We are counting down the days until November 5th and the release of Wimpy Kid 8: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney. To celebrate IndigoKids Blog is very excited to share with you an exclusive video by author Jeff Kinney, as well as a exclusive first look inside the new book.
Find out what's in store for Greg this time around and how he decides to cope with the biggest change of his life so far.
Jeff Kinney is a master at drawing scenes that appear simple, but say so much more. Enjoy this Indigo Exclusive sneak peek at Hard Luck.
Back in 1999, when I hadn’t been a bookseller for very long, I read a novel called Plainsong, by an American writer named Kent Haruf. I couldn’t remember reading a better novel of small town and family life – it was easily my favourite American novel that year, by a considerable margin. I did my best to handsell it, yet never felt I had done it justice.
Haruf was nominated for the National Book Award that year, only to lose to Ha Jin’s novel, Waiting. I hadn’t read Ha Jin, but still felt that the jury had got this one wrong. I felt Plainsong was a masterpiece, and deserved to win – and this year I read Haruf’s new novel, Benediction - and this novel, his first in eight years (getting things right takes time) and his third in his Holt, Colorado ‘series,’ if you can call it that – is even better.
I’ll keep my plot description brief: a Holt resident never before described by Haruf, 77 year old Dad Lewis, is dying of terminal cancer. His wife and his daughter are powerless to stop it – all they can do is minister to his last days and try to make him as comfortable as possible. There are other plotlines that revolve around other residents of Holt that do dovetail with Dad’s story, but they are secondary to the story of Dad’s family, which drives this narrative.
I could go on and on praising the honesty, grace and elegance of Haruf’s writing – as well as his pitch perfect depiction of small town life, and the fact that he conveys the drama of ordinary people’s lives and relationships better than any contemporary writer I know.
There are no gimmicks, no jokes, no frills – just naturalism and realism, all Haruf's energy spent on best conveying the way people honestly feel and talk in the situations that Haruf has put them in (hard ones) - and the payoff is considerable.
I recommended it to a colleague (handselling Kent Haruf again), and he seconded my opinion – and found one of the book’s central themes, buried in the story, not called out in any special way. One of the characters is having an evening walk through town, when the police pull up beside him & ask him what he’s looking at. His response is, “… the precious ordinary.” Haruf understands everyday life, and conveys its drama with grace and honesty.
I am not going too far out on a limb to say that you will put this book down occasionally because you need a second to take a breath, and compose yourself. That's at the minimum, emotionally - you may well be sobbing like a baby. I hear you doubters out there: “No; it’s very rare a book is going to make me weepy.” That may well be true, but in this case: wrong. You will think about Benediction after you put it down and turn the lights out - and you won’t just be thinking of the dignity of his characters or the power of the story.
You will also be thinking about the people in your own life, your successes and failures in those relationships, where you've been and what awaits you. This is perhaps a sign of truly powerful fiction - can it make you think about more than the plot and characters, does it have power to sadden you, to make you introspective? The answer for me, most often, is no. I generally don't read or gravitate to fiction that would provoke such a response, but nonetheless.
I wish this book were selling better. This review is essentially me trying to change that fact. Benediction is one of my favourites of the year; it deserves to be read, and widely. This is a well-crafted, honest, and serious book about death; but also about marriage, and about love; both paternal and romantic - and it will get under your skin.
“So gripping I wanted to rush through the pages, but so beautifully written I wanted to linger over every sentence. Hannah Kent’s debut novel is outstanding.”
— Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles
“Hannah Kent creates the atmosphere of rural Iceland in the 1800’s with flawless accuracy– a haunting read.”
— Chelsey Catterall, Indigo Bookseller
Burial Rites: a brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.
Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?
The Indigo Blog is pleased to share an excerpt from this moving and compelling new novel.
“Pabbi!” Steina’s voice rang down the corridor. “You’ll never guess who we have to keep locked up in our house!”
“Locked up?” Margrét twisted around to query her elder daughter, who had just bounced into the room. “Oh, Steina, you’re sopping.”
Steina looked down at her soaked apron and shrugged. “I dropped the buckets and had to go back and fill them up again. Pabbi, Blöndal’s forcing us to keep Agnes Magnúsdóttir in our home!”
“Agnes Magnúsdóttir?” Margrét turned to Lauga, horrified.
“Yes, the murderess, Mamma!” Steina exclaimed, untying her wet apron and carelessly flinging it onto the bed next to her. “The one who killed Natan Ketilsson!”
“Steina! I was just about to explain to Pabbi—”
“And Pétur Jónsson, Mamma.”
“Oh, Lauga, just because you wanted to tell them.”
“You ought not to interrupt—”
“Girls!” Jón stood up, his arms outstretched. “Enough. Begin from the start, Lauga. What happened?”
Lauga hesitated, then told her parents everything she could remember about the District Commissioner’s visit, her face growing flushed as she recited what she recalled reading in the letter.
Before she had finished, Jón began to dress again.
“Surely this is not something we are obliged to do!” Margrét tugged at her husband’s sleeve, but Jón shrugged her off, refusing to look at his wife’s distraught face.
“Jón,” Margrét murmured. She glanced over at her daughters, who both sat with their hands in their laps, watching their parents silently.
Jón pulled his boots back on, whipping the ties around his ankle. The leather squeaked as he pulled them tight.
“It’s too late, Jón,” Margrét said. “Are you going to Hvammur? They’ll all be asleep.”
“Then I’ll wake them.” He picked up his riding hat from its nail, took his wife by the shoulders and gently shifted her out of his way. Nodding farewell to his daughters, he strode out of the room, down the corridor and shut the door to the croft behind him.
“What shall we do, Mamma?” Lauga’s small voice came from a
dark corner of the room.
Margrét closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
After they decide I must leave, the Stóra-Borg men sometimes tie my legs together in the evening, as they do with the forelegs of horses, to ensure I will not run away. It seems that with each passing day I become more like an animal to them, another dull-eyed beast to feed
with what can be scraped together and to be kept out of the weather. They leave me in the dark, deny me light and air, and when I must be moved, they bind and lead me where they will.
They never speak to me here. In winter, in the badstofa, I could always hear myself breathing, and I’d get scared to swallow for fear the whole room might hear it. The only sounds to keep a body company then were the rustling of Bible pages and whisperings. I’d catch my
name on the lips of others, and I knew it wasn’t in blessing. Now, when they are forced by law to read out the words of a letter or proclamation, they talk as if addressing someone behind my shoulder. They refuse to meet my eyes.
You, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, have been found guilty of accessory to murder. You, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, have been found guilty of arson, and conspiracy to murder. You, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, have been sentenced to death. You, Agnes. Agnes.
They don’t know me.
I remain quiet. I am determined to close myself to the world, to tighten my heart and hold what has not yet been stolen from me. I cannot let myself slip away. I will hold what I am inside, and keep my hands tight around all the things I have seen and heard, and felt. The poems composed as I washed and scythed and cooked until my hands were raw. The sagas I know by heart. I am sinking all I have left and going underwater. If I speak, it will be in bubbles of air. They will not be able to keep my words for themselves. They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say “Agnes” and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.
Thanks to our friends at Hachette Books for facilitating this teaser.
Excerpted from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A startlingly original voice makes its literary debut with this wondrous coming-of-age story, infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, adventure, and fascinating, dreamlike twists: September’s Indigo Spotlight title is Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride.
Today the Indigo Blog is pleased to share an interview with this magical novel’s author, Yangsze Choo.
INDIGO FICTION BLOG (IFB): Has the pre-publication reaction to The Ghost Bride surprised you? On your blog, you mention being told that a good crowd for a new author is 10-20 people at an event, but it’s safe to say that The Ghost Bride has become a pretty big deal in the last few months. What’s it been like for you?
Yangsze Choo (YC): I was surprised and very grateful that there were so many wonderful mentions of the book, from Oprah.com’s Book of the Week, to Glamour and Good Housekeeping picks, among others. My mum was absolutely thrilled. She’s a die-hard Good Housekeeping fan and to her, it was the ultimate seal of approval! In terms of daily life, however, there hasn’t been much change other than to be a bit busier the last couple of weeks (I had to do 2 weeks’ worth of ironing this morning!).
I recently had my first book event and loved talking to readers and hearing from them. Everybody has so many interesting stories, particularly when we’re talking about ghosts and the fantastic, shadowy world of the Chinese afterlife!
IFB: In the novel, the cultural and historical diversity of Malacca is echoed in the afterlife and the spirit world – Li Lan encounters, for example, the ghost of a Dutch gentleman in her travels. What brought you to Malacca as the setting for the story?
YC: Malacca has such a colourful and interesting history as one of the great spice ports of the East, ruled successively by the Portuguese, Dutch and British with a large population of Chinese merchants since the Ming dynasty. From time to time there were local uprisings (some of the wells were repeatedly poisoned) and St. Francis Xavier’s body was also briefly interred there. I visited Malacca many times as a child, as my uncle used to live there, and always thought it was a fascinating place. In addition, when I was writing the book it was easier to document what Malacca was like in the late 1890s because there were more travelers’ accounts of it. Malacca is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I hope that many more people will come to know about it and perhaps even visit.
IFB: You craft a detailed and intricate world, full of sensual details. Food plays an important role – wedding feasts, the food of the dead – in the story as well as a descriptive one. You pair books and snacks on your blog – what snack would you suggest to go with The Ghost Bride?
YC: Ooh! My dream list of food to go with this novel would probably include Hainanese chicken rice, made with a nice country chicken, the fluffy grains of rice glistening with a sheen of shallot oil. I’d also recommend char kuay teow, flat rice noodles stir-fried in a cast-iron wok over a roaring gas inferno, ikan pari (skate) rubbed with chili paste and grilled on banana leaves with a squeeze of lime, and thick slices of white bread, toasted on a charcoal fire and liberally smeared with cold salted butter and kaya, a kind of custard made from caramelized eggs and coconut milk.
IFB: The Ghost Bride has been described a historical fantasy, a ghost story, a romance, literary fiction, even young adult – the story clearly sits in-between genres. Where would you place the novel, and what aspect of the story first drew you to write it?
YC: Yes, I sometimes feel a bit stumped too! But I love books that cross genres, like Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and many of Haruki Murakami’s novels, and this book probably combines elements from the sort of stories I like to read such as peculiar tales, historical fiction, and mystery novels.
In many ways, you could say it’s closest to the classic Chinese literary tradition of ghost stories that I was enthralled by as a child, where the supernatural mingles with daily life, beautiful women turn out to be foxes, and ghosts become drinking partners. A number of readers have compared my book to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away meets Neil Gaiman, which I’m very honored by, as I’m a huge Miyazaki fan! Perhaps you could call it a historical fantasy, or magical realism, since half the novel takes place in the elaborate Chinese world of the dead.
IFB: You’ve done a lot of research into folklore & mythology – was there anything that got left on the cutting room floor?
YC: The original idea for this book was a sort of Arabian Nights, in which there would be stories within stories as Li Lan travels from historic Malacca to the world of the dead. I imagined she would meet all sorts of strange characters and situations. However, when I first started writing it, I had no idea that there was a general word count for novels. Too late, I discovered that this is usually around 100k to 120k words, but not before I had cluelessly written 170k words - still with no ending in sight! In order to submit a reasonable manuscript to a literary agent, I had to cut out 50k words, including numerous descriptions of food, minor characters, and odd stories about animals and spirits. It was probably better for the novel as a whole, but perhaps one day I’ll be able to use them in another book!
Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be featured by Indigo, and if you’d like to hear more about eating and reading (both of which I do too much of), please come visit me at my blog http://yschoo.com/
- Yangsze Choo | August 20th, 2013
A startlingly original voice makes its literary debut with this wondrous coming-of-age story, infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, adventure, and fascinating, dreamlike twists: September’s Indigo Spotlight title is Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride.
The pure joy of soaring imagination and the weight of old, old truths are married in this enchanting tale of secrets and love in the Chinese afterlife. Take her hand and let the Ghost Bride guide you on a magical, unforgettable journey.
The Indigo Blog is pleased to share this blog from Yangsze Choo today, on the origins of her novel.
Why You Should Write That Book. Anyway.
I must confess that when my mother found out that I was writing a book about dead people and ghost marriages, she said plaintively "Why...why can't you write something *nice*?" I could only tell her that I thought it was an interesting story. Then I went away (rather guiltily) and continued writing whenever I could sneak some free time. Now, as much as I still listen to my mum, despite the fact that I’m quite middle-aged, I’m very glad that I didn’t heed her. Because if I had, it would be the second time that my book, The Ghost Bride, did not get written.
In fact, when I was still a university student struggling over what to do with my senior thesis, I’d wanted to write about the historical role of female ghosts in Asian culture. Thanks to a childhood spent reading far too many strange Chinese tales, I had always wondered: 1. Why was it that by and large, Asian ghosts seem so much more terrifying than Western ones and 2. Why were the worst ones all female? Clearly, it must be some sort of subconscious recognition that women were traditionally disempowered in Asian society, and perhaps this reflected their frustrations.
Unfortunately, I never did write that thesis because I chickened out, thinking that no one would ever employ me if they saw that on my resume (more fool me, because I later realized that nobody really cares what you write about for your thesis unless you’re going into academia)! Instead, I ended up writing a terrible dissertation about the economics of Chinese industrial townships, which was so mind-numbing that even I could hardly read it without feeling the urge to rush out of the library and buy myself a bag of Cheetos. Needless to say, I didn’t find any extra inspiration, besides gaining several pounds and permanently orange-stained hands.
However, I kept the idea of women and ghosts rattling around in the back of my head and they showed up in a number of short stories that I wrote. Years later, I started a novel about an elephant who was a detective. There were many reasons why this (though marginally better than industrial townships) was also not a good subject, but in the meantime, while I was doggedly researching my elephant book in the archives of our local Malaysian newspaper, I came across a sentence which alluded to the decline of spirit marriages amongst the Chinese.
“What is this?!” was my first reaction. Never mind that there wasn’t anything about elephants in the article. Then I realized that this must refer to the marriage of the dead. I’d vaguely heard of this before, since ghost stories are the weapon of choice for Chinese grandmothers, but this matter-of-fact reference was so intriguing that what began as a subplot for my elephant book took on a life of its own.
There’s actually a long Chinese literary tradition of strange tales set in the blurred borderline between spirits and humans, where beautiful women turn out to be shape-shifting foxes, and the afterlife is run like a monstrous parody of Imperial Chinese bureaucracy. It’s a very rich and curious mythology that I’d love to introduce readers to, especially since I think the prospect of being married off to a dead man touches on all sorts of fears for women - in addition to an arranged marriage, there’s family pressure and worse still, a bridegroom who’s actually dead.
My mother has now come around to the idea of the book. In fact, she read and loved it, which made me ridiculously happy (I need to figure out the secret behind maternal approval and apply it to my own kids). But most importantly, though it was sometimes a struggle, I enjoyed writing this novel. Far more than I ever connected with the economics of Chinese industrial townships. So whether you’re writing or reading, I’d like to encourage you to pursue what you find deeply interesting. And don’t eat too many Cheetos.
Thank you so much for having me on Indigo Spotlight. It’s been a pleasure and an incredible honour to be featured. For further suggestions about what to eat while you read, come visit my blog at http://yschoo.com!
-Yangsze Choo, August 1st 2013
Toronto’s David Gilmour returns with a new work of fiction that may be his best work to date. Extraordinary is a heart-rending novel about the end of life, family, and children – a gentle consideration of assisted suicide, but also a story about siblings – in the end, this is a novel about the extraordinary business of being alive.
The Fiction Blog is pleased to share this piece today from the author on the very personal inspiration behind his new novel.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a young man in a movie line up; he was a tall boy with a skinny neck and a scraggly beard. Very opinionated about everything. Politics, movies, the nature of feminine desire, you name it. Warming to his favourite subject (himself), he added, just as we parted ways—he to one theatre, I another—that most of the things he had done in his short life that he was supposed to be ashamed about, he wasn’t; that he wore, in fact, these disgraces like a badge of honour. Watching his dishevelled head disappear into the movie crowd, I thought, well, he’s still a pup: life has not shown him its claws yet; but soon enough it will.
But I also found myself thinking about him later that night in a restaurant and I realized we were not so unalike. That perhaps we shared this ingredient, of not eating it when you’re supposed to: in my case, giving a bullying French teacher a good hard shove in the ribs in grade ten when he stepped over the lines of decent reprimand (for which I was suspended). They were acts you were supposed to be ashamed of, but I wasn’t. Like my talkative friend in the line-up, sometimes I’ve been a bad boy and been proud of it.
But not always. I am stained by a few unfixable events – and what makes them unfixable is the big fixer, the ultimate arranger of human affairs: death.
Let me speak for a second about my late sister, Stephanie S. A half-sister really, fifteen years older than I. She divorced a dreary husband, went to Mexico to resume her talents as a painter, tripped on a carpet at a cocktail party three weeks after arriving and broke her neck against the side of the fireplace. No booze involved. She returned to Canada a paraplegic, virtually unable to move her arms. A great tragedy, one that for me makes it difficult to believe in a relevant God.
She took an apartment up in Toronto’s Thornclifffe park, one of those tall white buildings in a treeless lot. And there she lived with her young daughter for a number of years until a medical accident took her away.
I lived downtown at the time, an unemployed semi-interesting, blossoming alcoholic who, for reasons that haunt me to this day, never found much time for his sister. I went to visit occasionally; I brought a bottle of vodka, gave her too much to drink and then sometime after midnight wobbled off back downtown. See you next week, I’d say. Of course I didn’t see her the next week; or the week after. Eight, nine months might go by. Looking back on that time I must have felt that I’d miss something downtown—a girl, a party, a conversation where someone would say, you’re just the man we’ve been looking for.
Very little happened and every so often I’d look towards the top of the city where she lived and think, I really should get up there and pay a visit; take her out to dinner; watch a movie with her.
But I didn’t. It was a twenty minute bus ride but somehow it always seemed too far to go. Too far to the side of things -- although I can’t think now what those things might have been. I assumed I had all the time in the world. But I didn’t. And one night she went into the hospital for a regular check up, cheated a little bit with her sleeping pills, slipped into a coma and died.
For nearly forty years now I’ve been thinking of all those visits I didn’t make; phone calls I didn’t make; dinners I didn’t have. In a word, that’s why I finally sat down and wrote Extraordinary. To expiate, to allow myself the imagining of a whole evening, just the two of us, this funny, clever, observant woman who still haunts me, who has, unwittingly I’m sure, left behind an unfinished conversation. An eternally unfinished conversation. For the dead, it would seem, have always the last word.
Thanks to Harper Collins and to David Gilmour himself for sharing this piece.
From the moment I picked up Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist, I was engrossed. The concept of chalk drawings that come to life to either protect or kill you is unique and exciting. Joel is a young man who wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatist and have the ability to control these chalk creatures. But he cannot. All he can do is to study the teachings and dream of actually using them--at least until fellow students disappear under mysterious circumstances and his curiosity and need to discover the truth pull him into the investigation.
I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced magical action, as well as Sanderson’s plot twists and turns. I’m sure you will, too. I cannot wait to find out what Book Two will bring.
Please welcome bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, who kindly agreed to answer some questions about this fabulous new series.
IndigoTeenBlog (ITB): I hate to be cliché, but my first question is where did the idea for The Rithmatist come from? You have created such a unique world I would love to know what inspired it and you.
Brandon Sanderson (BS): Any given book for me actually has more than one inception point, which makes it hard for me to discuss where the ideas come from. Books come from a lot of cool ideas bouncing around in my head until some of them stick together.
For The Rithmatist, one idea came from “a Muggle at Hogwarts.” What would happen to the boy who got to go to the magic school but didn’t have any magic talent himself?
I look to extrapolate magic. For example, if chalk magic really existed, what would people do with it? We have turned everything in our world into a game. Look at any type of warfare and you’ll find a game version of it. People shoot skeet. People fence. Any type of art has been transformed into some kind of a game. Look at Pictionary and Scrabble. Look at storytelling. We sit around the campfire and one of us starts a story and another person continues it. Whatever it is we do, we entertain ourselves by playing games with it.
When I realized I’d never come across any game-style magic, that spiralled me off into the chalk magic, which is basically kids playing a video game with chalk, but of course, there are more dangerous implications.
ITB: Joel, the main character, is a regular person and wants nothing more than to have the gift of being a Rithmatist. It is somewhat rare to find protagonists who don’t have some sort of special power. What made you go down this road and keep Joel super-power-free?
BS: I’d created non-magical characters before. Elend in the Mistborn books isn’t an Allomancer when we meet him and there are other side characters who are like that. But at the end of the day, I’d never told a story about a main character who lived in a magical world and was separate from it. That conflict was interesting to me. When I create characters, I look for conflict. This conflict was different from the stories I’d already told, so it felt like the right way to take Joel.
ITB: Do you enjoy math and geometry? I have to say some of the lines reminded me of times in a classroom I don’t really want to remember.
BS: I actually find math strangely fun. I never sit down and say, “I want to do a math problem!” But when one is presented to me and I’m working on it, suddenly I find it fascinating. I was always engaged in math class, but I didn’t enjoy the busywork. Figuring out one type of math problem was always fun to me. But when there was a sheet of twenty of them? Come on! I’ve already figured that out. I don’t want to do that anymore. But of course, you would have to in order to get good at the skill. That’s what eventually drove me out of chemistry and into English. The idea of doing the same math problems over and over again until I got perfect at them was nowhere near as fun as writing stories—even bad ones—over and over again until I got good at storytelling.
ITB: Can you tell us a little bit about the Chalklings, what they are, how you came up with them and why they are so dangerous?
BS: When I was developing The Rithmatist, the original idea was about drawing things with chalk and then playing a game with them. But I wanted there to be more to it than that. I wanted to integrate the magic into the world. I started looking at chalk drawings and sketches, and one image that stood out to me were the petroglyphs I would often see in southern Utah when I would go on trips with a photographer friend of mine. These Native American drawings fascinated me, and they worked with the history of the world I was creating, so I blended it together with the chalk magic. I can’t tell you too much more without spoiling the book, but that’s where I went with it.
ITB: You show hints of steampunk elements, the lights that have to be wound, Inspector Harding's horse, and the train. Will we see more of this aspect in future books?
BS: I wrote The Rithmatist back in 2007 when steampunk wasn’t as much a part of the collective unconscious as it is now. It’s been a lot of fun to release the book during at time when steampunk is more widely recognized. The whole spectrum of steampunk is awesome, from regular steampunk to dieselpunk, though I don’t consider myself part of the steampunk movement because I’m not well read enough to truly be adding to the dialogue there.
The whole idea of taking some sort of classical technology and extrapolating it a different direction really gets those creative—pardon the pun—gears working in my head. So, yes, we’ll definitely see more of these elements, though technically what I’m doing is a subset of stumpunk called gearpunk.
ITB: I love Melody. She is a wonderful character who loves unicorns and whose life is so very tragic. Is she based on someone in the real world?
BS: Melody isn’t based on someone in real life. It’s rare when one of my characters is. Melody is an amalgamation of my experience of trying to build someone who feels real and alive. It’s hard for me to explain where my characters come from. I plan out my plots and worlds, but my characters grow organically as I work on the book and try out scenes with them, and then I delete those scenes and try new ones, until I cast the right person in the role, so to speak.
ITB: Professor Fitch is a very interesting character. On the one hand he is a fabulous, if somewhat absent-minded teacher, on the other he is an artist with his defences. Did you plan him like this or did this duality develop during writing?
BS: Fitch’s character came very early in the writing process. One of the first things I wrote was the scene where Joel watches Fitch defend himself. His character grew out of that and the plot I was building. I wanted part of the story about Fitch to be behind the scenes. He’s one of the main protagonists. He just doesn’t have any viewpoints. His arc is one of my favorites in the book. He’s one of those characters that came as a pleasant surprise. I wrote that first chapter and said, “There’s depth to this guy.” He came alive and became a big part of the story.
A trope in YA and middle grade—that I understand and accept, but that I don’t necessarily like—is adults being unable to do anything because if the adults are there, they solve the problems, and then the kids can’t. This has always made me think, can I do something where I’m not removing the adults from the equation nearly as much? Certainly, the teens need to be involved and doing things, but in both The Rithmatist and the Alcatraz books, I’ve striven to not make the adults incompetent but to make them characters rather than caricatures.
ITB: What does an average day look like for you? Do you have a writing routine or do you wait for the muse to strike? And do you outline or does the story come while you write?
BS: I work until about 4:00 a.m., and then I don’t wake up until noon. The job I do lets me have the weirdest sleep schedule ever, because sometimes I sleep for three hours and get up and work again and then go back to bed. An average day for me is two 4-to-6-hour writing blocks during this time. In each, I try to write at least 1,500 words, and I am somewhat goal based. For my writing environment, I write in my bedroom. I have a treadmill desk that I walk on while I type a lot of the time. It’s not like I’m getting any real exercise because it’s moving about one mile per hour, but it’s good for getting me moving and not just sitting there. I also have an easy chair that I sit in when I’m not at the treadmill desk.
I get done at about 5:30, and I go out and play with my kids and hang out with my family and do all the stuff that dads and husbands do, then I put my kids to bed, hang out with my wife for a bit, then usually go back to work at about 9 or 10 and get my second block.
I am a writer who works from an outline. What I generally do when I build an outline is I find focal, important scenes, and I build them in my head and I don’t write them yet, but I build towards them.
ITB: If you couldn’t be a writer what would you be?
BS: I have a Masters in English, so becoming a professor was always a backup. I don’t know if I’d be a good professor, but that’s what realistically would’ve happened. If something had forbidden me at age sixteen to ever go into writing, I like to think I would’ve found my way into the visual arts.
ITB: The Rithmatist has nerve-wracking ending that kept me on the edge of my seat. It was unexpected and had a very cool twist. Is there anything you can share about what is in store for Joel and Melody? And how long will I have to wait to find out for myself?
BS: I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much. I am working on a sequel. I’ve actually started the outline for it, but it’s hard to promise when it will come out. Ideally I like to release books one year apart, which is what I’m shooting for, but I have to write the book first. I’m going to take us to a new location for the second book and there’s going to be lots of fun involved. Joel and Melody are going to train as a team where they’ll have to learn to work together, and it won’t be easy on either one of them.
Big thanks to Brandon Sanderson for taking the time and recording his answers to our questions. Thanks also to Raincoast for their assistance.
Sahar Delijani’s debut novel, Children of the Jacaranda Tree, is a compelling biographical novel, perfect for fans of Khaled Hosseini, or anyone looking for a great book club selection.
Neda is born in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for a few months before the arms of a guard appear at the cell door one day and, simply, take her away. In another part of the city, three-year-old Omid witnesses the arrest of his political activist parents from his perch at their kitchen table, yogurt dripping from his fingertips. More than twenty years after the violent, bloody purge that took place inside Tehran’s prisons, Sheida learns that her father was one of those executed; that the silent void firmly planted between her and her mother all these years ago was not just the sad loss that comes with death, but the anguish and the horror of murder.
Set in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011, this stunning debut novel follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers—some related by blood, others brought together by the tide of history that washes over their lives. Finally, years later, it is the next generation that is left with the burden of the past and their country’s tenuous future as a new wave of protest and political strife begins.
“Delijani’s gripping novel is a blistering indictment of tyranny, a poignant tribute to those who bear the scars of it, and a celebration of the human heart’s eternal yearning for freedom.”
-Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns
A question I have been asked very often regarding my novel, Children of the Jacaranda Tree, is why I have chosen this title. Why jacaranda tree? Why children? How are the two connected to each other? Who are the children of the jacaranda tree?
Many thought jacaranda trees are typical of Iran, spreading their branches laden with flowers over us as they have watched us build our history brick by brick over centuries. Others thought it was a tree I had grown up with, filling my childhood memories with its perfume, giving body to what I thought I had forgotten.
Yet, the truth is that jacaranda trees are quite rare in Iran and do not exist in Tehran. They are tropical trees blooming in cities such Sydney, Buenos Aires, Marrakech, and Lecce. They need a certain climate to grow and flourish, and Tehran being a city surrounded by mountains does not have the proper temperature. However, one day my grandmother told me that she had once wanted a jacaranda tree. We were in California by then, far away from her little garden in the heart of Tehran where she spent hours taking care of her trees and flowers. We were watching television and at a certain point, we saw an image of a jacaranda tree. I do not remember what the program was, but I remember how my grandmother’s face lit up seeing the tree. She told me she had tried to plant the tree in Tehran, but the young tree could not survive the cold pollution of the city. At the time, I did not know anything about jacaranda trees, so I did not ask my grandmother where and how she got the seeds, how she knew it was indeed a jacaranda tree she was planting in that little garden she loved so much. My grandmother passed away years ago and I never got to ask her these details.
And yet, that image of the tree and her illuminated face stayed with me. Years later, when I was writing my novel on the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, the jacaranda tree that my grandmother never had gradually began to take a symbolic form for me. The revolution too was like my grandmother’s tree. There was so much hope behind it. All those who participated in it believed it would one day be a tall beautiful tree, with pink and purple flowers, its perfume accompanying their every step. But the revolution never realized its potentials; it never became what it was envisaged to be. It was led astray before carrying out its promises to those who had risked everything to make it happen. The revolution like my grandmother’s jacaranda tree never bloomed. Hence, the children of the jacaranda tree are the children of the revolution. The children of those who had believed in the revolution, fought for it, but in the end fell victim to it, thousands of them paying for their struggle with their lives.
Thanks to our friends at Simon and Schuster Canada for facilitating this blog, and of course to Sahar Delijani herself for writing it.
Who is Alex Woods? He’s a survivor, a smart alec, and a very good friend. He’s honest, determined, and has a sense of honour that seems almost bizarre in these days of flexible ethics.
He’s the hero of Gavin Extence’s endlessly surprising debut novel, The Universe Versus Alex Woods. On the surface, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is an extremely conventional coming of age tale, with a young, friendless boy meeting a mentor by accident, and the two of them teaching and helping one another. But Extence has created a richly populated, detailed, and remarkably quirky world for his hero to survive.
And surviving isn’t easy. To begin with, Alex is hit in the head by a meteorite (here Alex himself would correct me – when it hit him it was a meteor. When he picked it up off the floor it was a meteorite), and when that doesn’t kill him he has to deal with epileptic episodes, and bullies who have made him their favourite target. The universe really is out to get him, but try as it might, it’s unable to extinguish his curiosity or his – I struggle for the right word - his optimism isn’t quite right, more like his persistence. Alex just keeps on keeping on.
And what will reading it be like? Alex has an unforgettably original voice, different from, but as memorable as Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Don in The Rosie Project, or Flavia de Luce in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. His view of the world is refreshing and endearing without being cloying or sentimental. And while The Universe Versus Alex Woods can be light and fun, Extence doesn’t shy away from the reality of life, growing up and growing old, and the pain that comes with living in the world. What Alex and Mr. Peterson go through in the last third of the book has the same maturity and depth of feeling that Rachel Joyce poured into The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
But The Universe Versus Alex Woods really takes off when Alex meets Mr. Peterson, the stereotypical cranky hermit who lives at the other end of the village. Mr. Peterson introduces him to the works of a certain Mr. Vonnegut, and after that, well, I don’t want this review to get too spoiler-y, so for more plot you’ll just have to read it.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods is, in a way, ideal summer reading for a family. The questions it raises are perfect fodder for summer evening conversations about how to live a life, and how to approach the end of it. Take the time and get to know Alex Woods. He’s a friend you’ll be glad to have.
It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to their Uncle Tinsley in Virginia.
Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for the town mill’s foreman – a man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her older sister – but when school starts, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz.
Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices. The Indigo Blog is pleased to present this interview with the author.
Indigo Blog (IB): The Silver Star is your first purely fictional work – how did writing this novel differ from writing your memoir, The Glass Castle, or your true-life novel, Half Broke Horses?
Jeannette Walls (JW): Writing fiction and non-fiction are very different process – yet at heart, sort of similar. In both cases, you’re looking to get as close as possible to what is true. But with non-fiction, you keep asking yourself, what really happened? With fiction, you keep asking yourself, what would happen? So it’s the difference between looking for answers outside and looking for answers inside.
IB: Will readers find themes from The Glass Castle in The Silver Star?
JW: Oh, yeah. I think so. There are a lot of similarities – taking on the bullies, wacky adults, kids making adult decisions when the adults fail to come through – but I hope the readers also find a lot that’s new.
IB: Both Liz and Bean spend time reading in The Silver Star – how do you think their respective reading lists influenced these characters?
JW: Bean and Liz are very different readers. Liz is a more astute reader who is inspired by what she reads, whereas Bean isn’t drawn to books and would rather be out throwing snowballs or picking blackberries.
IB: From which works of literature did you draw inspiration when writing this novel?
JW: I don’t know if I’d say that any book inspired the writing of The Silver Star, but To Kill a Mockingbird was definitely a touchstone.
IB: The Silver Star is full of dividing lines – of age, of class, of gender and of race. How does the importance of these lines change for the characters, as they mature?
JW: Liz is highly sensitive to society’s dividing lines, and she uses them to distance herself from others, thinking she’s protecting herself, when in fact, she’s only isolating herself and making herself more vulnerable. It’s only when she hits bottom that she’s able to reach out and find others like her.
Bean’s a good kid, but she’s not highly sensitive to the many dividing lines that society has drawn. As she grows older and learns more about the world, she comes to understand how very important these distinctions are to others – and how ridiculous and even destructive they can sometimes be.
IB: Liz and Bean are going to high school during a period of racial integration. Why did you choose to write the novel during this time period and how does the experience of racial integration impact the book?
JW: While Liz and Bean are grappling with the question of doing the right thing in school and in court, the entire town of Byler is also wrestling with the issue of doing the right thing in terms of race.
IB: There are some big life lessons in The Silver Star. Which of these did you find the hardest to learn when you were growing up?
JW: That taking on bullies means that from time to time, you’re going to get the tar kicked out of you.
IB: Are you working on another book now, or do you have one in mind?
JW: I got nothing left to say. But that’s what I said after I finished my previous book, so you shouldn’t take anything I say too seriously.
Thanks to our friends at Simon and Schuster Canada for providing this Q & A.