MM: What do you hope the reader will gain or learn from this book?
AL: I hope this collection of new and old pieces will give people hope during troubling times and help them see that grace and light are all around us, all the time, in surprising forms. We know we’ve been touched by grace — which is akin to spiritual WD-40 — when we get our senses of humor back. I really hope this book makes people laugh out loud and reminds us that life has a tendency to keep working out.
MM: What did you learn from writing this book?
AL: I keep learning that life is really a mixed grill: hard and sweet, tough and hilarious, lovely and infuriating, often at the same time. I learned once again that it takes me several drafts to get my pieces as good as I want them to be.
MM: Do you have a writing group or partner?
AL: I need total quiet and privacy, but I do have two friends — great writers — who read my final drafts, and give me criticism and suggestions. I would be doomed without their creative input. My editor at Riverhead, Jake Morrissey, is invaluable.
MM: Do you start at the beginning of a story or do you work backwards?
AL: I just sort of plunge in, as if I were going to tell a friend some interesting or funny story — I begin at the location, a brief description, the reason I’m there at all. A better beginning will reveal itself if I stick with it. Then I fumble around and lurch forward.
MM: What is your ideal essay length?
AL: I love 1,200 to 1,500 words. Long enough to say something of value, or to tell a story that is not bogged down with infinitely too many details. As the great Jessica Mitford [and many others] said, “Writers must kill their little darlings”; that means removing all of our overwrought, show-offy passages, all the lines we shoehorned in to look more witty or erudite. Half of writing, as in life, is taking out stuff we don’t need.
Book picks by Book Passage president Elaine Petrocelli
Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott, Riverhead, $22.95. Anne Lamott delivers a very personal collection of essays. Anyone who has mixed feelings about a parent who has died will laugh and cry with Lamott as she writes of moving from anger to forgiveness; she is intimate, wickedly funny and profound. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera November 11, 7 p.m.
Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel by Martin Cruz Smith, Simon & Schuster, $16. Tatiana was an intrepid Russian journalist who jumped to her death from a condemned apartment — or did she? In his quest for answers, Renko finds recordings made by Tatiana and soon becomes enchanted.
Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy, Atria, $26. Cow Tom, born a slave in 1810, was 9 when he was sold to the chief of the Creek Indians. He became fluent in several languages, and his service as a translator enabled him to buy his freedom. A parallel story portrays Rose, Cow Tom’s granddaughter, who, in spite of the racism of her time, inherits Tom’s courage to fight the issues facing her. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera November 10, 7 p.m.
Some Luck by Jane Smiley, Knopf, $26.95. The Langdons are Iowa farmers. They have five children and readers get to know each of them as they move from the 1920s through to the 1950s. Readers experience the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War through their eyes. Smiley’s work (including A Thousand Acres) is both witty and insightful. Some Luck is the first of a trilogy.
Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by Terry Shames, Seventh Street Books, $15.95. Sam Craddock used to be the police chief in Jarrett Creek, Texas, until the town ran out of money. When the son of the local banker is murdered, Sam soon discovers that the deceased knew of shady dealings that may have led to the town’s financial troubles.