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The Author’s Perspective

Today we’re continuing and concluding our two-part interview with writer Jenna Blum, author of the novels The Stormchasers and Those Who Save Us.

3.   What is the hardest part of publicizing a novel?   Is it answering personal questions, the time spent traveling, trying to write the next book as you travel, missing friends and family, etc.?

I actually love publicizing my novels, so I don’t find anything about it difficult!   I do admit that I’m something of an extremist.   I travel a lot more than many writers do, 300 days of the year, to events, fundraisers, book clubs, colleges and libraries across the country  — literally from Seattle to Florida and everywhere in between — to talk about my novels.   I absolutely love meeting readers and consider it an honor, so whomever asks me to come and speak, I’ll try to make that happen!

This is a considerable challenge sometimes to  my personal energy levels, and I miss important events back in Boston, where I live:  weddings, births, milestone birthdays.   That’s hard.   I feel bad about that.   And I spend at least four hours a day in correspondence and with social media, so I have to protect and ration my time wisely.   Really, though, when I’m promoting, I promote full-time, and when I’m working on a book, I’m in the Writer’s Protection Program, leaving the house only to get more coffee and walk my black Lab, Woodrow.   My life is kind of like crop rotation, with distinct times for both activities.

4.   Lessons I’ve learned…  What do you wish you had known before writing your first novel and/or the second?

I wish I’d known that frustration is part of the process — when you’re asking the questions and the answers just won’t come, until they do.   Getting frustrated about my own frustration instead of just saying, “I did the best I could do today, I’ll try again tomorrow, let’s go have a beer!” only compounds the issue.   The creative process always has its ebb and flow.   (Ask me how I feel about that in a couple of months, when I’m starting to circle Book 3!)

5.   Support from your fellow writers…  Is this important to you?   It seems from the outside that more and more women authors are discovering and supporting each other, which is quite positive.   But is there a point at which you run up against the need to be competitors?

I’m thrilled that Facebook and Twitter are providing new channels for writers to find and support each other.   And I really do see that happening!   There’s nothing to be lost and everything to be gained, I feel, from getting to know each other and our work, sharing that and broadcasting to the world when you really love a book and its writer.

When I have met the writers I’ve connected with online, it’s as though we’ve known each other for years.   It’s a joy for me to have this venue to support them.

I never feel the need to be competitive with other writers.   There’s no point to it.   For one thing, nobody can write exactly the way you do, so really, there’s no way to compete.   And there’s enough of the pie to go around.   It’s not as though there’s a quota of books published per year, and if you publish one, somebody else can’t.   People will always be hungry for what we give them:  good stories, well told.

Thank you, Jenna!

Joseph Arellano

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The Author’s Perspective

Today marks the third year of operation for Joseph’s Reviews!   One of the things that I hope to do this year is to conduct more interviews with published authors, and so today we’re kicking off a new column, The Author’s Perspective.   This interview is with Jenna Blum, the author of The Stormchasers: A Novel, which we rated as highly recommended.

1.   Do you view the novel as a “life’s lesson” transmitter?   In other words, it took me years to learn this, so in my book I’m trying to impart that to others in the form of a story.

Both of my novels are about emotional questions that I began asking long ago, to which there are no easy answers.   Those Who Save Us, my first novel, about a German woman who became an SS officer’s mistress to protect herself and her little daughter, was written in part to answer the question I started asking when I first learned, at age 4, about the Holocaust:  “How can people be so  mean to each other?”   What causes people’s inhumanity to their fellow man — or woman?   We sometimes like to think we know a simple answer — we can lay blame on a person’s nationality, race religion — but what I wanted to do with Those Who Save Us was put the reader in some very unpopular shoes (a German woman during WWII) and show that the answers are not always so black and white.

My second novel, The Stormchasers, which is about twins, one of whom is bipolar, was written in response to my having beloved family members who are bipolar; the question this novel asks is, “What can you do to help someone you love?   How far can you go before you erase yourself and your life completely?”   There is no easy answer to the “problem” of bipolar disorder, and that’s what the book addresses.   My hope is that it will help readers who are bipolar, or who love people who are, feel less alone.   That’s what all good fiction does: it reaches a hand across the void that exists between all human beings and says, “Hey, you’re not the only one who feels this way.”

I don’t think my novels transmit lessons; I think they ask questions without ready answers.

2.   Living one’s life as research for a novel…  Did you just happen to storm-chase and write a book about it, or did you deliberately get engaged in the activity in order to do the proper background work?

One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to do all the crazy things you’ve always wanted to do and call it research, thereby writing it off on your taxes.   I’m kidding, of course.   Well, half.   In fact, both of my novels did require extensive research, and my third novel will too — I seem to be incapable of writing a novel that doesn’t necessitate at least 3 years’ worth of research!

For Those Who Save Us, I went to Germany 4 times with my mom, which was arguably scarier than the 5 years of stormchasing I did to research The Stormchasers.   For Those Who Save Us, I also interviewed Holocaust survivors for the Steven Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, an unbelievable privilege that I did not spin into the novel but that helped inform the emotional spectrum along which the characters live.   I write about the things I’m interested in, fascinated with, consumed by — so the research is part of my life, and my life becomes the research.

I did chase storms for several years as an amateur before I started chasing with professional stormchase company Tempest Tours (I’m hosting my own tours with Tempest this year, so please come along!).   During the past 5 years with Tempest, while chasing tornadoes I took notes, carried a reporter’s recorder, wrote nonfiction about the tour company and stormchasing, took photos and video (all up on my website).   That was all a very deliberate and specific research campaign.

3.   What is the hardest part of publicizing a novel?   Is it answering personal questions, the time spent traveling, trying to write the next book as you travel, missing friends and family, etc.?

I actually love publicizing my novels, so I don’t find anything about it difficult!   I do admit that I’m something of an extremist.   I travel a lot more than many writers do, 300 days of the year…  (To be continued.)

This concludes part one of a two-part interview with Jenna Blum.   For more information on Jenna, visit her website:  

http://www.jennablum.com

For more information on Tempest Tours, go to:

http://www.tempesttours.com 

Joseph Arellano  

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A Blurb Too Far

OK, so we all know that book blurbs (those quotes of high praise you find on the front and back covers of books) can be more than a bit full of hyperbole.   But most of them attempt to remain within the bounds of reality.   The following one may be an exception and it’s one that’s getting a lot of attention online.   (So we’ll add to that attention.)  

This blurb was written by one Nicole Krauss about To the End of the Land, a forthcoming novel by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen.   Are you ready?   Fasten your seatbelts.   Here’s the fantastical blurb:

Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it nothing can ever be the same.   Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before.   To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude.   David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique sense of her humanity.   For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it.   To the End of the Land is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense.   To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.

Wow!   And she wrote that, I’m sure, while typing with her gloves on and without taking a breath.   No, I don’t know exactly what I mean, but did she?   Whew…   Unflinching, unique light, turned back into a human being, all of that and more.   (So much more.)

So let me ask you – Would you  want to read a book that takes you apart and touches you at the place of your essence?   Me neither but, who knows, it could be a good read anyway.   LOL.

To the End of the Land will be released to the physical universe by Knopf in hardbound form and in a cozy digital Kindle Edition on September 21, 2010.   The novel will run 592 pages, so you’ve been warned…  But if you love it (especially if it turns you back into a human being), remember that you first heard about it here!

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A Simple Question

A Simple Question, Not So Easily Answered by Joseph Arellano

One seemingly easy question facing a book reviewer is – When should a book review be published?   Yet the answer varies greatly – and surprisingly – in the publishing industry.   I say surprisingly because I once wrote music reviews for a college newspaper.   At that time, if one asked when a record album review should be published, the answer would be “any time is fine.”   Record companies did not seem to care whether their albums were reviewed prior to release, on the date of release or even days, weeks or months later.   (Today you can find books with recent reviews of record albums that were released decades ago.)

Major publishers have so many different policies on book reviews that it’s a wonder they’ve been able to agree on an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).   One publisher wants no reviews posted prior to the date of release because, in their view, people get angry if they read about a new release and can’t find it at their local Barnes and Noble or favorite independent bookseller.   Another says a review is OK if it is posted one week or less before the release date.   Several publishing houses encourage book reviewers to post their reviews within the first one or two weeks following the book’s release.

If this isn’t confusing enough, a few publishers indicate that they do not embargo reviews.   In other words, if a reviewer has a galley or advance review copy (ARC) of a future release in his/her hands and wants to write about it now, that’s fine.

There’s similar confusion over posting pre-release excerpts; so-called sneak peeks.   Some publishers won’t allow them.   Some will allow them if the reviewer requests permission, and will then respond with specifics as to when the excerpt can be posted online or in print.   Ironically, some of the publishers who do not allow the posting of pre-release excerpts themselves post them on their websites or on online sites which cater to librarians and booksellers!

Confusing, huh?   You bet…

Then we have the policies of book review publications to which reviewers like me submit reviews.   Some want only reviews that they’ve received prior to the book’s release date so that they can post on the date of release.   Some review only new releases (often in hardbound form) but not the subsequent popular re-releases in trade paperback form.   Some, like this publication, review new releases and those re-releases missed the first time around.   It all means that a book reviewer needs something akin to a flow chart to track which policy applies to which publisher, and which policy applies to which publication.   Oh, my!

Why do things have to be so confusing?   I have no idea, except that if a publishing company foots the bill – and assumes all the risks of failure – it is fair to assume that the publisher can call the shots.   However, if I ran a publishing house – let’s call it Brown Cat Books for the purpose of illustration – I would have no problem with reviews of BCB releases running at any time.   Why?   Because from everything I’ve read, publishers must rely on the sale of back catalog books to keep them in business.

Think about high school and college students, and boomers who walk into a Barnes & Noble or community bookstore these days.   How many of them would you guess are buying a book that was released more than a year or two ago?   Perhaps not half of them, but it’s probably a higher number than your first guess.

Despite my view, one source has written that the expiration date for buzz to be generated on a new book is its release date.   In this source’s view, if people are not talking about it – and reading about it – on the first day it is sold, it is not likely to become a best seller; which translates into dead on arrival.   Yes, of course, there are and have been spectacular exceptions to this “rule” – two examples being The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Lovely Bones.   These are popular fiction releases that took months and years to become overnight best sellers.

This reviewer simply wonders sometimes why things are as they are in the publishing trade, but then I can’t complain.   I just need to remember to continuously update my Publishers and Publications Review Policies flow chart.

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.   Written for “The Critical Eye” column.

Pictured:  The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel by Maddie Dawson, which will be released by Shaye Areheart Books on August 3, 2010.

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