Thursday, May 20, 2010

Author Elizabeth George on Helping Trillium Forest and Her Latest Mystery Novel, This Body of Death

Not only have you been on tour for your latest mystery novel, This Body of Death, but you also recently donated $100,000 to help save Whidbey Island's Trillium Forest from being developed. Can you tell us more about that?

Trillium Forest comprises 664 acres of undeveloped second growth forest in the Greenbank area of Whidbey Island. It had been purchased by a developer, who intended to put houses on it, but luckily it fell into foreclosure. This made it available for purchase by the Whidbey and Camano Island Land Conservancy, the warrior group that is attempting to maintain the rural nature of Whidbey Island. I have long believed in the preservation of land. God ain't making any more of it, and once someone has poured concrete over it, it seldom comes back.

The Trillium Forest is Whidbey Island's largest remaining contiguous forest; are others in the community fighting to save the forest and donating money for the cause as well? Do you think that the Whidbey Camano Land Trust will be successful in reaching their goal of raising $4.2 million by June 10?

This is a large scale community effort. The sum needed is enormous. We're hopeful that people who are concerned about land use--no matter where they live--will become engaged by the idea that a piece of property this size could indeed be saved. Sometimes I think people say to themselves, "Well, I'm never going to go there for any reason, so how does this concern me?" when the truth of the matter is that land preservation concerns everyone who wants the planet to have a future that is connected to nature more than to corporate and individual profits.

You've encouraged fellow Whidbey Island authors and artists to join you in helping save Trillium Forest, have others followed suit? How can the general public donate money to help save the forest?

I believe a large number of artists are getting on the band wagon in any number of ways. We're having fundraisers in addition to asking for contributions, so if an individual doesn't have the funds to make a large donation, attendance at a fundraiser can help. Whidbey and Camano Island Land Trust has a website people can log onto to get information if they're interested in helping out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Interview with a Vampire (Writer): Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris will be reading from her latest novel Dead in the Family at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, at Town Hall. Tickets for this event are $5.00.

Whether you've read her books, or know her name primarily from the HBO hit series True Blood, Charlaine Harris has been feeding thousands of blood-thirsty fans with her Sookie Stackhouse Series of vampires, shape shifters, and the supernatural for almost a decade now. Some may consider Harris' "Sookieverse" to be the crack Twilight for adults, but regardless, Harris was dead on in thinking her readers may just need some vampires in their lives--before Meyer (who's plagued our rainforest with pilgrims) and the many others that have followed, trying to feed off of the current vampire sensation.

If you love True Blood but are yet to have read Harris' books, be prepared--you've got about a summer's worth (or more) of catching up to do--Dead in the Family is the 10th book in the Sookie Stackhouse Series and the show is still working from the third book in the upcoming season.

Having had her novels described as "cozies with teeth," Harris has seen almost all of her fantastical books soar to the top of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and with the help of True Blood, her fan base is only growing larger. And honestly, like many others, we just can't seem to get enough of it all. For us, it's almost like a newer take on the Southern Grotesque genre that we love so dearly--this time only with vampires, more blood and guts, and the supernatural replacing a time of Calvinism, lynchings, and Jim Crow.

So Dead in The Family is the 10th book in the Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse Series. What do you think about the latest book? Where is Sookie at in her life right now?

What do I think about the book? I think I'm glad it's finished! Yes, I have been busy the past few years, and I don't see it letting up much. Sookie, as always, is facing new challenges as the characters of the people around her become more and more clear under the stress and strain of the politics of the supernatural world.

Can fans look forward to more "Sookie" books in the future? Do you have an idea of how many more will be included in the series, or do you have a particular ending in sight?

I've signed for 13 books total, but I may extend that. I do know how the series will end.

The Sookie Stackhouse Series is set primarily in the South, where you are from as well. Did you plan on having the series take place in Louisiana because of your knowledge of the area or was it rather because you felt that the area fit the characters best?

A combination of those, plus Anne Rice had done such a great job with southern Louisiana, I felt it was time to give northern Louisiana its day in the sun. Or under the moon.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Debut Novelist Jean Kwok on What it Means to be a Girl in Translation: Part 2

Jean Kwok will be in town to read from her debut novel Girl in Translation at the Elliott Bay Book Company on Saturday, May 8, at 7 p.m. This event is FREE.

As continued from yesterday...

Kimberly has a best friend in the novel, Annette, who helps her in many ways and overall gives her much-needed "American" advice. Were you lucky enough to have a close friend to help you adjust to your new life in New York?

I am so grateful for the friends I've had in my life. Annette is based upon a conglomeration of several close friends I had. In elementary school, there was one special friend who came from a wonderful family, and they helped us a great deal. Mrs. Avery is partly based upon her mother. I had another good friend and her grandmother was a real estate agent. Her grandmother not only helped us get out of the roach-infested apartment we lived in, she also went to the bank to personally vouch for us, so that we could get a mortgage. We hear so much about humanity's negative qualities, but there are truly many more people who are extremely kind, without any thought of personal reward.

It seems as if Kimberly's family is being exploited not only by the sweatshop, but also by her aunt and uncle. We found this to be a really interesting idea since stories you normally read about immigrant families are of them sticking together and supporting each other. Is this not as typical as we'd like to imagine?

Jealousy, selfishness, and genuine love can be found in immigrant families and in any other type of family. Of course immigrant families do help each other, but there are often elements of competition and guilt as well. Aunt Paula brought Kimberly and her mother to the United States and in her mind, she has helped them as much as she could. Kimberly deeply feels her obligation to her own family, her mother, and that results in some of the most important choices that Kimberly must make.

(Jean, shown below with her school principal, Mrs. Kasindorf.)

Like Kimberly, as a child you excelled in science and math, even going on to work in three laboratories during your senior year of high school. What made you instead switch to English and literature? Was there a writer hiding under there all along? 

When I was seven years old and we were all still working in the sweatshop, my older brother brought home a present for me. He worked day and night at the factory, and if we finished early, he went to his second job waiting tables. There was no money to spare. Somehow, he had saved enough money to buy me a diary with a little lock on it. "Whatever you write in this, is yours," he said. When I look back, I'm amazed that he knew to give me something that would change my life, rather than a toy or a piece of candy.

I loved to read and had read every book in the Children's section of our public library. English was one of my favorite subjects. I also loved science and math as well, and that seemed to me to be a safe road. My background was so difficult that I never considered doing anything as risky as trying to become a writer. It was only at Harvard that I realized I would never have to go back to the factory, and that I could do what I truly wanted: to become a writer.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Debut Novelist Jean Kwok on What it Means to be a Girl in Translation: Part 1

Jean Kwok will be in town to read from her debut novel Girl in Translation at the Elliott Bay Book Company on Saturday, May 8, at 7 p.m. This event is FREE.

Don't let Jean Kwok's debut novel, Girl in Translation, fool you as a memoir; it may be based on Kwok's own experiences of growing up as a Chinese immigrant in New York City and follow a story line quite similar to Kwok's childhood, but she will be the first to tell you that this book is fictional, for the most part.

Kwok has already received a lot of attention for her debut novel and all with good reason. Beautifully written, Girl in Translation is not your typical immigrant story. Like others, there is heartbreak, and tragedy, and a family struggle to learn English and assimilate into the American culture.

But this is also a story about success and how our young narrator, Kimberly, is able to overcome each crushing downfall with grace, grow from her experiences, and use her academic strengths to rise up and live her own "American Dream."

This novel is everything you'd hope for in a well-written immigrant story and more--filled with unexpected twists and turns, unforgettable characters, and a landscape that we are all familiar with. Girl in Translation takes readers on a journey into the slums of Brooklyn and into a life that many of us will never know firsthand, want to see, or at points be able to recognize as reality.

Thanks for taking some time to chat with us; we're sure that this has been a long week for you. How does it feel to have finally finished your debut novel, Girl in Translation, and be on tour?

Fantastic. It was such an uphill struggle to get this novel finished because I had two little children and was also teaching at the university at the same time. I barely slept for years so that I could find the time to write this novel. The reception that Girl in Translation has received so far is more than I ever dared to hope for. It is really a dream come true.

Earlier in your career, it seems that you mainly focused on writing short stories. Did you know that you always wanted to be a novelist? How long did it take you to write Girl in Translation?

I started by writing poetry, which is something I still do and love, although I don't write poetry for publication anymore. I've found that the things I most want to communicate in public are best done in fiction, and writing short stories was a way for me to build up to my ultimate goal, which was to write novels.

When I was still a student in the Columbia MFA program, Lois Rosenthal, editor-in-chief of Story magazine, plucked my stories out of the slush pile and published them. She told me I was doing something very important, and that I must continue. Agents, an independent film company, and editors contacted me and it was clear that now was the time for me to write a novel.

However, I then moved to Holland for love and disappeared off the face of the publishing world. I did nothing but attempt to write this novel. Although people now often tell me that it's an involving, moving and seamless read, it took me ten years to develop the craft necessary to design it that way.

(Jean, shown below, as a child.)

Though Girl in Translation is fictional, Kimberly's childhood sounds very similar to that of your own experiences--your family's immigration from Hong Kong to the slums of Brooklyn when you were five, working in a sweatshop, living in a condemned apartment, and so on. Would you say that you were as well a "girl in translation" at one point (or many) during your childhood?

Absolutely. I don't think I've ever stopped being a "girl in translation." I've always lived in several different worlds at once: the sweatshop and Harvard, the dance world and that of academia, Chinatown and country clubs, Europe and the United States. Especially when I was younger, I always felt I had to translate myself from one world into the other. However, I see this as a great gift, because I can now see the world from many different perspectives.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hugo House Passes the Ladies the Mic at "She Said"

The Hugo House will be hosting She Said: Women's Lives Through Poetry and Prose tonight at 7 p.m. with David Schmader. This event is FREE.

Oh Snap! Turns out that IS what she said... or at least what she'll be saying tonight at the Hugo House. Featuring a fantastic lineup of seven Northwest female writers and poets such as Elizabeth Austen, Midge Raymond, Janna Cawrse Esarey, and Susan Rich, She Said: Women's Lives Through Poetry and Prose hopes to provide a witty and insightful look into the less obvious aspects of womanhood--something we're sure that all of the ladies will be able to identify with.

Host David Schmader will lead the evening as the female authors read from forthcoming and previously published work pertaining to the many aspects of what it means to be a woman--tackling issues such as relationships, sex, motherhood, work, and travel, and possibly all of those happening at once--through an eclectic mix of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Poet Elizabeth Austen is the author of the forthcoming chap book, The Girl Who Goes Alone, which will be available in late May. You can hear Austen's voice regularly on KUOW as she is interviews local Northwest poets every Saturday, from noon-2 p.m. Austen's poetry has been featured in publications such as the Bellingham Review, Pontoon, Swivel, and Weathered Pages.

Janna Cawrse Esarey is the author of last year's Indie hit travel memoir, The Motion of the Ocean. Described as "a well-written, rollicking high-seas adventure," (who can complain with that?) this nonfiction book was named as a favorite summer read by Publishers Weekly and was also a Parade Magazine pick. You may also know Esarey from her P.I. column "Happily Even After: Married w/ Kids Seeks Work-Life-Love Balance," where she blogs about all things relationships.