Blog Update

Country Road 2
Copyright Serena M. Agusto-Cox

In case you haven’t noticed, changes are here and more are around the bend.

First off, I want to alert everyone to my sidebar and the Contests! section highlighting a variety of contests and their deadlines. The first new feature on my blog that I hope helps everyone find contests they are interested in and new blogs they can check out.

Secondly, check out Hubbub Around the Blogosphere in the sidebar as well where I list some great articles that raise awareness and issues from fellow bloggers, which may or may not involve books, authors, and others.

Thirdly, I have added a Slideshow of my photos from my Flickr for those interested in photography and any of the events I’ve talked about. The camera is not far behind my pen and pad when I attend book and poetry events. I figured that would be a great way to incorporate both here on my blog.

Other notable elements on my blog are images and links to some good friends of mine and their journals or respective services. For instance, check out Teddy’s Takes, especially if you are a movie buff and want a chance to win great prizes as a subscriber. I’ve also got links to Beltway Poetry Quarterly, the Fall Into Reading Challenge, and Nanowrimo.

I hope these links are helpful and informative. I’m still working on some more regular features unique to this blog, so stay tuned.

***Don’t forget to enter my contest for A Grave in the Air

A Grave in the Air & Contest

I received A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan from Mini Book Expo for Bloggers, and it took a long time to get to my mailbox from Thistledown Press in Canada. When it finally arrived I was happy to begin reading. I’ve often loved reading novels and short stories that show how war can impact families, relationships, and societies. Although the short stories often do not provide the reader with in-depth war strategy and in-the-moment events, whether it is World War II or the Bosnian-Serbian conflict of the 1990s, the impact of war is palatable in the lives of the characters Henighan created.
The book of short stories starts off with “The Killing Past,” which examines the impact of an aunt’s story about a family’s ancestor on her nephew Bartholomew. The obsession it becomes for Bart is phenomenal.

In “Miss Why,” Agnieszka is an inquisitive youth growing up in Poland at a time when the nation is moving away from socialism toward more Western ideals. While she struggles to find her place in society, she meets a man with a similar outlook on the Western ideals taking over their society. It was interesting to see how they coped with the transformation of their society, though there really was no resolution in this short story, which left me a bit disappointed.

“Duty Calls” follows Tibor, who is recently divorced, and his relationship with a woman he has not seen in many years and his disillusionment with himself since his divorce. This story is not very uplifting, but it does deal with how a man, who sees himself as an outsider, will act to gain acceptance.

In “Beyond Bliss,” which was my favorite of the short stories, Vivian compromises her integrity to get what she wants. To help her friend, Ray, build his publishing house in Canada, she gains the trust of Erich, a controversial author. Vivian, another character who feels like an outsider in Canada because she is British, uses her ambition to find her place in the world.

I also really enjoyed “A Sense of Time,” “Freedom Square,” and “Nothing Wishes to Be Different” because they show the reader a series of relationships that change between former students at university because of a single event, a relationship between a mother and daughter because of the daughter’s summer job, and the relationships between a father and mother and their children when the father makes one fateful and personal decision about his own life.

While this is not one of my favorite short story collections, it does have a great deal going for it. It examines how war in the present and past can have an impact on someone, even if they are not directly involved in a conflict. Some of the characters are quirky and bit out there, but others are carefully nuanced.

Dear Readers, I would love to give away my copy of A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan to one lucky winner. Please leave a comment here if you wish to enter the contest. Deadline is Oct. 10 at Midnight EST. I will announce the winner on Oct. 11. If you blog about this contest, you get 2 more entries.

Douglas Abrams, Writing, & Don Juan

It is my pleasure to introduce my guest post and short interview with Douglas Abrams, the author of The Lost Diary of Don Juan, and he will talk about what inspired him to write the novel, what his daily writing routine consists of, and what he’s working on now. If you missed my review of The Lost Diary of Don Juan, go here.

Doug is currently making his rounds of the blogosphere on a virtual book tour, and you have probably already seen him on Paperback Writer and Review Your Book. He has tour dates selected for Booking Mama, Novel Menagerie, and Literarily, among others. Check out the other dates, here.

Without further ado, here’s Douglas Abrams:

One night I went to bed asking myself a question that I believe every married man or woman asks eventually: how could I stay happily and passionately married for the rest of my life?

The next morning I awoke as if I had been shaken. It was then that I first thought of Don Juan, the universal symbol of passion. I wondered what if he had kept a diary. What secrets would it contain? What could we learn from him about the nature of passion? And ultimately, what might cause the world’s greatest seducer to forsake all women for one woman? I left my wife’s warm sleeping body, walked past our three sleeping children, and sat down at the dining room table. It was as if a voice was whispering the story in my ear.

This is how I decided to write an historical diary exploring Don Juan’s life, his passionate relationships, and his eventual fall into the madness of love. I spent over four years reconstructing the world of 16th century Sevilla, including several trips to Seville itself. The book, which began as an inquiry into the nature of love and lust, took on a life of its own and led me on thrilling adventure into the rich and dangerous world of Golden Age Spain.

So what, you may ask, is the secret to lasting passion and devotion? In the novel, Don Juan finds his answer. I hope that within its pages you will find yours.

For a quick look at the book, check out his sample chapters.

Here’s my brief interview with Doug Abrams about his writing process.

Do you have a set writing routing? Do you get up early and start writing or do you write when the mood hits?

I’m a whenever-I-can-steal-the-time writer, which means I write in the morning and at night, whenever I’m not juggling my three children, my other work as a literary agent, or the responsibilities and joys of marriage. What has really been a lifesaver is going away periodically on long writing retreats. The challenge with novels is that you are working with a very large canvas, sort of like an enormous Delacroix hanging in the Louvre, so it is essential for me to step out of daily routines to immerse myself in the fictional world.

Are you working on any other projects, and if so would you care to tantalize my readers with a few hints?

Yes, I am currently finishing the second novel in my two-book contract. Although quite different, all of my novels will attempt to tell dramatic stories that also convey some of the ancient insights about how we can live on this planet with greater joy and wisdom. My next novel is a contemporary diary, an ecological thriller, and a mythic fiction about a love that is even more powerful than passionate love. I began with the question: can we survive as a species, and if so, how?

I want to thank Doug for taking time out of his busy schedule to write a guest post and answer a few questions about his writing process. I also would like to thank Zoe and Michelle for their help as well. If you haven’t read his book, you should grab a copy from a local bookstore, an online bookstore, or your local library.

The Secret Meme. . .

Monica at Monniblog peeked my curiosity with her secrete meme, so I had to ask her what the questions were, but that meant I had to answer them myself.

If you are curious enough to know the questions, you will have to email me for the questions. Here are the answers:

1. Dewey
2. Anna
3. Anita Shreve (I know not a blogger)
4. Wendy
5. Gayle
6. Nymeth
7. Natasha
8. Amy
9. Dar
10. Suey
11. Shana (with books)
12. Julie P.
13. J. Kaye
14. Monica
15. Carl V.
16. Amanda
17. Becky
18. Stephanie
19. Stephanie
20. Sher
21. Bethany
22. Iliana
23. Darla
24. Trish
25. Marie
26. Uh…no one?!
27. April
28. No idea…
29. uh, my non-blogging husband. . .
30. Write reviews that move you and they will move me.

Come play along. It makes you put your thinking cap on!

Weekly Geeks: Favorite Books Published in 2008

This Week’s challenge is to list our favorite books that we have read and were published in 2008.

Here they are: (links to my reviews are included)

1. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson ( You knew this would be on this list)
2. The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams
3. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
4. Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel by Phyllis Zimbler Miller

I’m sure this list will expand, but up until this point these are the ones I’ve read that were published this year.

Someone Loves Me and It’s Sher at Novel Menagerie

Sher over Novel Menagerie and Shana at Literarily bestowed this wonderful gift upon me. I also received this from My Friend Amy some time ago. And most recently from Dar at Peeking Between the Pages.

The rules are to pass this along to my favorite seven bloggers, so here I go.

1. Anna at Diary of an Eccentric because she has a fantastic sense of humor, offers comprehensive and well thought out reviews, and promotes authors through interviews.

2. Bermudaonion‘s blog is one of my new favorites thanks to Book Blogger Appreciation Week. There is a great mix of personal stories and anecdotes as well as book reviews written in a no-nonsense style. She even offers recipes from time to time—ooo those cheese straws looked yummy.

3. 3Rs–Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness has some random posts about current events, but she also issues comprehensive reviews to her readers. I love her blog and how she participates in a number of memes, carnivals, and challenges. Her answers to memes are always witty.

4. Amanda at A Patchwork of Books has been one blog I’ve kept up with some time. Her blog offers a variety of book reviews from nonfiction to chick-lit. I loved her latest post about the Machu Picchu travel guide. Those travel guides look scrumptious. Two places I have always wanted to visit, Machu Picchu and Easter Island. I hope this award brings her a bit of sunshine.

5. Alyce at At Home With Books is another recent find from Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I just love the style of her reviews. She regularly participates in Friday Finds, Booking Through Thursdays, and memes that are passed along the blogosphere.

6. Book Club Girl runs a fantastic book club on her blog. I recently participated in her last Web show with Ann Patchett. From what I understand she holds these discussions with authors pretty regularly. The Web show was easy to register for and calling in or writing questions in the chatroom was simple. I recommend if you need a book to read for a club, check out her site.

7. Suey at It’s All About Books: She and I have been buddies since our days at Yahoo. I’ve watched her blog grow from the goings on with Josh Groban to her kids and library events. All of this is mixed in with some pointed reviews of childrens books and other novels. I also love her modesty.

How about A Meme?!

Jill at The Magic Lasso tagged me for Six Weird Things About Me.

Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you (CHECK)
2. Post the rules on your blog (CHECK)
3. Write 6 random things/unspectacular quirks about yourself (CHECK)
4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them (CHECK)
5. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog (I’ll get to it)
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted. (CHECK)

I’m not sure that I want to share my oddities, but here we go.

1. I hate when people go into my purse without permission, and this includes my husband.
2. I hate cooking meals for one, and usually I will eat cheese
3. I adore art, but can’t paint a stick figure
4. I always talk to my dog, though I’m sure he thinks I am crazy
5. I secretly enjoy watching Survivor even though I say I hate it and will never watch it again.
6. I’ve always wanted to play violin, professionally. I’ve never played.

Here are the six people I have tagged:

1. Anna at Diary of an Eccentric
2. Shana at Literarily
3. Dar at Peeking Between the Pages
4. Amy at My Friend Amy (Yes, I know she is taking a break)
5. J. Kaye at J. Kaye’s Book Blog
6. Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot

2008 National Book Festival Recap

This year’s 2008 National Book Festival weathered the rain! The day was overcast, but participation was high and the rain didn’t come until near the end of the festival. I wanted to share one comment we heard from tourists as we were leaving. The white tents were set up as pavilions for various genres as usual, closer to the end of the National Mall with the Capitol Building. Bunches of us were headed out of the National Mall and tourists were coming onto the Mall passing by us. A man said to the woman with him, “Hey, what’s that down there? A carnival.” My immediate response without thinking was, “Yes, it’s a carnival for book lovers.”

I want to share with everyone some photos I took and that my husband took of the poets in the Poetry pavilion. We also got a chance to take photos of Neil Gaiman and Tiki Barber as they signed books for other patrons of the festival. I thought I would share them since I’m sure they have fans out there. First, here’s a look at the abundant crowd in the poetry tent; it wasn’t as full as some of the other tents, but this signifies that interest in poetry is not dead.

The first poet we caught up with–since I missed the Poetry Out Loud segment–was the new U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, though her term in that office actually doesn’t start until Oct. 1. I’ll share with you two pictures, one of her being interviewed and one of her signing my book, The Niagara River. It was good to meet a fellow poet who is not into all the hoopla of becoming a top creative writing professor and who is more interested in just writing poetry and possibly improving the literacy of our country.

Traditionally, poet laureates have hailed from Ivy League schools and have careers teaching creative writing graduate degrees, but Ryan teaches at a community college and is engaged in improving literacy. She even commented about how her being an outsider may have helped her become Poet Laureate because there is a “romanticized” notion of the outsider in the United States. Moreover, she talked about how she came to poetry later on as a student and never believed herself to be a writer until a cross-country biking trip. In Colorado, she saw the Rockies and answered the question: Do you enjoy writing? And her answer was yes. She writes poems that are available to the reader in spite of their double meanings, allowing readers to see not only a surface meaning, but a deeper, emotional meaning as well. She is also a fan of Emily Dickinson, though she came to her through reverse psychology thanks to one of her teachers. Dickinson is one of my favorite poets as well.

A great many of her poems are short because she likes them that way. But she says that while they are small on the outside, there is much more beneath the surface. I found her to be witty and engaging, and I look forward to her tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, though she does not have any specific plans in mind other than touting the need for 100 percent in funding for public libraries and their branches so that they can be open 7 days per week and longer hours.

One of the next poets we listened to was Eavan Boland who is from Ireland, though she lives in California and teaches at Stanford University. She focuses a great deal of her poetry on the differences between history and the past, where history is the recorded events and the past is something deeper and more nuanced. One of the poems she read, “Quarantine,” examined Ireland in 1847 at the time of the famine, but it also discussed the deep love between a man and his wife who died during the famine. Even with his last breath he held his wife’s feet to warm them with the remaining body heat he had. Many of the poems she read discussed Ireland at the time of the famine and the nuanced past of that time period. She was equally engaging. I just may have to pick up one of her volumes for review.

Molly Peacock reminded me of school teachers I had in high school because she was approachable and ready to answer your questions. She read quite a few poems and engaged the audience with her wit. Another poet I should probably add to my TBR pile. I have quite a few photos of her speaking and answering questions, but I think this photo is the most dignified. She’s an expressive poet and very animated. Her eyes grow wide and her lips will form a nice round O in many cases, but I don’t think those would make for very flattering pictures.

The final poet we heard before we headed back home was Michael Lind, whom the moderator called a man of letters, which I presume means he is well educated, one quite a few awards, and has accomplished a great deal in his given profession. In this case, he has been a columnist, a novelist, and a poet. I purchased his book, Parallel Lives, at the festival because the lines in his poems caught my attention, though he is a very sedate reader compared to the other poets we heard. I would almost say that I prefer to read his verse on paper than to hear him speak. I do enjoy his verse because it often does touch upon recent events that may be forgotten as the next horrific or phenomenal effort takes its place in the media headlines.

Finally, here is Neil Gaiman—I had to keep you fans reading somehow–the book sale tent only had a limited number of his latest book, which is not even out in stores yet. Those books went fast, and his line was extensive. I’m not sure that everyone got to meet him or get their book signed. But the lines were moving fast, so you never know. He is not at all what I pictured.

As for Tiki Barber, who is a former New York Giants football player and wrote a children’s book, his line was longer. However, I am quite sure that some of the people in his line were having NFL memorabilia signed and not necessarily his book. I know that a ton of kids and parents were lined up alongside him as I was taking his photo. We just wanted a close up shot of him since we had nothing for him to sign.

Overall, you can see I really did not spend much time outside of the Poetry Pavilion. I did that for two reasons, one I was pressed for time and the Poetry Pavilion was the furthest one and two I love poetry! I was surprised by the number of people in the audience at the Poetry Pavilion, but I also was pleased by the turnout. The Poetry Pavilion was co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and many of their personnel introduced the poets scheduled to read and they had a table full of reading guides for not only famous poets and writers, but also information about Poetry Out Loud. I was equally pleased that the hearing impaired could enjoy the poems as well with the help of sign language experts.

I would love to hear from anyone else who attended the festival and what events and authors they saw and what they thought. I think it would be great to hear about the other Pavilions’ events as well. Feel like sharing, leave a comment.

For other experiences at the 2008 National Book Festival:
The Literate Housewife
DC Reflections
Jason’s View From D.C.
Sarah Moffett
Biblio’s Bloggins
S. Krishna’s Books

Fall Into Reading 2008

I normally don’t join challenges because they are time-consuming, but Fall Into Reading 2008 caught my eye.

Here’s the rules:

1. Set reading goals for yourself and create a list of books to read this Fall.

2. All books are eligible and there is no limit to how many or how few you choose to read.

3. Leave a link to the post where you list your goals and books on Mr. Linky, here.

4. Check out the lists of other participants, write reviews of the books if you like, and commit to writing a wrap-up post in December.

View the official ins and outs of the challenge at Callapidder Days.

Here’s the list of books I plan on reading for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2008:

1. A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan
2. Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland
3. Kindred Spirits by Marilyn Meredith
4. Sex at Noon Taxes by Sally Van Doren
5. Owen Fiddler by Marvin D. Wilson
6. The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner
7. The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa
8. Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore
9. Black Flies by Shannon Burke
10. Freeman Walker by David Allan Cates
11. Off the Menu by Christine Son
12. Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby
13. Cold Rock River by J. L. Miles

Just another reminder about the 2008 National Book Festival, feel free to check it out if you are in the neighborhood or the podcasts of the authors, here.

Do you have little ones at home? Check out the Children’s toolkit.

Here’s a list of the authors that are attending.

Finally, a link to the Pavilions.

Run by Ann Patchett

I received Run by Ann Patchett from Everyday I Write the Book Blog as part of a book club discussion. After participating in Book Club Girl‘s radio discussion of the book with Ann Patchett, I was happy to learn that some of my thoughts about Bernard Doyle, the father in the book, were on target. He reminded me of Joe Kennedy, Sr., because of his drive to get his sons interested in politics and becoming president some day. He pushes his sons into watching other politicians speak at seminars and lectures even when it is obvious that these boys are not interested in politics at all. I enjoyed the Web radio discussion with Patchett about her writing process and how difficult it has become for her to write books as her life has grown more complex. She says that she examines her novel ideas in depth to uncover her characters motivations.

***Spoiler Alert***

This story centers on the Doyle family, led by Bernard a former mayor of Boston. Bernadette and Bernard have one son of their own, but when she miscarries a second child, they adopt two African American sons. These sons become Doyle’s focus after he loses his wife and a fateful accident causes Sullivan to break free from the family and go his own way. While Bernard wishes his sons would enjoy politics as much as he does, his adopted sons have their own life designs. Tip is interested in icthyiology and Teddy spends a great deal of time with their faith healing uncle Father Sullivan.

One night, the Doyles–minus Sullivan–are leaving a political speech by Jesse Jackson at Harvard University when a mysterious woman saves Tip from being hit by a car. The rest of the story unfolds quickly within a 24-hour period to reveal years of fear, anguish, and regret.

***End Spoiler Alert***

Although I enjoyed uncovering the many layers to the lives of these characters, I was often distracted by some of the lengthier passages from Father Sullivan or about Father Sullivan’s healing power. These passages made it seem like there was more to this story, which never really came to fruition. Father Sullivan does play a role in the boys’ lives, but the passages dedicated to him could have been shorter. Patchett’s use of language is very languid and it flowed well in many sections of the book. The exchange between Tennessee and her old friend after the car accident foreshadowed quite a bit of the remaining plot points.

One of my biggest concerns about the beginning of the novel was the rough time I had telling the difference between Tip and Teddy; they almost seemed like the same person other than their different interests. If Patchett had chosen another name for Tip, it may have worked better. Teddy’s name was appropriate given his kind nature. Kenya’s name seemed cliche to me, especially given that her favorite thing to do was run.

I have not read other Patchett novels, though I do have Bel Canto in my TBR pile. I would recommend this book for readers of Patchett, but from what I understand from others it is not the best example of her work.

I also wanted to alert everyone to the book club discussion of Run by Ann Patchett on Everyday I Write the Book Blog. I’m going to head over there now and chat along. Won’t you?

Also Reviewed By:
Everyday I Write the Book Blog
A Girl Walks Into A Bookstore
Diary of an Eccentric

B&B Ex Libris
Fizzy Thoughts
Peeking Between the Pages