Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop Jr.

George Bishop Jr.’s Letter to My Daughter is narrated by a Louisiana mother whose daughter has just run away from home after a typical fight with her parents.  To cope with the anxiety, the mother writes a demonstrative history of her own teenage angst to provide them some common ground from which to begin anew.

“But believe it or not, I was your age once, and I had the same ugly fights with my parents.  And I promised myself that if I ever had a daughter, I would be a better parent to her than mine were to me.  My daughter, I told myself, would never have to endure the same inept upbringing that I did.”  (Page 4 of ARC)

Laura Jenkins takes her daughter back in time to when she is a young high school girl during the 1970s and the Vietnam War.  She falls in love with a young man, Tim Prejean, but he’s the wrong kind of man in her parent’s eyes.  How can she make them see that he’s exactly the man they should want her to be with and love.  But it all hits the fan one night and she’s sent away to Catholic school even though her family is Baptist.  Charity runs deep at Sacred Heart Academy, but Laura’s love still burns for her sweetheart, Tim.

Bishop’s prose is conversational as Laura continues to write her letter to Elizabeth, whom she named after the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese #43 says, “I shall but love thee better after death,” and her poems would complement this novel well.  There is a great sadness and love in this letter.  Laura wants to make amends to her daughter and to generate the closeness she always dreamed would be between them.

“Up until that day I had known her only as a pale older nun who seemed unnaturally preoccupied with grammar; she smelled musty, like a library, and she rustled when she walked, like her very insides were made of parchment.”  (page 35 of ARC)

“And then there was silence:  black silence, that in the moments as I gripped the phone seemed to grow deeper and deeper until it was black as the dark spaces between the stars.” (page 59 of ARC)

Bishop’s prose is poetic and easily absorbing, transporting readers to a tumultuous time in U.S. history when the country was divided about war.  But as young men and women engaged one another in high school, how would these larger issues have impacted them?  Letter to My Daughter answers these questions in a way that will tear into the hearts of readers, generate a profound sympathy and confusion about what motivates humans to make war, and how teens handle not only the typical struggles they face of which boy to date and which dress to wear, but also the larger issues that permeate their lives.

About the Author:

George Bishop, Jr. graduated with degrees in English Literature and Communications from Loyola University in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles to become an actor. He later traveled overseas as an English teacher to Czechoslovakia, Turkey and Indonesia before returning to the States to earn his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he studied under Clyde Edgerton, Wendy Brenner, and Rebecca Lee.

Giveaway; I have one copy of the book for U.S./Canada only:

1.  Leave a comment about whether you think a male can do justice to the mother-daughter relationship.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline is May 11, 2010, 11:59 PM EST.

Check the other stops on the tour.

This is my 4th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 30th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

An Interview With George Bishop, Jr., Author of Letter to My Daughter

Tomorrow is my TLC Book Tour stop for George Bishop, Jr.’s Letter to My Daughter with a review of the book and a giveaway.

Today, I wanted to share with you my interview with George about his book and his writing.

1. Letter to My Daughter is written from the point of view of a mother. As a man writing from the point of view of a woman, what were the challenges you encountered and how did you tackle them?

Readers have asked about this before. It did take some time to overcome my doubts about writing from a woman’s point of view. I worried that I was somehow imposing on the territory of women writers. After I got over my initial doubts, though, I was surprised at how easy it was. (Not the writing–the writing’s always hard. I mean that it was surprisingly easy writing from a different gender.)

What I realized was that the big emotions–fear, love, hate, regret–are the same no matter who you are. The tricky part is getting the specific details right. What does a teenage girl see when she looks at a teenage boy she admires, for instance? Or what, specifically, does a girl worry about when she enters a new school as a transfer student? Those things took some imagining. But that’s what we’re supposed to do as fiction writers, after all. Imagine.

2. Was Letter to My Daughter your first novel, or the one that got published? In other words, how many other unpublished novels sit in your desk drawers waiting to be released?

This is actually the fifth novel I’ve written but the first one to be published. There’s a reason for this, I think:  my previous novels just weren’t that good. A couple of them still might be salvageable. I plan to take a look at them again when I finish the one I’m working on now.

3. According to your biography, you’ve lived a number of years abroad as an ex-pat. How do you think those experiences informed or didn’t inform you when crafting the Vietnam War-related sections of the book?

I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I’ve traveled and lived in other countries in south and southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Japan).

I’ve always loved the people and cultures in these places, and in this respect, I found a lot of sympathy with Tim Prejean, the boy in my novel who goes to fight in Vietnam and falls in love with the country.

The encounter with the baby ducks and the woman in the sarong that Tim writes about, incidentally, comes from a similar encounter I had in India.

4. In a recent interview with The Hot Author Report, you indicated that you once wrote poetry and short stories. Have any of those works been published? If so, where? And do you have plans to put together a collection of poetry or short stories in the future?

I’m not a good enough poet to ever want to publish my poems. But I would like to publish a collection of short stories eventually. I think I need to write a few more first.

5. Please share a few of your obsessions or writing habits (i.e. a love of chocolate, writing so many words or pages per day, listening to music while writing)?

Chocolate as a writing habit? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that one. Whiskey, maybe, but not chocolate.

For me, I try to write every day. I feel like I’m slacking if I don’t. I usually listen to classical music when I write. Also, I revise endlessly, obsessively. If I can finish a paragraph, it’s been a good day for me.

6. Finally, give us an inside look at your writing space; what’s on your desk, what do you need to stay productive at that desk, what books are always on hand, etc. And please include a photo or two.

I write at home at a desk in a corner of my front room. I work on an old Apple laptop. I like to keep my writing space uncluttered if I can. I have a few reference books on hand: a dictionary, a thesaurus. Since the novel I’m working on now has astronomy as a background idea, I also have some astronomy reference books nearby. And a star map up on the wall, to inspire me.

I don’t see how other writers can work in public places, like cafes. I like to talk to myself and get up and walk around while I’m writing. I know some writers like to disconnect from the internet while they’re working, too, but I use the internet a lot for research and fact checking while I’m writing. Also, it’s good for a break now and then.

The photos I provided –not of my writing space, which seems incredibly boring to me — are of a few scenes from my work overseas, which I think helped to inspire the Vietnam episodes in Letter to My Daughter.

Thanks George, for sharing with us your inspiration and your thoughts on Letter to My Daughter.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review of the book and a giveaway!