Interview: Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling

catherine-brady

Today I welcome the lovely and talented Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories (reviewed HERE).  I wanted to find out more about her after reading her outstanding collection of short stories, and she thoughtfully answered all of my nosy questions for your reading pleasure.


BOTB: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

CB: I was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in a suburb just a little further north from Chicago, Northbrook.

mofBOTB: When did you start writing? How did you get interested in it?

CB: I started to write just about as soon as I learned to read. I’m not sure that counts, though! I started to get serious about writing when I was in college, and then only because a writing teacher drew me aside and encouraged me to apply to a graduate writing program. I grew up in a working class, immigrant family, and it was hard for me to feel that I could dare to be a writer.

BOTB: Along with short stories, you’ve also written a biography. Which type of writing do you prefer? Which is more difficult?

CB: I prefer to write fiction, because I think it uses every resource you have. Writing about fictional characters is rooted in an effort to empathize—to try to see into someone else’s heart, to try to make sense of the mystery of other people. And then you have to strategize how to make a story both convincing and surprising, and you have to think about using language that is both precise and suggestive. It’s like playing a game where you can’t say what you actually want to say but have to give only clues, so that the reader is the one who says, ah, that’s what’s going on here. So you have to use your analytical mind, your creative mind, and your heart, which makes writing fiction the most completely satisfying.

bbok_eb_oThat said, I really enjoyed writing the biography, because I had to learn so much in order to even attempt it. The book is about molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, whose research has important implications for human health (including cancer treatment), so I had to attempt to understand the science. But what really captured my attention was how to find a dramatic arc for her life story, and I was so curious about how she has managed to succeed in such a competitive field when she is such a modest, deferential person. If you met her, you would not imagine what she has accomplished. On the other hand, if you talked to her about science, you’d quickly realize there is a steely mind underneath that sweet exterior. So writing the biography was something like writing a novel, with the difference that my main character was alive and well and fully able to contradict my assumptions or interpretations.

BOTB: Is there a novel in you waiting to come out?

CB: I am working on a novel right now, and I’m really enjoying it. I think that writing the biography has really helped me to think about a character’s life in terms of this longer arc.

BOTB: When you write your short stories, do you start with an idea about a character, an incident, a place, or something else?

CB: Different stories start with different triggers. Usually, a story comes from a glimmer in the corner of your eye. A detail that is just an aside in a story someone else tells you or an image that interests you for reasons you don’t understand. I began The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories when I saw one of those flyers people post when they’re looking for a room-mate. This one had a spelling error: Looking for a Female Tenet (instead of “tenant”). That slip in language really interested me, and it was only after I wrote a story with that title and a few more stories in the book that I realized there was a thematic issue that really encompasses all the stories in the book. I’m fascinated by the mistakes people make, how much they reveal about what is at the core of a person, and I’m especially interested in the mistakes that we just refuse to admit are mistakes in the face of all kinds of pressure. What you won’t surrender to practicality or reality says so much about what you most need to believe.

BOTB: Do you think a short story collection would be a good choice for a book club, and if so, why?

CB: I think book groups are sometimes reluctant to tackle short story collections, for two reasons. One is that people worry that stories are going to be literary, difficult, and not deliver that basic satisfaction of storytelling and intimacy with a character that you can get from so many novels. But I think good short stories always deliver that, and anything literary is an extra that can intensify this sense of connection, even if you don’t particularly want to analyze it. The second reason that story collections are difficult for book groups is that it’s hard to discuss all the stories in a book at one meeting. Each one offers a whole different set of characters and different themes. But if you realize that you can “browse” a story collection, picking out just a few stories for longer discussion, instead of reading and discussing the book straight through the way that you would a novel, you can have a lot of fun reading story collections. If you discuss even a few of the stories in more depth, it gives you a sense of what’s working in the book as a whole, how these different life predicaments might be connected.

BOTB: Have you had the opportunity to talk with book clubs about The Mechanics of Falling? If so, what was that experience like? Were you surprised by any observations or comments made at a book club meeting?

book_cbl_oCB: I haven’t spoken to book clubs about Mechanics, but I have done so with my previous book, Curled in the Bed of Love. It’s always fun to hear what other people saw in the stories; your readers bring their own experience to the book, so they are always adding something to the meaning –showing you something you couldn’t even have anticipated. My stories are largely concerned with the lives of women who juggle work and family, who aren’t so sure we’ve come a long way, baby, and aren’t so sure they’ve made the “right” compromises in their lives. So if I’m talking to a book club that is largely women in my own age range, we’re talking about ourselves, our lives.

BOTB: What do you like to do in your free time?

CB: Read. And hike.

BOTB: Read any good books lately? Anything you’d like to recommend?

I was just rereading Alice Munro’s story collection, The Love of a Good Woman. Like so many writers, I love her work. And I recently read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is a wonderful novel, told in such an amazing vital voice.

For more information about Catherine and her work, please visit her website.

Many thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for coordinating this tour and another big THANK YOU to Catherine Brady!!

Book Club Q & A with Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key

tatiana-de-rosnayIn preparation for our book club meeting, we asked Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key, reviewed here, if she would answer a few questions for us, and she graciously agreed.  But beware- there are a few spoilers!


Lisa’s questions:
How did you originally find out about the Vel d Hiv roundup?  Did you know right away that you wanted to write a book about it?
  
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I found out through Chirac’s speech, the one I mention in the book. I knew very little about the round up. I was born in France in the 60’s and like many French people of my generation, we were not taught about this in school. However now, students are taught about it.
 
I remember Julia’s shock at being a 45 year old woman living in Paris who knew nothing of the events.  Are Parisians as unaware of the involvement of the French during WWII as they seem to be in SK?  Has your book changed that?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  Some Parisians are aware and other are not. I’m surprised at the amount of  emails I get from Parisians who are shocked at what they have learned through my book and others who say they knew, but not to that extent. I think and hope my book may have changed things as I now have a million readers world wide !
 
What has been the reaction to your book in France?

Tatiana de Rosnay:  It has been very good. Especially from the Jewish community, which warms my heart. Another surprise is how much teens enjoy it.
 
The details of the separation of the children from their mothers was horrific- the beatings and the water being thrown on them.  Being a mother myself, that was hard to read, and I cried for those mothers and their children.  Did you interview survivors of Vel d Hiv while researching your book, or were those details something you’d read about in your research?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I met two survivors during my research, and three after the book was published. Wonderful moments that I shall never forget. They told me that they went through exactly what I describe in the book.
 
Do you have any idea how many children were able to escape the camps in the French countryside?  Is there evidence that some had help from sympathetic members of the French police, the way Sarah and Rachel did?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  No, I do not have a precise idea. However, France is the country where the largest number of Jewish children were saved and hidden by French people, like Sarah and Rachel were. These people then became «Justs of the Nation».
 
Why did Sarah’s part of the narrative stop after the discovery of Michel?   I missed her!
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  That’s how I «felt» the story.  Julia’s quest to find her (or William) then becomes even stronger.
 
When will your new book be available?  What are you currently working on?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I am about to publish Boomerang, my first love story ! It is out in France in a couple of weeks, and next year in the US. I am now researching a new book which takes place in 19th century Paris.
 
Valerie’s questions:
The whole issue with the late age pregnancy and Julia”s reaction suprised me. One, that she would have even considered the abortion at all…why?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I have not gone through this, thankfully, but my closest friend has. Her husband refused to have the child. She chose the husband over the child. She still regrets it, ten years later…
 
 and then naming the girl Sarah? An attempt to give something back for such a great wrong being done or another reason?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  Because Sarah is dead and gone, bringing into the world another little Sarah is like lighting a candle for all the Vel d’Hiv children.
 
I felt like the ending alluded to a possible romantic relationship between Julia and Sarah’s adult son. Wishful thinking on my part or ??
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I did not want a  soppy Hollywood ending, and I guess each reader can make up her own mind ! ( I personally think they get together, but I’m not totally sure !)
 
Was there one particular story, memory or incident about the Vel’ de hiv and its aftermath at the camps that most profoundly influenced and/or effected you and subsequently the story line of the book? Thanks! 
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I had all the book planned out in my head before I even wrote it. I wanted to share the horror and disgust I felt when I found out about what happened. The  worst part for me is how the children were separated from the parents at  Beaune. It makes me physically ill.
 
Sheri’s questions:
How has the success of this book affected your life?  What has been the most positive impact of its reception and the most difficult?

Tatiana de Rosnay:  This book has changed my life. I had never written a best-seller before and I have published 8 books. I’m still trying to get used to the attention. I guess the most difficult part is finding time to answer all my readers !
 
Karen’s question:
Since France has so much anti Semitism, have there been any problems with Sarah’s Key being sold in bookstores, since many citizens are wanting to ban the Holocaust teachings in the French public schools and universities?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I don’t think France’s anti-Semitism is to that extent ! I visit a school per week meeting students and teachers to talk about Sarah and the Vel d’Hiv. All bookstores here carry my book.
  
From Orchid:  
I‘ve visited France twice, and I thought based on stereotypes that the French might be rude, but I found them to be very helpful and kind to me, a tourist who didn’t know the language that well.  So my question is.. the French family in the book is portrayed as very private and somewhat arrogant.. did you embellish on stereotypes or did you find that to be actually true in your experience or research?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  The French family I describe is a typically high class, wealthy Parisian family, certainly not representative of all French citizens ! So are the Parisians that Julia pokes fun of! I am French myself, born in the Paris suburbs, and I think I know my country men well… 🙂

Many thanks to Tatiana de Rosnay for her openness and willingness to answer our questions, and for writing this incredible book!

Review and Author Interview: Shrink Rap by Robin A. Altman, MD

207947560Robin Altman is a patient woman.  Of course she has to be in her line of work.  But she’s also been really patient with me.  She sent me her book Shrink Rap: An Irreverant Take on Child Psychiatry, which I agreed to read and review, months ago.  I started it in early August, and here it is November and I’m just getting around to reviewing it.  So my apologies to Robin for the long delay. 

Here’s what happened.  I misplaced the book.  I knew it would likely turn up but just had no idea where I’d put it.  I found it in a basket in my living room this week as I was pulling out magazines to use for a project for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I must have done a quick “stash and dash” clean up of my family room 5 minutes before company arrived (in August) and shoved it in there.  

So I quickly dusted it off and finished it up.  What can I tell you about this book and about Robin Altman?  First off, she’s funny- really, really funny.  And sensible.  And down to earth.  She admits that she doesn’t know everything- imagine a doctor doing that!  She’s a mom and a child psychiatrist who uses humor in both her parenting and her practice.  She shares anecdotes about her patients, but she’s not above sharing about her two boys, Kevin and Alex, garden-variety, annoying adolescents.  

The book is laid out in short chapters titled Discipline or Lack Thereof and Childcare i.e. Leaving Your Child With Nutjobs and Adolescents- Should They Be Killed?  Other chapters are titled Psychosis or ADHD or Bipolar Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (doesn’t this sound like a fun book?  NO?  Well, it actually is!).  At the end of each chapter, Robin gives information about the disorder she’s discussing so that you can decide if your child is, in fact, psychotic or just plain irritating.  Or both. 

This book isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.  It’s not a parenting book or a self help book; it’s just lighthearted fun.  Moms with kids who have “issues” will appreciate her ability to make them laugh and feel less alone.  With it’s short, easy chapters, it would be a great addition to any doctor’s waiting room.  It’s the kind of book you can carry around in your purse or in the car for those times when you just have a few minutes to read and can use a good laugh.  I’d highly recommend Shrink Rap to any parent.

pa-robinsmallThe picture at left is Robin on her way into a comedy club gig.  Yes, she’s also a comedian! Isn’t she cute?  She says the picture makes her laugh because she looks like a goober!  

Robin was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.  

Welcome, Robin Altman!

BOTB:  It can’t be easy to be funny about serious things like childhood psychosis and anorexia.. or is it?  Do you find humor in everything?

ROBIN:  Yes.  Unfortunately I find humor in anything if I think about it for awhile.  I think it’s my brain’s particular coping mechanism, because I see some pretty awful stuff.  If I’m with a child and family going through something terrible, I feel bad with them.  There’s nothing funny about that.  (Drat!)  But if I think of a concept, I can always dredge up something funny.  I don’t usually have to dredge much.  Something funny happens every day.

BOTB:  As a parent I sometimes wonder what is “wrong” with my kids.  Is it easy to diagnose certain things, like ADHD for instance?  Is there a huge obvious difference between a kid who is merely challenging and a kid with ADHD?  Is it like the difference between a headache and a brain tumor?

RA:  I guess it’s a little like the headache/brain tumor analogy, but I hesitate to say that, given that I want everyone to mellow out about psychiatric illness.  It’s more like everything is on a continuum, and there’s a bell shaped curve for normality.  For example, everyone has a touch of obsessive compulsive qualities in them.  If you’re vacuuming your house twice a day, it’s no big deal unless it bothers you, or gets in the way of your quality of life.  If you can’t leave the house because you’re picking up specks of dirt for 5 hours each day, then it’s probably OCD, and it’s your choice as to whether it needs to be treated.  (I would seek treatment if I picked up any dirt whatsoever — ever.)

BOTB:  Because of your profession, do the parents of your kids’ friends assume you have all the answers?  Do they expect you to be a Super Parent?

RA:  Not once they meet my kids!  (Ha? Ha?)  I usually make it clear to all that I’m not a Super Parent, nor do I want to be considered one.  I even tell patients’ parents, “Look.  I’m not saying that I could do this, but…”

BOTB:  There’s a line in Freaky Friday (the Lindsay Lohan/Jamie Lee Curtis movie) where Lindsay’s character says to her child psychiatrist mom, “Stop shrinking me!”  Do your kids ever feel like you’re “shrinking” them?

RA:  I love this question!  No, they never complain about that!  When I leave the office, I leave my “psychiatrist” self there, and I’m a total goofball at home.  Sometimes, like if I’m yelling at my kids, I’m so awful that I’m glad there are no hidden cameras in my house.  The AACAP would send a S.W.A.T. Team to the house to remove my license.

BOTB:  I’m the type who sees myself (or my children) any time I read about a disease.  For instance, if I’m reading about Lyme disease, and the symptoms are fatigue, headache, flu-like symptoms- I can totally talk myself into believing I have it.  Now that I’ve read your book, I’m pretty sure I have an anorexic, oppositional defiant, bipolar adolescent.  Or two.  Do you take new patients??

RA:  Oh no!  Remember the bell shaped curve!  I’m sure your kids are fine! 🙂  I always welcome new patients, especially those whose parents have a sense of humor.

BOTB:  Your book was great, and your blog is really funny too.  Will you be writing more books?  Are you working on anything now that you could tell us about?

RA:  There has been a deafening clamoring for Shrink Rap 2, and who am I to deny my fans?  Seriously, I love to write, so I’m writing Shrink Rap 2.  I’m also working on a chick lit type funny mystery novel starring – ta da! – a child psychiatrist detective.  We child psychiatrists really get around.

Thanks so much for taking the time to review my book, Lisa!  You rock!  -Robin

Visit Robin Altman’s website HERE and her really funny blog HERE.

Sweetsmoke Giveaway and Q & A with David Fuller

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller is the story of Cassius Howard, a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation during the Civil War.  It’s also a murder mystery, with Cassius using his limited freedoms to track down the killer of his mentor, a freed slave named Emoline Justice.  It’s an extraordinary new novel and it can be yours on Tuesday, August 26th, when it will be released, or you might just win a copy from me!  I’m about halfway through the book but didn’t want to wait to finish it before posting this giveaway  Look for my review in a couple of days.

So how can you win a copy?  A signed copy??  Just leave a comment here by September 1st – But (yes, there’s a but!) you must email me at lisamunleyATcaDOTrrDOTcom with the answer to this question (Do not leave the answer in the comments!!):  

Where did John-Corey Howard die?   

Find out by reading the excerpt HERE

Fuller has a great website with a ton of information.  You can check it out HERE

And finally, here’s a Q & A with David Fuller.  Enjoy!

Q: What brought you to write this novel?

“Sweetsmoke is a story I was driven to tell. That there was an African American slave at its core was simply the factual basis upon which to build the story. Cassius is an outsider to his world, and it was but a small step to tell the story from his perspective, as writers tend to be outsiders to their worlds. Research taught me to understand his environment, to know the hardships he had to endure, but being a fellow human being allowed me to see the world through his eyes. Imagination and empathy are the tools of the writer. I’d like to think that the fact that a writer can empathize with another man in dire circumstances is a small step to understanding and brotherhood. Lest that sound naïve and uplifting, let me just say on a personal note that I had just as much difficulty imagining his courage and strength as I did seeing through his eyes as a slave in the 19th Century.

Good stories on big topics don’t come around very often. There are a few lucky writers who seem to continually come up with them, but for me, they are few and far between. When I initially imagined a slave acting as a ‘detective’, a great landscape opened up inside of me. The story was immediately evident even without the necessary specifics. I was not interested in telling a detective story. I was interested in discovering the world of a slave. I was also curious as to how a man who does not have the personality of a victim survives in an environment where he has no power. But by using a loose detective story structure, I was able to touch on different aspects of a world that intrigued me. I was able to visit the world of slaves spying against the Confederacy; I was able to imagine an important Civil War battle; and I was able to examine the idea of how one seemingly unimportant death, occurring against the enormous canvas of a violent war, can take on great significance. [Back To Top]

 

Q: How did you research the story?

I figured I had at least five years of research ahead of me before I could even write an outline that I would dare show to anyone. I already knew the rough shape of the story, but so much of the novel required historical details that would drive the story forward. I also knew that if I was to tell the story from such a specific point of view, I had damned well better get it right.

 

I wound up doing at least eight years of research on the novel. I attempted at one point to put together a bibliography, and found that I had read at least fifty books on the subjects of slavery, America in the 1800s, the Civil War, particularly Antietam, and other related subjects like tobacco and the currency of the time. To this day I am coming across books I dipped into for some tidbit of information that did not make the list. I traveled to hundreds of Internet sites, and watched countless hours of documentaries and other related programming. I found that children’s books were helpful, as they come with pictures. [Back To Top]

 

Q: What kinds of surprises did you discover during your research?

Since I was a boy, I have heard that Confederate General Turner Ashby is one of my ancestors. My great grandmother, Ida Reid Ashby, wrote a lengthy passage about him in her book Ashbys, Reids and Allied Families. I have recently received information confirming the link via DNA evidence. Turner Ashby was such an interesting and dashing fellow that I knew early on that I wanted to include him in the novel. It was not until I was well under way with the research and outlining of the book that I discovered that he had been a slave owner. I had suspected as much, but it was not confirmed until I found a copy of Thomas A. Ashby’s 1914 biography Life of Turner Ashby.

Many of my ancestors fought in the Civil War, on both sides. Major Gilbert Trusler, my great, great grandfather, was a Major in Company H of the 36th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and fought at the Battle of Chattanooga under Ulysses S. Grant. Nelson Trusler, my 2nd great grand uncle, brother of Gilbert Trusler, was Colonel in the 84th Indiana Regiment. John Hankinson Ashby, my 2nd great grand uncle, was a corporal in the 9th Kentucky Cavalry, involved with Morgan’s Raid, where he was killed. Henry Thomas Ashby, my 2nd great granduncle was one of the first volunteers from Indiana and was in the 7th Indiana Regiment. He fought at Gettysburg and was later killed in the Battle of the Wilderness of Spotsylvania. He mentions in his letters that his Virginia kindred were fighting on the other side. Leander Bradshaw Ashby, my 2nd great granduncle, was in the 9th Indiana Cavalry of Indiana Volunteers, serving in the Col. Eli Lilly regiment in the Civil War. In a bloody battle near Franklin, TN, “Uncle Lee” was one of the men who carried Lt. Burroughs to the rear in a dying condition just after Uncle Lee’s own horse’s head had been shot off.  The above Ashbys were all brothers of my great great grandfather, James Samuel Ashby.

And then there was Zachariah. Zachariah Ashby enlisted as a private on the first of October, 1864 at the age of 18. He deserted Company K, 15th Iowa Infantry on the 5th of November, 1864. A month in the army was enough for Zachariah.

The above information has been graciously supplied by my uncle, Samuel Ashby Fuller. [Back To Top]

 

Q: How much of the novel is true? Did you base the characters on actual people?

Out of necessity, I have included the names of real people in the novel: Turner Ashby; Robert E. Lee; Peter Longstreet; and Sir Percy Wyndham. But Hugh McClaren and the other soldiers are figments of my imagination, along with everyone else in the novel.

That said, most of the incidents that happen to Cassius did in fact happen to slaves at one time or another. The most surprising to me was that there were slaves who refused to be beaten or whipped. They would stand up to white overseers, and get away with it. There is at least one story told of a slave who would not be beaten, the white man let him be. but told the other whites that he had beaten him terribly in order to save face. I worried that readers would not believe the moment when Cassius faces Otis Bornock in the rain, but that incident is based on fact. [Back To Top]

 

Q: Who were your influences on this book?

One of the important influences on Sweetsmoke was Zhang Yimou (director), Tong Su (novelist), and Zhen Ni’s RAISE THE RED LANTERN. I had been thinking about how to present the ongoing lives of slaves in the quarters, and when I watched that film and saw the wives of a Chinese Master scheme, connive and battle for power, I saw a way in. I wanted to show the slaves as completely human, flawed, irritating, kind, petty, generous and foolish, just as I wanted to show the whites as completely human, flawed, irritating, kind, petty, generous and foolish. It was important to me to show that the whites were as trapped as the blacks in the institution of slavery. Whites created and maintained the trap, but a man like Hoke Howard is also trapped by his heritage. Without the expectations of his family, he might well have been a very different man. Hoke Howard does terrible things, but I hope the reader comes to understand him, and perhaps will share the strange affection that Cassius has for him. Cassius does amazing, clever things, he has learned to use his mind to survive, which was a necessity of survival for slaves, but he is also flawed and can be maddening.

We must all pay a great debt of gratitude to the writers who have come before us. I count as my obvious influences on this particular book Mark Twain and Toni Morrison. In no way do the flaws in this novel reflect back on Ms. Morrison or Mr. Twain, as it is my imperfections alone to be blamed for any and all mediocrity, but I did at times find myself reaching for BELOVED, HUCK FINN and PUDDINHEAD WILSON to hear rhythms in speech and dialogue.

I am also indebted to Patrick O’Brian. Any devotee of his Aubrey/Maturin series will recognize my occasional homage to him, through words and phrases that rang true for me and helped keep me in the 19th Century. While I was unable to physically read Mr. O’Brian when writing Sweetsmoke — he was a brilliant writer, and reading him would drop me into a deep well of envy — I revisited him by listening to audio versions of his books, via the wonderful voice of Patrick Tull. A fellow writer and mentor of mine, Carter Scholz (RADIANCE), spoke of having a writer on your shoulder watching you as you work. O’Brian was the writer on my shoulder. [Back To Top]

 

Q: You also work as a screenwriter?

I had intended to become a painter, but gave it up in college. I hunted for another outlet for my ‘talents’. I enjoyed photography, but once I picked up a super 8 movie camera and made a couple of short movies, I was hooked. I knew the way in to that world was to become a writer, so I put my butt in a chair and wrote. Along the way, I took a job working for a game show company. My work there ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

I eventually sold a script, and soon after partnered with Rick Natkin. Rick and I had a long and excellent run. For seven or eight years, I think we sold everything we wrote. We had six projects made, some of which we even put our real names on. Rick once said that his best stuff was gathering dust on the shelf in his office, his okay stuff was sold but not made, and the bad stuff was up on the big screen for everyone to see. Our most commercial script sold for a lot of money, and then was rewritten so that not one word we wrote ended up in the film. But every screenwriter has horror stories, so I will leave it at that. The important thing is that screenwriting is a surprisingly difficult skill and is significantly undervalued. It teaches you structure and pace, and it teaches you to focus your stories. I’ve written over fifty screenplays, and I’m still learning.

Review and Author Interview: Keeper and Kid by Ed Hardy

Keeper and Kid by Edward Hardy is a wonderful, funny novel about what happens when the past and the present collide.  James “Jimmy” Keeper has just purchased a home with his girlfriend, Leah.  He co-owns a business hunting down antiques and selling them on eBay and in a store called Love and Death.  He enjoys a few beers at his weekly “can’t miss” card night with his buds.  Life is good, until he receives a call from his former mother in law.  His ex wife Cynthia is in the hospital and has a favor to ask of him, one that will change his life forever.

When Cynthia suddenly dies, Keeper discovers that the favor doesn’t involve a dog, as he was told, but a 3 year old boy, the son he never knew he had.  Thrown into parenthood completely unprepared, Keeper brings his son Leo home to stay while girlfriend Leah is away on business.  Leah freaks and takes off, leaving Keeper to deal with the house, the job, and of course the kid.  Overwhelmed by the constant demands and needs of a drive-you-crazy toddler who is mourning the loss of his mom, he makes a ton of mistakes and ultimately finds he can’t do it all alone.  Keeper,  quite clueless at first, learns a lot about love, responsibility, family, friendship, and growing up in the process.

This bittersweet novel touched my heart.  The characters are believable and endearing.  I carried this book everywhere for 2 days and would pick it up even if I only had a minute or two to read.  I loved it and would recommend it to anyone who has children or is thinking about parenthood. Discussion questions can be found on the author’s website.

       hatch_d070602_062e.jpg       03123752471.jpg   

Ed Hardy graciously agreed to be interviewed for Books on the Brain, and here is what he had to say:

 Hi Ed, Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new novel!  How did you come up with the idea for Keeper and Kid?

When I started the book, almost five years ago now, our oldest child was three and a half and his sibling was on the way, so we were already deep in the land of early parenthood, which can sometimes feel like living on another planet.  Along the way I began to wonder how this might feel to someone who wasn’t at all ready for the trip, and that’s how it started.

 Having children changes your life, obviously, but Keeper can only see the negative aspects of that at first.  The thing that startles him most about sudden parenthood seems to be the ‘dailyness’ of it.  Was that a surprise to you as well?  Did you feel like your life, or “life as you knew it,” was over with the onset of parenthood?

 One level you know that with kids your life is going to change, but I think it’s the thoroughness of the change that comes as a shock.  For me it seemed that the life I knew before kids just receded into the background, and over time you find out that some of those things you used to do you can still do, but differently or only once in a while.  I do think the dailyness of it comes as a surprise to many parents.  You’re in the kitchen, way down on sleep, refilling that sippy cup for the eleventh time and you can’t help but have an occasional moment of thinking: “How did we get here again?”

 Maintaining his relationship with Leah becomes a big problem for Keeper, but even under ideal circumstances, a relationship changes when children enter the picture.  Did you find that to be true in your own life?

Sure, with kids the focus in a relationship changes drastically and that can be hard.  One trick seems to be figuring out ways to occasionally jump back in time and remind yourselves that there was something else there before the kids arrived.  Babysitters help.

Keeper seems like the all American guy.  A card playing, beer drinking, stubborn “guy’s guy”.  He’s a really likable character who seems to understand his shortcomings,  yet he’s trying to do everything by himself.  Why do you think it’s so hard for him to ask for help with Leo?

Keeper gets a kick out of figuring things out on his own, only once Leo arrives it takes him a while to realize that he really doesn’t have that luxury any more.  He’s also one of those guys who would much rather keep on reading the map instead of stopping to ask for directions.

The voice of 3 year old Leo seems very real to me.  He’s an unusually bright and verbal child.  How were you able to write him so authentically?  Were you inspired by your own children?

I was definitely inspired by my own kids and by their friends.  A lot of getting Leo’s voice on the page had to do with really listening to exactly what kids say and paying attention to how their sentences move, compared to the ways that adults speak.

How long did it take you to write Keeper and Kid?  What is the writing process like for you.. do you write at home?  In an office?  On a laptop?

The book took about three and a half years to write, but there were a lot of interruptions in there:  teaching, parenting, a massive house renovation.  I work at home, upstairs in a small office off our bedroom and on a laptop.  I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor years ago so at this point I can only write on a screen.

The cover of the book is adorable and joyful.  Did you have any say over what the cover would be like?  Who decides these things?

The publisher came up with the idea and I only got a look at the cover pretty late in the process, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it.

Any chance Keeper and Kid might become a movie?  As I was reading, I could see it on the big screen in my mind’s eye.

I’d be thrilled if Keeper made it to the big screen, but there’s nothing in the works right now.

I read that you had written for various publications and had a short story featured in Best American Short Stories.  How is writing a novel different?  Do you prefer one format over another?

I started out writing stories and I’m probably a story-writer at heart.  With stories you’re working in a much smaller space and for a story to really click everything needs to line up and getting there is a big part of the fun.  In a novel characters and events tend to build up layer by layer and that means you’ve got a lot more room to roam around.

I loved Keeper and Kid and look forward to reading more of your work. What are you working on now?

 I’m in the gathering-wool stage for a new novel.  I think it’s going to be about a group of over-extended grown-ups who start an alt. country band and run into a string of unintended consequences, but if I say much more I’ll jinx it.

A big THANK YOU to Ed Hardy for answering my questions and for writing such a wonderful book!

 If you’d like to win a copy of Keeper and Kid, please leave a comment here on my blog by Friday, March 27th.  I’ll let the random number generator do it’s thing and pick a winner. Post about the giveaway on your blog and you’ll get an extra chance to win.  Don’t have a blog?  No worries.. just make sure to leave your email address here so I can alert you when you win!