Lois Leveen


November 16, 2011

You Say It’s Your Birthday

Nineteenth-century literary allusion du jour:

"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

Jo March and I have so much in common: authorial aspirations, inky noses, November birthdays.

But I did not have a disagreeable birthday. Instead, I had an affair.


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November 11, 2011

Civil War and Moo Shu

Although my pub date is still a few months away, last week I did the first public reading for The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Normally, stuffed sinuses are not what you want when you do a reading. But when the reading is part of an event called Oregon Jewish Voices, a little nasal tonality can be right on target.

I wasn't exactly sure how my novel--in which the main character is so not Jewish that her mother is known to break into an occasional chat with Jesus--would fit into an evening of Jewish authors. So I figured I'd let the audience decide.

I started by reading a poem I wrote about visiting a friend in Germany. The poem explores how the war (not the Civil War, that other war, the one that can be hard to talk about with Germans, but even harder to avoid talking about) shadows our interactions, even in another century. As I noted to the audience, it's pretty clearly a work of "Jewish literature." Jewish person (me!) has an experience that is shaped by, and shapes, her Jewish identity, and then she reflects on it in her writing.

Then I read the prologue and the end of the first chapter of The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Although I've done readings for other things I've published, this was the first time I'd read to an audience from the novel, and it was incredibly moving to hear their real-time responses to the characters and scenes. Almost instantly, I could feel a whole auditorium full of people being caught up emotionally by this story, which has already had me caught for so long. It was about the greatest feeling an author can experience.


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October 15, 2011

A Girl’s First Time

A girl never forgets her first time. Especially if it happens at the Airport Holiday Inn.

Just to be clear, I do mean her first time signing a new book.

I had a very memorable two days autographing bound galleys of The Secrets of Mary Bowser at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which brings together bookstore staff and librarians from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. These are the geekiest of book geeks. In other words, my peeps.

And two of the very bestest peeps I got to meet are Gabe Barillas and Jim Hankey, from HarperCollins.

Lois Leveen, Gabe Barillas, and Jim Hankey

They're like the Ernie and Bert of book selling, albeit without the stripey shirts and the rubber duckie. If the world didn't have authors, there would be no books. But if the world didn't have Gabe and Jim and their colleagues, there would be no way for readers to get books. And wouldn't that be a very sad time at the Holiday Inn?

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October 7, 2011

Guess who’s coming to breakfast?

Had breakfast today with the smart and talented Heidi Durrow. Her first novel, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is the 2012 Everybody Reads pick for the city of Portland (actually for the whole county, because that's how our library system rolls).

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky Book Cover If you haven't read the book, you should. The voice and plot are incredibly compelling. Her style is so concise and free of artifice, it's kind of like the MacBook Air--you can't believe how much it packs in.

The main character, Rachel, is the daughter of a Danish mother and a black American G.I. father. Much of the book is about her struggle to understand what this lineage means, and how it defines (or doesn't define) who she will be. I think what fascinates me most about the novel is that Durrow draws on a long literary lineage--full of European and American literary tropes and themes that date back centuries--and that in some ways, the novel is about understanding what this literary lineage means, and how it defines (or doesn't define) what twenty-first century American literature can be.

And Durrow pulls it all off without making a reader who doesn't know the literary lineage feel left out.
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June 5, 2011

Let them eat cake, whether or not they deserve it

Just deserts means that which is justly deserved.
Whereas just desserts means skipping the entree and going right for the ice cream.

And while I am a huge ice cream fan, I'm deeply indebted to the copy editrix at William Morrow for making sure the characters who deserve a comeuppance get a comeuppance, and not an ice cream sundae. Especially since there was no such thing as an ice cream sundae in the 1850s and 60s, when my novel is set.

That is one of the most challenging parts about writing historical fiction . . . we have stuff, but also words/phrases, today that people didn't have "back then," whenever the back then of a particular book happens to be. So just as surely as Mary Bowser and Bet Van Lew weren't riding around in a Prius, they also weren't chowing down on ice cream sundaes (c. 1897) or snickerdoodles (c. 1889).

Which is too bad, because if there is anything I would enjoy after a rough day trying to undermine the Confederacy, it would be an ice cream sundae, with a side order of snickerdoodles.
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