Friday, October 31, 2014

Coffee with Authors in Nashville

Thanks to a friend we made while standing in line on Saturday morning, we were able to get into a packed event, Coffee with Authors at the Nashville Main Library. They did have a few slots for people without tickets. And, because it was listed as part of the Southern Festival of Books, we didn't even know we were supposed to have tickets.

Coffee with Authors was the National Reading Group Month Signature Event sponsored by WNBA (Women's National Books Association), Nashville Chapter. It was four authors in conversation with the moderator. The authors were: Nadia Hashimi (The Pearl That Broke Its Shell), Lily King (Euphoria), Ann Weisgarber (The Promise), and Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry). Mary Laura Philpott, author, editor, and freelance writer was the moderator.

Left to right - Hashimi, Zevin, Weisgarber, King

Philpott started by asking the authors about the seed of their books. Nadia Hashimi said The Pearl
That Broke Its Shell begins with Afghanistan. That's her family background, and she has cousins there. Families who only have girls do sometimes transform a daughter into a boy. She wanted to look at gender, and what it means to be a girl in Afghanistan.

Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry actually has overtones of George Eliot's Silas Marner, and the toddler he takes in. It's about a persnickety bookseller who finds a toddler who has been left in his bookstore.

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber is set in 1900, and involves the Galveston Island hurricane. The
island is twenty-seven miles long, and it was the worst U.S. natural disaster. But, no one has told about the rural end of the island. Weisgarber was haunted by the lost voices, the people whose stories were never told.

Lily King's Euphoria began in a bookstore. Her favorite bookstore in Portland, Maine, was closing, and having a close-out sale. She felt shell-shocked that it was closing, and felt she had to buy a book. So, she grabbed a biography of Margaret Mead. She was sucked in by the first ten pages. In 1933, Mead was in New Guinea with her second husband, and they weren't getting along. Then they met cultural anthropologist Gregory Bateson. It was love at first sight for all three. They spent five months together in an intense love triangle. They were open and honest about it.

The next question was about book clubs. What gets a conversation going? King said with Euphoria, members have had different feelings about the characters. There have been fights over the the behavior of the characters. What's right and wrong? There have been discussions about Western greed and the ideas of of science and expansion, Western contact with "the primitive".

Weisgarber said she only wrote the books. Readers have their own interpretation, and they side with one narrator or the other. She's seen some of the discussions become a little too personal, and she's seen them evolve into discussions of the readers' own wedding nights.

Zevin agreed, saying when book groups select a book, it allows them to put on masks, and they can discuss themselves while wearing masks.

Hishimi said her readers look at the relationships of the women in the book, and they're surprised that the women are not as supportive of each other as you would think in difficult situations. But, each situation is different for each person, and they're looking at their own life rather than how they could make a difference in the world.

What is their writing process? Zevin's first book came out ten years ago. She always pictured the process as an author on a divan, with candles all around, seducing herself into writing. Her actual process evolves with each book. She doesn't need to fall in love with things in order to write. She does extended dossiers on each character so she knows them, and it frees up the process.

Ann Weisgarber said she finds writing a pain, and will sometimes do everything she can to avoid writing, going so far as to mop the floor. When she's stuck, she goes to the library, and looks at all the books. Then she thinks, if those people can do it, so can I. She'll read the first pages of books. And, she'll often begin with "Once upon a time..." to get started.

Nadia Hashimi said she has to get away from home and distractions. So, this is the point when she says this book is brought to you by my good friends at Panera. She knows where all the outlets are there. She really makes writing a priority, and has to make it important.

Lily King's writing process was fascinating. She actually brought along her notebooks to show the audience. She gets up at 5:30 or 6 to get writing. That's the ideal time for her. She writes exactly as she did in high school when she took creative writing. She uses a spiral lined notebook, and writes by hand. She uses empty pages at the end for notes. She makes a timeline, and showed the timeline. She even keeps a wiring log, showing how much she wrote each day.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? For Nadia, it was recently, 2009-2010, when she was 31 or 32, and her husband said, "Why don't you just write a book?"

Gabrielle knew it when she was a toddler. Her grandmother gave her an IBM typewriter, and she liked to type. She came from a family of angry letter writers. She got her first job at fourteen thanks to a Guns'n'Roses concert. She dated a kid because he could take her to the concert, and then she broke up with him the next day. The newspaper panned the concert, and she wrote an angry letter is response. A couple weeks later, they contacted her to see if she wanted to write music reviews. She became the teen music critic. No one knows who is on the other side of a letter or a book.

Ann thought writers were born with a glow around them. As a child, she visited Paul Laurence Dunbar's home in Dayton, Ohio, and it did seem to glow. But, once on a trip to the Badlands, she came across a picture set in the 1940s, and it wanted to give her a story. She wrote three pages about that photo. Her husband read it. It's a bad sign when a reader can't make eye contact. He said something was missing. She worked on that story for four years. She continued her education taking creative writing classes. She was teaching sociology at the time, and grew bored with it. She spent seven years on one manuscript. It's liberating to not worry about it, but to write the best possible story. It was published first in the U.K. It's important to care about the story, and something glorious will happen.

Lily said she read July Blume as a child. Her best friend, Amy, told her she was writing a novel. And, Lily wanted to write a novel, too. So, she wrote twenty-four pages. She took creative writing in high school. And, then, one day, she was catching up with her old friend, Amy, and said, remember when you wrote that novel when we were in grade school? And, Amy didn't remember it at all.

Somewhere out there is a lovely woman from Nashville who said to us, just stick with me, and you'll get in. As I said, it turned out they were letting a limited number of people in without tickets, so we would have made it. But, I'm grateful for that momentary friendship that comes from standing in line together talking about life, that friendship that says, just stick with me, and you'll get in.


Kaye Barley said...

What a wonderful event! Oh, I would have loved this. And the new friend who so graciously invited you to stick with her. (I love that!)

Lesa said...

You would have loved it, Kaye, but I think you would have enjoyed the whole festival. It's just our kind of event. And that just shows what being kind does - Donna & I included her in our conversation, and talked with her because she was alone. And, then she included us.