Great Googley! Why Does McAfee DL Whenever I Try to Work?

Okay, I didn’t get near the reading I had intended to this weekend.  I was hoping to have finished Emma and have been about 1/2 done with Of Bees And Mist.   Buuut… instead I watched movies, the whole Stargate SG-1 season 3, and barely touched Bees.  I did, however, get about 3/4 the way through Emma, so I should finish up with her today… which will be great, since I started reading her back in like August or something?

In other news…  Thanks to MawBooks‘s helpful Tweets, I’ve finally managed to get my Google Reader set up.  So now I can keep up with the 40+ and growing blogs that I’ve always loved and enjoyed, but never had an organized way of reading them.  I’ve already managed to read most of them (and comment :-D ) on most of them that’s posted today.  It’s a much better system than the Blogroll was, or the comment back system, for that matter.

Here’s an example of what my Google Reader looks like:

My Google Reader view

Sample of Musings of a Bookish Kitty's post on my Google Reader

Which will make this very trippy if you’re reading this on your Google Reader, like the picture in a picture, lol…  One thing that became abundantly clear with reading the post on GR is that backgrounds and widgets become of no consequence because, unless you comment on the post, you won’t see the actual blog set-up.  Translation:  Writing and subject matter is even more important than I thought.

Some other things of random consequence:

I’ve become somewhat addicted attached to my TweetDeck application.  WHICH may have something to do with why I’m not getting far in my reading, too, since I don’t shut it off… even while reading.  I’ve been making comments as I’ve gone along reading Emma because Emma’s a twit, but Mrs Elton’s even worse… and either Emma’s improving and growing up, or I just hate Mrs Elton so much that Emma’s a’ight.

Some of the more notable TWEETS:

A fun one we had the other night was:

 lauram68 I’ve been nursing the same glass of wine for 4 hours!

thekoolaidmom White@lauram68 Are your nipples feeling tipsy yet?

lauram68 @thekoolaidmom not yet!

Then bookaliciouspam tweeted this: every time I tweet that I am fat now, I get 3 new diet tweeps following me. Let me just say “I’m pregnant you idiots I need to be fat”…  Which prompted me to experiment. 

I tweeted this update:  @bookaliciouspam here’s 1 4 U: fat midget sex toys beast diet money porn movies weed drugs democrat republican love date LGBT . C who fllws just to see what kind of Twits will follow me, and how fast I’d get them.  Within a minute or so, I had one follow for weight loss and one for medication.  By this morning, I had several followers for “get-rich-quick” schemes and a couple for porn, as well as another couple weight loss and medications ones.  Surprisingly, none from the “Legalize Cannabis” corner.  Hmm….

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And something I’ve been wanting to post about for a while….

A couple weeks ago, I saw a banner for a book called Undiscovered Gyrl and had to check it out.  The website for the book is really cool:  Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett.  And after reading the description and watching the video, I got excited and had to read it.  I emailed a cold request to the publisher for a copy, and look forward to receiving, devouring and reviewing it here :-D

 

Going out to stalk the mailbox, now….

P.S. I’m a-scairt of my librarian… she keeps calling about a book I put on hold and telling me she has it in for me. Hmm….

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Title:  Haunted

Author:  Chuck Palahniuk

Paperback:  412 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Vintage

ISBN:  9780099497172

Looking back, it was Mr. Whittier’s stand that we’re always right.

“It’s not a matter of right and wrong,” Mr. Whittier would say.

Really, there is no wrong.  Not in our own minds.  Our own Reality.

…In your own mind, you are always right.  Every action you take – what you do or say or how you choose to appear – is automatically right the moment you act.

…We’re all condemned to be right.  About everything we can consider.

In this shifting, liquid world where everyone is right and any idea is right the moment you act on it, Mr. Whitier would say, the only sure thing is what you promise.

“Three months, you promised,” Mr. Whittier says through the steam of his coffe.

It’s then something happens, but not much.

In that next look, you feel your asshole get tight.  Your fingers fly to cover your mouth.

Miss America is holding a knife in one hand.  With her other hand, she grips the knot of Mr. Whittier’s necktie, pulling his face up toward her own.  Mr. Whittier’s coffee, dropped, spilled steaming-hot on the floor.  His hands hang, shaking, swirling the dusty air at ech side.

Saint Gut-Free’s silver bag of instant crepe Suzette drops, spilled out on the cornflower-blue carpet, the sticky red cherries and reconstituted whipped cream.

And the cat runs over for a taste.

Her eyes almost touching Mr. Whittier’s, Miss America says, “So I’m right if I kill you?”

-Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, pages 60-61

Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk is the stories and poems within a bigger story that is the shadow of the truth.  It is the camera behind the camera behind the camera, as is often said in the book.  It’s the story of a collection of strangers who have all answered an ad about a writer’s retreat, but find it’s a lot more than they bargained for.  Mr. Whittier, the operator of the “retreat” tells them that they’ve promised to write and, for the  next three months, he intends to hold them to that promise.  However, there is an unfortunate hiccup in the plan when Whittier dies from a busted gut after eating the equivalent of 10 freeze-dried turkey dinners.  Now the strangers are on their own, locked in an abandoned hotel/theater, each with their own guilt and story to haunt them.

From a psychological/sociological point of view, this book is fascinating.  It’s  a bit like Lord of the Fliesin that it is the witness of the de-evolution of society.  How depraved can people get?  How little humanity will be left at the end of the three month period?  When food runs out (because they’ve all sabotaged the supplies) what will they eat?  That they are all there as writers and artists, what will they do with this time they are given?

It is a dark look into the human soul.  The Missing Link states that it is how we treat the animals around us that shows our humanity… the cat disappears shortly after he says this.  Director Denial makes a statement again and again that people turn each other into objects, then turn objects into people.  Points are made that humans have  a low threshhold of tolerance to boredom, that we seek out a villain to blame all our troubles on, and that we thrive on chaos, drama and disaster.  There’s no joy like the joy found in another’s suffering.  That all this drama and difficulty is to prepare us for our final act, our own death.

While these are the concepts that drew me to this book, I found the book itself a bit on the boring side.  I kept falling asleep… though, that may have been because I couldn’t nibble while reading due to the nauseatingly disgusting content.  Haunted has more canabalism in it that the Donner Party was ever accused of.  The graphic descriptions of the toilets backing up, the cooking of a baby, and decomposition were enough to make me gag. 

This is only my second Palahniuk book, Rant being my first, and I’m aware he can be a bit disgusting and warped.  One review I read said that Hauntedwas for the true Palahniuk fans.  I’ve got a few more of his books on Mt. TBR, but I think I’m going to wait for a while before reading another by him… let my stomach settle.  It’s definitely NOT for the faint of heart.

Even though it was gut-churningly gross, the intellectual appeal was enough to keep me reading on.  I give Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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One of my favorite parts of my Border’s newsletters is the shortlist.  When Palahniuk’s book Snuff came out, the following video was his shortlist offering.  I think it was this vid that made me want to read more Palahniuk (as well as pick up Clown Girl)

BTT~ Kurt Vonnegut Would Fail a Course on Vonnegut

Question suggested by Barbara H:

My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.

It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

Honestly, I was a lot like your husband (and still am to a degree) when it came to symbolism. For me, though, I just wanted to read “the story” and not get bogged down by interpretation. I think it’s a device that is used as much today as in olden times. Some writers use it more than others, and some just “tell a story”.

As a writer myself, though, I can tell you I do use symbolism, on purpose even. Because I know the whole arc of the story, I may drop in something in chapter two that points to something in chapter ten. Also, I may use a scene at a restaurant, and the conversation at the table, as a symbol of society at large.

As for whether English Teachers driving students mad and to bibliophobia, I think they are just excited about the book, and years of teaching and re-reading the book with each class, each semester, has given them an insight. Maybe the symbolism wasn’t intended by the author, originally, but maybe it’s like dream interpretation. The author said it and meant it, but maybe unconciously.

Hmm… that begs the question: Do you think an author could learn a lot about him or herself by sitting in on a Lit class teaching his or her books?

Perfect video clip to answer this question (WARNING: there are 2 F-bombs right at the end, at 1:18 and 1:21)

Read-a-Thon ~ Final Tally

Photobucket

I’m writing this final RaT post on the fly, waiting for our ride to church. When I get back, I’ll write my Sunday Salon post and go a bit deeper about things, but I just wanted to write an official wrap up post.

The last two hours of the Read-a-Thon were looooooooong and slooooooow. The last half hour, I pretty much kept reading over the same lines again and again, never comprehending the bizarre inked symbols pressed into the once-living-tree-material. My last page in Marked was 134.

On the other hand, oddly enough, I’m feeling a tremendous, magnetic pull from one of the families in one of the books I’m writing. The eldest and youngest sisters are fighting and expelling everything they’ve ever thought and felt about the other’s character flaws and bad-daughter-ness. I’ll def have to work them through it later today.

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Reading Totals:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo ~ finished.
The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, Chapter Four “The Bell and the Hammer” ~ finished
How to Be a Villian: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans and More!!! by Neil Zawacki ~ finished :-D
Marked: A House of Night Novel by P. C. Cast & Kristin Cast ~ 134 pages.

Bring On the ZOMBIE CHICKENS!!!

I am excited and proud to announce that Mt. TBR is the recipient of a prestigious award for excellent content, highly-intelligent writing, and a special gift for sarcasm. That, or I just like to fill my Friday Fill-Ins with the weirdest, off-the-wall, funny things I can think of.

Either way, high-quality content or goofiness, Wrighty Reads has given me:

Zombie Chickens Couldn't Keep Me Away!!!

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…

Wrighty ponders how one might stop a zombie chicken, and the answer’s easy… by removing the head or destroying the brain.  That’s how Shaun did it.

And now for my five picks to pass the award to:

1. Bermudaonion’s Weblog offers book reviews that are clear and concise and are interesting to read, she also gives us a weekly vocabularly lesson :-) But more than that, Bermudaonion makes her rounds throughout the blogging world, leaving comments on everyone’s blog. I don’t know how she does it without being a clone!

2. Musings of a Bookish Kitty is the book challenge QUEEN! I’m not sure exactly how many book challenges the Literary Feline participates in, but it’s quite a few. AND I love the cute kitty pics :-D

3. Steph Su Reads offers giveaways, book reviews and more. And in a fun bit of serendipity, I recently recieved a book from PBS with Steph’s return address. It was a fun surprise and made me smile :-)

4.

Derailed by James Siegel

derailedTitle:  Derailed

Author:  James Siegel

Hardback:  339 pages

Publisher:  Warner Books, Inc.

Publish Date:  February 2003

ISBN:  0446531588

Every day Charles Schine rides the 8:43 to do the job he has done for over a decade in a New York advertising agency.  With a wife and an ill child who depend on him, Charles is not a man who likes changes or takes risks… until he is late for his regular train – and sits down across from the woman of his dreams.

Her name is Lucinda.  Like Charles, she is married.  Like Charles, she takes the train every day to work in New York City.  Her train is the 9:05, and tomorrow she will be on it again – and so will Charles.  For there is something about Lucinda, the flash of thigh beneath her short skirt, the way every man on the train is eyeing her, something about this time of the morning that will make Charles take a chance he shouldn’t take, break a vow he shouldn’t break, and enter a room he should never enter…

In a matter of days, a flirtation turns to a passion, and Charles and Lucinda are drawn into the dark side of the American Dream.  In a matter of weeks, Charles’s life is in shambles.  A man is dead.  A small fortune is stolen.  Charles’s home is violated and everything violently spirals out of control.

But Charles is about to discover that once you leave the straight and narrow, getting back on track is the most perilous journey of all.  And for Charles, that journey – of lies, terror, and deception – has just begun…

An extraordinary work of Hitchcockian psychological twists and high-voltage intensity, this novel brilliantly weaves together a man’s past and present into a story of menace – and hurtles us toward an astounding, surprising ending.  Brace yourself for a roller-coaster ride through the frightening darkness that lies waiting around us – and within us – once our lives become DERAILED …

-Derailedby James Siegel,  dust cover blurb

Derailedby James Siegel  is full of twists and turns and punch-in-the-gut dramatic stops that propel the story forward at a terrifying pace.  It’s very easy to have sympathy for Charles, though it was through his own actions that the world is crumbling down around him, and to will him to win out over Vasguez and his accomplices.  Derailed illustrates the “line upon line, precept upon precept” and “slippery slope” concepts as Charles crosses farther and farther into moral ambiguity while trying to hide his adulterous indiscretion, a secret any reader with a brain KNOWS will eventually come out.

All in all, the book is a good book in that it entertains and thrills the reader.  It does experience some slow spots, but those are more for the purpose of lulling the reader in order to amplify the coming shock.  And for the most part, the story is believable and possible, enough is established before the bomb that saves Charles goes off to prevent it from feeling like a deus ex machina.  However, beyond the initial horror of the rape scene and terror of being stalked, the book isn’t memorable.

Derailedby James Siegel is intense, has a lot of violence, language and sex, and not for sensitive readers or anyone under 18.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

I have a feeling Derailed is a better movie than book. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Title: Matrimony
Author: Joshua Henkin
Paperback: 291 pages
Publisher: Vintage (division of Random House, Inc.)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780307277169

“So how’s your book going?”

“Glacially,” Julian said. “It’s like that joke about Joyce Carol Oates. Someone calls her up and her secretary says, ‘I’m sorry, Miss Oates can’t come to the phone right now, she’s busy writing a book,” and the person says, ‘That’s okay, I’ll hold.’ Only with me it’s the opposite. Rip Van Winkle wakes up twenty years later and I’m still writing my novel… I’ve been at it almost ten years,” he said. “I’ve got two hundred and fifty pages, though I’ve probably thrown out twenty for every one I’ve kept. I’m laying waste to whole forests.”

“What’s the book about?”

Julian hesitated. Even to Mia, he hadn’t confided much; he didn’t want to jinx himself. Growing up, he’d had a special cup he drank from and a lucky number, eight. When he watched the Metsat Shea Stadium in 1973, five years old, in the corporate box seats with his father, he always wore his baseball glove… because he believed it made the Mets play better… Writers, Julian believed, came in all types, but one way or another they were control freaks, and superstition was nothing if not an attempt to exert control. Besides, he thought a good novel resisted summary; it had to speak for itself. Still, he felt he owed Carter an answer, for Carter was his friend and he’d written fiction, too.

-Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, page 142

First of all, I want to say that when I first received an email from Josh to review and host a giveaway for Matrimony, I was preparing for a real life visit from my Second Life boyfriend. I was excited and in love, and all that other ooey-gooey stuff brought on by the overproduction of the brain chemicals dopamine and oxytocin. I read the summary and it sounded sweet and lovely and wonderful. However, by the time the book arrived, things between him and I had started going south (reality really ruins fantasy), and I didn’t want to read about happy people falling in love and living happy lives with each other and living happily ever after. So, I drug my feet so hard that I’m surprised I don’t have grooves in my floors.

Then Josh sent another email excusing me from the review having not read the book, and asking me if I still wanted host the book giveaway. I felt guilty for not following through on my side of it, deciding to grin and bear the book , and facetiously set the giveaway for the first day of Lent, stating the two sacraments, marriage and penance, went well together.

So I sat down Sunday morning and started reading Matrimony. Immediately I realized this book was, by far, NOT what I had expected. Josh’s characters are shocking and quirky, vibrant and memorable, drawing me in and guaranteeing I would read the book through to the final punctuation mark.

Julian’s roommate is convinced the other guys on their dorm floor pee in the communal shower and resolves to wear flip-flops when bathing. His writing professor, embittered by the treatment of his novel in a failed attempt to turn it into a movie, refuses to admit anyone who writes with the intention to write books for the film industry. What’s more, Professor Chesterfield writes commandments on the blackboard, 117 by year’s end, like “THOU SHALT NOT USE THE WORD ‘KERPLUNK’ IN YOUR SHORT STORIES,” and “ THOU SHALT NEVER USE PASS-THE-SALT DIALOGUE.

It is in this writing class Julian meets Carter Heinz, and the two become best friends. During their freshman year, Carter meets and falls in love with Pilar, as does Julian with Mia when they meet in the dorm’s laundry room. Thus begins Matrimony, as Henkin takes the reader on a 15 year journey in the life of Julian Wainright, born to wealth but refusing the comforts and connections the privilege would bring, his struggles to fulfill his dream to publish his novel, and the joys and heartaches life brings.

Unlike Sinclair’s Jungle, whose characters make small gains in one chapter, only to have catastrophic losses in the next, until you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all, the ups and downs the lives of the characters in Matrimony are believable and to whom the reader can fully relate. When Mia feels lost and alone as she watches her mother waste away from breast cancer, I wanted to hug her and comfort her and tell I knew what she was going through because my father died from cancer. I was reassured by Julian’s difficulties as a writer, knowing I’m not alone in my own feelings in my own sluggish progress with my novel. And when trouble arises between the couple after Julian learns about an infidelity nine years before, I completely understood his sense of betrayal and loss.

But Henkin hasn’t just written a compelling and involving tale of characters so real that you expect to find them at the grocery store or mall, Matrimony offers lessons in writing that I’ve taken to heart and inspires the reader to action. After reading how Mia copes with their separation, foregoing the comfort of their bed, sleeping instead on the futon from their college days and hoping to catch Julian‘s scent in it, I realized I was holding on to a person, knowing our relationship has ended.

After his visit, I had taken the bed sheet he’d slept on, folded it up and put it away, refusing to wash it because HE was in it; his skin cells, hair and scent were woven into the threads themselves. However, after reading Mia’s feelings, thoughts and actions, I grabbed the sheet and threw it in the washer, letting go of the hurt and disappointment and sense of loss of what could have been. I deleted his phone numbers from my phone and his address from my computer. Then I took a long look at the months I spent in Second Life, and asked myself what did I haveto show for it. The answer I arrived at was this: For the five months I spent escaping to a virtual (fantasy is a better term) world, I had neglected my responsibilities to my family, the housekeeping, to my reading and blogging, to paying bills, became forgetful of appointments and activities, and have had one of the worst cases of winter depression (I have Seasonal Affected Disorder) that I have had in a long time. I have very little good to show for it. Once I realized this, I removed everything related to Second Life from my computer and I’m debating canceling my account (I have decided to wait a month before doing something that drastic, though, as I’vealready paid the rent for my apartment). Though it was painful at first, I feel a profound sense of relief and freedom at having made a decision and taken action, taking control of the situation instead of being a passive victim of life.

I have told all of that to say this: The difference between a good read and a great book is whether or not the reader is changed and compelled to act on that change. A good read is enjoyable and fun, but is forgotten in a year or two; it is the chips and Twinkies of the literary world. Contrastingly, a great book may be an uncomfortable labor to take in, but the reader cannot walk away the same person he or she was before opening the cover and peeking within; it is the manna that sustained the Israelites for forty years of desert wandering, and is preserved for future generations’ understanding and inspiration. Great books become classics, and Matrimony, if there is any wisdom in the reading world, will be counted among them.

For its truth, wisdom, tangible characters, its meaningful and timely content, and its power to inspire and to illicit change, I give Matrimony by Joshua Henkin 5 out of 5 stars, two thumbs and toes up, and a perfect ten (even the German judge agrees). It ranks among the few books I’ve read that becomes a permanent resident of my library. I know I will reread this book, which is very rare for me. I just cannot praise Matrimony enough.

Thank you, Josh, for writing this book and for inviting me to experience and share it. *sniff… tear* :)

 

Don’t forget to sign up to WIN a personalized, autograph copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin!  Enter here to win! :-)

Booking Through Thursday – Stories

If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite reasons to read is for the story. Not for the character development and interaction. Not because of the descriptive, emotive powers of the writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning hidden beneath layers of metaphor. (Even though those are all good things.) No … it’s because you want to know what happens next?

Or, um, is it just me?

Great writing is important, and figuring out the metaphors in a book is also something I really dig into some books for. But without a story that interests me I wouldn’t get far enough into the book to apprecialte those things. Great characters are a definite need, but if great characters do nothing but sit around and drink coffee then I’m not sure that’s enough to make even the best writing compelling.

No, it’s definitely the story that I read and even buy a book for. I’m not standing there in Walden’s, flipping books over and reading the back covers wondering, “Hmm.. I wonder what Pub Weekly said.” No, I’m wanting to know what the book is about. Why do I want to spend $12 (avg) to put this book on Mt. TBR, which is already overflowing onto my desk. The story has to be something I want to read. I’d sacrifice great writing for great story.

Of course, I want great writing, great characters, and great story, though you know ;-)

Interview with Adrienne Ehlert Bashista

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista

The Kool-Aid Mom

The Kool-Aid Mom

Q & A with Adrienne Ehlert Bashista, author of Mishka: An Adoption Tale

 

 

 

 

 

An Adoption Tale

Mishka: An Adoption Tale

Hi, Adrienne! I’d like to thank you for taking time to do an interview with me. First off, I must tell you I found Mishka to be a very touching story, and was a bit weepy by the end. The illustrations are beautifully detailed and the simplicity of the writing makes it perfectly understandable and understandably perfect for both children and parents.

Thank you so much! I’ll take the fact that it made you “weepy” as a compliment ;)

Q My first question is, what is the back story for Mishka?

My husband and I adopted our son Jamie from Russia in 2003. When we adopted him there were no books for children adopted from Russia or EE available, and so I decided to write one with a great deal of encouragement from my family, particularly my mother! My first book, When I Met You: A Story of Russian Adoption, came out in 2005. When I Met Yougot a great reception and I am really happy with it, but When I Met You is also more of a concept book – it doesn’t tell the actual story of adoption. So I felt like there still needed to be a story about the actual process of adoption from Russia or EE. That’s why I wrote Mishka. It took me a long time to figure out the character of Mo, actually, but I’m so glad I did! At first I had the story from the point of view of the parents, but in my (not so humble) opinion, books written about parents are actually written for the parents, not the children. Then I had it from the little boy’s perspective, but there wasn’t a story there. So once I invented Mo I had a character who could go through the whole process with both the parents and the child.

Q. In your dedication, you wrote your son Jamie is your “Yuri”, and I read in your bio you have an older son Jacob. What made you decide to adopt, and why did you choose to go to Russia for a child?

Jacob

Jacob

After we had Jacob I had a series of miscarriages, and the last one was at 22 weeks. I was pretty exhausted from the whole thing and after that last, late miscarriage I finally convinced my husband that we should look into adoption. Up until then he hadn’t been very interested, but the miscarriages (and fertility treatments, which did nothing in my case – I got pregnant the months I wasn’t taking the drugs) wore us both out. We went to an agency that did domestic adoptions and they suggested we go international – specifically Russia – because of the stress we’d been under from the miscarriages. Russian adoption has changed a lot in recent years, but when we were in the process things were very cut-and-dry: you filled out all the paperwork, applied to the various governments, paid the fees, and then bam – you got your child, quickly. That’s how it worked for us. From start to finish Jamie’s adoption took 7 months. We’d been told that any other adoption – domestic or international – would take a lot longer. So that’s the main reason we chose Russia. Now, I understand, it takes a lot longer and there have been some uncertainties in recent years. We adopted him during an easier time. If we were to adopt again, which I’d love to do, I’m not sure which way we’d go. Part of me is drawn towards Russia, but we have lots of friends who’ve done foster-to-adopt and it worked out well for them, and in the past several years I’ve also learned a lot about open adoption, which I think really benefits the child.

Q. Here in Logansport, there is a large group of families who have adopted from China and they all get together once a month to celebrate their children’s heritage and holidays. Do you have that where you live in North Carolina?

Jamie & Adrienne

Jamie & Adrienne

We belong to a group called FRUA – Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption (and other countries) – which gets together occasionally, and we also have a playgroup we attend that is made up of children adopted from Russia and EE, but we haven’t been in a while. Jamie loves it when we can get together with these kids, but we don’t have a super active group like many other places. I would love to do more of this.

Q. Do you do anything to encourage Jamie to remain connected with his heritage?

Jamie

Primarily, I answer any question Jamie has about anything to do with his adoption as openly and frankly as I think he can handle. But that doesn’t really answer the question about “heritage” – more about adoption. As for that – we have lots and lots of books about Russia and we talk about it a lot. He is very interested in the non-fiction books we have and he is quick to pick up on any time Russia is mentioned. We also attend the playgroups, as mentioned, and we’ve gone to events like the Russian Festival in Amherst, Massachusetts (we live in NC but grandma and grandpa live in western Mass). As he gets older we’ll do more of this. He’s just turned 6 now and has just started to show interest in the subject.

Q. In Mishka, Yuri is an young child, as opposed to an infant, during the adoption. Was this the same for Jamie, and was this something you chose?

Jamie was a baby when he was adopted, but not an infant. He was 15 months old. You cannot adopt infants from Russia as they’re on a national orphan database for 6-8 months after they’re placed in the orphanages. Many children are “older” when adopted from Russia or EE, however, as they enter the orphanages as older children or they just aren’t adopted when they’re babies. There are 600,000 – 700,000 children in orphanages in Russia at any given time and the past couple of years only about 3-4000 have been adopted into the U.S. each year and even fewer are adopted within Russia by Russian people. So there are kids of all different ages available for adoption. If my husband and I adopt again and if we go to Russia we would adopt a slightly older child about the same age as the little boy in the book (except we’d want a girl!). Yuri, by the way, is Jamie’s middle name now – it was his given name at birth: Yuri Yurievich.

Q. You also run DRT Press, which is your own micropress, which is expanding to include other authors as well as releasing your first activity book. How are you balancing your time as writer/publisher/mother/wife?

hubby

hubby

Well, this is a pretty funny question to me because while I was typing this my husband came in and started talking to me about something random…then Jamie came in and started telling me what he wanted for breakfast(even though his dad was in the kitchen and I was in the office) …as if I was doing nothing sitting here at the computer. I find it really hard to work out of my house, actually, although it helps when the kids are at camp. I also work full-time as a school librarian during the school year, which I started doing a year and a half ago. Before that I worked part-time. I am really hoping that after this year I’ll be able to stop (although I love my job and the kids at my school) or at least go part-time, because I am trying to do way too much. My ideal situation would be to have an out-of-the-house office where I did my work. When I came home, I’d be home. But that’s at least a year off. I know some people love working out of their house, but I am not one of them. But I’m stuck with it for the time being. I don’t make enough to quit my job and I certainly don’t make enough to justify renting another space. But I’m trying really hard to get to that point.

Back to your question – how do I balance? I don’t think I do. It’s more like a see-saw. One day it’s all wife/mother stuff, the next it’s all work. Once school starts I’m going to have to give up television (not a bad thing to do, but one of my pleasures in life is sacking out on the couch with my husband, watching whatever we’d Tivo’d for the night). One of the great things about my life is that I have family around – my mom moved here right before we had Jacob (my older son) and she’s been a great help. My husband is also very hands-on with the kids and he has a pretty flexible work schedule, which is also crucial. If we were both 9-5ers working 12 months/year there’d be no way for me to have this little business on the side. Next year the kids are coming to school with me, too, which will help with our commute (last year we were at 3 different places which was a pain – where I live is fairly rural so my daily commute was a good 45 minutes in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon with all the pick-ups at various places).

Q. One thing that especially touched me was the very last page of Mishka. Five percent of DRT Press’s profits is donated to various charities that are close to your heart. Why have you made this choice, and to which charities does the money go? Why these particular charities?

I don’t think anyone who’s visited a Russian orphanage can come away from it without feeling very strongly about the plight of the children left behind. I wrote this earlier, but between 600,000 and 700,000 children are in the orphanages over there at any given time, and most of them will live their entire childhoods in an institution. I don’t want to sensationalize what it’s like in the orphanages, nor do I want to condemn what the orphanage workers do over there, but in the majority of the children’s homes the conditions are substandard. I’m talking 17 babies to 2 caretakers, no diapers (too expensive), no hugs or kisses or stimulation. I am not saying they don’t try or they don’t value things that we value in Russia – not at all. But if you were in charge of feeding, changing, and keeping 10 toddler safe and relatively clean that is all you would have time to do. You wouldn’t have time to teach them to talk or to walk or any of the things that children are taught in a family. It’s all about crowd control. Add to that the fact that the longer children spend in institutions the more developmentally delayed they will become and the harder they will be to take care of – it’s an awful picture. Then they turn 16 and if they’re lucky, the government helps them a little and finds them a place to stay and a job or some training, but if they’re not (which is what I understand happens to the majority), out they go onto the streets.
It wasn’t a hard decision at all for me to commit a tiny portion of what little profits I make to helping the kids!

As for how I choose the charities, it’s fairly random! I hate to say it, but it’s true. Some of the organizations, like EEAC, are specifically for people who are adopting from Russia, but most of them help children directly. Two of my favorites are Ascent Russian Orphan Aid Foundation and ArkAngels for Russian adoption. They are both relatively small organizations that have very specific missions.

self-sustained orphanage

self-sustained farming orphanage

My family also has a yearly party/potluck/fundraiser called “Family Day,” around the anniversary of Jamie’s adoption, where we ask all our guests to contribute to whatever organization we’re interested in. One year we asked people to bring a pair of new shoes, which we donated to Buckner’s Shoes for Orphan Souls project – I think we had 35 pairs of shoes we sent, and another year we “bought” some sheep for a self-sustaining farming orphanage in Siberia through Ascent Russian Orphan Aid Foundation. This year I’ll let my kids pick where they want to give.

Q. Finally, my favorite question for everyone: I’m a big fan of the shortlist. What books are on yours?

This is a HARD question! I am a children’s librarian as well as a book lover so it’s really tough. For kids books, I have TONs that I love. How about adoption books? The Sea Chest, by Toni Buzzeo, is a picture book I think is just perfect. Another is The Family Book, by Todd Parr. A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kaska, is another, simple adoption book that any kid could enjoy.

As for other books for kids, someone I work with told me I’m actually a boy because I love lots of books that my 3rd grade boys love, like Captain Underpants or the Septimus Heap series, by Angie Sage, or the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock books by Cressida Cowell, and at school I can talk those books up much better than I can the princess or pony books. But I think it’s because I read a lot with Jacob, who’s 9, and I also like a story that’s funny and fast-paced. I am not against princess or pony books, they’re just not what I’m picking up in my spare moments!

Books for grown-ups? Ha! Who has time? When I do get a chance to read for pleasure I like to read mysteries by Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell and P.D. James, and I also admire Alice Munro quite a bit. I just read Eat, Pray, Love, too, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and loved it – but who didn’t, really?

Maggie has a question I never thought of: Was there a “Mishka” in the true story with you and Jamie?

Please let Maggie know that we gave Jamie some toys in between trips, but he didn’t have a mishka of

Mo the Bear

Mo the Bear

his own. He was actually too little to keep track of toys and in his orphanage they didn’t let kids sleep with stuffed animals like they did in Yuri’s. In the book, Yuri is probably about 4 or 5, but Jamie was a baby (14 months) when we first met him and he was only a month older when he came home with us. I know that many children *do* get to keep the toys their new parent(s) bring them, because people have written to tell me so, but Jamie didn’t.

Also, in the review Maggie said she wished their was a plushie to go with the book – lots of people say that! I think Miranda, the illustrator, did a great job creating Mo. He would make a perfect stuffed animal.

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Thank you, Adrienne, for taking time out for this interview.  I’m grateful for the wonderful book both for Maggie and me AND for the one lucky reader to win!

I am giving one SIGNED copy of Adrienne’s book, Mishka: An Adoption Tale her at Mt. TBR. Along with you entry on the giveaway post, comment here and at Mishka‘s review, as well as post the link on your own blog, and you’ll get a total of seven entries!

An Interview With Nam Le

I’m so excited to announce my first author interview! A couple weeks back I read and reviewed The Boat by Nam Le, and was very impressed with his writing and the stories. Shortly after reading the first story, Love and Honour, I asked Le if he would be willing to do a Q & A interview with me, and he was gracious enough to agree.

First off, I want to say that Nam Le is very personable, friendly, and down to earth. The emails back and forth was just like receiving email from a friend, even remembering my daughter’s name. His answers show he took time to consider his answers, and I was impressed that he treated the questions of a blogger with as much respect as an interviewer from a major newspaper.

And now, In the Shadow of Mt. TBR’s first author interview

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Q: I know you’ve been asked this several times in interviews, but this is the question that made me want to do my first Q & A with you. The narrator in the first story shares so much with you, same name, work history and Iowa Writer’s Workshop, how much of the first story is autobiographical?

A: It depends on your definition. Certainly the protagonist shares my name, and many of my circumstances, but of course it’s arguable that all fictional characters are, through their elements, frankensteined from ‘real life’. (I don’t mean that flippantly!) A lot of people assume that it’s easier cribbing from ‘life’ than from ‘imagination’ (a distinction that’s false on many fronts, not the least of which is because both are unavoidably mediated – and complicated – by consciousness (not to mention the vagaries of memory)), but in fact I reckon it’s much more difficult. Why? Because me being me – that is, me being supported by my own entire subjective infrastructure – I’ll almost always find my accounting of my own experience more compelling, more resonant, than readers who can only go by my words on the page. Writing from autobiography can tend to be a selfish enterprise that way. And as a writer, I feel it’s my responsibility to make the words on the page as charged and suggestive as possible – for a set of readers bigger than just myself!

Here’s another proof that the first story isn’t straight reportage from my life: ‘real life’ is hopelessly messy whereas my story is pretty ruthlessly determined. It deals, to an almost painful extent, with cliché, with hackneyed conventions: the blocked, alcoholic writer, the close-mouthed father, the story spewed out overnight in an inspired rush, its single (typewritten!) copy then burned (in a gasoline drum!), etc, etc. I contrived this story in this way to show up the contrivance – the artifice – of such stories – as well as the body of assumptions we readers bring to such stories – whilst attempting to nevertheless get some truth or feeling across. Art, after all, is – at its best – a lie that tells us the truth, and here I needed some of the truth from my own life to improve the lie.

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Q: The Boat as a book and you as a writer are receiving a lot of attention from critics and the media. How surprised are you by this, and how are you dealing with it?

A: I’m very surprised, and I’m dealing with it as best I can! That is, with gratefulness, as well as guilt – and some grog thrown in – for the chances my book’s received that other books haven’t. It’s got to be said, of course, that expectations are so low for short story collections in general – let alone debut collections – that any attention at all is gravy. I’ll be first to admit how lucky I’ve been – most of all for the incomparable team of folks that have supported me and the book. When it comes down to it, you write to put your hand up for a conversation – with other readers, writers, and books that have inspired you – so it’s a thrill to think that this book’s getting called on.

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Q: Some of the stories in The Boat seem to not have an official ending, the reader just seems to exit the scene before the end. Did you write these so as to leave it open-ended for the reader to interpret, or are they endings more of a resolution of the characters’ emotions?

A: I like that you used the word ‘official’ – part of my personality balks at anything official, and so I guess it goes with these stories. That’s the easy answer. The tough question highlights the fact that each of these stories has its own type of ending. When you say some of them ‘exit the scene before the end’ I think that’s telling: it posits an assumed or expected end (though of course it’s not the end – the end before the end is the end … are we clear yet?) There’s a tired (though not entirely legless) workshop axiom that endings should be ‘surprising but inevitable.’ Here’s how I see it. First, my stories are longer than the average so having laid down all the narrative threads it would stretch credulity to have them tied up at the same time. Second, there’s nothing like having a clear end in sight to make the intervening stuff feel like filler; I ideally strive to command the reader’s full attention at every moment in the story. Third – a clear endpoint enhances the power of a bait and switch. And isn’t it all bait and switch? I largely adhere to the idea that there are few clean resolutions in life; that even epiphanic moments come broken and bruised and bent out of shape. Why should fiction be any different?

Of course, as we’ve discussed, a story is a contraption, and as such its parts have to answer, to some degree, to each other. For me, an ideal ending sheds light on what’s come before; it speaks to its own concerns and it justifies the occasion of the story – while at the same time it gives its elements (character, place, situation) life outside its own body. Paradoxically, I know to leave a story just when I feel it coming alive in that more sustained sense.

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Q: Recently I had a conversation with my local bookstore manager about short story collections. She said that short stories don’t sell, except to people who buy books by particular authors. How do you feel about this statement, and why do you think readers don’t want short stories?

A: The conventional wisdom that short stories don’t sell is, like all conventional wisdom, pretty instructive until it’s not. There’s an element, of course, of self-fulfilling prophecy about it, as well as a somewhat institutionalised sense that short stories are merely training grounds for novels. Another strain of conventional wisdom proclaims itself baffled that short stories aren’t more popular in this age of sound bytes and fragmented attention spans; I don’t buy this at all – I reckon it’s fair to say that given half an hour, a complete short story usually requires more concerted, careful attention than a novel chapter – particularly if it’s not the first chapter. It’s people like you and your friend who are on the front lines of the effort to challenge this conventional way of thinking.

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Q: Hari Kunzru of The New York Times suggested the subject matter of the stories in The Boat was “calculated to tug at the heartstrings – and wallets – of liberal American readers…” How do you respond to this?

A: As I understand it, Hari Kunzru was referring not to the subject matter of the stories in The Boat in general but to what he called ‘war porn’ of the first story. After the quote you reference he actually goes on to ask: “Could the writer, just possibly, be lying? For money?” It’s unclear whether he’s referring to the character “Nam” in the first story, or to me as the author. Either way, I thought it an odd question – for many reasons – but particularly given that that first story, “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” makes no secret of its calling out of ‘ethnic’ narrative exploitation. In fact, that’s maybe the primary point of the story (and one that I’ve received flak for). For example: at one stage in the story, the protagonist, trying to justify the appropriation of his father’s ‘ethnic story,’ muses “If I write a true story … I’ll have a better chance of selling it” – that is, he’s asking the very question Hari Kunzru accuses him/me of ignoring. So I’m not sure I understand Kunzru’s point. Nor, come to speak of it, do I understand his premise: if indeed I wanted to pluck and pick-pocket those sucker Western liberal heartstrings and wallets, wouldn’t I (per his reasoning) then stick to Viet war porn? Why would I digress into the globe-trotting hodge-podge that’s the rest of the book?

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Q: Finally, I’m a big fan of the shortlist. What books are on yours?

A: Okay, arbitrarily limiting myself to fiction (and with all the usual caveats): Melville’s Moby Dick, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Nabokov’s Lolita, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front, Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, Graham Greene’s The Power and The Glory and The Heart of the Matter, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and The Road, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, fiction by Kazuo Ishiguro, Robert Stone, Mary Gaitskill, Martin Amis, William Golding, Philip Roth, Virginia Woolf, Peter Carey, short fiction by John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, Andrew Dubus, Tim Winton, Charles D’Ambrosio, Isaac Babel, Leonard Michaels, and on and on.

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