Friday, August 24, 2012

A Fistful of Collars

"Find what's original about you and put it into words..." That writing advice is from Spencer Quinn (aka Peter Abrahams), author of the clever and winning Chet and Bernie mystery series

When once asked how his first book in the series, Dog On It, came about, Quinn offered, "My wife said, 'How about doing something with dogs?' The basic building blocks came to me right there at the kitchen table: two detective pals; narration by the four-legged one; and all in the first person, which I'd never tried before in a novel. Plus the most important thing - Chet would not be a talking dog (or be undoggy in any way) but would be a narrating dog. Anything that thinks and has memory must have a narrative going on inside. I went to the office--over the garage, commuting distance fifteen feet--and wrote the first page. Then I wanted to know what happened next."

Thus emerged the creation of Chet, a dog who flunked out of K-9 School, and Bernie, his human private eye companion--a wounded war vet and ex-cop, who wears flashy Hawaiian shirts and is clueless about woman and money-matters--who join forces to find missing persons, bad guys and solve crimes.

In A Fistful of Collars, the fifth installment in the series, Chet and Bernie are paid to "babysit" Thad Perry, an often volatile, Hollywood heartthrob who is in the "Valley," an unnamed state in the Western U.S., to film a blockbuster movie. The town swirls with excitement, even anticipating an economic boom.  But after a few days on the job, both Chet and Bernie sense there is more to their detail than meets the eye. After a little sniffing around and digging, they discover that Thad might be keeping dark secrets about his past and his connection to the Valley. Was he involved in some sort of crime?  Was there a cover-up? Why does it appear as though the mayor's office is involved? The more Chet and Bernie learn, the more the suspense escalates until they find themselves in danger. 

Quinn has written another entertaining read with surprising plot twists. As in the other adventures of Chet and Bernie, what makes these novels even more endearing is how Quinn fortifies the mystery, weaving it with engaging, often very funny, subplots. In A Fistful of Collars, they include stories about Bernie's rocky romantic relationships and how his six-year old son longs to be a movie star. Adding to the appeal is the lovable, perceptive narrative voice of Chet - his loathing of Thad Perry's cat, Brando, his fondness for food and the great affection and loyalty that bonds him with his owner/companion.

Spencer Quinn discusses how he showed signs of a burgeoning author even in childhood

A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn
Atria Books, $25, Hardcover, 9781451665161, 320 pp
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer Family Sagas

The summer months may turn up the heat, but nowhere as profoundly as within extended families that come together to share vacation time. No matter the idyllic setting or good intentions, when loved ones gather, fireworks often ensue--making for some great drama on the page.

In The Red House by Mark Haddon, estranged British siblings Richard and Angela reunite at their mother's funeral. Afterward, Richard, a wealthy physician with a new wife and a wretched teenage daughter, invites Angela, her feckless husband and their three teenage children to his big country home in Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border. As the polyphonic narrative unfolds, the reader comes to realize that these eight people--with vastly different personalities, operating systems and agendas--have brought a lot more baggage with them than meets the eye.

Fourth of July weekend in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts is the backdrop for The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. Shared grief and mourning unite the Frankels--a large, mostly nonobservant Jewish-American family--as they gather for a weekend at their parents' vacation home to unveil the gravestone for their brother Leo, a journalist and adventurer killed in Iraq a year earlier. But once everyone is settled beneath the same roof, the memorial becomes shrouded by sibling rivalries and marital feuds in this story of love, loss and the true meaning of family in the aftermath of tragedy.

Catholic guilt, alcoholism and bad choices are the undercurrents that propel J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine. The story is told via the distinct viewpoints of three generations of women from the Irish-American Kelleher clan who assemble, with their respective families and significant others, for their annual summer retreat at a cottage set on three acres of Maine beachfront property. Over the course of a month, family secrets are gradually unveiled that probe the relationships between the women, blurring the line between love and anger. 

Note: This article is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this piece as published on Shelf Awareness for Readers (8/3/12), link HERE

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

Julia Child was 49 years old when she co-published her first book, the revolutionary Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The 734-page cookbook simplified haute cuisine, making it accessible for the American home kitchen. The book became a bestseller and transformed Julia Child into a culinary and cultural icon.

Over the next four decades, as the French Chef, Child became a much-beloved television personality and she authored and co-authored stockpiles of books. She lived to the ripe old age of 92, defying the perils of indulging in butter, sugar and cream.

Blogger Julie Powell sought inspiration for her life by channeling Julia Child in her own home kitchen in Julie & Julia. The book documents Powell's year-long quest to cook all 524 recipes found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

August 15, 2012 marks the centennial of Julia Child's birth, and a host of titles continue to explore Julia's life and reinvigorate her indelible legacy:

Nancy Verde Barr, an executive chef who worked as Julia's Child personal assistant for 18 years, penned Backstage with Julia: My Years with Julia Child, a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of America's most revered chef.

Before she died, Child gave her blessing to author Bob Spitz to write Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, a comprehensive bio that delves into the years when the independent, rebellious late bloomer finally discovered her true calling in life.

The union of Paul and Julia Child is the cornerstone of Child's posthumously published memoir, My Life in France, and of A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS by Jennet Conant, which details the couple's turbulent years as members of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and how they became caught up in the McCarthy spy hunt of the 1950s.

Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats by Patricia Barey and Therese Burson gives us an unusual montage of the chef via her feline companions. This compact, entertaining read is filled with personal photos and letters that document the role cats played in Julia's life as she moved from Paris to Provence, Cambridge to California.

And for kids ages four and up, Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates, dramatizes Julia Child's culinary beginnings through the eyes of her very first feline, Minette.  

Note: This article is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this piece as published on Shelf Awareness for Readers (8/14/12), link HERE

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Poem for a Summer Day

As a writer, I try to read a poem-a-day...So admiring of the form - the rich choice of words/imagery, the cadence, the compression of ideas.  It's not easy to write a great poem, but this one reads perfect!

Want to read a poem a day?  Check out THE WRITER'S ALMANAC with Garrison Keillor

In the Moment by Maxine Kumin

Some days the pond
wears a glaze of yellow pollen.

Some days it is clean-swept.
The trout leap up, feasting on insects.

A modest size, it sits
like a soup tureen in a surround of white

pine where Rosie, 14 lbs., some sort
of rescued terrier, part bat

(the ears), part anteater (the nose),
shyly paddles in the shallows

for salamanders, frogs
and little painted turtles. She logged                              

ten years down south in a kennel, secured
in a crate at night. Her heart murmur

will carry her off, no one can say when.
Meanwhile she is rapt in

the moment, our hearts leap up observing.
Dogs live in the moment, pursuing

that brilliant dragonfly called pleasure.
Only we, sunstruck in this azure

day, must drag along the backpacks
of our past, must peer into the bottom muck

of what's to come, scanning the plot
for words that say another year, or not.

"In the Moment" by Maxine Kumin, from Where I Live. © Norton, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jerome Charyn and BACK TO BATAAN

Author Michael Chabon (The Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) has called him, "one of the most important writers in American Literature."  Newsday has hailed him as "a contemporary American Balzac."  And the LA Times has described him as "absolutely unique among American writers."

Who is he? He's Jerome Charyn, an incredibly prolific, award-winning author who writes across genres and has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic far.

His latest undertaking is a novel of historical fiction, BACK TO BATAAN, an eBook (re-issued by Tribute Books) for middle grade readers (Grades 7-9): It's 1943 in New York City. Eleven year-old Jack Dalton is depressed and restless following the death of his father at Bataan (in the Philippines) during World War II.  Jack's mother is trying to keep body and soul together by working in a parachute factory and Jack, tossed aside by his girlfriend and left to his own devices, wants to enlist in the army.  When Jack finally runs away, he falls in with a gang of criminals.  This compact YA novel is filled with action, adventure and suspense.  To learn more, link HERE

Jerome Charyn was kind enough to chat about the book and share some of his ideas about the craft of writing.

Kathleen GerardThanks for joining us, Jerome.  You write across a realm of different genres, what excites you about connecting with different audiences? 
Jerome Charyn:  I’m not so sure that these are different audiences, I think we all love stories, whether we’re children or great-grandfathers and when you move from genre to genre you are still telling a story like Scheherazade and the king is always waiting for the next tale.

KGBACK TO BATAAN is a reissue of a print book, now being offered for the first time as an eBook.  Being a published author for nearly 50 years, what's your impression of digital books? 
JC: I think that this is a kind of logical step as we move from the internet into eBooks. Publishing is changing even as we speak. I think there now will be a more complicated dance between the eBook and the printed book, and as we’ve seen recently, successes in eBooks allow the author to move into print.

KGHow much of your own life is embroiled in BACK TO BATAAN? Did you personally experience New York during World War II?
JCI think so much of the source of my writing comes from my childhood, I grew up during the War - so many of the terrors and the magic of certain films have remained with me.  And all of this appears in the character of Jack.

KGIn reading the story behind this book, I understand that your brother was a detective. Did your experiences with him influence the plot of BACK TO BATAAN?
JCNot really, I think all writing is crime writing. And Back to Bataan is a crime novel with a very original twist.

KGIn the book, why did you decide to include a fascination with famous people - Gary Cooper, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc. - as an underurrent?
JCThese people were heroes to me as a child, particularly Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the most extraordinary women who ever lived, and of course as a child I fell in love with Gary Cooper’s face and with his very slow drawl, that seemed so exotic to me.

KGJack, the main character of the novel, finds acclaim through his writing, yet he feels guilty for exploiting the lives of other people on the page. How does a writer bridge this gap?
JCYou’re always cannibalizing other people and writers when you start to write, so it’s natural that Jack should be a young cannibal.

KGThe New York Times plays a significant role in this novel. How important is New York Times in your own life and is there any special reason why you decided to make it a form of connection in the life of Jack, the main character?
JCAs a child, I didn’t even know that the Times existed – I grew up in a neighborhood without newspapers and books, so that when I first fell upon the New York Times, I was very very greedy, and wanted to include it in Jack’s middle-class life.

KGYour writing is so precise, yet evocative - how do you work at crafting your unique style of prose?
JCEverything begins and ends with the word, with the music of the sentence and as Tolstoy once said, “I’m always composing.”

KG: What are your thoughts on the recent explosion and popularity of the YA genre?
JC: I think it might very well be that it started with Harry Potter, that young adult writers are trying to tell good stories and adults have moved into that kind of dream.

KGWhat advice would you give to young people who aspire to a literary career?
JC: It’s not worth the money – only write if you’re absolutely in love with it.

Well, there you have it, thoughts from Jerome Charyn, an acclaimed, dedicated writer who has made significant contributions to the literary community.  Reading Between the Lines thanks him for visiting and wishes him much continued success!  

Back to Bataan by Jerome Charyn
Tribute Books, $2.99, eBook, ASIN #B008DYK6C2, 101 pp
Publication Date: June 21, 2012
To order this book via AMAZON link HERE