Julie Hale

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Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston is a one-of-a-kind retrospective of a remarkable author. Produced by Lucy Anne Hurston, niece of the novelist, and the estate of Zora Neale Hurston, this unique book provides an in-depth look at one of the formative voices in American literature.

Presented in an interactive, lift-the-flap, scrapbook format, Speak traces the life of this spirited writer, from her birth in 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama, through her involvement in the Harlem Renaissance and career as a fiction writer, to her groundbreaking work as a collector of Southern folklore. As the book reveals, the woman who wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God was an innovative, independent artist who attended Barnard College in the mid-1920s (she was the only black student at the time), worked as a drama teacher for the Works Progress Administration (along with Orson Welles and John Houseman), and embraced scandal (she smoked in public and had a trio of husbands, one of whom was 25 years her junior).

Filled with artifacts, correspondence and rarely seen visuals, this special volume, which also includes a CD of radio interviews and folk songs performed by Hurston herself, is a unique homage to an adventuresome author.

 

Julie Hale is a writer in Austin, Texas.

 

Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston is a one-of-a-kind retrospective of a remarkable author. Produced by Lucy Anne Hurston, niece of the novelist, and the estate of Zora Neale Hurston, this unique book provides an in-depth look at one of the formative voices in American literature. Presented in an […]
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Here's an interesting bit of literary trivia: trade paperback books those appealing, affordable little volumes that bibliophiles just love to collect first made their way onto the market in 1954. That year, publishing magnate Alfred A. Knopf announced a debut list of very special titles, a group of hardback classics that would be reissued in handsome paperbound editions by a new division of his company. That imprint was none other than Vintage Books, and its inauguration 50 years ago was a watershed moment in the world of literature. Of course, readers are now familiar with the Vintage miracle the magical transformation of great hardcover titles into irresistible paperbacks, complete with eye-catching jackets and distinctive typefaces.

Now, in celebration of its 50th anniversary, Vintage is giving book lovers another reason to browse the shelves: Vintage Readers, a group of attractive, budget-friendly anthologies designed to give an overview of a particular author's work. Vintage Readers covers an international roster of writers, with volumes on V.S. Naipaul, Martin Amis, Joan Didion, Richard Ford, Haruki Murakami, Langston Hughes, Oliver Sacks and others. Each of these special literary samplers offers selections of essays, short stories, poems and novel excerpts, featuring lesser-known material and work never before collected in book form. The volumes also include brief author biographies. There are 12 books in the series so far, each just over 200 pages in length and priced at $9.95. This month, BookPage pays tribute to the Vintage vision by spotlighting some of the entries in the new lineup.

Sandra Cisneros
A favorite with fiction lovers, best-selling author Cisneros is a one-of-a-kind writer whose work distills the Latina experience. Cisneros' work has been translated into more than a dozen languages, and she has won numerous awards. Vintage Cisneros, with excerpts from the novels Caramelo and The House on Mango Street, poems from My Wicked Wicked Ways and Loose Women, and stories from Women Hollering Creek, is the perfect introduction to one of the strongest voices in contemporary literature.

James Baldwin
A groundbreaking African-American author, Baldwin produced classic works of both fiction and nonfiction over the course of his career. His writings on race during the 1960s were definitive, provocative and explosive, and they're featured in Vintage Baldwin, which includes excerpts from his nonfiction works Nobody Knows My Name and The Fire Next Time. Baldwin's fiction is also represented here, with the timeless short story "Sonny's Blues" and an excerpt from the novel Another Country.

Barry Lopez
Although he made his name as an essayist and nature writer, Lopez has also produced several masterful collections of short stories. Vintage Lopez provides a broad sampling of his work, with choice pieces from the nonfiction books About This Life and Crossing Open Ground, as well as the National Book Award-winning Arctic Dreams. The volume also features a generous helping of Lopez's fiction, with stories from Field Notes and his recent book Light Action in the Caribbean.

Alice Munro
Mistress of the modern short story, Munro writes narratives brimming with crystalline moments of revelation. This National Book Award-winning writer has earned international acclaim by bringing her corner of Canada to life. Vintage Munrospans the beloved author's long and distinguished career, featuring stories from much-praised collections like The Moons of Jupiter, The Progress of Love, Open Secrets and her most recent book, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.

Here's an interesting bit of literary trivia: trade paperback books those appealing, affordable little volumes that bibliophiles just love to collect first made their way onto the market in 1954. That year, publishing magnate Alfred A. Knopf announced a debut list of very special titles, a group of hardback classics that would be reissued in […]
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Here's the news, buckaroos: Those rootin'-tootin', pistol-packin' papas (and mamas) who made the old West wild are ridin' herd again. That's right with their old-fashioned, aw-shucks etiquette, quicksilver dexterity and quiet stoicism (not to mention their ways with a horse), cowboys continue to romance us. BookPage hits the dusty trail this month with a trio of titles commemorating a great American icon. So saddle up and come along.

Douglas B. Green, better known as Ranger Doug of the musical group Riders in the Sky–the fringed foursome whose heavenly harmonies and cornball comedy have made them public radio favorites also happens to be a scholar of American roots music. You heard right, partner: the Riders' melodious yodeler and rhythm guitarist is now o-fficially an author. Green's new book Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy surveys the cowboy tradition in country music, examining its history and repertoire, as well as the performers who made it famous on radio, stage and screen.

From early crooner Carl T. Sprague, who recorded the first cowboy hit, When the Work's All Done This Fall, in 1925, to timeless troubadours Jimmie Rodgers and Tex Ritter, to the Western revival of the present-day, Singing in the Saddle doesn't miss a beat of the cowboy's musical history. Spotlighting favorites like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, as well as those singing cowgirls of the '30s Patsy Montana and Louise Massey, the book offers a discography and timelines, all painstakingly compiled by Green. The inimitable musician-turned-author spent 30 years researching the volume. (That's a whole lotta book-learnin'.) The result is a briskly paced narrative filled with movie stills, photos and other cowboy arcana that's sure to lasso the hearts of country music fans everywhere.

Lovers of The Wild Bunch and Gunsmoke will have a boot-stompin' good time with Holly George-Warren's Cowboy: How Hollywood Invented the Wild West. Looking at early dime novels that dished sensational stories about the shoot-'em-up, rough-ridin' ways of the West, celluloid epics that celebrated the image of the wholesome, white-hatted cowboy, and TV serials whose handsome heartthrobs trotted through the dusty streets of Kansas cowtowns, George-Warren demonstrates how the myth of the range evolved in the media, shrewdly exploring the gap between the image and the reality of the wild frontier.

They're all here the gunslingers, the outlaws and the pioneers, the hard-working cowpokes and their starlet sidekicks. With chapters on screen idols like Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper and the Duke, and on the portrayal of African Americans in the West, Cowboy, full of classic photos and fun Western graphics, reveals the truth behind the legend of America's first real heroes.

A salute to the ladies who sit proud in the saddle, Rodeo Queens and the American Dream looks at the lives of the gals who ride in the ring as royalty. Known as the sweethearts of the rodeo, these beauty queens, resplendent in buckskin and rhinestones, are picked to kick off rodeo festivities across the country, baiting crowds with their stylish horsemanship and eye-catching outfits. But these fine-looking fillies are more than mere ornaments. Beginning in the 1930s, author Joan Burbick, an American studies instructor at Washington State University, traces the history of the strong womenfolk whose contributions to rodeo culture rival that of their bronc-bustin' male counterparts. Residents of the rural West, many of the queens Burbick interviewed for the book are skilled ranchhands who were raised on horseback, capable of breaking horses and branding beeves women who have witnessed the waning of farm life. Queens from the '50s and '60s, rodeo's golden age, share memories of the gender conflicts and racial issues that molded the sport and the towns that sponsored it, while modern-day monarchs describe the glitz of the commercialized, televised contest. Poignant and unique, these are personal stories that intersect with the history of our nation. A wonderful souvenir of a rural and urban spectator sport that dates back to the 19th century, Rodeo Queens is an invaluable collection of memories from women who can still recall how the West was won.

Here's the news, buckaroos: Those rootin'-tootin', pistol-packin' papas (and mamas) who made the old West wild are ridin' herd again. That's right with their old-fashioned, aw-shucks etiquette, quicksilver dexterity and quiet stoicism (not to mention their ways with a horse), cowboys continue to romance us. BookPage hits the dusty trail this month with a trio […]
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Those hips, those lips, that baby face: of course, we're talking about Elvis. August 16 marks the 25th anniversary of his much-mythologized demise. Since that unforgettable day in 1977, the King has continued to cause a sensation, generating as much attention in death as he did in life. And that's saying a lot for the hillbilly hipster who once kissed so many girls he got calluses on his mouth. A good boy and a bad man, a gentleman and a lady-killer, Elvis pouted and snarled, sang like an angel and danced like a demon. By the end of his brief life, he'd been enthroned on the top tier of rock-n-roll royalty and permanently absorbed into the national consciousness. As with all things connected to the King, a frenzy of activity has occurred in the publishing world to commemorate his purported passing. Unless you're one of the rare few who've spotted Elvis in a Burger King, check out the following titles to make sure his legend lives on.

If Elvis was an industry, then his target market was, of course, teenaged girls. Who else could be persuaded to purchase Hound Dog Orange non-smear lipstick? In The Girls' Guide to Elvis, Kim Adelman compiles all the juiciest, need-to-know info about the Hunk O' Burning Love. The creator of GirlsGuidetoElvis.com, the popular Web site, Adelman has produced a kitschy handbook filled with gossip, timelines and delicious trivia. Illustrated with retro graphics and rare photos, this fast, fun read covers the following Elvis-oriented categories:

Hair: Those sensational sideburns, that glorious pompadour . . . Believe it or not, his locks were brown, not black. According to Girls' Guide, in the early years, Elvis used a pomade that darkened his crown, which was later dyed black on a regular basis. (Compare his coif to Priscilla's: though it may have been challenged by her formidable bouffant, his was undoubtedly the dominant do. What hair, what a pair!) Girls' Guide checks in with Elvis' stylist, Larry Geller, who did his hair for 13 years and fixed it for the last time when the King was lying in his coffin. See Geller's account of the postmortem primping for proof that Elvis really is dead. Really.

Girls: A hobby. Elvis dated notables and nobodies, and had a special place in his heart for chorus babes. Natalie Wood and Ann-Margret were two of the dolls who appeared on his arm before he met Priscilla in Germany in 1959. She was 14; he was 24. Two years later she was living in Memphis.

Food: Naughty, naughty. Elvis's love for peach pie and fried okra resulted in split pants onstage. It also led him to experiment with freaky fad diets, one of which believe it or not required him to be injected with the urine of a pregnant woman. Girls' Guide includes the Teddy Bear's favorite recipes and examines the health problems that resulted, in part, from his hearty appetite.

Sex: That little three-letter word . . . Sorry, we can't divulge details here!

And finally, the Girls' Guide quotes from fans ("Tom Jones is Jesus Christ, but Elvis is God Almighty") are also fab.

An outstanding visual memorial, Elvis: A Celebration traces the arc of the King's career, depicting the bright beginning, the dark ending and all the drama that came between. With more than 600 photographs, as well as material from the official Elvis archive in Memphis, this weighty volume is a one-of-a-kind testament to the appeal of the rocker who gyrated his way to superstardom. Classic pictures of the 1950s Sun Records sessions feature bandmates Scotty Moore and Bill Black, while film stills of the '60s illustrate the movies we love to hate. All the incarnations of the star are represented here: cowboy Elvis, G.I. Elvis, Hawaiian Elvis, Elvis as wholesome country boy and sophisticated city slicker, as father, husband and son.

Close-ups of his costumes from the '70s show the shades and capes, sequins and fringe that made the singer such a model of sartorial splendor. Many of his ensembles from the Aloha "eagle" outfit to the famous sundial suit, a gold and white creation emblazoned with an Aztec calendar design that was the last he would wear onstage weighed at least 25 pounds.

Here's a new way to get your hands on Elvis: Villard's interactive title The Elvis Treasures is full of souvenirs and unique memorabilia that can be removed and perused by the reader. The singer's story is told through reproductions of documents and collectible items like letters, press releases and film scripts, along with illustrations from the Graceland archives. Pull-out posters for Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, a steamy love note sent to Miss Anita Wood, Elvis' gal in Memphis during his time in the Army ("I can't explain to you how I crave you and desire your lips," wrote the Hound Dog), as well as reproductions of tickets, telegrams and postcards, make this a mini-museum dedicated to the ultimate heartthrob.

With text by music journalist Robert Gordon, an Elvis expert and author of The King on the Road, the volume offers a comprehensive look at the life and music of the man who put Mississippi on the map for reasons that had nothing to do with race. Combining a fascinating narrative with clever visuals, this ingenious book is accompanied by Elvis Speaks, a 60-minute audio CD of interviews with the King. It all comes in a sturdy, handsome gift box. Perfect for fans who prefer to experience Elvis in 3-D.

Those hips, those lips, that baby face: of course, we're talking about Elvis. August 16 marks the 25th anniversary of his much-mythologized demise. Since that unforgettable day in 1977, the King has continued to cause a sensation, generating as much attention in death as he did in life. And that's saying a lot for the […]
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Publishers Weekly once described Gail Godwin as a mix of "mysticism and clear-headed practicality," a fusion of divergent forces that has proven a rich one for the author, whose novels Evensong and The Good Husband explorations of mortality and faith that mine the spiritual side of their characters have earned her both popular and critical acclaim.

"I spend a lot of time either in awe of or in pursuit of the unseen," Godwin says by phone from her home in Woodstock, New York. Indeed, her first nonfiction book Heart: A Personal Journey Through Its Myths and Meanings gives substance to the unseen, solidifying the essence of one of our most popular symbols: the heart. A synthesis, a survey, Godwin’s new book tours history, religion, literature and art, examining the role of the heart in each of these contexts and bringing to mind the best of Diane Ackerman and Annie Dillard along the way. Exploring the accretion of meanings, the layers of significance humanity has projected onto an emblem that probably dates back to 10,000 B.C., when the heart as we know it that shapeliest of symbols, all lavish arch and flirtatious curve was first scrawled on a cave wall in Spain, the narrative is part history, part anatomy, part literary criticism, an in-depth examination of what lies behind the good, old-fashioned valentine.

"Finding out how all these areas branched out and connected was a broadening experience," Godwin, a three-time National Book Award nominee, says. "It’s a heartful way to write, more of a circulatory way, to see how things tie in to other things."

Raised in North Carolina, Godwin has a soothing Southern lilt, which she punctuates with deliberative periods of silence, as though searching for the best possible words to express her ideas. The contemplative tone seems just right for the author, whose abiding interest in the world’s theologies lends her new book a certain urgency. When she encourages readers to "revaluate the heart," to "develop more consciousness of heart," Godwin seems to be writing in earnest.

"I feel more and more that we really spent hundreds of years perfecting our minds and our industries and our reason, and now it’s really time to catch up with the other stuff. Like the heart," Godwin says. "I think it’s happening in increments. Once you’re aware of the heart and heartlessness, you’ve already made some mileage."

Although Godwin has a strong background in journalism — she once worked as a reporter for The Miami Herald — the shift from fiction to nonfiction with Heart was not without its challenges. "As far as the writing goes, I found that I had to keep myself from being too dry and scholarly," she says. "Whenever I put on my scholar’s hat, my heart went out of it. When you think of the nonfiction you enjoy reading, it’s written in a voice. You’re not just getting information. Someone is bringing you the information through their personality."

Godwin’s voice in the book is poetic and lucid as she recounts some of the greatest heart moments in history — the creation of the stethoscope; the first valentine; how the heart symbol got its shape. From the evolution of Taoism to the Holy Wars to courtly love, she portrays the heart as a motivator for some of history’s greatest moments, showing how much of life has, in a sense, been engendered by one little organ. The seat of desire and the center of humanity, the stimulus for things great and small, from one-night stands to world wars, the heart, as the author demonstrates, is a point where we all connect.

Godwin experienced this connection firsthand during the writing of Heart, when she discussed the narrative with friends, some of whom freely gave her suggestions for the book. "When I worked on my novels in the past and talked to people about them, they always hung back from suggesting ideas," Godwin says. "They would observe a certain decorum. But with the heart book, everyone was plunging in: ‘Don’t forget to put in this poet or that artist.’ I decided that maybe when you’re writing out of a shared culture, people feel perfectly free and even obligated to contribute."

While a sense of shared culture permeates Heart, for the author, there are personal contexts at play in the book as well. One of the most poignant chapters in the narrative is about heartbreak and includes the story of Godwin’s half brother Tommy, who died during a shooting incident in 1983. Godwin had written about his death before in her book, A Southern Family.

"A Southern Family was a huge novel, and this chapter in Heart was a completely different take on what happened," she explains. "I learned more about what a broken heart means and what grieving means just from writing this part of the book. Maybe that’s a good instance of one of the blessings of nonfiction writing — you can get closer to something that really happened without having to disguise or design. You can still use all your imagination and try to illuminate mysteries, if not solve them."

Such were the gratifications of the nonfiction genre that Godwin has decided to do a sequel to Heart. "The next book will be about hospitality," she says. "I’ll treat it the same way I treated the heart, looking at all the ways hospitality has been perceived throughout the ages."

At the moment, Godwin is at work on a new novel called The Queen of the Underworld. "For the first time in my life, I don’t have a deadline," she says. "It frees me up, and I seem to work more. I’m interested to see how, having written Heart and found this new kind of circulation, it’s going to affect what I’m writing now. I think it’s going to permeate the fiction writing with more heart qualities," she says hopefully. "Things like zest, courage and taking chances at pain."

Publishers Weekly once described Gail Godwin as a mix of "mysticism and clear-headed practicality," a fusion of divergent forces that has proven a rich one for the author, whose novels Evensong and The Good Husband explorations of mortality and faith that mine the spiritual side of their characters have earned her both popular and critical […]
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We invite you, dear readers, to peruse the pages of The Crimson Petal and the White, a deliciously Dickensian jaunt through Victorian London that smacks of the city’s seedier quarters. Full of scheming whores, surly servants, simpering society ladies and smartly dressed gents, the book’s as rollicking, bawdy and brilliant a yarn as aught that’s come out of the Empire since Mrs. Brown sat upon the throne. So settle your specs upon your nose, keep a cup of tea by your knee and take up Michel Faber’s tale. We promise Petal will not disappoint.

Indeed, Faber’s newest novel, a large-scale historical set piece that unfolds over 800-plus pages, is (pardon the pun) worth the weight. At once an old-fashioned entertainment and fiction of the highest order, it’s a profound and eloquent exploration of class and gender in Victorian-era society whose implications will resonate with modern readers. The book marks another innovative move for Faber, whose last novel Under the Skin a genre-busting narrative about an alien from outer space was hailed by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Backpedaling a couple of centuries, Petal follows a large cast of classic British characters, at the center of which is Sugar, a smart, seductive 19-year-old prostitute who insinuates herself into the life of a wealthy perfumer named William Rackham. The self-absorbed William, driven by his lust for Sugar, pursues her with an air of lordly entitlement. She soon steals his heart, becoming privy to his business and family affairs.

And what a family it is. Henry Rackham, William’s devoutly religious brother, harbors feelings for Mrs. Emmaline Fox, a scandalously independent, good-hearted widow who ministers to London’s lower classes. And then there’s Agnes, wife of William, the consummate Victorian lady, delicate, nervous, dependent and completely deranged. Faber skillfully juggles these intersecting lives and multiple points of view to create a compelling social novel a narrative bolstered by his uncanny ability to channel female voices and his knowledge of London’s Byzantine streets.

Faber, who was born in the Netherlands in 1960, wrote the first draft of the novel 22 years ago, composing on a typewriter and correcting errors with paint, scissors and glue. But he set the novel aside, fearing no one in the publishing industry would bother with the ragged manuscript. Revising the book after two decades has enabled him to fully explore the complexities of class and custom in an age of ornate social ritual, an era when private desires simmered beneath public facades. BookPage recently corresponded with the author, who says shuffling between bed and computer while at work on Petal has left him disinclined to begin another novel. These days, short stories occupy his time.

The Crimson Petal and the White was recently serialized in the British newspaper The Guardian, which posted each episode on the web. Did it feel odd to send your work out into cyberspace in this way?
Michel Faber: I haven’t traveled into cyberspace to see it. I wrote it for myself, on paper. And I’m sure that if my work is destined to survive, it will survive on thin slices of tree, not as digital impulses flitting around in computers. Giving people a taste of my novel on the Internet is fun, but Bill Gates’ dream of a future where books no longer exist is the sort of folly that only someone who doesn’t appreciate literature could conceive. Books are meant to be held and taken to bed.

You’ve said that Petal combines the richness of Victorian prose with some of the effects that have been rendered possible in modern prose." What modern touches/effects do you feel you brought to the book, specifically?
The pace and density of the prose varies according to how fast I want the narrative to move. If you read Victorian pulp fiction the so-called penny dreadfuls" you’ll find they’re still a lot more verbose and ponderous than the spare, swift narratives of modern thrillers. In Petal, I could move from Dickensian richness to Chandleresque sparseness, as long as I handled the transition so smoothly that it wasn’t obtrusive. Another way in which Petal is utterly modern is in its social, political and psychological perspective. The story maintains the seductive illusion that it’s unfolding in 1875, but a lot of its insights are based on what we’ve learned since then, about feminism, child abuse and so on. Obviously the book is also much more sexually explicit than any Victorian novel was free to be.

You started the novel 22 years ago and put it away. What made you decide to have another go at it?
The first version of Petal was very grim, with Sugar getting crushed under the heel of Fate at the end, like a tragic Hardy heroine. I decided to give her more freedom, to give her a chance to be happy. In fact, I gave all the characters freedom to grow and develop. The original architecture of the book was sound enough to permit this.

Where did the idea of Sugar come from? With her intellect and wisdom, she makes William and most of the other men in the book look foolish.
Like Isserley [the alien heroine] in Under the Skin, Sugar isn’t as clever and together as she imagines she is. She’s sharp and well-read and resourceful, but there’s a lot she needs to learn. Her potential, and the emotional damage that threatens to kill that potential, are among the more autobiographical aspects of the book.

You were born in the Netherlands, moved to Australia and now live in Scotland. How did these moves shape your sense of the world and the concept of home, and how have they influenced your writing?
I don’t feel I have a home anywhere, which may be why some of my characters are so seriously alienated from their environment. Sugar and William are pretty much at home in London, though. If a story requires its characters to have roots, I give them roots. Authors have no right to impose their own screw-ups onto stories where they don’t belong. Each story knows what’s best for it, if the author will only listen.

I spoke only Dutch until I was seven, and in my shock at being dumped in an alien country I probably learned English better than I needed to. However, I think it’s possible to make too much of this idea that having to cope with a language change at a tender age leads one to have certain notions about communication. I think it’s family life, not nationality, that creates your sense of whether communication is difficult or easy, safe or treacherous.

Speaking of communication, we’re curious about your reluctance to do phone interviews. Would you care to comment?
When we communicate by letter/email, we know what the limitations are and we allow for them. Telephones are evil because they encourage you to imagine that you’re having a real conversation, when really you’re hearing disembodied noises coming out of a plastic doodad.

 

 

 

We invite you, dear readers, to peruse the pages of The Crimson Petal and the White, a deliciously Dickensian jaunt through Victorian London that smacks of the city’s seedier quarters. Full of scheming whores, surly servants, simpering society ladies and smartly dressed gents, the book’s as rollicking, bawdy and brilliant a yarn as aught that’s […]
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The former Texas governor fights a crippling disease When Ann Richards fractured her hand in a fall nine years ago, she went to the doctor for a bone density test only to learn that she had osteopenia, an early form of osteoporosis. The diagnosis spurred the former Texas governor, whose mother and grandmother also suffered from the disease, to write I’m Not Slowing Down: Winning My Battle with Osteoporosis, an inspiring little volume filled with the author’s shrewd insights into health care, gender and, yes, politics.

Co-written with Richard U. Levine, M.D., I’m Not Slowing Down is an accessible, informative look at a disease that dogs 28 million people, 80 percent of whom are women. Offering information on diet, medication and bone density, as well as instructional photos and tips on exercise, the book also provides a fascinating peek into Richards’ personal life. Her indomitable spirit and sassy attitude are in evidence throughout. BookPage recently discussed the book with its author, who turned 69 this year.

BookPage: How did being diagnosed with osteopenia change your life? Ann Richards: My mother’s last years and my own diagnosis caused me to become really aggressive about taking care of myself. Although I had always led an active life, I was not diligent about physical exercise. Weight-bearing exercises build bones. I now work out in a gym lifting weights twice a week, and I try to walk six to nine miles each week. For the first time, I am taking responsibility for my own health.

The book is a wonderful blend of autobiography and invaluable health information, as well as a memorial to your mother and a tribute to womanhood. What specific goals did you have in mind when you wrote it? My real goal in writing this book was to get women and men to be aware of osteoporosis and its debilitating affects and to ask their doctors for a bone density test. I wanted the book to be short and simple. I specifically asked for photographs of myself lifting weights because most women foolishly think they are too old to build muscle, or that they will have a male physique as a consequence. The stories and the discussions about women are simply to encourage women to think independently and care for themselves. Dr. Levine made the medical part understandable and helpful. What tips for avoiding osteoporosis can you offer a young woman? Young women should begin to build bone mass early in their lives. The more mass there is, the less they will lose in later life. They should enjoy a diet of calcium-rich foods and avoid food and drink that causes bone loss. This book has easy-to-read charts and assists in choosing those foods. Exercise is important for young women to build bone mass and muscle strength. In the book, you encourage people of all ages to take charge of their health and not be afraid to ask questions of their doctors. Why do you think people have such a hard time doing these things? Most people assume that physician language is akin to technical, non-understandable jargon. It does not have to be that way. Doctors do not perform witchcraft. They simply interpret what they are told and what tests reveal. They diagnose and prescribe treatment. Our responsibility is to help doctors know what is going on in our bodies and to insist on clear, precise, understandable language in response. Doctors are our partners, and they need all the assistance we can give them to be sure we get the right diagnosis. What are your goals at this point in your life? I intend to lead a busy, fulfilling, active life. I want to travel the world and see new places and learn new things. I want to remain interesting to my children and grandchildren, and I want them to hurry to keep up with me and not the other way around. I want to work and I want to play.

The former Texas governor fights a crippling disease When Ann Richards fractured her hand in a fall nine years ago, she went to the doctor for a bone density test only to learn that she had osteopenia, an early form of osteoporosis. The diagnosis spurred the former Texas governor, whose mother and grandmother also suffered […]
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"There was a time when I didn't know where my next husband was coming from," Mae West once said. This firecracker of a quote, one of many in her famously inflammatory arsenal, was more than just a show of verbal bravado. The shapely blonde from Brooklyn had a romantic life that would've exhausted most mortals, and she kept at it with a man less than half her age until well into her 70s.

Few women could quip like West without eating their words. Over the years, her white-hot sound bytes, not to mention her movies, have become touchstones of seduction. How did she do it? What separated West from the rest? (In 1935, with a salary of about $480,000, she was the highest-paid woman in America.) The starlet's secrets, and those of her sister temptresses, are revealed in Betsey Prioleau's Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love.

An exuberant tribute to female physical, intellectual and spiritual power, Prioleau's book is a feast of language and ideas that spans centuries, drawing on mythology, history and religion to capture the classic seductress in all her varied incarnations, from the goddesses of ancient Greece to modern-day deities of glam. Seductress unzips these mistresses of amour in brief, sizzling biographies, but the volume is more than just a retrospective of history's hottest heroines. Filled with advice on how to stoke the fire of desire, it's also a guide for women who want to jump-start their own romantic lives.

Chronicling the conquests of Cleopatra and Colette, Lola Montez and Elizabeth I, Seductress is a provocative (and instructive) catalog of formidable femmes women with the kind of come-hither command that could make a compliant lap dog of the roughest puppy. Contrary to popular belief, according to Prioleau, this near-infallible ability to win men wasn't a matter of biology, chemistry or voodoo. It was simply a studied, practiced mastery of the field of eros an expertise that's within the grasp of every woman. "Inspiring and sustaining passion is a high art form that requires imagination and psychological savvy," says the author, who believes that "four-star character is the strongest aphrodisiac."

Prioleau was drawn to this piping-hot topic during graduate school. The daughter of a Southern belle, she grew up in Richmond, Virginia, becoming well-acquainted with the prissier traditions of Dixie. "Girls in those days without real career options had to seduce for their supper," she says. Disillusioned by the feminist movement's devaluation of women's sexuality, she began researching the stories of females who succeeded in both their personal and their working lives. Discovering that the classic enchantress someone who thrived on physical desire and professional achievement was a frequent figure in history, a recurring archetype who couldn't be kept down, but whose story was often misinterpreted or ignored, she decided to set the record straight with Seductress.

"Most of us have the wrong idea about the seductress," says Prioleau. "We automatically imagine brainless beach babes, servile man pleasers, or shark-hearted vamps with deep cleavages and dark wiles." True femme fatales, she explains, "demolish all of these cheap stereotypes. They're actually models of full empowerment women of clout and worth who succeeded in love and life."

Seductress provides ample evidence of this. Chapters like "Homely Sirens" and "Silver Foxes" feature unconventional females who can't be measured by the usual standards of beauty and youth. The seductresses here don't rely on physical wiles to bewitch, yet they are sexy, strong and accomplished women like George Sand, Edith Piaf and Prioleau's favorite, Pauline Viardot, a 19th-century opera star with a hypnotic voice and distinctly unlovely features, who netted Hector Berlioz and Ivan Turgenev, among others.

"They teach women they don't have to cave into traditional femininity," the author says of these legendary ladies. "Better still, they don't have to be beautiful or young, hold their tongues, play tricks, or teeter on Manolo Blahniks to captivate men." In her quest to feature inspiring, positive role models for readers, Prioleau found it necessary to eliminate history's more notorious man-killers from her narrative, and that's why some of the book's likeliest candidates for inclusion didn't make the cut. A few of the names you won't find listed in Seductress' index: Marilyn Monroe, Mata Hari and Jennifer Lopez, women whose private lives make the tabloids seem tame. "To qualify," Prioleau explains, "a seductress had to be a powerful woman who won across the board erotically, personally and vocationally and chose marvelous men. No blackguards, louts and losers allowed."

These days, according to the author, "we're witnessing a seductress revival," as screen queens Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon captivate audiences while flourishing, not just as actors, but as wives and mothers. "Business and political potentates are no longer lonely spinsters in pin stripes," Prioleau adds. "They radiate feminine charisma and romantic happiness. Think of Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, Georgette Mosbacher. The list goes on." Make no mistake about it, Prioleau's book accentuates the positive, encouraging women to take command of and find liberation in their love lives, to view seduction as a form of self-expression. "The seductress's biggest lesson is the importance of cerebral lures," says the author. "The most powerful mental charm was, and is, the allure of a big, forever-interesting person. That's the best news for 21st century women."

"There was a time when I didn't know where my next husband was coming from," Mae West once said. This firecracker of a quote, one of many in her famously inflammatory arsenal, was more than just a show of verbal bravado. The shapely blonde from Brooklyn had a romantic life that would've exhausted most mortals, […]
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Kinky Friedman’s psychedelic tour of the Texas capitalOn a sunny Saturday morning in Austin, Texas, I’m trying to get Kinky Friedman on the phone, a process that’s proving as complicated as the plot of one of his mystery novels. Treated to the greeting on his answering machine, I get an earful of exuberance: “This is Richard K.D. ‘Big Dick’ Friedman, the next guvenuuuhhh of the great state of Texas! Please leave a message!”Although the word “governor” is punctuated by a slow, faux, Southern drawl, the recording isn’t a prank. Armed with a Texas – sized persona, the support of author Molly Ivins and a slew of memorable slogans (including “How Hard Could It Be?” and “Why the Hell Not?”), the popular author and songwriter intends to run for office in 2006. But more on that later.When I finally reach him at his ranch in the Texas Hill Country for a discussion of his new book, The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic: A “Walk” in Austin, Friedman is flustered. “My cigar clipper just blew up. I’m having a rough morning here,” he says. But he’s soon at ease and explaining the challenges of writing a book about the city in which he grew up. The son of a University of Texas professor, Friedman himself attended UT before joining the Peace Corps and embarking on a career as a writer/musician.”My big problem in writing the book was that every restaurant I like went belly – up about 20 years ago,” explains Friedman, who will turn 60 next month. “Now I have a choice of writing about what used to be there, or grumbling about how it’s changed. I tried to be a good spiritual sport about it. If it had been someplace like Hawaii, say, it would not have been difficult to write the book, because I don’t have any history there.”Readers shouldn’t fear: Armadillo is an easy ride, a quick trip unmarred by the author’s inner conflict. Providing plenty of background on the Texas capital, along with games, quizzes and Austin – based anecdotes, Armadillo is vintage Friedman, an unconventional little travel guide that offers a whimsical mosaic of one of the hottest spots in the country. With chapters on outdoor attractions, noteworthy landmarks and shopping, Armadillo delivers a sense of the city’s singular appeal, a taste of the town’s laid – back allure. Best of all, the book bears the stamp of the inimitable Kinkster. No doubt about it, reading this brief volume is a blast.”Austin is a town that really does have native charm,” Friedman says. “But like all the rest of America, and the world – wherever people go – some of the charm starts to slip away. All cities look the same, mostly, so outsiders are usually amazed when they see Austin, because it’s a beautiful, natural city.”It’s also a town with enough live music to rival Nashville. To get a taste of the true Texas sound, Armadillo tells fans where to go (The Broken Spoke, Threadgill’s), and who to hear (Billy Joe Shaver, Toni Price). A list of the city’s top 12 restaurants directs visitors to the tastiest spots in a city full of good food. (“After a night of festivities,” Friedman writes, “a little food is necessary so you don’t wake up feeling like there’s a small Aryan child playing an accordion in your head.”) For historical context, there’s also a section on famous Austinites – a hodgepodge of one – of – a – kind characters such as Jerry Jeff Walker, O. Henry and Charles Whitman, the guy who climbed the Texas Tower at UT in the summer of 1966 and shot 45 people.When discussing his own books, Friedman is demure. Of his work as a novelist, he says, “Everybody finds what they can do. Writing mysteries is something that seems to have clicked, because now there’s about, hell, 19 of them that I’ve churned out – I mean carefully crafted.” He cites Paul Theroux, Charles Bukowski, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson as his favorite authors. His final mystery novel, due out in April, is called Ten Little New Yorkers, and in it, the Kinkster dies. That’s right, the popular series, which features a private eye named Kinky Friedman, is finally winding down.”It’s a literary suicide, which I guess is more than a literary suicide since I am the character,” says Friedman. “It’s close to a real suicide. I’ve attempted to kill myself for years now,” he says. “The way I think I’ll do it is to jump through a ceiling fan. I was trying to do it the other night at Antone’s [a bar in Austin], and this fellow was giving me an assist, a leg up, but I still couldn’t reach it.”Extinguishing the Kinky character will, of course, result in many disappointed readers. “Let’s say I do kill myself,” speculates Friedman. “Who could Kinky Friedman readers read who would pick up the slack? I donct know what they will do.”Next up for Friedman: a career shift, as he hopes to become the next governor of Texas. For once, Kinky ain’t kidding. He plans to run as an Independent and feels his prospects are “looking very, very good. The first poll in which my name was included, done by the San Antonio Express – News, came out extremely well. The question was who would you pay $250 to go to dinner with? The list was George Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, John Edwards, Hilary Clinton and Kinky Friedman. I came in third,” the author says, “right behind Bush and Hilary Clinton.”The move into Texas politics seems natural for Friedman, a bachelor who has said he is married to the good ole Lone Star State. Indeed, his new book is nothing if not a reflection of his affection for home. That’s partly why The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic succeeds so well in capturing the attraction of Austin.”The city does seem to be a magnet for people,” Friedman says. “I notice as I travel around the world, the one place people really want to come to is Austin. Part of the reason is that the world does love Texas. It may not love America, but it loves Texas.”So does Kinky.

Kinky Friedman’s psychedelic tour of the Texas capitalOn a sunny Saturday morning in Austin, Texas, I’m trying to get Kinky Friedman on the phone, a process that’s proving as complicated as the plot of one of his mystery novels. Treated to the greeting on his answering machine, I get an earful of exuberance: “This is […]
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A word of advice to other interviewers: if you’re going to chat with Louis Sachar anytime soon, you probably shouldn’t start the conversation with a question about Holes. The Austin-based author is a bit tired of talking about the 1998 novel that garnered much praise and went on to become a hit movie. Not that he doesn’t appreciate the attention. It’s just that eight years have passed since Holes was published, and Sachar is ready to move on to other subjects like his new novel for young readers, Small Steps. Featuring diva Kaira DeLeon, a Beyonce-like pop princess who seems to have it all, her sleazy stepfather-manager, Jerome Paisley, and a pair of Camp Green Lake veterans readers will recognize from Holes, Small Steps is a stylish, timely book, written with all the rhythm and snap of a rap tune. It’s a story about persevering in the face of adversity, and it’s filled with Sachar’s spot-on portrayals of adolescent life. With humor and insight, he depicts the hardships of high school, the demands of peer pressure, and the unique attraction of celebrity to today’s teens.

"It’s exciting to have another novel out," Sachar says, " but there was some pressure as I was writing it. I did feel the shadow of Holes as I was working. I have confidence in my abilities as an author, but I wondered if I could live up to that book. I tried not to think of it in those terms, but given the circumstances, it was difficult."

Sachar has been writing children’s books since 1976. He has published more than 20 titles including the beloved Marvin Redpost books and The Wayside School series to consistent acclaim. But the success of Holes took him by surprise. Winning both the National Book Award and the Newbery Medal in 1999, the book spent more than 150 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2003, a much-praised movie version of the novel was released, with a screenplay by Sachar himself. A cleverly plotted narrative that blends elements of fantasy with a hard-edged realism, Holes tells the story of Stanley Yelnats, a middle-school student convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Sentenced to 18 months at Camp Green Lake a juvenile reform facility in the Texas desert where the boys dig holes as a character-building exercise Stanley gets mixed up in a mystery. He also meets a variety of likeable characters, including a black teen named Theodore Armpit Johnson, whose story Sachar continues in Small Steps.

"I found that Armpit was more interesting to me at this point than, say, Stanley or Zero, whose stories have already been resolved," Sachar says of his decision to add another chapter to Armpit’s life. "I was intrigued by what it would be like for a young guy with a criminal record to have to come home from Camp Green Lake and try to put things back together." Small Steps finds Armpit back home in Austin, trying to stay out of trouble. Tall and burly, he’s the kind of guy people cross the street to avoid. In reality, though, he’s a gentle giant good-hearted, smart and surprisingly shy when it comes to girls. His best friend, Ginny, has cerebral palsy and together, they make an unlikely pair: she is white, 10 years old and smarter than most adults, yet she is a true friend to Armpit unlike his buddy X-Ray (another character from Holes). Taking advantage of Armpit’s generous nature, X-Ray persuades him to provide the financial backing for a ticket-scalping scheme. The tickets in question are to a concert by 17-year-old singing sensation Kaira DeLeon. When Armpit takes Ginny to the show, a mix-up brings them face-to-face with Kaira. Armpit is drawn into the whirlwind of her life and, behind her glamorous facade, finds a lonely girl in need of a friend. But he soon realizes that he must resume his own journey one small step at a time.

"The media tends to portray all teenagers as being very sophisticated, into sex and drugs and alcohol," Sachar says. " That may be a portion of teens today, but there’s even a larger percentage who aren’t into those things and who feel awkward around people of the opposite sex. I wanted the book to have characters who are like that and to show that not all teens are the way the media portrays them." Part of what makes Small Steps so believable and appealing is that its characters do have insecurities, and they aren’t ashamed to let them show. As a sort-of sequel to Holes, the book has enough plot twists and surprises to satisfy Sachar’s many fans. It also has an important message. "I think it’s critical for young people to take things one small step at a time, to persevere. That’s the way I approach my own work," says Sachar, who writes two hours a day and often produces six drafts of a single book. "I tend not to think too much about the big picture, about success," he says. "To me, the biggest success is actually writing the book. That’s where the real joy comes in."

A word of advice to other interviewers: if you’re going to chat with Louis Sachar anytime soon, you probably shouldn’t start the conversation with a question about Holes. The Austin-based author is a bit tired of talking about the 1998 novel that garnered much praise and went on to become a hit movie. Not that […]
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Given her youthful appearance and complete lack of attitude, it's difficult to believe that Sarah Dessen has been publishing books for a decade. Dessen, who is 35, started early. Her first novel, That Summer, was released not long after she graduated from college, and since then, six titles have followed, five of which have been named Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association. That Summer, along with Dessen's second novel, Someone Like You, provided the basis for the popular 2003 movie How to Deal starring Mandy Moore.

"It's gotten harder as I've gotten older," Dessen says of the writing process. "Maybe I just had more energy when I first started, but I'd also like to think there's more going on in the books now, that they're becoming more complex." There's plenty happening in her new novel, Just Listen, a fast-moving, often lyrical narrative about sisterhood and self-esteem that demonstrates the author's intuitive understanding of the pressures of adolescence. The book is sure to please the legions of readers 1,200 a day who visit Dessen's website to check out the blog she posts from her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

"With Just Listen, I wanted to explore the drive for perfection that's so typical in teenage girls today," Dessen says. "Why do girls feel they have to look perfect, make perfect grades, make everything appear effortless? I wanted to explore the roots of that stress."

An image provided Dessen with the inspiration for the novel. Flipping through a high school yearbook, she came across a photograph of three beautiful girls, obviously sisters, and had what she terms a knee-jerk reaction to the picture, automatically assuming the flawless-looking trio led perfect lives. In the new novel, she wanted to depict the flip side of that scenario to portray characters who appeared to have it all, but in reality were struggling just like everyone else.

Just Listen features Annabel, Whitney and Kirsten Greene, three very different sisters who work as part-time models. While the girls have a solid family life a fussy but well-intentioned mother; a successful father who's an architect their lives are far from tranquil. Reserved Whitney, the oldest sibling, has an eating disorder. Kirsten, the loud-mouthed middle sister, is desperately trying to find herself. And then there's Annabel, the novel's narrator, the youngest of them all and a quiet-natured observer. "I fell somewhere between my sisters and their strong personalities, the very personification of the vast gray area that separated them," Annabel says.

A new school year is beginning, and Annabel, who is in 10th grade, finds herself completely alone, thanks to a falling-out over the summer with her best friend, Sophie. One of the most popular girls in school, Sophie is brash and brave gutsy enough to go for cute senior Will Cash. But her involvement with Will leads to big trouble, with repercussions that affect Annabel and others.

Through the use of flashbacks, Dessen builds suspense, hinting at the conflict between Annabel and Sophie, which isn't fully revealed until late in the book. Structuring the novel was tricky, she says, but writing about Whitney's problem was even more challenging.

"When you're writing about a delicate subject like an eating disorder, you really have to be cautious," Dessen says. "A certain responsibility comes with presenting a subject like that. You have to make sure you put it out there in the best way possible."

After so much success so early in her career, what's next for Dessen? "I don't know if I'll write for teenagers forever," she says. "I'd like to write for an older audience, maybe essays or short stories. But the young adult readers are so devoted and genuinely affected by the books. There's a passion there I'm not sure I would find other places, so I won't be going anywhere anytime soon."

Given her youthful appearance and complete lack of attitude, it's difficult to believe that Sarah Dessen has been publishing books for a decade. Dessen, who is 35, started early. Her first novel, That Summer, was released not long after she graduated from college, and since then, six titles have followed, five of which have been […]
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More than 80 years ago, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Pioneer Girl, an autobiography about growing up on the prairie. Editor Pamela Smith Hill explains why the book is finally being published and what it means for Little House fans.

What were Wilder’s intentions with this autobiography? Who was she writing for?
Wilder wrote Pioneer Girl for an adult audience, hoping for initial publication in a prominent national magazine of the period—The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal or Country Gentleman. Such magazines published longer fiction and nonfiction in serial form. If Pioneer Girl had been published in one of these magazines, Wilder then hoped to sell Pioneer Girl to a book publisher.

Why is it being published now for the first time?
When I was conducting research for my biography, Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, I overheard an archivist field a call from a Wilder fan who wanted to order a photocopy of Pioneer Girl. I learned then that the Hoover receives dozens of calls like that every year. And once A Writer’s Life was published, readers began asking me how they could get a copy of Pioneer Girl. It occurred to me then that perhaps it was time for an annotated edition of Pioneer Girl, one that would place the various versions of the manuscript into context along with the Little House series itself. I took the idea to the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, and together we drafted a proposal for the Little House Heritage Trust, which holds the copyright to Wilder’s work. Fortunately, the Trust also thought the time was right for Pioneer Girl.

Pioneer Girl played a key role in the development of Wilder’s fiction. Can you tell us a bit about how she adapted the material for her Little House novels?
Wilder used Pioneer Girl as the foundation for her Little House books. It gave her an overall framework for the series, as well as narrative material. But she expanded episodes for her fiction, adding more details, eliminating others. In Pioneer Girl, for example, Wilder wrote one brief paragraph about the cabin her father built on the Osage Diminished Reserve in Kansas. In Little House on the Prairie, Wilder devoted two entire chapters to its construction and the family’s move inside. Then she added three more as Pa completed the house, adding doors, a fireplace, a roof and floor.

Careful readers will also notice similarities in phrasing and key passages. Sometimes Wilder lifted a sentence or paragraph from Pioneer Girl and placed it, with virtually no changes, into her fiction.

What can Pioneer Girl teach us about Wilder as a stylist? Do you think her background as a newspaper columnist influenced the manuscript?
Pioneer Girl was Wilder’s first attempt at writing a long-form narrative, and she hadn’t yet broken free from the constraints of writing short, concise, but descriptive newspaper columns. This is especially true in the first third of Pioneer Girl, where many episodes are roughly the length of a newspaper column. As I point out in the annotated edition, words are a luxury for a newspaper columnist and Wilder had learned to use them sparingly. But as she gained confidence in writing a longer narrative, she added more details and lingered over key episodes in her family’s life—the grasshopper plague, for example, and the Hard Winter of 1880-1881.

Wilder had a complex relationship with her daughter, the author Rose Wilder Lane, who served as her editor. Did they view one another as rivals? Was there a sense of competition between them?

Rose Wilder Lane was a very successful writer of fiction and nonfiction in the 1920s and ‘30s. By the time Wilder began work on Pioneer Girl, Lane had already successfully published fiction and nonfiction in prominent national magazines, and was the author of several books. Wilder was proud of her daughter’s accomplishments and mentioned Lane specifically in a column about distinguished Missourians. Furthermore, it’s clear from existing correspondence that Wilder valued and trusted her daughter’s editorial opinions.

But friction developed between the two in 1931. They were living in houses about half a mile apart, and saw each other almost every day. By then, Wilder had finished revisions on Little House In The Big Woods—her first novel—and it was scheduled for publication in 1932. She had worked closely with Lane on this project from beginning to end, and was writing the first draft for Farmer Boy.  Meanwhile, Lane was working on a novel she called “Courage”; its main characters were named Charles and Caroline—and their story came directly from the pages of Pioneer Girl. Lane apparently didn’t tell her mother about this project until it was published by The Saturday Evening Post as Let The Hurricane Roar in the fall of 1932, just months after Little House In The Big Woods had been released. For Wilder, this must have felt like a personal and professional betrayal. She must have also worried that a frontier novel from a prestigious author like Lane would undercut the success of Little House In The Big Woods.

Still, the two women worked through this crisis so that just five years later, both were again working on novels that drew on Pioneer Girl—Wilder on By The Shores Of Silver Lake and Lane on Free Land. But this time around, Wilder’s career as a novelist was secure and Lane openly discussed plans for her book with her mother. By then Lane had moved away, and the two women corresponded regularly about their works-in-progress. Even Wilder’s husband Almanzo chimed in with advice for Lane’s book.

Can you provide some background on the Pioneer Girl project? Who’s involved?
At this point, the Pioneer Girl project extends beyond the book to include an extensive web site and marketing materials. Several staffers at the South Dakota State Historical Society Press created content for the web site, gathered and supplemented research materials, fact-checked my annotations, supervised the development of maps for the book and web site, collected visual materials and developed the book’s index. I’m indebted to the entire staff for their tireless and inspired efforts.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in producing a comprehensive edition of Wilder’s autobiography?
The sheer size and scope of the project were sometimes overwhelming. There are four distinct versions of Pioneer Girl, all of them with significant variations. Although I used Wilder’s rough draft as a base text, I had to closely review all versions and comment on significant variations between them. Then I had to relate the various versions of Pioneer Girl to Wilder’s nine novels. It sometimes felt as if I was annotating 13 books, not one.

Furthermore, Pioneer Girl is highly concentrated and condensed. One sentence in a single version of Pioneer Girl might inspire five or six annotations on a variety of historical, geographical, literary, or scientific subjects. I wrote annotations on everything from scarlet fever to tuberculosis, Mr. Edwards to Nellie Oleson (and the girls who inspired her), panthers to pocket gophers, back combs to hoop skirts, treaty violations to railroad construction, singing schools to the American minstrel tradition. And while I worked to keep these annotations brief, I also wanted to make them interesting for readers and worthy of Wilder herself.

What surprised you, as an editor, about Pioneer Girl? Wilder’s narrative voice? Her structural approach?
When I first read Pioneer Girl closely, I was struck with the variations in story and character—that Jack in the Little House series is largely fictionalized or that the real Ingalls family shared their home with a young married couple during the Hard Winter. After working on this project, however, I came away with a new respect for Wilder’s understanding of her pioneer material and her ability to shape it into a meaningful narrative—first as nonfiction for adults, then in expanded form as fiction for young readers.

As a researcher, I was also struck with the accuracy of Wilder’s memory. With rare exception, I found historical footprints for virtually everyone Wilder remembered from her childhood, no matter how obscure.

Do you think fans of Wilder’s fiction will embrace Pioneer Girl?
I certainly hope they will. Pioneer Girl provides new insights into Wilder’s life and her development as an artist. I feel deeply honored to have been able to work on this project, and introduce it to a larger audience.

RELATED CONTENT: Read our review of Pioneer Girl.

A version of this article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

More than 80 years ago, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Pioneer Girl, an autobiography about growing up on the prairie. Editor Pamela Smith Hill explains why the book is finally being published and what it means for Little House fans.
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Jennifer Longo’s What I Carry is the beautifully realized story of Muir, a self-reliant 17-year-old girl who’s about to age out of the foster-care system. But when she’s placed into what will likely be her final foster home, she finds herself making new connections that challenge her well-worn sense of independence. The author of two previous YA novels, Longo holds an MFA in Writing for Theatre from Humboldt State University, and her plays have been staged by California’s Fair Oaks Repertory Theatre.

We spoke to Longo about creating her protagonist, writing about the foster-care system and capturing authentic teen voices.


Muiriel is a wonderfully original protagonist. Contrary to what might be expected of a child in the foster system, she isn’t searching for a permanent home or longing for a family. She’s fiercely independent, with a sense of integrity that belies her 17 years. How did you develop her character?
Well, great. Question one and I’m already crying. Come on! OK but for real, I am thrilled you felt about Muiriel what we tried so hard to convey. I say “we” referring to my editors at Penguin Random (Jenna Lettice, Caroline Abbey and Chelsea Eberly) and my editorial agent, Melissa White (at Folio Literary). No author is an island, and thankfully those women are also authors, and they can write the hell out of a character arc.

We began to create Muiriel with me talking with and listening to kids currently in or who had aged out of foster care. Every single child’s life in foster care is unique, but I heard again and again from the kids I corresponded with about how the narrative of a foster or adoptive parent as “savior” depends on the corresponding narrative of a sad and yearning orphan who just wants a loving family to “rescue” them. And yes, of course, there are kids living in the system who absolutely need and want a family. The thing is, it’s not every single kid, and also most of them want their family—they just want to go home. No matter the reality of the situation, home is home. Parents are parents. Or if they’ve been in the system for years, jacked around (intentionally or not) by nearly every adult they encounter, sometimes those kids learn instead to depend on themselves for themselves—because clearly adults are not the answer.

The problem about the myths surrounding foster kids is that they’re created and told to us by the adults who get to frame reality the way they see it, or how they want it conveniently to be, in order to make themselves look heroic or blameless. All it takes is talking to even one kid to watch that story fall apart.

I have talked with and watched so many interviews with kids aging out in which they express this frustration and justifiable anger that no one is listening to us. These are young people with integrity, bravery, anger and fear just like anyone, except they are blamed and judged for the circumstances of their life that they did not choose, because adults have kept these untruths alive and well. Muiriel’s voice is a culmination of the many kids’ voices who kindly let me listen to the truth.

You have a young daughter whom you adopted. Can you talk about how that experience informed your writing here?
My daughter straight up said to me years ago, “Aren’t there any books about kids in foster care that aren’t so . . . yell-y? And molest-y?” And believe me, I know there are some beautiful fiction books about kids in foster care written by better writers than I could ever hope to be. I just think, and my daughter does, too, that there’s room in the canon for as many stories as there are experiences in foster care.

I was specifically told by a former foster child, “It is possible to live a life in foster care and not get molested.” I mean. That’s a statement.

While meeting, fostering and adopting our daughter, my family’s personal experience with social workers and foster parents is that there are many adults working in the system who sincerely have the best motives—doing the most and best they can for each child. Like kids in foster care, the entire system and every adult involved get a mostly grim portrait painted of them by the media and Hollywood, drawn in broad strokes and without much nuance. Muir’s life is held in sharp relief to consistent love and happiness, like my daughters’, and that’s a story worth telling, too.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of What I Carry.


What I Carry presents a very nuanced portrayal of the experience and mindset of a child in the foster care system. What sort of research did you do to create this portrayal?
Thank you so much. The hope I cling to most as What I Carry nears publication is that I did justice in showing at least an approximate reality of some kid’s, one kid, any kid’s life in foster care.

A writer’s job is sometimes described as “professional listener and question asker,” and for this book, that’s what I did for research: I listened. Not to adults—I’ve talked to countless wonderful and not-so-wonderful adults working in the system in every capacity, and I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on that. I am one of them, and we’ve had our say.

For this research, I listened to who this book is trying to give voice to—the kids in or out of foster care. I listened and asked and read and watched what they had to say. I listened to my daughter, my nephew, to kids and adults kind enough to write me emails answering my questions. I watched interviews and documentaries and YouTube channels produced by former foster youth. I read memoirs and books. (There is a bibliography in What I Carry for details.) They talked to me, my daughter talked to me, and their stories became Muir’s story.

I loved Francine, Muir’s final foster mother, as well as Joellen, Muir’s social worker. Can you discuss some of the choices you made as you crafted these adult characters in Muir’s life?
I’m so glad you loved these women! I do, too, and mostly because they are modeled after women who built my family. Francine is modeled after our daughter’s third foster placement (we were her fourth), and Muir’s social worker is modeled after our daughter’s, the real Joellen. Our Joellen worked a razor-thin, nearly impossible deadline, putting her own job at risk to get our daughter into a safe home. No good character is perfect, but these women in real life—and Francine in the book—are the gold standard of when foster care is working the way it should.

Your ability to create authentic teen characters is remarkable. How do you channel teen voices? What are some of the challenges of writing from that perspective, and what are some of the pleasures or rewards?
First of all, good grief, thank you! If I’ve had any success with this, it is only by reading better writers than me and listening to teenage girls and my editors and agent. Also, I have been a lifelong journal keeper. I have a box of 20 spiral notebooks I’ve kept from elementary school until college, and those are full of language and details I depend on.

“A writer’s job is sometimes described as ‘professional listener and question asker,’ and for this book, that’s what I did for research: I listened.”

My main challenge writing about that time of life is that I absolutely struggle with and often resist writing romance plotlines and romantic scenes involving my teenage characters. I always have to add it in later, because as a teen, I had bad experiences with that stuff, so it’s hard for me to know how to write a young woman, a high school-age person, being in love and also staying true to her own humanity. I dread the idea of centering romance over the value of a girl’s own life, her own priorities and conflicts and challenges.

Conversely, my greatest pleasure is writing for myself as a teenager. I write what I wish someone had been able to tell me at that age: that I was worth more than I knew. That I should be spending my teenage years not making sure my boyfriend was happy but instead figuring out who and what I wanted to be, building relationships with girls and mentors, spending time with my friends, having fun and learning and truly feeling like I was smart and had value to the world as a person on my own. Instead, all through high school, I was isolated and trapped by my own lack of self-worth in an absolutely ridiculous and unhealthy relationship with a boy, just this mediocre white kid, to whom I surrendered my whole teenage life and sense of self.

I write my main characters like that lady in “The Twilight Zone,” riding the horse over the hills, screaming at her past self, “Get your shit together and don’t waste your precious youth!” I have learned to write the romantic situations I wish my younger self could have had—maybe a bit unrealistically healthy, a little aspirational, but maybe that’s a good thing to read about and know exists. I wish I had. I love writing YA lit, and I hope I’m contributing some stories of value.

You’ve published two novels prior to this one (2014’s Six Feet Over It and 2016’s Up to This Pointe). What are some of the lessons you’ve learned about the craft of writing over the years or about yourself as a writer? How do you feel you’ve grown as a novelist?
I am so lucky to have the most amazing people guiding me to be a “real” writer, and so many authors I read and writer-friends I learn from. But the women who taught me how to be a novelist are Melissa White of Folio Literary, and my editors Chelsea Eberly, Jenna Lettice and Caroline Abbey. They are all writers and have taught me a million things. My favorites are about being brave, not getting trapped in the story the first way I see it and learning to not insist the story stay cemented the way I began.

Each of these books were torn down and rewritten several times, which at the beginning I was shocked by and thought I would never be able to figure out how to do. (While writing Six Feet Over It, I once opened an editorial letter at a Peet’s Coffee and burst into tears at the impossibility of the changes. The barista came over and handed me a wad of napkins and asked who died, and then I could never go back to that Peets again.)

Melissa, Chelsea, Jenna and Caroline taught me to calm the hell down, that novels are not the plays I was used to writing and that the process of trying a story path, reaching a dead end, and then going back to try another path is a reality a writer has to get good at. It’s a muscle to build and strengthen and not freak out about. Some stories come easier, some need more work, but being scared will not get the work done. I have learned to make my ego STFU and accept the smart, constructive, needed edits and guidance from these women, the professional people who are part of the team making these books. I have learned to trust myself to trust them because they are right pretty much every time.

“The process of trying a story path, reaching a dead end, and then going back to try another path is a reality a writer has to get good at.”

And then I’m still learning to let go of being embarrassed that I need so much hand-holding and help—because again, the lesson is that no writer is an island. No good book is truly written alone. Now I can open an editorial letter in any coffee shop, and I can see where the edits are taking the plot, and I get excited about the challenge of making the story better without sobbing. Mostly now I only cry about my inability to spell, so that’s growth!

What prompted you to start writing YA fiction? What appeals to you about the category?
I wrote my first book thinking it was straight-up literary fiction, but my agent Melissa thought if I aged the character up and revised, it could make a great YA story. I hadn’t read any YA since Judy Blume in the ’80s, so Melissa gave me a list and I began reading some current YA to figure out what was going on there. It was a whole new world.

I started with Sarah Zarr’s Story of a Girl because I was living in the town where that book takes place, and holy cats, I was so jealous that as a teenager my generation didn’t have books like that! (I mean, aside from Queen Judy, of course.) Gorgeous writing, a strong and realistic female protagonist . . . I read it so fast and moved on to more, and I started revising.

What I love most about YA is the reverence so many of these authors and books have for the most powerful people on the planet: teenage girls. Young women whose lives are central to the plots, in so many circumstances and challenges and how important and valued they are. I think YA lit is on its way to the forefront of publishing becoming what it should be, which is a more accurate representation of the human population, no longer just canonizing the lives of white men. We are nowhere near where we should be, but the tide is turning, and my daughter, who is not white, not heterosexual, is able to find more and more books she can see herself in. That makes me proud to be a YA author.

“What I love most about YA is the reverence so many of these authors and books have for the most powerful people on the planet: teenage girls.”

You were an elementary school librarian! What was that experience like? Did it influence your decision to start writing, or your writing itself?
Oh my goodness, that was the greatest job ever! I volunteered at my daughter’s elementary school library, shelving books twice a week, because there’s no place I’d rather be than in a library. When the librarian retired, I applied for and was offered the job.

Now, I have to say here that actual trained librarians are always, always preferable in school libraries or anywhere, but this school district legit had no money. The retiring librarian taught me the most important part of her job, which was repairing books—because they had not been able to order new books in, like, five years. We took donations, and parents bought us books from the book fair once a year, and the librarian and I bought books with our own money, but the situation was bleak. Still, I was a lifelong Dewey Decimal nerd, and I’d volunteered in libraries all my life and worked cheap, so I was the district’s best option at the time.

I loved choosing books to read for each class. That was the highlight of my day, and shelving is very meditative for me. I was querying agents when I got the job and was shelving books when my agent Melissa offered to represent me. Then she subbed my book for a year, and I was checking in books for a line of hilarious and excited first graders when I got the email that Random House was interested. To be in a library, surrounded by books, and getting messages that I could maybe have my own book on a library shelf one day that people might read was surreal and magical.

Do you have a new book in the works, and can you give us any hints about what to expect?
I have been working forever (“Sounds about right,” says my agent) on a literary fiction book about my favorite autumnal holiday. I dream that one day, Oprah will say, “Hey, do you have to go home to visit family this fall? Lock yourself in the guest half-bath with this book and save yourself!”

It’s the book my dad, for decades, begged me to write. He passed away a couple years ago, but he is in my ear every day as I write and rewrite this thing for him. It is my gift to him and myself and readers like me who love a good family drama, and working on it is bittersweet and wonderful and healing. So, you know, just how it’s supposed to feel.

YA author Jennifer Longo discusses researching and writing about the foster-care system and capturing authentic teen voices.

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