Sycamore

Talking shop: fiction’s missing girls, writer v. author, small towns, lyrics, + more

Happy to have had the chance to talk about writing and Sycamore with E. Ce Miller at Bustle and Sam Hankin at The Avid Reader Show (a podcast); Sam also owns the Wellington Square Bookshop (shop local and indie, y’all!). Many, many thanks to both E. Ce and Sam for taking the time to read and discuss and for their excellent questions.

Read and listen to the interviews here:

Bustle

The Avid Reader Show

SYCAMORE pub day!

Hard for me to believe it, but Sycamore, my debut novel, lands in the world officially today.

Read an excerpt on LitHub
Listen to a sample of the Audiobook

You can borrow it at your favorite library (I heart librarians, as I wrote here).

Of course, you can buy it. I encourage you to shop your local indie (I’m thrilled that Sycamore will be on the Indie Next List for June!). Here in Charlotte, I recommend Park Road Books (I’m reading there tomorrow!) and Main Street Bookstore up in Davidson, which threw me a lovely event last week. Some other faves: Changing Hands Bookstore, Parnassus Books, The Tattered Cover, Powell’s, and Eclipse Coffee and Books. Yes, you also can get it at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, whose wonderful staffs include book lovers just like you.

The thanks? Oh, good lord, the thanks. The acknowledgements page is miles long and there are many more than I can include; I am moved every day by how much love and support flows my way.

Well, so far, I’ve cried twice, and I’ve only been up an hour. You can find me posting awkwardly on social media but mostly puttering out in the yard, trimming azaleas, trying to drum up some more stories in ye ol’ noodle. I may try to turn a cartwheel or two, so look out, neighbors.

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Sample audio from Sycamore

Incredibly cool to hear this audiobook snippet from Sycamore. Performed by the wonderful Cassandra Campbell, Steven Jay Cohen, Sara Morsey, Xe Sands, and Teri Schnaubelt. Thanks to them for bringing it so beautifully to life.

I can’t wait to hear all of it (out 5/9!)

Q&A: On being haunted, small towns, and cats in boxes

Was happy to do this interview with the wonderful novelist Caroline Leavitt over at her terrific blog, CAROLINELEAVITTVILLE.

Imaginary Soundtracks, Vol. 1

Mixing it up here at the old blog by, you know, actually writing on it.

“Mix,” in fact, is the word on my mind today. As in, “Get ready for a mixed-up, mixed bag of a post.” Or, “How many mixed metaphors can I throw into the mix today?” Or, “Our reckless, moronic loon of a so-called president and his spineless minions in Congress have really got us mixed up in some sh*t.” You choose.

Or, okay, more gently, mixtapes.

My beloved TW still makes these for me. Though technically we could share our music libraries through the click of a mouse, he still takes the time to select songs, create an order, and then haul out the CD drive and burn them (or at least download them on a memory stick). Long gone are the gritty little cassette tapes, pressing the recorder’s clunky Play and Stop and Eject buttons to fill the A and B sides, but the sentiment remains. Other dear friends also have shared so much music this way, and I treasure both the objects and the songs.

The first mixtape TW made me landed in my mailbox fourteen years ago in May, two months after we met (we were long distance). He called the disc “Imaginary Soundtrack No. 1” and handwrote the list of songs. The second volume followed the next month.

Here, take a look:

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I was already half in love with him at that point, but these pushed me right over the edge. I mean, good heavens, handpicked music, with handwritten liner notes—songs he loved, songs he hoped I would love? What a gesture. I can still feel the heat in my cheeks when I opened that envelope and it dawned on me: he made this for me. I played those discs in the quiet space of my central Phoenix living room, by daylight, by candlelight. I played them in the car, zipping along Seventh Avenue and down the wild curves to Canyon Lake. I played them while writing emails to him, while writing stories. The soundtrack of early summer, of early love. Many of them made it onto the wedding mixtape we made for the ceremony and reception.

I still have the objects, of course, but those songs—as with other art and literature—became part of me. In my inner ear, I can still hear the haunting plinking and lyrics of “Song of the Siren” (Long afloat on a shipless ocean…) and the buoyant, exhilarating drums of James’s “Sometimes.” They have become part of me, as have the words of countless stories, poems, and plays and the images of art. When we listen and view and read, we absorb those works, take them deep inside, into the intimate space of our imaginations. And they linger, emerging sometimes in unexpected ways and times (I wrote here about how art sticks around). Looking back at those Imaginary Soundtracks, I can recall the music itself but I’m also back in my house in central Phoenix with the smell of phlox and fading orange blossoms, pool-bright skies, the jacarandas in bloom. I’m in my early thirties, falling in love, aching with it.

And here I come to writing because I create mixtapes (okay, playlists—whatevs) for my writing projects. Soundtracks for the Imaginary, I guess you could call them. My (embarrassing) habit is that I play these mixtapes on repeat so they become entwined with my writing time; hearing those familiar chords and lyrics lulls me into and keeps me inside the story space. I don’t really have a plan or design when I create them. For Sycamore, I built the list out of works I’d been listening to and enjoying that had a certain mood and emotional resonance. Here it is (don’t judge me):Sycamore playlist.png

Many of these came from TW’s mixtapes, along with a couple from my BFF’s roadtrip mixtape (“Going to California”). The one at the top, John Doe’s “Golden State,” ended up being really influential in the writing; something about the juxtaposed voices, the opposing lyrics, the jangly, bittersweet sound, helped me open up the novel. In fact, I used the lines, “We are tangled/we are stolen/we are living where things are hidden” as the epigraph to Sycamore (with endless gratitude to John Doe for permission. Sidenote: I might have a done a giddy little omg-omg-it’s-john-doe dance in my office when his email popped up).

I have always thought of these lists as using music to help me write—because they do.

But I’m seeing now that I’m also giving this music to my writing. As an offering of love. In hopes that my writing will love me back.

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Novel!

I generally don’t like to announce news here in the blog, which I prefer to keep about the writing process and other (neurotic) writing-life ramblings. But I also do want a note of record and to take a moment to express thanks.

Here it is: My first novel, Sycamore, will be published by Harper (HarperCollins)!

Since I got the news, I’ve basically been running around half with my hair on fire, half sobbing in gratitude, half hiding in the corner (half still unable to do math). Thus far, my favorite part of the story is this: Instead of going out for a celebratory dinner on the night of the news (champagne! confetti!), all I could manage was to stop in a gas-station Subway for a footlong veggie. Untoasted. TW and I shared it over the table at home, blinking at each other through tears and laughs (and let’s face it, more than a little panic and fear–this is me, after all.)

Amid all the fizziness, I’ve felt an abiding sense of thanks. The kind of thanks I’m not even sure how to get my head around. Over the years, how many people have supported me, loved me, propped me up, offered me refuge, told me to keep going, brought me coffee? Family, friends, mentors, students, colleagues, strangers–it’s one big-ass village, that’s for sure. Yes, I sat down to the page alone, but I didn’t do this alone. Acknowledgements Page, get ready. It’s going to be a humdinger.

Yesterday, though, I got back to work. Such news is heady, for sure, intoxicating but dizzying, too. Floating is one step away from untethered. The only thing I can control is the work, and so: I’m getting back to it. Delving deeper into a character, pushing and pulling at sentences. The book definitely has changed from its first raw draft (I posted about writing the draft at Jentel). It’s basically Draft 7 at this point, and it will go through even more editing, for which I’m excited and grateful. Soon, it will make it into readers’ hands; until then, I will do my best. And eat some more sandwiches.

ps Here’s the Harper  logo. I am in love.

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