The writer Leah Stewart has just announced a contest meant specifically for book clubs. Forty-eight writers — including me — have offered 10 copies of a book, and 4 book clubs will win enough books to keep them going for a year (12 books, 10 copies each). Winners will also have the option of having the author call in when the book is discussed.
I have some personal favorite authors on this list, including Miriam Gershow (THE LOCAL NEWS), Dean Bakopoulus (MY AMERICAN UNHAPPINESS, forthcoming), Julia Glass (I SEE YOU EVERYWHERE) and Benjamin Percy.
On the list you’ll find novels, memoirs, and story collections, several of which aren’t even out yet. Among the writers are award winners, bestsellers, and Oprah, Target, and IndieNext picks. Over the next several days Leah will be featuring them individually on her Facebook page. In the meantime, please look through the list below, check out the websites, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The contest closes at 5 p.m. EST on Friday, July 2. There are three ways to enter, and you can use them all, (though please don’t use #1 or #3 more than once):
1) Comment on or like Leah’s post on Facebook.
2) Tweet or retweet info on our writers and the contest (you can use the link http://bit.ly/90QmVW). So that Leah can find your entry, be sure to include the hashtag, #yearofbooks.
3) Join the book club contest’s mailing list for information on future publications and promotions here.
You do not have to be in a book club to enter, although if you win it would certainly be a good time to start one. If you are in a book club, encourage other members to enter to increase your club’s chances of winning.
The books range from literary fiction to beach reads, and everything in between:
Husband and Wife, by Leah Stewart
The House on Fortune Street, by Margot Livesey
The One That I Want, by Allison Winn Scotch
I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass
Love in Mid Air, by Kim Wright
Diamond Ruby, by Joseph Wallace
Good Things I Wish You, by A. Manette Ansay
The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard, by Erin McGraw
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, by Kevin Wilson
Miles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun
Disaster Preparedness, by Heather Havrilesky
@hhavrilesky, http://www.rabbitblog.com/, http://www.salon.com/entertainment/tv/heather_havrilesky/index.html
Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel
Real Life & Liars, by Kristina Riggle
The First Husband, by Laura Dave
Good Enough to Eat, by Stacey Ballis
Refresh, Refresh, by Benjamin Percy
How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed, by Theo Nestor
The Truth About Delilah Blue, by Tish Cohen
A Maze of Grace, by Trish Ryan
The Embers, by Hyatt Bass
The Last Will of Moira Leahy, by Therese Walsh
@theresewalsh, http://theresewalsh.com/, http://writerunboxed.com/
Life After Yes, by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Not Ready for Mom Jeans, by Maureen Lipinski
After You, by Julie Buxbaum
The Lost Girls, by Amanda Pressner, Holly Corbett, & Jennifer Baggett
Exley, by Brock Clarke
The Seven Year Switch, by Claire Cook
Stay, by Allie Larkin
Pug Hill, by Alison Pace
The Opposite of Me, Sarah Pekkanen
The Transformation of Things, by Jillian Cantor
Out of the Shadows, by Joanne Rendell
Love Stories in This Town, by Amanda Eyre Ward
Trophy, by Michael Griffith
Miss Me When I’m Gone, by Philip Stephens
I’ve just been forwarded an advanced copy of Booklist’s review of STILTSVILLE. It’s great! I’m so pleased. Here it is:
Frances Ellerby travels from Georgia to Miami for a wedding and meets the two people who will change her life. One is the glamorous, sexy Marse, a native of Miami, who introduces her to the two great loves of her life: her husband, Dennis, and the sun-drenched landscape of Biscayne Bay. The author’s organization of the story into seven sections, each of which recounts a seminal year in Miami history and Frances’ life, is a surprisingly successful technique for creating suspense in a book characterized by lushly descriptive and complex writing. The first-person narration provides a vivid look at the characters important to Frances as she becomes a deeply involved wife, mother, and friend. Perhaps the most important character in the story is the city of Miami, which always looms large in Frances’ consciousness until the bittersweet ending of her story—an ending that could have been melodramatic and maudlin but is written with great delicacy and discretion. This promising first novel will appeal to readers of family stories, literary fiction, and southern writing.
I’ve been anxiously awaiting Publishers Weekly’s review of STILTSVILLE, so I’m very pleased that it was so positive. I am pretty sure nothing about me has ever been called exquisite.
Susanna Daniel, Harper, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-0619-6307-0
With its lush flora and constant sun, South Florida is the true star of Daniel’s exquisite debut, which follows a marriage over the course of 30 years. In 1969, having traveled from Atlanta to Miami for a college friend’s wedding, 26-year-old Frances Ellerby meets glamorous Miami native Marse Heiger, who introduces her to Dennis DuVal and his house on stilts in Biscayne Bay. Though Marse has set her cap for Dennis, he and Frances fall in love and marry within a year. “I had no idea then,” Frances says, “what would happen to my love, what nourishment it would receive, how mighty it would grow.” Dennis and Frances have a daughter, Margo, buy a house in Coral Gables, and their life together proceeds as a series of ups and downs, beautifully told from Frances’s pensive, sharp perspective. As the years pass and Miami changes, so do Frances, Dennis, and Margo, and the nuances of their relationships shift and realign, drawing inexorably toward a moving resolution. (Aug.)
What should a fiction writer sacrifice for factual accuracy?
Hurricane Andrew was the focus of the discussion that started this three-part saga. In writing about Andrew, I relied on memory and research both. Both memory and research, though, are sometimes faulty. Whether I was wrong about being in the eye of Andrew or not (I still don’t quite know — I think it depends on whether the house in the novel is north or south of the Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, which is a difference of blocks, and which wasn’t noted in the novel), I would say that this was not, ultimately, one of my writing sins, since the eye did pass over the area at large.
But it’s a good example of a writing sin of another kind — the sin of including something that tears a reader out of the story and sets him to scratching his head instead of continuing to the next page. We don’t want that, and we should do what we can to avoid it.
Recently I read a review of a novel that featured some sort of weaponry — I don’t recall what type, and I didn’t notice when reading the book that the weaponry, according to the reviewer, would never have been used in the situation of the novel. That author lost the fraction of readers who actually know about that stuff, maybe. Maybe the loss, in this case, wasn’t terribly huge — but I bet if someone had brought the inaccuracy about the weaponry to the author’s attention during the revision process, she would have changed it immediately.
It’s not that writers don’t care about detailed accuracy — it’s that our knowledge is limited. We research, yes, but often we don’t even realize what we should double-check. We skim over a sentence and find it absent of flags, and we move on.
However, I think most writers would admit that they would, in some select instances, after giving it a good amount of thought, sacrifice a few intimately knowledgable readers for the many who don’t quite know the world as fully, and might be less inclined to notice a wayward detail. It’s a contradiction, because in most ways the readers who know your world intimately are the ones writers crave and appreciate the most, as if they are reading your work on several levels. But, still.
For example: I had doctors read my book to check the medical stuff. One of them said to me, “This wouldn’t happen, medically, but most people wouldn’t know that. And I think you should leave it in, because it’s beautiful.”
After some thought, I ended up writing around it (which means I did a little writing to acknowledge the problem on the page), but I left it in. I’m not saying it was the right thing to do, but that’s what I did. Because ultimately I agreed with the doctor friend — it was beautiful, and it was true to my characters and their relationship.
Do I cringe when I think of the readers who will be jarred by the details I got wrong, intentionally or unintentionally? Yes. Take the above not as an excuse, but as an open apology, and a promise that, if I may boldly speak for others, writers don’t mean to make these kinds of mistakes, and we will continue to try our best not to.
Using true-life settings in made-up books. With examples and a quiz!
In some novels, what comes from the author’s experience is not character or plot, but setting. This might seem obvious, but a lot of writers depend much more heavily on the places they’ve been than on replicating the circumstances of their lives. The schools and homes and roller skating rinks and ice cream parlors and boat marinas and city halls of their experiences are, often, the landmarks of their novels.
Which begs the question that I think confronts every writer at one point or another: How close to the facts should fiction stick?
I’m not talking about historical novels, which it goes without saying should be pretty darn close, or even re-imagined historical novels (I’m thinking of Ian McEwan’s excellent ATONEMENT, which is an imagined story deeply entwined with an historical event). I’m talking about novels that are not heavily reliant on historical events, but happen against a true-life backdrop.
I’m talking about being true to setting, which includes place and period.
Here’s an example. (This is not an example from my writing.)
Let’s say your novel is set in Florida City, Florida, in 1999. Your main characters, two brothers, live in a duplex on Thelma Terrace, and in their backyard is a hammock that swings between black walnut trees, and there’s an easement on the property that cuts through the backyard of a gas station that’s been closed for years, and at the far end of that lot there’s a creek where the characters sometimes wade on hot days. And let’s say they wade in this creek, together, on July 4th of that year.
Next, a quiz! There are no wrong answers.
Now let’s say you have a reader who lives in Florida City, and has lived there all her life. She knows Thelma Terrace. It’s a one-block residential street lined with banyans — but there are no duplexes on Thelma.
Is this changed detail a fact-and-fiction sin? Was it a mistake to include it?
Now, let’s back up. Let’s say there ARE duplexes on Thelma — the block is full of them, actually, but there are no black walnut trees there. In fact, there are no black walnut trees in Florida City. In fact, there are no black walnut trees in all of South Florida!
Is this detail a fact-and-fiction sin?
Now let’s say you’ve changed black walnut trees to mangrove trees, so you’re safe there. But let’s say there’s no gas station, open or closed, in the Thelma Terrace neighborhood, though there is a tackle shop. And there’s no creek — although there is one a few miles inland.
Do these inaccuracies rise to the level of writing sin?
Finally, let’s say that on July 4, 1999, there was a major event that affected pretty much everyone in Florida City — say, a storm during which several people were killed by fallen lines and the whole city lost power — only you didn’t include it in your novel at all, even though the novel covers that period, and Florida City is not very big.
So let’s air our answers to the above hypotheticals. Is it a “writing sin” to put your characters in a duplex on a real-life street, if in real life there are no duplexes on that street?
No, I don’t think this rises to the level of sin. I think it’s a good idea to use a real street name if you’re writing about a real place, since presumably you’ve chosen to write about a real place for a reason. I think it’s a good idea to choose a street that suits your characters and their demographics. But sometimes real street names stink, or sometimes they’re perfectly named but in the wrong part of town. I don’t think you should move around real streets, geographically, in fiction, but I do think you can fudge a bit regarding what sits on that street. Maybe don’t put a shopping mall in the middle of an historic neighborhood, but otherwise I think it’s OK.
How about the black walnut tree?
Yes, this is a sin, in my opinion. The first example is a writer embellishing on reality, but staying basically true to the spirit of the real place. The second is just an easily avoided error. (As one might guess, there’s a lot of flora in STILTSVILLE, and I had readers with much greener thumbs than mine look for inaccuracies. But I wouldn’t bet my life that there are no flora-related mistakes in the novel. And those would be examples of errors, not license.)
Next example — I think it’s OK to add an invented gas station and a creek to Thelma Terrace, as long as they are, as I mentioned, true to the spirit of the location.
NOTE: I definitely know at least one writer who would disagree with me on this. She would say that if you’re going to use a real street, you shouldn’t futz with the buildings or anything else. Because — and I’ll elaborate on this in tomorrow’s post — it will interrupt the reading experience for anyone who knows the true-life neighborhood.
Now, we come to the exclusion of an important local event from the narrative — July 4, 1999, in the fictional world of this example, does not include a storm and fatalities from a downed power line and a blackout. (Why not? This seems like a great setting for fiction! But that’s beside the point.)
Let’s assume there’s some other reason organic to your novel that requires the plot to be set on July 4, 1999. So you can’t simply move the date of the story to another month or year. If this is true, then that means that your novel is tied to history, at least at some other point in its narrative. I don’t think you can reasonably ignore a big event that occurred at the same time. I think you can write through it, make it incidental instead of the focus, but I don’t think you can ignore it entirely.
More often, though, it’s not a matter of excluding events, but of including them. When I wrote the first draft of STILTSVILLE, I had an idea of which historical events I wanted to include — the Mariel boatlift, the Dadeland shootings, the McDuffie riots, Cristo’s Pink Islands, the Gainesville murders — but the novel covers three decades. I’m sure I didn’t mention everything that affected people’s lives during that period. Did I miss any really big event during that time period? I hope not, but at the same time, my focus was on the events that mattered most to my characters.
But I also had in mind the personal lives of my characters, which proceeded independently of certain historical events. Maybe if I were a more organized writer — I’ve heard some writers even use outlines! What a revelation! — I wouldn’t have had the problem of matching the characters’ lives to the history of the city. But I did have that problem, and I had to intentionally include some timeline inaccuracies as a result. I wrote an Author’s Note to try to explain these inaccuracies that I believed needed to stay in the story, in service of the whole. Fallen soldiers, as I think of them.