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February, 2009

Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?

"For one thing, a writer, especially as he ages and if he has some success, has experiences that only a writer could have. So it was helpful to me to invent a fictional writer and I tried to make him as unlike me as I could."
-- John Updike on the creation of "Bech," his fictional not-alter ego, from an interview with Terry Gross --

"Possible Side Effects finds Mr. [Augusten] Burroughs as a famous author, writing about being a famous author on book tour. This is the celebrity equivalent of the Möbius strip, and it does not augur well."
-- Janet Maslin, in the New York Times --

And what do we have when a writer who has had considerably less success than John Updike or Augusten Burroughs decides to write about a writer who has had the kind of success that Augusten Burroughs has, and opens with a chapter about said writer on book tour?

That’s the set-up of Life Sentences, my fourteenth novel, which will be published on March 10. So far, the early reviews have been encouraging –- a starred one from Publishers Weekly, a solid, cavil-free one from Kirkus. Most exciting to me, the fair-but-tough Dick Adler [http://theknowledgeableblogger.blogspot.com/] has called it one of 2009’s “contenders.”

I found it paradoxically tough, writing about a writer. It is, in fact, something I’ve never done before. Oh, there are failed and never-were writers in my fiction -– Tess Monaghan, who started out as a reporter, Dave Lyon, who yearned to be a poet –- but I’ve never taken a writer as my major character as I have here, with the very problematic Cassandra Fallows.

In my mind, it was always clear to me that I was no Cassandra. For one thing, she’s a memoir writer. For another, she’s much more successful than I am –- not quite Elizabeth Gilbert, but getting up there, in terms of sales. Oh, to be sure, Cassandra grew up in my neighborhood and attended the same schools, but there are several crucial differences. She’s a year older! And, um, five inches shorter. She lives west of Forest Park Avenue, while I lived to the east. Also, did I mention that she’s a successful memoir writer, although not quite so successful when she tries her hand at a novel? How could anyone confuse the two of us?

Ah, well, as I tell students: Get over it. You’ll never put another word down if you worry about fiction being read as autobiography. People, some people, will think you are everyone in your fiction, that every story is rooted in fact. "Writing is treasonous," Anthony Bourdain writes in Kitchen Confidential. Writers betray everyone -- first and foremost, themselves.

The more daunting challenge in writing Life Sentences was providing a glimpse inside Cassandra’s bifurcated mind. She just can’t stop thinking -– at a book-signing, in conversation, even in bed. When I read the first chapter last month, at Eckerd College’s annual Writers in Paradise, I said it was the story of what happens inside a writer’s head. "Which," I added, "means that this could be considered my first foray into the horror genre."

I’m not sure I’ll ever read that chapter again -– it’s a little too long and way too meta. But I will start touring on March 10, and I hope to see folks on the road. Hey, it’s free entertainment in tough times, although it would be nice for the booksellers if you bought something, anything, by anyone. If you can’t afford a hardcover, pick up a paperback, and if you can’t afford that, then know that you’re contributing just by being there. It’s lonely on the road. That’s one of the rare things on which Cassandra and I are in complete agreement.

The Life Sentences Tour
(All events include a discussion or reading and are open to the public, unless otherwise noted. There are some additional appearances as well, after April 15, which will be added to the schedule later.)

March 10

BRUNSWICK, MD
BOOK CROSSING
2 E. Potomac St.
5:30 a.m. (NOT a typo. Come mingle with the commuters.)

BALTIMORE, MD
BARNES & NOBLE
3330 St. Paul St.
12:30 p.m.

ENOCH PRATT FREE LIBRARY
400 Cathedral St.
7 p.m.

March 11

BETHESDA, MD
WEDNESDAY MORNING GROUP
(A private event for members only)

SOUTH HADLEY, MA (Please note: This is Massachusetts, not Maryland.)
ODYSSEY BOOKSHOP
9 College St
7 p.m.

March 12

BOSTON, MA
BARNES & NOBLE-SNELL LIBRARY
360 Huntington Ave.
Noon

BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
700 Boyleston St.
6 p.m.

March 13

NEW YORK, NY
POWERHOUSE ARENA
37 Main ST, Brooklyn, NY 11201
7-8:30 p.m.

March 14

ATLANTIC BEACH, FL
BOOK MARK, 299 Atlantic Blvd.
12:30 p.m.

March 16

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA
Authors Luncheon with the Library League of St. Simons
Bonefish Grill, 202 Retreat Village
Noon

March 17

ATLANTA GA

DECATUR PUBLIC LIBRARY
Georgia Center for the Book
215 Sycamore St.
7:15 p.m.

March 18

WINSTON SALEM, NC

RayLen Vineyards
3577 Highway 158
7 p.m. Interview with John Hart

March 19
Discuss Life Sentences on Facebook!
INDIANAPOLIS, IN
CARMEL CLAY PUBLIC LIBRARY
55 4th AVE SE
A conversation with Jim Huang
(This is a ticketed event -- $40 in advance, $45 at the door – which includes a copy of Life Sentences. I will try to provide at least fifteen dollars in entertainment.)
7 p.m.

March 20-21

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL

The Broward Public Library Foundation
Literary Feast
(Please check the web for schedule)

March 22

BALTIMORE, MD
Borders Books & Music
170 W. Ridgely Road
4 p.m.

March 23

BALTIMORE, MD
BARNES & NOBLE
8123 Honeygo Blvd
7 p.m.

March 24

WASHINGTON DC
POLITICS & PROSE
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW
7 p.m.

March 25-29

NEW ORLEANS, LA
Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival
Please check the festival’s website for more information

March 30

SYKESVILLE, MD
A LIKELY STORY BOOKS, 7 p.m.
7566 Main ST
7 p.m.

April 2

CUMBERLAND, MD
THE BOOK CENTER
15 N Centre ST
7 p.m.

April 3

PITTSBURGH PA
MYSTERY LOVERS BOOKSHOP
514 Allegheny River Blvd.
Oakmont PA
7 p.m.

April 4

WASHINGTON DC AREA
Sisters In Crime luncheon
Site to be determined

April 5

EL PASO, TX
EL PASO PUBLIC LIBRARY
Annual Volunteer Recognition Program
501 N Oregon
3 p.m.

April 6

GLENDALE, AZ
VELMA TEAGUE LIBRARY
2 p.m.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ
POISONED PEN BOOKSTORE
4014 N Goldwater Blvd.
7 p.m.

April 7

HOUSTON, TX
THE BRIAR CLUB
Mystery Luncheon presented by Murder by the Book
2603 Timmons Lane
11:30 a.m.
Ticketed event; includes copy of Life Sentences

MURDER BY THE BOOK
2342 Bissonnet ST
6:30 p.m.


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