Cordelia Jensen, Peter Gardos, Cynthia Kadohata: writers to know

Monday, April 11, 2016

This Is the Story of You, my monster storm Jersey Shore story, launches tomorrow. Out into the world.

Whoosh. There you go.

But in the days leading up to now, I've been spending time with the stories of others. For who among us will ever believe that our own work is the work? Who should believe that? Who does not think that, at the end of it all, the best thing about being a writer is finding the excuse to curl up with someone else's fine tale—the story another loved, hoped for and through, and found a way to launch?

Today I want to celebrate:

Cordelia Jensen's Skyscraping, a novel in verse to which I have previously alluded on this blog. Before I met Cordelia a few weeks ago in New York (odd to be meeting her there, for she lives not far from me here), I knew that she was my kind of writer—soulful, attuned to language, serious about producing lasting work. Skyscraping tells the story of Mira, who learns the secret of her parents' marriage during her senior year in high school and needs to find a way to forgive her father before he is gone from her world. Some novels in verse are just novels written with shorter lines and white space. This is a novel in actual verse, written by an actual poet, who has pondered this story for years. This is a novel whose narrator understands time and stars, the cosmos and the particulate, but is never safe (no one is) from hurt. Mira is speaking here about her mother, who has been absent for much of Mira's life:

I used to imagine she saw us as a train
she could ride at will,
instead of a station,
fixed, every day.
I wonder now if maybe
a family is neither of those things
but something stable,
yet always changing,
because the people inside it are.
Peter Gardos's Fever at Dawn, sent to me by Lauren Wein, an editor you know I love. It's a story based on the real-life tale of the author's parents—Hungarians who, in 1945, find themselves in Swedish hospitals miles apart. They are not well. They have been seared by death camps, racism, horror. They allow the letters they write to one another become their most extravagant form of hope. Miklos sends a blurry photograph to Lili, so that she cannot see his metal teeth. Lili stashes the political book Miklos has sent—unread. They know nothing about each other, actually, until, increasingly, they are nothing without each other. They are seducing each other, even as Gardos, in a book that seems (but isn't) utterly simple, seduces us:

That evening the men sat out in the courtyard with the radio on the long wooden table. The light bulb swung eerily in the wind. The men usually spent half an hour before bed in the open air. By now they had been playing the radio for six hours without a break. They had put on sweaters and coats and their pyjamas (stet) and wrapped blankets around themselves. They sat right up close to the radio. The green tuning light winked like the eye of an elf.
Finally, Cynthia Kadohata's National Book Award winning The Thing About Luck, which wrapped me around its many fingers this weekend. Let's just say this: Anyone who thinks writing for teens is easy should spend some time in the company of this book, which has everything to teach about mosquitoes, wheat harvesting, combines, and dinners on the road—all within the frame of one of the most likable narrators yet written, a young girl named Summer, who discovers, over the course of many exotic bread-basket weeks (yes, I know what I just wrote), that luck is made, not found:

I don't know. I mean, maybe computers and cell phones and rocket ships are more magical, but to me, nothing beats the combine. That's just the way I see things. In a short time, the combine takes something humans can't use and then turns it into something that can feed us.
Before I go, I extend Happy Book Launch greetings to Robin Black, whose collection of essays, Crash Course, debuts tomorrow in grand style. Robin will be taking the stage with grammar queen Mary Norris, at the Free Library of Philadelphia.


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