Congratulations, Donna Tartt!

donna tarttThis year’s Pulitzer Prize recipients were announced and the winner of the fiction prize is Donna Tartt‘s novel, The Goldfinch. Congratulations, Donna!

I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Donna Tartt. It all started back when I was working on my MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her first novel, The Secret History, had just been published, and everyone was talking about it. I was really looking forward to reading it–I’d read some of her short fiction and loved it, so I was certain I’d love The Secret History. Well, that didn’t really happen. Everyone else loved it. I hated it. I thought maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it, so I set it aside and decided to give it another try later. So I waited…in fact, I waited six months and tried again. Nope, no dice. Still didn’t like it. I felt like I’d been duped. I thought the language was inauthentic, and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief to accept that anything like what was taking place in the novel was even possible. I shoved the book back into my bookshelf and forgot about it.

Fast forward a few years and I moved to Sweden. I was having a hard time finding any books in English that I really wanted to read and books in English were rather expensive for a very broke English teacher who was only working part-time. I was going through a box of old papers and found my copy of The Secret History, which I didn’t even remember packing. Out of desperation, I began reading it again. This time, though, I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it was the watery grey light of Swedish winter that lent itself to the book’s mood. Suddenly, I liked The Secret Historythough I never fell in love with it in the same way that many others did.

But I came to see that Donna Tartt‘s writing style was moody, lush and exquisite. When her next novel, The Little Friend, was published, I practically devoured it. It was such a riveting story…terrifying, compelling and a great example of modern Southern Gothic.

Now it’s been a while since The Goldfinch was published and, while I have it on my To Be Read List, I haven’t managed to get to it yet. Perhaps it’s time. It’s been on my Kindle long enough.

Guest Post: Claire Duffy & Life Is Swede Day on 21 February

A few months ago, a colleague told me about a blog I had to read–and I was hooked from Day One. That blog belonged to Claire Duffy, who is our guest blogger today at Kim Talks Books.

For six months last year, I blogged as a fictional character.  The idea – inspired by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds – was to create a fictional world that initially appeared authentic, so that people could step right in, interact with the characters, and almost become part of the story themselves.  I’ve always been fascinated with that concept: who wouldn’t want to enter a novel they’re reading, ask questions or give a character a few home truths?

When I moved to Stockholm and the story of a lonely ex pat who gets drawn into a murder mystery began to form in my brain, I knew I’d found my War of the Worlds.  It felt organic: of course Regan would blog daily about her impressions and experiences struggling to settle into her new life.  Within weeks, she had built a fantastic, loyal following, who advised and supported her through culture clashes and the language barrier, a rough patch with Anders and her struggles dealing with his apparently cold and reserved friends.

Regan’s early accounts of being an ex pat in Stockholm are extremely autobiographical: one of my friends only clicked that it was fiction when she realized how much of what happened to Regan had happened to me. I love living in Stockholm, and love Swedish people – but my first year or so was definitely a struggle against loneliness, homesickness and frustration.

I remember at times feeling that I couldn’t read people any more – often I would meet someone and diagnose that they had no interest in being friends with me, then later discover that they were just being Swedishly reserved upon first meeting. For me it was just a case of getting to know and understand a new culture, but, but it was a ripe emotional state to toss a little murder into!  When one of Anders’ close friends is murdered and he is arrested, Regan sets out to clear his name – but unable to trust her perception of the people involved, unable to understand what she hears, it’s easier said than done!

Now that the final blog has been posted, the whole project has been put together into an ebook.

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Friday 21 February is Life is Swede day!!

The idea is to gather up all the fantastic support the blog has had over the last few months – and welcome some new friends into the fold – and see if we can get this little project that could onto the Amazon best seller list for a day*!

(*and also for the rest of all time. But you know, one step at a time 😉 )

To pull this off, we need to spread the word as much as possible to everybody in the whole world (ideally) to buy Life is Swede on Friday 21 February. Join Regan’s Army and blog, share, re-post, tweet, like, submit, pin with abandon! There’s even a Facebook group you can join and add your friends to if you really want to go wild!

Anyone who:

* tweets, shares, mentions the project on any social media will get a thank you & link of their choice on www.lifeisswedeblog.com

* hosts my guest post about the project & plan (I’ll email it on request!) or adds friends to the event Facebook group will get a thank you & blog button displayed on www.lifeisswedeblog.com, plus I’ll tweet & share to the Facebook group a link of your choice.

* blogs about the project (the story, the concept, the plan!) or reviews the book on Amazon will get the button on www.lifeisswedeblog.com, plus a thank you and link on the last page of the book itself, and will go into the draw to be name-checked as one of Regan’s blog friends in the text of the book.

These are just the thank yous I could think up myself (and though my fuzzy, cold addled brain!) – if you have any thoughts or co promotion ideas, I am all ears!! I’ll be monitoring any activity of course, but please do give me a heads up if you are getting involved so that I can be sure to thank you!!

The only thing that helps at times like this is buying books

It’s been a crazy two weeks. There is a lot going on at work, which means I am exhausted physically and mentally when I come home. And this is affecting my writing time. I wake up too tired to write. I come home too tired to write. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to read other people’s work instead but I find myself falling asleep on the sofa–not because the books are boring, but because I am tired. Ah well, at least I have Matera and my vacation in the US to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Anyway, I indulged in a little retail therapy and this is what I bought:

ImageMo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman

I had to get this. Questlove and I come from the same town, my beloved Philadelphia. We both come from West Philly. We’re both creative–he’s a musical genius, I’m a writer. Really, it’s a wonder our paths haven’t crossed yet. 😉 But seriously, I am always drawn to books and movies set in my hometown. And since I am a Roots fan and I have always liked Questlove, I knew I needed to get a copy of his memoir. And then a few months ago, Nick Hornby was talking about Questlove’s memoir and I was even more intrigued. It wasn’t available yet and when I tried to preorder it here in Stockholm, I was met with blank stares from  bookstore staff. Of course, after I finally ordered it from Amazon UK, then every online bookstore in Sweden suddenly decided they could stock it as well. I don’t care. I have it now and the cover looks great. I’ve already sneaked a peek at a few pages and this is definitely my kind of book.

I haven’t started reading Mo’ Meta Blues yet but it is the next book on my To Read List. Maybe I will save it as something to read while I am in Philly and then give to my oldest niece as a source of inspiration. I want her to see that there is more to the world than the confines of our old neighborhood.

ImageThe other book I ended up buying is not new but I didn’t want to read it when everyone else was reading it because I really, really hate when other people see you’re reading the same book and then they feel compelled to inadvertently spoil it for you. So which book is it? Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I love a good mystery/thriller and I wanted to be able to read this without everyone else a) trying to convince me it was godhead, b) wanting to discuss it and reveal spoilers, c) wanting to talk about which Hollywood A-listers should play Nick and Amy. Luckily the Gone Girl hype in Stockholm has died down. I think everyone has found a new novel to gush about. I started reading it on Thursday and it’s as good as everyone assured me it was. I’ve decided I need to Gillian Flynn’s other novels (Dark Places and Sharp Objects) as well, so they are also on the To Read List for this autumn/winter. And what could be better to read in Stockholm–that city where the winter cloud cover is so thick you nearly forget there is a thing called the sun–than really tight mystery novels that play tricks with your mind? 🙂

So I think I am set for a few weeks. I am editing Maybe Baby again after making changes suggested by a beta reader. I’m also beta reading a friend’s novel. And I have to wait and see what the future has in store for me. If all else fails, at least I have my writing, Nanowrimo and my gorgeous husband. 🙂

Happy reading (and writing)!

My Spring 2013 reading list

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No blossoms yet in Stockholm, but soon!

Spring has finally arrived in Stockholm, Sweden–the air is getting warmer, the ice on Brunnsviken has finally melted, I could actually go out without a thick scarf and hat on. You know what that means–now I get to tell you what books I plan on reading (or am already reading).

So what’s on the list this time? One oldie and lots of new books. 🙂

  • The Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton. Now, I read this book a few years ago and loved it. I was feeling nostalgic and decided to read it again.
  • The Husband Diet by Nancy Barone. Nancy is one of my fellow Matera brainstormers and this is one of the books we brainstormed together. Can’t wait to finally read it. I’ve preordered it. 🙂
  • Damocles by S.G. Redling. Sheila is another Matera brainstormer and Damocles is another book we all brainstormed. I loved the plot when she told us about it. I think this is going to be another hit like her previous novel, Flowertown. Different genre, complete different story but I’m sure it won’t disappoint.
  • The Lost Daughter by Mary Williams. Williams is an African-American woman who was adopted by actress Jane Fonda. The Lost Daughter is her memoir about growing up in Oakland in the 1970s and what brought her to the camp Fonda and then-husband Tom Hayden ran. It’s also a story about self-discovery and knowing when you can go home again.
  • Leftovers by Stella Newman. I loved Newman’s Pear Shaped--even when her main character was driving me crazy with being submissive to an emotionally-unavailable man. According to the back cover blurb, Leftovers is about friendship, love and enjoying what’s left on the table. I’ve already got it on my Kindle…soon I’ll dive in. 🙂
  • Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy. Every now and then, I need a dose of paranormal, and it looks like this time it will be the werewolves of Hemlock Grove who give me my dose. 🙂
  • Lessons in French by Hillary Reyl. Set in Paris in 1989, this is a story about a woman rediscovering Paris and her past. It’s also about what happens when life begins to spiral out of control. I can’t wait to dig into this one! 😀
  • Banker’s Death: Temptation in Florence #3 by Beate Boeker. Beate’s a fellow Matera brainstormer and, as I posted earlier, I love her sense of humor and her quirky cast of characters.
  • Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Theresa Anne Fowler. Having read so much by and inspired by  F.Scott, it’s great to finally find a novel about Zelda. This one is sure to be enthralling!
  • Woman on the Run by Lisa Marie Rice. Rice is the pseudonym for one my fellow Matera Brainstormers. She writes great romantic and erotic suspense and this is one of her books which I haven’t read yet. I think I will take this one with me to Copenhagen in a few weeks! 🙂

That’s it for now. I am anxious to get working on Maybe Baby again. I’m revising Chapter 7. Five more chapters to tighten and then I will feel ready to release it. 🙂

Happy reading (and writing)! 🙂

Nanowrimo Day 28 Update: Closing in on the end & Chapter 9 online

So this is it–I have until Friday night to complete Nanowrimo and I am nearly done. I only have to write 2700 more words.  I could probably finish tonight if I have the energy, but I don’t want to stress myself.  I’ll just let the words come out in their usual fits and starts until they flow more easily.

I won’t say this has been an easy Nanowrimo experience. There have been mornings when I wake up and I am still too tired to write (and it definitely shows) but I force myself to do it anyway. And then I wonder why I can’t keep this same momentum all year. I used to be a more disciplined writer. When I was working on my MFA, I always made sure I had an hour or two to write. When I first moved to Sweden, I made sure I wrote everyday. I think I went through a period of trying to adjust to a new culture, a new language and the crazy winter darkness here–takes some getting used, I assure you–and the next thing I knew months had gone by and I hadn’t written a single word on the first novel I tried to write. I joined a writers group, started 3 novels, finished one. Still felt like I wasn’t getting anything done.

And then Rebecca Foreman told me about Nanowrimo. The first year, I finished one day late. The second year, I faltered. Ditto all the other years I tried…until 2011, when I finished a day ahead of schedule. Now it’s 2012, and it looks like I’ll be a day ahead of schedule again.

By the way, Chapter 9 is online in all its unedited glory.

Happy reading (and writing)!

Nanowrimo Day 9 Update…

Just wanted to let you know I am 200 words away from 12k! And if you want to read the very, very rough version of Chapter 2, it’s online now. Go to my Nanowrimo 2012 page and you can read it. 🙂

I will post Chapters 3 and 4 on either Monday or Tuesday. By the way, I just realized that while I was writing chapter 4 I suddenly from writing in first person present voice to first person past. Not sure why, but this is Nanowrimo so I am rolling with it and not editing at all. And some of what I am writing is cringe-worthy, but it can be saved. 🙂

And now back to writing for me!

A new version of Sweden with Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Back in 1995, when I first moved to Sweden, I had this lofty idea that I would learn Swedish in a matter of six months, have tons of Swedish friends and completely embrace all things Swedish. I was in that honeymoon period that everyone goes through when they first move here. In actuality, it took me roughly two years to learn enough Swedish to feel competent enough to speak to people, most of my friends are non-Swedes and as much as I like living here I still veer towards non-Swedish things–especially novels. I have tried to be one of those people who loves Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell novels–to no avail. I couldn’t finish reading any of the Larsson books because I thought they were boring and poorly written. And Henning Mankell’s books just don’t speak to me.

But now I find myself intrigued by Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s novels. Maybe it’s because we are both immigrants and writers living in Sweden at a time when the country is struggling to deal with anti-immigration political parties with ties to neo-Nazis and a growing number of young people who come from immigrant backgrounds challenging the notion of what it means to be Swedish.

So when I was reading BN Review today and saw a review of his novel, Montecore, I began to wonder why I haven’t read anything by Khemiri other than a few chapters of his first novel, Ett Öga Rött, which we read in my Swedish class at ABF. After reading the review and then watching an interview with Khemiri from “Kulturnyheterna”(note: the interview is in Swedish so if you don’t understand Swedish, at least you can hear what the language sounds like), I decided I needed to add his books to my reading list.

Intrigued? Well, I’ve included a list of his work in Swedish and English:

  • Ett Öga Rött (unfortunately, this one hasn’t been translated to English yet but perhaps Knopf will translate it since they will be publishing Montecore in English)
  • Montecore (the official release date for the English translation is 1 March 2011)
  • Invasion! (a play + collection of short stories and commentaries by Khemiri, not yet available in English)
  • Fem Gånger Gud (or God Times Five, a play that was performed by the Swedish National Theatre and Stockholm City Theatre)

So it looks like I will be reading some Swedish books this year, which I guess we can say is part of my becoming a better reader in 2011.