I really should be finishing up a novel, but I couldn't resist a little fun with ImageChef.com. What do you think?
And these for my upcoming novel, Where You Are (Kensington, January 2013)
I did a web chat a few days ago, and a reader said there’s a recurring theme in my work of an innocent (like Grace), and someone ordinary (like Billy and the rest of the tenants) who has to step into a heroic role. That certainly fits here.
I think another big theme is the fracturing of our modern society. The separation. How we need each other but we don’t, in most cases, seem to have each other. Most of us feel cut off from that strong sense of community. But it’s such a basic human need.
I also think I’m always exploring our responsibility to each other. Obviously we don’t have to be responsible for each other if we don’t want to be. But most deeply good people will question what they want to, or can, give to someone in desperate need. There is a level of need beyond which simply being human is all the connection required. I like to write from that place.
I don’t write with a theme in mind, but once I’m done with a draft of a novel, I spend a good deal of time thinking about what it all means. I’m wrapping up my third novel right now, and I do see some commonalties among them.
For one, I write about characters, good people, who make mistakes—sometimes BIG mistakes. Because that’s what humans do. But I don’t believe in demonizing people for their mistakes. I do believe in second chances.
I don’t believe that issues and problems are black and white. I believe that people are beautifully complex, and they behave in seemingly irrational ways. I want to show that to readers. I want to peel back the layers and show them what’s at the core of a character’s behavior. I want them to care, and to find their own redemption in the redemption of my characters.
In my second book, Where You Are (Kensington, January 2013), a father tells his adult son, “You screwed up. There’s no denying that. But that doesn’t make you a screwup.” That pretty much sums up the core of each of my books.
Definitely Billy Shine (born Donald Feldman). I love Grace, but I know I wouldn’t do well with a very loud 9-year-old in the real world. But Billy just captures my heart. He’s so weird, and so sick with his agoraphobia and his panic attacks, but he’s so funny and self-effacing and so basically good. You would think it would be hard to love a guy who hadn’t been out of his apartment for a decade or so, but he turns out to be surprisingly easy to love. Because he’s so fearful and so courageous at the same time. Because every little act of being alive is so difficult for him. So everything he does requires such courage. And when he starts to step out of that box a little for Grace, we know how huge that is.
I love them all! But Nate Schaper is the one who brings me to tears. I hurt for him. I feel like I understand him so well. Some readers have called him whiny, self-centered, a jerk. But to me, he’s a young man who is broken. And everything he says and does is affected by that brokenness.
Most frequent comment by readers
That they love the characters, and feel close to them. Just to take the Amazon reader reviews as a sampling: one says, "I felt that I knew each of the characters in this book down to their souls." Another says, "The author has described each character in this book with such poignant detail, you can almost envision them." Another says, "The people she describes feel more like friends or neighbors rather than characters in a book." One is even titled "Great Characters." My very favorite ends with: "...I'm already wondering when I'll read it again. Becaue I miss Grace. Already."
Now that's the way to an author's heart.
I made them cry. I hear that again and again. I like making readers cry. It’s the greatest compliment someone can pay me and a real testament, I think, to the way readers identify with these characters.
Favorite fan letter
I’ll have to go with the man who got a copy of the book, and hadn’t even read it yet when he started seeing a little boy hanging around his neighborhood, waiting for the church to open. He talked to him, and then asked around. Found out that the poor kid had already been removed from his home once by the authorities. And that a number of people in the community knew about the little guy, and had his back.
Then he read my book. It just seemed like a wonderful convergence.
I’ve had so many amazing emails—loooong emails—from fans. One of my favorites is from David, who began his email this way: “Proud of yourself today? You made a 50 year old male cry on the train!” Then he proceeded to give me a blow by blow of his reading experience, telling me at one point, “I judged the book before I finished reading it and thought this is going to be the typical ending to a great book. I thought to myself that I was really going to let you have it when I got to work today and send an e-mail to you saying it doesn’t always have to be this way. Why do you guys do it? Then came that lovely chapter . . .” I won’t spoil the book by telling you the rest. Suffice it to say, I smiled for days after getting that email.
What I like about Catherine
I truly believe that Catherine and I are kindred spirits. She’s the real deal—open, open-minded, passionate and generous. When I was struggling with my website I emailed her for help, and she kindly pointed me to the service she uses and advised me on getting it set up. Now what kind of author does that for another?
And I love the themes in her novels. She really touches young people. That’s why our friend Brent kept gushing about her until I reached out over Facebook and made friends. Of course, he’s still gushing.
And did I mention she takes gorgeous photos!
I’m delighted to call you my friend, Catherine!
I play a game with Catherine
I also asked Catherine to play a little game with me. I threw out a couple things and asked her for a quick response. Here's what she said:
Reviews - Peeks between fingers…
Biggest distraction - Twitter, The Daily Show, Facebook.
Obama - Too centrist. Liked him better before he got elected.
Libraries - Good.
Pride festivals - Too many people. But at least they are my kind of people.
Fifty Shades of Gray - Anybody got a cyanide capsule?
Realistic fiction or fantasy - Realistic only for me, thank you.
Fiction or non-fiction - A little of both is nice.
Who she'd like to share a meal with - If I could raise the dead, Dr. Seuss, Count Basie, Ruth Gordon, Harvey Milk. If not, Jon Stewart, the Dalai Lama, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, David Hyde Pierce.
Her Legacy - Telling the truth about what it means to be human. Or so I hope.
And there's more! Skip on over to Catherine's web site for more riveting discussion of the two DLMGs, plus a quick response from me!
Here's a photo of my cuties at the Pride festival 2012 in Houston. We didn't actually stay long enough for the parade. Our cell phones wouldn't work, and after I lost track of the girls and we couldn't find each other for about an hour and a half, we decided to call it a day! They're young; I'm neurotic.
But it was fun, despite the panicky wading through throngs of people in search of those two.
Okay, enough of that. We survived.
On to fan mail.
Just FYI, if you'd like to send me a note, you really don't have to apologize! I love hearing readers' reactions to Don't Let Me Go. And I'm amazed that someone would take the time to write me a lengthy email about their thoughts, their tears, and their lives. So click on the thingy on the right, and let me hear from you!
And a quick update! Where You Are is officially in production. I can't wait to share the cover. It's beautiful. I think you're going to like the story too. You can check Goodreads for the official blurb until I get it posted here.
Okay, back to work. I have an August 1 deadline for novel number 3, tentatively titled Just Between Us. It's Luke's story for those of you who've read Don't Let Me Go. Maybe I should title it Don't Hate Me Because I'm Luke. I get that sometimes from fans. Ha, ha.
Thank you to all of you who've written me. Keep the emails coming! I do write back.