Archive for April, 2009


Veteran Journalist Becomes Debut Novelist

Chicago Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, Bryan Gruley is an award-winning reporter whose outstanding work includes one of the front-page stories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks that won the Journal a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. In addition to newspaper writing, Gruley loves hockey, and he loves small towns. He brings these three things together in the mystery Starvation Lake.

Starvation Lake is an Indie Next pick for April 2009, and has won Gruley comparison to Dennis Lehane by Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Set in wintery northern Michigan, it is a tale of small towns and their secrets, of hockey and of friendships, and of what it means to be a journalist. Cornerstone Books welcomes Bryan Gruley for a reading and book signing of Friday May 8th at 7pm.  Because I couldn’t wait until then to find out more about him and the book, he was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance.

The town of Starvation Lake is so fully imagined; I feel like I could walk down its streets and chat with all its residents.  Was it difficult using what you knew from real life and keeping it fictional?
Thanks. I didn’t really feel like I had to make a distinction. Some is strictly invented; some has its roots in things I’ve seen, heard, smelled and tasted; very little is a factual reproduction. It was more difficult getting the tone right so that I didn’t create a stereotype of a small town, something that some writers, especially newspaper writers, are prone to doing.

Are there things that do or don’t make Gus Carpenter a good journalist, in your view?  Why did it take him so long to look in the damn file cabinet?
Overall, Gus is a good journalist. He goes where he has to go, sees whom he has to see, and asks the questions he has to ask. His flaw here is his reluctance to confront the past, partly because of the pain it dredges up, partly because he innately (and rightly) discerns that nobody cares to hear about it anyway. Joanie’s persistence helps to focus him.

Were there any surprises for you in writing and publishing your first novel?

Plenty. On the practical side, I was flummoxed by how hard it would be to keep everything straight. Funny, but you forget some of what you wrote eight chapters and six months ago. But more important, I was surprised at how the characters exerted their will over what happened. I was not surprised to get rejections from publishing houses, but 26, well, I guess I hoped I’d get a deal before they became so numerous. But I was lucky because those rejections made it possible for me to join with my gifted editor at Touchstone, Trish Grader.

What are you reading now?  What’s your favorite book ever?
I am reading Michael Harvey’s second novel, The Fifth Floor. It’s great (and Michael, as you probably know, is from Boston, though his novels are set in Chicago). Favorite novel ever? That’s a toughie. Loved The Catcher in the Rye, Sophie’s Choice, The Old Man and the Sea, and many others. One I will never forget is The Crisscross Shadow, a Hardy Boys book that was the first book-length fiction I ever read, as a boy.

I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Bryan to Salem next Friday!



Life with Lynne Griffin

This Saturday at 1pm, we welcome Lynne Griffin, author of the new novel Life Without Summer (St. Martin’s Press 2009). Lynne is a nationally recognized family life expert, whose book Negotiation Generation provides a welcome roadmap for parents who are learning to set appropriate limits with children. Her turn to fiction presents plenty of fraught family moments, as well: Life Without Summer draws a haunting portrait of two women whose lives converge after a hit and run accident outside a school. Lynne was kind enough to talk to me about her book.

Where did you start with this book…story or character? How did it come to you at first?

I was working on another novel when the idea for Life Without Summer came to me. From day one, I knew the first line and the last line of the story, and they’ve never changed. I also knew right from the beginning who was responsible for the accident. Though from early readers I did get feedback that this was a difficult character to assign the role to, I’ve never wavered in my commitment to tell the story as it came to me.

Tessa and Celia at first seem to have few similarities, but as their relationships unfolds, we see that they are not entirely different. Do you like one character more than the other? Understand one more? Did you enjoy writing one more?

Honestly, I connect with each woman’s story, but for different reasons. I really get Tessa’s fierce edgy way of coping. I’m a bit intense myself, so I understand why at times she goes for shock value. Celia says at one point, “…Tessa is a staircase of emotion, one minute up, the next minute down.” I’m sensitive and emotional, so I respect these personality traits and don’t shy away from those who express their emotions in big ways.

As for Celia, I have a lot of compassion for her. I can see how easily a woman torn apart by loss might make a few missteps, suddenly finding herself on a road she wouldn’t be on if grief hadn’t toyed with her sensibilities. Celia even says to Tessa in one session, “…women often take different roads toward healing after a loss…just be careful not to get so far…that you can’t find your way back.” I have great empathy for her inability to take her own advice. It’s one thing to know the right thing to do, it’s another entirely to do the right thing, especially in a situation like hers.

Did your experience as a parenting educator come into play at all?

I’ve been a family life expert for more than twenty years, and there’s so much about my work counseling parents, observing children, and teaching educators about families that I use in writing fiction. In many ways, my knowledge of human behavior is the vital ingredient for writing good stories. When I’m creating characters, I use what I know about personality and temperament research to be sure each one has the proverbial it factor. It doesn’t have anything to do with the set of physical traits I chose, though sometimes those can help. I don’t like certain characters because they’re nice, either.

In fact, whether I’m reading or writing, I like my characters to be deeply flawed. To be honest, the more flawed, the more I seem to like them. For me, character likeability comes with a tight connection between plausibility of behavior and empathy. When a character acts in a way I personally object to, moral or spiritually, I’m able to cast judgment aside if I can identify with what he or she did, or understand his or her motivations.

What did you learn in writing this first novel that surprised you the most?

How happy I am when I have a means of creative expression. After graduating from high school, I had aspirations to attend college for theater arts, but in the seventies girls were still strongly encouraged to choose teaching, nursing, or business occupations. So, I attended nursing school and later earned a Master’s degree in counseling. Though I was an actress in high school and college, sang professionally for a time, and have always journaled as a means of personal reflection, I’m a relative newcomer to writing stories. I began writing fiction five years ago and was part of a wonderful writers’ group with Amy MacKinnon, author of Tethered. I wasn’t half-way through a draft of Life Without Summer when I realized I’d found the artistic outlet I’d always been searching for. I am completely at home writing fiction.

What’s next for you?

My next novel also deals with family life. In it I explore the impact secrets have on the closeness family members can share. I’ve always been intrigued by the power of truth on healing and the complexities of grief. I imagine all of my fiction will deal with these themes in some way.



Literally, a Huge Success!

An early Spring weekend (March 27-29) saw crowds out and about for Literally Salem 2009! Events throughout the weekend were well-attended and Sunday’s rain didn’t stop attendees from making the most of all of the workshops, author events and activities on offer. This year brought more than twice the number of festival-goers than last year, and the all-ages programming attracted literature lovers from 2 to 82!

Writers’ workshops were filled with aspiring authors and published pros getting tips on poetry kickstarts, the perfect query letter, creating a sense of place, and writing with the senses. Fans came out to meet favorite authors and to find new favorites. Readings and open mics were filled to capacity and drew an impressive array of gifted writers, and the Scrabble® Tournament crowned a new champion.

Special thanks are due to the many generous people who gave of their time and talents to make this festival such a success. So, thanks to Gil Pili, Adam Pieroni, Elaine von Bruns, Peter van de Bogert, J.D. Scrimgeour, Jean Marie Procious, Jennifer Bell, Beverly Strauss and Rinus Oosthoek for lots of behind-the-scenes work, done with commitment and enthusiasm. Thanks to Jennifer Jean, Laurette Folk, J.D. Scrimgeour, Peter van de Bogert, Brunonia Barry, Adam Pieroni, Jennifer Pieroni, Wendy Snow Lang, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Stacy DeKeyser, Donna Albino, Cathy Huyghe, and Lilly Roberts, for planning and leading events. Thanks to all authors who read and spoke to grateful crowds, and thanks to all sponsors, especially The Salem Film Festival, Hurd Smith Communications, The Battlefield Journal, Creative Ink, Front Street Coffeehouse and Cornerstone Books. Thank you to all who helped spread the word about the festival, and to all who attended.

Join us the last weekend of March 2010 for the next Literally Salem!