Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jennifer Egan

author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Los Angeles Times Book Award and National Book Circle Critics Award

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Chicago, Illinois. My father was proudly Irish-American, the son of a policeman, and my mother grew up in nearby Rockford, Illinois. My parents divorced when I was two, and when I was seven, I moved with my mother, stepfather and younger brother to San Francisco. We arrived in 1969, at the height of the 60’s counterculture, although my mother and stepfather had no involvement with it. I came of age in the Continue reading

Elizabeth Strout, author of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winning Olive Kitteridge, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Elizabeth Strout

author  of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winning Olive Kitteridge

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Portland, Maine. I left high school in New Hampshire after three years and went to Bates College in Maine, and then two years later went to law school in Syracuse, New York.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I wanted to be a writer since my earliest memory. At times I also thought about becoming a concernt pianist or an actress, but suffered too much from stage fright to pursue either one past a certain point. And mostly, as well, I knew writing was always what I really wanted to do. I think this is because I loved books so much.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

The strongly held belief that I had at eighteen that I no longer have was the idea that I could control a great deal of my future and that certain bad things would never happen to me simply because I would not let them — that my life would be free of divorce, for example. At eighteen I thought these things happened to people who allowed them to happen by living sloppily. This is simply youthful thinking; thank goodness as we get older we are allowed to be humbled and therefore far less judgemental.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

The music of Mozart and the sculptures of Henry Moore and many many books, too countless to name, helped shape my work. But the American writers especially, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dreiser, all of them….

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I chose to write a novel because there was no choice. It was what I was compelled to do.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

I can’t talk about my latest novel (I assume the one in progress is what is meant here) — because I never talk about what I am working on.

(BBGuru: Worth a shot. Would’ve been quite a scoop… If you haven’t read Elizabeth’s work yet you might like to try Olive Kitteridge - it didn’t win the  Pulitzer nothing…

Publisher synopsis – Olive Kitteridge might be described by some as a battle axe or as brilliantly pushy, by others as the kindest person they had ever met. Olive herself has always been certain that she is 100% correct about everything – although, lately, her certitude has been shaken. This indomitable character appears at the centre of these narratives that comprise Olive Kitteridge.

In each of them, we watch Olive, a retired schoolteacher, as she struggles to make sense of the changes in her life and the lives of those around her – always with brutal honesty, if sometimes painfully. Olive will make you laugh, nod in recognition, as well as wince in pain or shed a tear or two. We meet her stoic husband, bound to her in a marriage both broken and strong, and her own son, tyrannised by Olive’s overbearing sensitivities.

The reader comes away, amazed by this author’s ability to conjure this formidable heroine and her deep humanity that infiltrates every page.)

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope people, after reading me, go away with a larger sense of the complexities of what it means to be human — that they are less severe on themselves and on others — that they have a sense of communal experience even if their own specifics differ greatly from the work — that they feel a little bit less alone.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I suppose I would say Alice Munro because she seems fearless in both style and substance (style IS substance). She is not the least bit sentimental, never shies away from the harsher truths, and writes in a style of great authority. I admire this.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My own ambitious goal is to simply keep writing the truest book I can. It always seems an impossibly huge and ambitious thing to do.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

My advice to aspiring writers would be to read good sentences, and write and write and write. Eventually one can learn to hear the sound of their own sentence. Also, if the need to write stops, then that’s that. As long as you need to keep writing, you will.

Elizabeth, thank you for playing.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

I just wanted to share my excitement about the imminent publication of Geraldine Brooks’ new book, Caleb’s Crossing.

Geraldine’s particular passion is for bringing to vivid life shards of little known history. With Year of Wonders we were all instantly transported to the terror and the marvel that was the English plague of the mid-seventeenth century. In People of the Book she illuminated the Jewish world going back through the centuries, and in March, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, she gave us a compelling alternative view on Little Women.

I am only about a third of the way through my proof of Caleb’s Crossing, and I haven’t yet sighted a finished copy. So far it has proved itself to be beautifully written, measured in pace, nourishing to the imagination and utterly compelling to read.

As to the theme, it puts me in mind of some other great Australian novelists who have so recreated that clash of civilisation brought about when a colonising force comes face to face with first people – Kate Grenville’s Secret River, Richard Flanagan’s Wanting, and most recently (and probably most authentically) Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance. As an aside, it is fascinating to read an Australian’s take (albeit she probably has dual citizenship by now) to an American story.

Caleb’s Crossing is available from May 1 and can be pre-ordered now. A beautiful hardback edition is also available.

In the meantime, go here to read Brooks’ answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions.

As for her fascinating forays into non-fiction, try Nine Parts of Desire.

Geraldine Brooks spent six years covering the Middle East through wars, insurrections, and the volcanic upheaval of resurgent fundamentalism. Yet for her, headline events were only the backdrop to a less obvious but more enduring drama: the daily life of Muslim women. Nine Parts of Desire is the story of Brooks’ intrepid journey toward an understanding of the women behind the veils, and of the often contradictory political, religious, and cultural forces that shape their lives. Defying our stereotypes about the Muslim world, Brooks’ acute analysis of the world’s fastest growing religion deftly illustrates how Islam’s holiest texts have been misused to justify repression of women, and how male pride and power have warped the original message of a once liberating faith

In Foreign Correspondence, Geraldine Brooks longs to discover the vivid places where she believes history and culture are made. Penfriends from the Middle East, France and America offer her the window she craves on life beyond Australia’s isolated backyard. With the aid of their letters, Brooks turns her bedroom into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, the barricades of Parisian student protests and the swampy fields of an embattled kibbutz. Twenty years later and worlds away from her sheltered girlhood, Brooks is an award-winning foreign correspondent covering war and famine. Still intrigued by the foreign correspondents of her adolescence, she embarks on a human treasure hunt in Israel, France and the US to find them.

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