For those of you who are leading book club discussions, here’s a downloadable version of my book club reading guide. Would you like to have me visit with your group in person or by online linkup? Contact me and let me know!
My publisher, Blank Slate Press, an imprint of the Amphorae Publishing Group, has set the release date for my next novel–September 26! This is an exciting moment for me, as I’ve been working on this book since 2014.
We went around and around for several weeks about the title. I like titles with a lot of literary flair, while the publishers like titles that will catch the eye and sell well from a bookshelf—not that these two concepts are necessarily opposed to each other. But we definitely come from different vantage points; as my editor regularly reminds me, “Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.” But it all worked out in the end, and we have a title that suits us both.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away quite yet. It’s fun to do a little buildup as the months go by, and launch events have not yet been planned. But I can give you a taste: when This Old World ended, it was 1866, and the people of Daybreak had wrestled with the aftermath of the Civil War with varying degrees of success. Some of them carried the wounds of war with them till their end, while others sought to heal by whatever means they could find—revenge, forgiveness, the remaking of self. But now, it’s 1887, the war is a fading memory for most although still fresh in the minds of some, and new challenges face Daybreak. Their agrarian way of life seems outdated as the Industrial Revolution transforms the country. And new people have moved into the valley. Some are sympathetic to the ideals of Daybreak, some seek to profit from them, and some keep their motives to themselves. The children of Slant of Light and This Old World are now in their twenties, creating lives of their own, and not everyone wants to hang on to the prewar utopian ideals that led to the creation of Daybreak. So the stage is set for change in the lives of Charlotte, Charley, and all the inhabitants of Daybreak old and new, change that will be profound, tumultuous, and potentially tragic.
The new book is The Language of Trees.
Every year, the men of Alpha Delta Phi at Washington University choose a Missouri author to read and discuss. This year I was happy to be selected, and here’s a picture of us after my talk! They are aptly known as the Eliot Chapter of their fraternity. We talked for more than an hour, and they had some great comments and questions. Thanks especially to Tarun Chally (third from left), who was my contact person/organizer for the event. And despite the general glow, we aren’t about to be transported into a spaceship . . . just standing in a brightly lit foyer.
A while back I shared a guest post from Dean Robertson about “home” – her recollections of her childhood home, leaving it, and returning years later. Since then that meditation has returned to me on occasion as I work on my next book.
The third book that I have set in the same river valley takes place about twenty years after This Old World‘s end. Some of the characters are still there, some are gone, and new ones have arrived. I’ve been thinking about the complicated emotions we experience when we see a place – our place – occupied by someone else.
Whenever I travel to Quincy, I like to drive by our old house on North 22nd Street, the house my daughter grew up in. For a while it was an unpleasant experience, as the house fell into disrepair (seeing its occupant appear in the police report was the low point). But now it has a new owner, bright shutters, newly planted flowers. So the drive-by is a cheerful one once again.
Still, it’s not my house any more. And even the most dutiful of owners is not me. So even positive change involves loss.
These thoughts were prompted today by the folks over at Damming the Osage, who posted a poem written by a gentleman not of my acquaintance, Rod Cameron of Raytown, Mo. It’s a lovely poem, followed by a reminiscence, of himself and his neighbors losing their land to the building of a reservoir. It’s a darn fine poem. Take a read.
What can we do with loss? Loss is built into our existence. Some losses are inevitable, but others (like the loss in the poem) are not, and we fight like devils to prevent them. In G.B. Shaw’s Major Barbara, a character says, “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” Perhaps that aphorism can be reversed as well. When we lose something, we owe it to ourselves to learn from it – or at least to make it into a poem worth reading.
And so I return to the last few chapters of my novel-in-progress, thinking about my characters and their losses and their learning.
Here’s a link to my recent interview on It Matters Radio. My portion of the show starts at about the 38-minute mark, but the guest before me is a record producer with several really good acts. So if you have the time, listen to the whole show! Some nice musicians on there. Thanks again to Monica and Ken.
I have completed all but a few minor edits for the next book, the contract is all signed, and we are kicking around cover ideas. And yes, after more than a year I’m getting excited to see it come out.
The title of Book #2 is This Old World, a phrase that I borrowed from a song I grew up with:
This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore —
If you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.
The tune of this hymn, as I learned it anyway, is an old shape-note song that goes by the name of “Restoration,” which has had any number of verses put to it. I thought the song captured many of the themes I am trying to work into this book, not to mention the fact that the tune is haunting, and I wouldn’t mind if it stuck with readers for months!
The novel is indeed a sequel to the Slant of Light, but at the same time I was in a different mental place when I wrote it, and I think it will hit people differently. I’m working on the third book of the series now, and it too is very different. The thing about reading sequels (and I’m as prone to this as anyone) is that people approach them with the same expectation that they had with the previous book–and usually in the case of genre novels, this is a reasonable expectation. But in my case, I’m hoping that readers of the series will follow me through a set of books with widely varying themes, tones, and styles. Let’s hope that people don’t let sequel-expectations get in the way of an open experience of the new book.
Emory Styron of River Hills Traveler recently conducted an interview with me about Slant of Light, its origins and themes, the Ozarks in general, and I don’t know what else. We had a great time chatting, and I was delighted to find such a discerning reader and sympathetic listener. Here’s a link to the River Hills Traveler video interview.
May I just add that copies of the novel are available from their bookstore!
I’ve been invited by the Jefferson City Public Library (more properly, the Missouri River Regional Library) to talk about utopian communities in Missouri. If you live in the area, please join me! I’ll be signing books afterward, and will have them available for sale as well.
It’s next Thursday, August 15, at 7 p.m. in the Art Gallery of the main library downtown, 214 Adams Street. Here’s a link.
I generally use my website for relatively “static” information – things that won’t change rapidly and only occasionally need updating. This blog, my Facebook page, and my Twitter feed are where I put breaking news.
So I want to mention that the website has a whole new section! It is specifically for teachers. I’ve been getting some great feedback from college instructors who are using Slant of Light in their classes, and my friend Alexis Engelbrecht-Villafane has put together a comprehensive teachers’ guide to the book. Alexis’ background is in English education at the pre-college level, so the teachers’ guide follows the format typically used for books to be used in high school classrooms.
We agree that Slant of Light poses some issues for the typical high school instructor. It has offensive language, graphic violence, sexual encounters, and adult situations – just the sort of stuff that would invite a parent complaint. But as a choice selection (not a required reading) for an advanced class, it would be a great option. It deals with big themes from start to finish, and it is an excellent introduction to the atmosphere of pre-Civil War America. (Sorry to toot my own horn so energetically here.)