Still, there are things I will never write about that are to kept private forever. It is my story, not theirs.

Why is this book relevant to the conversation about parenting today?

I am weary of the narrative of mother as a crazy, harried buffoon. Work-life is presented as this perilous trap where you risk falling off the edge at every moment. Yes, it is hard, but so is putting blacktop on the driveway. I feel that an honest, uplifting approach to the precarious nature of raising good humans is edifying. I also feel that presenting a type of woman who can handle what is thrown in her path with humility and a call for help, is encouraging to those who handle much deeper crises. It is possible to do what you dream and also successfully parent, laughing and crying when the need presents itself.

When do you find the time to write?

I do a lot of different things professionally. I work full time, travel to lead seminars and deliver keynotes, but writing is always at the core. If I don’t write for a day or two—whether that is an essay or for a larger work like a book–I honestly don’t feel well. It feels as if my head is too big for my body, or that I am out of register. Writing is my cure. Because I have so many demands and responsibilities, I block out chunks of time—at least 3-4 hours—to write. It could be early morning, it could be late at night, or even midday. And I look forward to that like a dip in a pool on a hot day or a glass of pinot grigio with ice with a marvelous friend. It is my reward as well as my sustenance and a way to pay the mortgage.

Do you have a community of support for your writing?

I have been in a writing group of amazing authors for 13 years. Last count, between the six of us we had published or written in that time more than 28 books. Never mind that one of my writing group friends herself has published 19. We meet every week, Thursdays, from 6:30-9 at the local library. We each aim to bring 10 pages of double spaced writing with copies for everyone. We draw numbers, then each writer reads her work aloud, then we discuss it, line by line if we need to. We are never mean. We applaud, encourage and suggest. It is many times the absolute best part of my week. I love these women and how talented and creative they are. For about 8 years we met at each other’s houses, but then it got to be about the wine and the food and we would go long into the night, wrapping up after 10 or near 11. We get thrown out of the library at 9, so we have to set a timer for each person. We are starting to meet before group for dinner now. So I guess we are back to our old ways.

If you could make a bumper sticker about this book, what would it say?

Do your best. You will be OK.

 

 

Shebooks goes to Texas! | Event at Bookwoman

Last night’s Shebooks’ Shebang was held at Bookwoman, Austin’s beloved feminist bookstore since 1975. Marion Winik, visiting from Baltimore, and Beverly Lowry, who lives in Austin, read from their Shebooks — Marion, selections from “Guesswork” and “The End of the World As We Know It,” and Beverly her essay from “Summer,” an anthology edited by Alice Gordon. About 35 were in attendance. Marion explained the Shebooks model and why it’s exciting for both readers and writers. Susan Post, the owner of Bookwoman, explained how to use Kobo to download e-books so that part of the purchase price paid goes to the independent bookstore of your choice. Those who had brought their readers got going then and there. The authors’ print books and e-books aplenty were sold

 

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A snapshot of religious India

 In Great Buddha Gym For All Mens and Womens  award-winning writer Sallie Tidale captures the cacophony and culture shock of her pilgrimage to the four vital sites where the Buddha lived and became enlightened. It’s a remarkable travel memoir, which masterfully evokes the tastes, smells, sights, and sounds—as well as the dizzying history—of religious India. Here are a few photographs that Tisdale snapped while on her journey…you’ll have to read the book to experience the rest!

The Bodhi tree, center, with a view of the bowing platforms. ??????????????(photo: Sallie Tisdale)

“India is light switches that change function with the barometric pressure, monkeys breaking into hotel rooms to steal underwear and Kleenex”

“Everydog,” at Sarnath. (photo: Sallie Tisdale)???????????????????????????????????????

 “India is rolling blackouts, coleslaw sandwiches, mongooses, relentless and more or less pointless honking, India is museums with no signs and stores with no shopkeepers, wild indigo, phones that can call each other from 100 miles away but not from the room next door.”

The Home Cave at Vulture Peak (photo: Sallie Tisdale)?????????????????????????????

 Bathers at the Ganges. (photo: Sallie Tisdale)???????

“India is outrageous noise, outrageous beauty.”  

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Is your interest piqued? Read Sallie Tisdale’s short memoir Great Buddha Gym For All Mens and Womens to learn the stories behind these fascinating images, only at Shebooks.net!

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Ten Books by Women That Will Change Your Year

Laura’s 10 Best Titles of the Year

Laura Fraser, Shebooks cofounder and editorial director, admits she’s a compulsive reader. In fact, she’s kept a list of all the books she’s read since she was 12! Meanwhile, here’s her list of her favorite print books from the past 12 months—all by women, in honor of the Shebooks launch.

 

1. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

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This author writes under a pseudonym—perhaps because her depictions of life in Southern Italy are so raw and honest. This novel is the first in a trio about two smart, ambitious young women from a poor Naples neighborhood and the twists their friendship undergoes as they confront jealousy, resentment, changes in circumstance, and new opportunities.

 

2. Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

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Finney Boylan—whose original novella for Shebooks, I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, to be released in May—writes a moving book about her gender change with characteristic good humor: “I was a father for six years, a mother for ten, and for a while in between I was neither, or both–the parental equivalent of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo.”

3. The Panopticon, by Jenni Fagan

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This novel is about a young Scottish woman who survives a series of foster homes and abuse to land in a facility for troubled adolescents—beautifully written.

4. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

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A young boy survives an explosion in an art gallery that kills his mother and takes a priceless painting with him out the door. The sprawling novel follows his progress to adulthood as he lives with various memorable characters. I couldn’t put it down!

5. The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner

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Set in the 1970s, this is the story of a young motorcycle racer who is (briefly) the fastest woman on earth. The book careens from the New York art world to political turmoil in Italy—a heady read concerned with art, love, politics, and class but still full of heart.

6. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

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The story of Anne Boleyn never gets old (just watch “The Tudors” or any of the movies made about Henry VIII). But Mantel takes the story to an entirely new psychological depth, with vivid historic detail.

7. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

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This novel follows teenagers at art camp into middle age, as their connections are strained by changes in fortune, ambition, degrees of satisfaction, and the realization (or not) of their early talents.

8. The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud.

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The main character, Nora, is a humdrum teacher who builds little dollhouses—a direct nod to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House—and imagines a more interesting life of glamour, travel, and intrigue. She is the opposite of the “woman upstairs,” the madwoman in the attic, but as this novel proceeds, her equilibrium and creativity are challenged, as is her sense of reality.

9. Knocking on Heaven’s Door, by Katy Butler.

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A beautifully written and meticulously researched tale of Butler’s years taking care of her elderly parents, exposing the flaws in the American medical system and our costly avoidance of death. An important read for anyone who will ever have to care for an elder.

10. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich.

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A coming-of-age story of an American Indian boy, layered with a dawning understanding of human evil, cultural conflicts on and off the reservation, and a wavering sense of justice.

 

Laura Fraser is author of the Shebook, The Risotto Guru

The Risotto Guru

Shebooks: A Love Story

Shebooks author Marion Winik sits down to interview Shebooks co-founder and editorial director Laura Fraser about her past, her passion for publishing and the impending Shebooks revolution.

 

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I probably don’t have to tell any Shebooks readers that it’s harder than ever to publish a book through traditional corporate channels. And certain categories — like collections of essays — have become virtually extinct, a situation which affects me directly. When I started out telling personal stories as a commentator on NPR in the 1990s, there was a lot of interest in the essay — publishers were looking for the next David Sedaris. These days, though venues have opened up online for individual pieces, and we continue to see themed anthologies on various aspects of parenting, eating, divorce, travel, etc., it’s very rare to find a collection of essays between covers by anyone other than, well, David Sedaris.

This situation made me an eager recipient of last fall’s call for submissions from Shebooks — a new publisher of short e-books by and for women, designed to be read in under two hours. One of the categories they were looking for was collections of essays. Hooray! My first collection, Guesswork, eight essays circling the topics of memory and identity, was part of the launch group in December 2013, which also included books by Jessica Anya Blau, Hope Edelman, Suzanne Paola, and Shebooks co-founder Laura Fraser. Bestselling author of An Italian Affair, Laura’s Shebook is a collection of essays about Italian food called The Risotto Guru. Here’s our recent e-conversation.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Can you tell me how Shebooks came to be? Last I knew, you were a memoirist on the love-and-pasta beat.

As a writer, I’d been increasingly frustrated about how there are fewer venues for long-form journalism, it’s harder than ever to publish long books, and top-shelf magazines like the New Yorker, Harper’s, and the Atlantic keep ignoring women writers (70% of their bylines are men!). I was speaking at a journalism conference with my long-time friend and editor, Peggy Northrop–we’d worked together at Vogue, Health, More, Organic Style, Real Simple, Glamour, and other places where she’s been a top editor–when there was a panel of guys discussing the opportunities for long-form journalism with the short e-book model. I turned to Peggy and whispered, “It’s the same guys.” She whispered back, “Someone should do this for women.” And the lightbulbs went on.

I couldn’t agree with you more about the difficulties in traditional publishing, particularly for collections of essays. But is the short e-book model catching on? I’ve heard of Amazon Singles — but that’s about it. How do we know readers want (or will accept) these mini-books? Are they even “books” in the standard sense?

What initially made us interested in the short e-book model was The Atavist, which publishes one short e-book per month, and developed the model for creating a platform for long-form journalism in a world where there are fewer and fewer places to publish at a satisfying 7000-10,000 word length– a deep dive into a subject.

There was a huge need for the short e-book. What happened in the publishing world is that magazines devalued themselves by charging only $9.99 a year, or something far below production costs, in order to boost circulation and sell the numbers to advertisers. Consumers got used to paying next to nothing for journalism. The Internet, of course, made that situation worse, with places like the Huffington Post that pay zero, nada to writers. So people are used to getting short content for free. Meantime, there are fewer and fewer places to publish long-from journalism–the feature wells in women’s magazines are shrinking, great magazines like Gourmet have been put out of business (because that $9.99 model was not sustainable in a recession, as advertisers fled), and then, of course, the top-shelf magazines publish 70% male writers.

However, people will still pay money for a book. So the short e-book is the way to sell long-form journalism, short fiction, novellas, and collections of essays. Plus, with more and more of us reading on mobile devices, it’s a satisfying length. We’re all so busy that it makes sense to read a short e-book sometimes, particularly on a mobile device. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to curl up in bed with a long novel, but it’s great to read short e-books when you have less time.

Also, as someone who teaches writing, I can say that many memoirs ought to be about 100,000 words shorter than they are. People have great stories from their lives, but not necessarily stories that are long enough to be published as books. So you get a lot of really padded memoirs. Why not trim them down to a fast-paced, great read?

I certainly agree with that. Often even very good memoirs are just too long! The Liars Club – too long! great, but too long! Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – you too!

Looking at the launch group of Shebooks, I believe I see five fiction and six memoir/essay collections — no long-form journalism yet, right? What can we look forward to here?

We have a few long-form journalism pieces in the works, but it takes more time to develop these stories. We’re hoping to partner with some groups that fund investigative stories on issues that affect women, and we are actively soliciting more pieces.

For now, Shebooks are selling for $2.99 each. How will it work once the subscription model kicks in, and when will that be? This part is just as revolutionary as the short books — can you tell us how you came to this idea?

We come from the magazine world, so we know subscriptions are a good business model. Women are used to subscriptions to all kinds of things, from Weight Watchers to Bacon of the Month, and it makes a lot of sense for books–you can always have as many as you like at your fingertips, to browse when you’re getting on a plane or looking for something to read before bed. Our subscription service will be up in spring.

How will Shebooks compete with regular books for bestseller status? Or will they?

We’re a completely different publishing model. It’s kind of like how is the artisanal ice cream company that sells organic fig ice cream with walnuts or salted dark chocolate ice cream with almonds going to compete with Haagen-Dazs vanilla? There’s room for both, but some customers are going to become addicted to Shebooks because they’re so darn good. We’re all about quality, and about commissioning the best women writers out there to write original stories that you can’t get anywhere else.

We’ll create a little boutique reading environment in our reading app where you can go, close your eyes, and pick a book that you know will be a good read. We have years and years of experience in knowing what women like to read, understanding quality writing, and we’re bringing that to readers who crave it and don’t have the time to go through everything on Oyster or Amazon or ScribD to find it. We’re also providing short reads that fit women’s busy lifestyles. If you’re boarding a plane and want something to read from Chicago to Cleveland, just turn on your device and you’ll have plenty of great reads to choose from, and you really can’t go wrong.

Thanks, Laura. It will be fascinating to watch all this unfold — and how cool to be part of the avant garde.

This interview originally appeared on TheNervousBreakdown.com http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/mwinik/2014/01/interview-with-shebooks-editor-laura-fraser/