Saturday, May 22, 2010


Commenter #1 on the previous post has to thank for her new copy of What He's Poised to Do. Cheryl, you're the giveaway winner!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Letters with Character

So, lately this blog has become primarily a book blog! I don't mind, do you? I think most of my readers are...readers! Anyway, I'm here today with some more book news and another giveaway!

Yesterday, I learned of a new campaign from Harper Perennial that combines two of my very favorite things: letters (or letter-writing) and books! To celebrate publication of Ben Greenman's What He's Poised to Do, Harper Perennial launched Letters With Character: An Interactive Literary Environment. The idea is to write a letter to a fictional book character. Anyone from literature that you'd love to introduce yourself to, or that you have a bone to pick with, or just have some things to say to. Isn't that a cool idea? I know there's a fair share of book characters who really stuck with me after I finished their story and I think this would be a really cool exercise.

So, read on for all the details on how to submit your letter to the project. And, if you leave me a comment telling me what character you'd write to, I'll enter you in a chance to win a copy of Greenman's book. (Big thanks to Amy at Harper Perennial for offering to give both me and one lucky reader a copy of this book of short stories!) Deadline for the giveaway is midnight on Friday, May 21, 2010.

OK, read the full project description below. I'm off to think about who I'd write to (kids lit counts too!) ;-)

Harper Perennial presents


An Interactive Literary Environment

On the occasion of the publication of Ben Greenman’s What He’s Poised to Do (Harper Perennial, On Sale: June 15, 2010) we invite you to celebrate the art of correspondence and WRITE A LETTER TO A FAMOUS FICTIONAL CHARACTER

Before there was any fiction at all, there were letters. For centuries, letters were the only way for people in different locations to communicate with each other. But letters have also become a rich and complex element of the best literary fiction. The acclaimed author Ben Greenman explores how letters function in life, as well as how they function in fiction in his new collection of inter-linked stories What He's Poised to Do.

"Ben Greenman's masterwork of stories inspired by letters offers
fresh insight into the mysteries of intimacy."

--Simon Van Booy.

On the occasion of the book's publication, and in celebration of the art of the letter as a form of fiction, Harper Perennial invites you to participate in its Letters With Character campaign, and to write a letter to a fictional character. The letters can be funny, sad, demanding, fanciful, declarative, or trivial. They can be about a novel, a short story, or a children's book, works both literary or popular. There is only one requirement: They must be written by a real person and must also address an unreal one.

The best, most interesting, strangest, and most moving letters will be collected on the site to see a selection of those that have already been written: a romantic appeal to Captain Ahab, a moving consideration of middle age addressed to a Garcia Marquez heroine, a hilarious challenge to Agatha Christie's famed detective Hercule Poirot.

And feel free to submit your own letters to

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: The Queen of Palmyra

The Queen of Palmyra is a dark, beautiful new novel exploring the segregated society of Mississippi in 1963 through the eyes of an eleven year-old girl. With the tensions and emotions of the civil rights movement as a backdrop, author Minrose Gwin situates her main character Florence in the middle of racial conflict, constructing a story that is quite tense and emotional itself.

In the summer of her eleventh year, Florence Forrest is trying to make sense of the battery of contradictory information coming at her from the influential people in her life. Her liberal, educated mother, who drags Florence along on her late night trips to the bootlegger. Her stoic "traditional" father, who has his own secret nighttime activities which her mother opposes. Her kind grandparents who disapprove of their daughter's choice in marrying her high school sweetheart. Zenie, her grandparents' longtime maid. And, the force to be reckoned with: Eva Greene.

After spending "a year on the lam", moving from city to city as her father sought and failed to hold onto jobs, Florence and her parents have now returned to Millwood, Mississippi. Her father secures a job as a burial insurance salesman and her mother creates an at-home business baking cakes. Florence lost touch with her classmates after the move, and is virtually friendless. When not helping her mother with cakes, Florence spends considerable time at her grandparents' house, under the care of Zenie. However, when her mother flees her family, Florence spends most of her time at Zenie's house, in the black part of town called Shake Rag. It is here that Florence meets the dynamic, exotic, and life-changing Eva Greene, Zenie's niece, a college student visiting for the summer.

Together, Zenie and Eva become almost stand-in mothers for Florence, attempting to teach her how the world really is, while also tutoring her lagging academic progress. As she moves uncomfortably between her two worlds, never really fitting in to either one, Florence slowly recognizes the growing conflict surrounding her father's mysterious late night meetings, and the pivotal role that Eva plays in this conflict.

The isolation, anxiety and escapism of the novel come to a violent climax that takes years for Florence to fully understand. Readers won't realize it until later, but the novel opens with a bit of explanation for why she was so slow to realize the truth:

I need you to understand how ordinary it all was. At night the phone would ring after supper. My father would say a few quiet words into the receiver. Sometimes he spoke in numbers. A three he would say. Or a four. When he put down the phone he'd turn and look right at me. There would be a strange pleasure in his look, a gladness. he would ask me to perform this one small task; he'd tell me to go fetch him his box. (1)

And after her adult realization of what her father was and what transpired that summer, Florence has a heartbreaking understanding of why it took her so long:

How he did that thing I couldn't see, didn't see. A willed, necessary blindness. True stories happen, and then you tell them. But what you tell depends on what you see. And what you see depends on what you know. (381)

It's a beautiful description of what Florence experienced, and a very moving portion of the book. Florence's emotional and intellectual selves certainly undergo major shifts during that crucial summer, but huge developments are also made years later as she is standing in front of her English grammar students. This is what makes The Queen of Palmyra a true and unique coming-of-age story, one almost on par with To Kill a Mockingbird.

{This review is based on the uncorrected proof . Quotations and page numbers may differ from the final published version.}

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I'm a mother of two now. And a neglectful blogger, though I can't imagine a better reason than this happy girl!
But, as a matter of fact, this blog is not the only thing suffering my neglect these days. The dog. The dishes. The laundry. The pile of books to read. The husband. And, at any given moment one or the other or both of my kids. (It is so weird to put an 's' at the end of that word!) I've come to the realization that mothering more than one child means that no matter what you are doing, you are pissing off one or the other of your children. And, you can just forget about yourself completely! You know the saying, "You can't please all the people all the time"? Well, it should be revised to, "You can't please all the people...EVER"!!!

It's like a continual game of tug-of-war. Take today:

C heard about a bike ride test-driving some new mountain bikes and he leapt at the chance. So, he's happy. J on the other hand, has recently learned that the word 'weekend' means Daddy is home, which typically equates to a trip to Starbucks for a a chocolate milk and a donut, and spends the morning randomly crying out, "Why Daddy is on the bike path? I want him." He is not happy.

I am not happy because I awoke to a kitchen full of dirty dishes. With a three year-old asking for Captain Crunch (which we don't even have) and a two month-old cradled in my arms, there's no chance that I can clean it up a bit before getting breakfast going. So I unhappily move the dirty dishes around, clear a 6-inch by 6-inch space off the kitchen table and set down a bowl of yogurt for J. Immediately, he drops a glob of yogurt on his shirt. He is not happy. The shirt must come off. Any slight stain or even a drop of water necessitates a wardrobe change for this kid.

Now N is not happy because the first of her many nursing sessions of the day has been interrupted by big brother.

Fast forward an hour and a half. N is still nursing and J has exhausted his capability for independent play. "Where are we going? Want to go somewhere?" C won't be home for another hour and he took the good car.

J's second favorite thing after going places is snacking. So, he launches into whining that he wants "a snack". No hint as to what he wants. He expects me to go into a detailed and complete list of everything we have, which he will briefly consider before saying, "No. Something else."

When none of our slim pickings will do, he remembers that if he pees on the potty he can have three chocolate chips. N protests as I plop her into her swing and herd J into the bathroom.

After that's taken care of, C comes home and offers to make lunch. J's exuberant mood at going potty turns on a dime and he shouts that he doesn't want lunch, he wants "a snack". C and I give him exaggerated and forceful "Shhh's" because N is finally napping.

Napping is another battleground. I savor the hour and a half that J naps. He's much happier after a nap, but is in denial of that fact. So, he begs and fights and stalls and we end up cajoling and making bargains. Today, no amount of cajoling on C's part could get J to sleep. I tried to nap while they bickered about glasses of milk, trips to the potty, and what time J could get up. In the end, C drifted off and J ended up playing in the basement while I changed an explosive poo diaper. Pretty clear here who's happy and who's not, right?

Rather than taking you through the continuing give and take of our afternoon, suffice it to say that it involved car naps, J sporadically singing, "I'm wearing a Pull-Up!", and canceling our dinner plans with friends.

Lest you think I am a horrible, grumpy, ungrateful mother, I assure you that there are moments of pure joy throughout our days. My favorite right now are the times that N is content on my lap looking up at me when she catches sight of J and breaks into a wide, crinkly-nose smile. J's face lights up as he grins right back and says something sweet and cute like, "Mama, look! Her happy face! I think she really likes me!"

It doesn't get much better than that.