This week, two authors with exciting new releases appeared in my area, and I made the effort to break out of my usual routine (sit at desk, then sit on couch) and attend. I'm so glad I did, because both events were a ton of fun!
First, Charlie Jane Anders visited Google to talk about her wonderful ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY, which I raved about last month. She read a well-chosen excerpt that introduces readers to the characters, the San Francisco setting, and the Caddy, an artificially intelligent smartphone-like device that plays an important role in the story. Since Google is likely to develop any such technology, the audience was delighted by the appropriate and funny selection.
In the interview that followed, Anders talked about building the world of the novel, which incorporates both science fiction and fantasy. When the interviewer asked which of those she'd prefer if could only have one, Anders said she'd rather live in a world with magic, provided she could be one of the witches. They discussed the decision to set the book in San Francisco, the deleted scenes she's been posting online, literary influences, and the guest list for her ideal author dinner party (Kurt Vonnegut, Doris Lessing, and Michael Chabon).
This event was filmed and is available online, so you can enjoy the reading and conversation as well.
The following evening, Helen Simonson appeared at Kepler's as part of her book tour for the just-released THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR. I started reading the book while waiting for the event, and I was immediately curious about the entertaining cast of characters in an English seaside town right before World War I begins.
Simonson's excellent first novel, MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND, is charming and funny, so it was no surprise to discover the same description applies to the author. She was interviewed by Tracy Guzeman, author of THE GRAVITY OF BIRDS, and the discussion was fascinating.
Simonson talked about the terror of writing a second novel after the astonishing success of her debut. She faced this terror by setting herself an even bigger challenge, working with multiple points of view, a historical setting, and the high stakes of war. The book is set in her Sussex hometown, but she's lived in the US for 30 years, which she feels gives her the necessary distance to write about the place she grew up. Her novels start with characters and no solid plot in mind, so she writes to see what story develops, always trying "to zag when expected to zig". Simonson confessed that her writing process is one of avoidance and that she often stays away from the keyboard for days, but she's realized important story work happens in her head as she procrastinates and that she's more comfortable thinking things out before committing them to the page. This "creative procrastination" seems to work just fine for her, and I'm eager to read more of the new novel.
I hope to continue getting myself to author events when the opportunity arises. I'm looking forward to a big event in a couple of months, the second Bay Area Book Festival, which will be June 4 and 5 in Berkeley. I had a great time last year and am waiting with interest to see this year's schedule of events in a few weeks. For now, there's a sneak peek available, and guests include Charlie Jane Anders, Sherman Alexie, Jonathan Lethem, and many more.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ At Literary Hub, Ed Tarkington describes his journey to publication in How I Gave Up On The Great American Novel And Got A Book Deal: "All the arch cleverness and literary pyrotechnics in the world are worth nothing if you aren't willing to put a little blood on the page--or a lot. For so long I’d been afraid to be vulnerable, to strip away the artifice and get down to the truth of what matters to me, to stop worrying about being cool and write from a space of deep longing, a place rooted in memory and desire and, above all, love. I'm not afraid of that any more."