Thank you for Visiting

This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

February 2010 Selection: The Wife's Tale

Manic Mommies Book Club Selection: February 2010

I'm pleased to announce that we will be discussing this book with the author on Feb 17th at 7PM central. Watch for details as we get closer to the date.

If you would like to enter the book drawing for one of 24 copies, watch for details on the Manic Mommies website (details should be up in the next week).

Update Jan 11: Winners of the book giveaway have been notified.  Congratulations: Angie S, Osheta, Lacy J, Amy, Carissa, Janet, Shelle, Randy Teri, Jennifer C, Andrea T, Kim, Julie C, Christy L, Dale, Emily, Rose, Kim I, Jill W, Sarah C, Sharon, Vicki, Amy H, Heather and Adriene

Author Q&A
Tell us a little about yourself:  I grew up in Ontario, Canada in a rural farming community not far from the Detroit border. All three of my novels are set in full or part in the landscape of my youth. The population of the town where I was born is considerably less than the number of Manic Mommies listeners - a thought that humbles me. I'm a 47 year old mother of two - Max is 9 and Natasha, 7. My husband and I have been together for twenty-six years and lived in downtown Toronto until three years ago when we moved to Southern California where he works as producer/director on the television show "24".

Do you write daily?  I struggle, like any working mom, to balance the duelling demands of motherhood and career. I take my children to school in the morning then return to my computer for a solid six hours of work before I have to leave to pick them up. I write 5 days a week when I'm working on a novel. When I'm not writing I am full-on Mommy, taking my kids to soccer practice, supervising homework, playing catch in the backyard. The time in between the final editing of a book and the launch of it has thus far been taken up with the job of promoting the book (in some cases touring with it) and perculating the next. This is the time when I can take a few walks and read novels and allow the next set of characters to emerge from behind the curtain. It's also a time for me to reconnect with non-fictional characters since I badly neglect my friends when I'm writing.

What was it like getting your first book published?  I started writing short stories when I was 20 years old and went on to write some terrible plays and then screenplays, a few of which were produced. I had a brief career as an actor - my biggest claim to fame being that I was cut out of the Al Pacino movie Sea of Love. My husband and I lived in an apartment over a grocery store in downtown Toronto, struggling artists (he was an actor turned filmmaker) trying to pay the rent. We were filmmakers together for a short time and had both invested years trying to produce a screenplay I'd written and wanted to direct. When the financing for it fell through for the third time my husband shook me out of my disappointment by suggesting I take some time away from the film business to write the novel I'd been talking about writing for fifteen years. We also decided it was time to have a family. I was several chapters in to Rush Home Road when I discovered I was expecting. Writing Rush Home Road was an emotional journey - maybe it was the pregnancy hormones - but I felt I'd found my place as an artist. I finished the first draft of the novel in the days before my son was born and my husband read it for the first time and we discussed the characters and plot during the hours that I was in labor. After my son was born, I revised the work on the few occasions that he napped outside of the stroller. I had no connections in the book business and sent the manuscript to a literary agent whose address I got from a directory. Some time later I received a call from her saying she'd found Rush Home Road in the slush pile, and read it, and wanted to represent me. The book was sold at auction in US, Canada and the UK. A fairytale - too ridiculous for fiction.

Can you share some tips for aspiring writers?  I often hear writers talk about the difficulty of confronting the blank page, or dealing with writer's block. The tip I might offer to combat both is just keep writing. I spend each morning editing the previous days work which gives me a running start and creates a flow for the work to come. I'm not always certain about the path that I'm taking but I keep writing. The truth reveals itself to the writer when her or she hits a wall and must go back, like travelling a maze, and start again at another point.

We often hear the refrain "write what you know" which is a phrase that shouldn't be taken too literally. Perhaps "write what you love" would be more accurate. 

What am I reading?  Joeseph O'Neill's Netherland. Fantastic!

Kindles and Sony Readers: I like to hold a book in my hand. I like to turn the pages and refer to the cover art and to gaze at the author's image. I understand and appreciate the attraction people have to the digital readers but they're not for me.

Just for Fun:
Favorite ice cream? Pralines and cream

Morning or night?  I rise early, 5:30 am, and have a quiet dark hour to myself before I wake my children.

Favorite season?  The spring has always been my favorite season. When I lived in Canada I was moved by the brilliant yellow Forsythia that blossomed after the last snow. Now I live in southern California and love the way the winter rains make green our parched landscape.

Where would I visit? My husband and I made several trips to Europe before children and we both fell in love with Italy. We've promised our young ones that we'll take them to Venice one day.

MMBC: Oxygen Discussion begins today!

After dinner was served (takeout Thai for my family and Kim mentioned making supreme nachos) – we had a wonderful discussion with Carol Cassella. I received several emails after the discussion expressing how much the readers enjoyed listening to the author. Thank you to everyone for taking time from your family and busy lives to discuss the book with us.

Let’s get right to it!

Carol is married with two sets of twins, is an anesthesiologist and finds a way to fit writing into her schedule. She starting writing as a hobby but did mention she has always wanted to write a novel and drew upon her life to build aspects of the book. There are two main characters, Marie is a woman with no family and focused on her career and her sister who’s life focuses on family (they are opposites).

The plot twist comes from the fear doctors have, they do not want to harm their patient. She also wanted to write about issues with malpractice and decided to write about her own worst nightmare and what happens when a doctor loses control.

Here are some questions for you, the reader:
- What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?
- Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?
- Did you have a favorite part in the book?
- How did your opinion of Marie change from the beginning of the book to the end?
- We didn’t talk about the men in Marie’s life, on the call but I wonder what you thought of Joe.
- Let’s talk about Jolene’s mom. Did you like her as a character?
- Lastly, do you have any questions for the author? If yes, leave them here and I will send a list to Carol.

The following recap is in my own words.

How would the anesthesiologists protocol change if the patient has an existing relationship with the doctor, versus coming to the hospital via ER? It varies depending on the situation (some surgeries take longer, we are not selected by a doctor or patient). They don’t always have a lot of time to establish a relationship and trust is the most important, the first five minutes are critical.

How did you come up with the plot for the book? Did you start with the characters or the idea of the story? When she started the book Carole mentioned that she thought she knew the characters well but they changed with each revision of the novel (as the plot was tweaked). At some degree every character can be a reflection of an author. The more history you give a character the more they can make decisions on their own.

One reader mentioned getting angry at Marie for taking the blame – why was she the only one? Is that what happens in real life? The author reminded us that this is a work of fiction but it is a realistic scenario. With no bleeding, and no obvious place to cast blame it is common for the anesthesiologist to take the blame since they give the go ahead.

Jolene’s medical issue (defect) wasn’t laid out nor did the author include an autopsy in the first draft. Her editor reminded her that readers want answers, they need a conclusion.

How long did it take you to write Oxygen? It took 3 ½ years. Her goal was to write a book for her children. She did get an agent quickly and when the book wasn’t sold she told us that she started burning copies of the book - on a whim sent it to one more agency. A few months later they called, and it was sold within weeks.

Did her family/friends participate in the editing? How did she take their input? While it’s important to get an outside view but hard to take sometimes. Be selective, find someone who is honest and objective – as a writer you have to have a tough skin.

With the death of a child in the book we had to remind some people reading with us (MMBC) to push through this part of the book. When people pushed through Jolene’s death we did learn the book wasn’t centered around this. Was this intentional? She wasn’t sure she wanted to have the patient be a child but it was more realistic with drug doses. Children are vulnerable, our medical system is not fair. She wanted to show this in the beginning and then move from this aspect of the story.

Are you working on a second novel? Her second novel was going to be about human trafficking – when she did the research she couldn’t write about this topic.

Her second novel, out Summer 2010, and is about a woman completing her medical residency (she is married and learns she is pregnant). Flash forward 14 years - she doesn’t finish her residency and ends up working in the medical field with a focus on the financial situation of a family and helping those in need.

What are you reading? Olive Kitteridge

Carol is a member of the Seattle Seven – a group of writers who support each other and are working to raise money for children’s literacy.

The feedback she has received has been so moving. She mentioned a letter from a mother who lost a child during surgery – it broke her heart. The author would love to hear from anyone who has a question or would like to comment on the book. You can visit her website to reach her.

She was off to a piano recital for three of her daughters. Thank you Carol to talking with us this week!

A few of us stayed on after the call to share what we are reading:
- I’m reading The Woman who named God
- Robin is reading People (she’s in book club for the wine)
- Kim just started Brooklyn and is enjoying it
- Sharon French women don’t get Fat (tip: swap OJ for champagne for breakfast!)

Jan 20 Book Selection: April and Oliver

Manic Mommies Book Club Selection: January 2010

I'm pleased to announce that we will be discussing this book with the author on Jan 20 at 7PM central. Watch for details as we get closer to the date.

If you would like to enter the book drawing for one of 24 copies, watch for details on the Manic Mommies website (details should be up in the next week).

Synopsis: The story of April and Oliver, two inseparable childhood friends whose existences again collide with the sudden death of April's younger brother

Author Q&A:
Tell us a little about yourself: The Nuts and Bolts Answer: I grew up on Long Island, but have lived many places within the United States and abroad. I am married with two children, and teach writing to middle school students. My work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Boston College Magazine, Cottonwood, Stylus Anthology, Newsday, and elsewhere through syndication. An excerpt of April & Oliver was published in Agni and subsequently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I have a Masters in Education from SUNY Buffalo and an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College.

The Amorphous Answer: I enjoy noticing the way light from a window patiently traverses a room over the course of a day. Clouds capture my attention, as well as bird songs, swaying branches, and gusts of wind. My propensity to stop and notice makes me an oddball. At the same time, I live a life teeming with deadlines, appointments, and responsibilities. How do I manage? Not very well! Every day, life gives me ample opportunity to laugh at myself.

Do you write daily? When I am in the momentum of a project, I write daily. I like being swept up by a story and surrendering to it. When I have that kind of relationship with a piece, hours pass like minutes. As a mother and teacher, however, I don’t often have hours at a time. Sometimes schoolwork and other responsibilities take over, in which case I write in snatches.

What was it like getting your first book published? It took time for me to hone my skills as a writer. At some point, I gave up on the idea of publishing and decided to focus on teaching. Nevertheless, I kept writing because it is what I do. I worked on April & Oliver on and off for years, periodically stuffing it in a drawer for long stretches. It was my good friend, novelist Sasha Troyan, who encouraged me to haul the manuscript out one more time. Having been away from it for so long, I reread the manuscript with a blend of satisfaction and horror. Because so much time had passed, and because I myself had changed, (the stretching effect of parenthood), I could clearly see what rang true and what did not. It was as if I was reading someone else’s manuscript, and knew precisely what to fix. When I was satisfied, I sent it to an agent, and promptly forgot about it. Six months later, the agent called, asking to represent it. Two days later, the book was sold. I feel very grateful for my good fortune.

What do you think of kindle? Electronic publishing makes particular sense for subject areas where content is constantly being updated, such as science textbooks. It can also help spare our kids’ spines, not to mention a tree or two. Personally, I do not enjoy reading novels electronically. I like the tactile experience of reading, dog-earing, underlining, and hearing the whisk of each page as I turn it. However, I think people should enjoy books in whatever format is easiest for them. Currently, I spend hours in the car driving my kids to school, travel soccer, etcetera, and have taken to listening to books on tape. Given the demands of my life at the moment, if I were not listening to audio books, I would not be doing much reading at all. Therefore, I think people should enjoy books in whatever format is most accessible to them, whether kindle, audio, or old fashioned paper.

What is one tip you can share with aspiring writers? At the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference some years ago, I had the privilege of working with the late Ted Solotaroff. He said in a lecture that during his tenure as founder and editor of The New American Review, he saw many gifted writers come and go. The ones who went on to become accomplished authors were not necessarily those who showed the greatest natural talent, but those who simply did not give up. My main advice is to keep at it, and always trust your own deepest instincts.

What are you reading now? I recently finished Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Presently, I am in the middle of a reread of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Next in the queue is Herzog by Saul Bellow. The last paragraph of The Road left me so astonished that I am still having dreams about it.

Name some of your all time favorite novels, excluding classics: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez; Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx