With the rest of us having gone through the range of emotions and experiences that launching a debut novel entails, it almost feels as if Gail is the baby in the family, since her memoir, Cancer is a Bitch is the last to come out. But of course last is certainly not least, and Gail’s memoir is sure to be a runaway bestseller, not only because the subject is something by which most everyone has been touched in some way, but also because Gail’s such a talented writer and her writing is always so very compelling.
But the nice thing about Gail’s book coming last is that by now we’ve all gotten to know each other pretty well. In fact on a couple of occasions we’ve actually been in the same city at the same time! And I had such a great time with Gail this summer in New York and got to see her on so many levels—both as a smart, savvy author, but also as a fun, sorta nutty woman who’s a lot of fun to have drinks with!
I always looked forward to reading Gail’s Monday morning posts, because of her eloquent prose and insightful way of seeing things. Hers is the sort of writing that challenges me to step up my own writing and challenge myself.
Gail’s lovely memoir might have the dreaded “C” word as it’s subject, but it has at it’s heart so much more than that. It’s a beautifully-crafted exploration of life and loss and recovery, and all that encompasses.
Best of luck as you book launches into the stratosphere, Gail! We’re with you all the way!
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So this is it. My last deb post and my first book launch both in the same week.
I have to be honest, I’m a little nervous about both leaving this grog and finally stepping out in the world. It has taken me so long to reach this point in my career that I never thought it would arrive and yet now that it has it all seems to have happened so fast.
But maybe it is finally time for me to launch into the world and meet some of you in person and read from my book (although I’m warning you I might weep… but also promise to make you laugh) and answer your questions and listen to your stories.
For those I won’t see on the road, I thought I’d share the little introduction to my readings I wrote out the other day to explain how I ended up writing a memoir:
UPDATE… since I posted this, I actually did this intro at a benefit in Madison last Saturday night and while started off sort of reading from it, I actually said the rest completely off-the-cuff. Just so you know, I left some stuff out and added other stuff. What a blast!!! But this pretty much what I said:
It is both wonderful and a little surprising I am here to discuss and read from my memoir CANCER IS A BITCH (Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis) since I never planned to write a breast cancer memoir. Because I never planned to get the cancer that would prompt that. But in 2006 after just completing my second novel about a woman who finds a lump in her breast and thinks she might have breast cancer and wonders if she’s lived a meaningful life, I went in for my annual mammogram and was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ. A week later I had a lumpectomy and found out my agent hated the breast cancer novel. The writing disappointment was a minor blip compared to how the diagnosis had rocked my world. I was stunned and panicked and paralyzed and even after I was told it was non-invasive and they got it all out, I couldn’t write, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything other than Google health and medical sites and obsess about recurrence rates and make homemade batches of organic facial creams and scribble my deepest rawest craziest most intimate thoughts into a journal my husband pressed into my hands. I never planned to show those words to anyone. In fact I wrote them thinking this was a way I didn’t have to burden my friends and family with my crazy thoughts. Nobody close to me had ever had cancer. Not my parents or in-laws. None of my friends. And while I knew they all cared, I guess I felt alone in my deepest thoughts and fears. But eventually, I wrote those thoughts into an essay called CANCER IS A BITCH and sent it to some trusted writer friends who said it was powerful and I had to do something with it. But what was it? And what would I do with it? Soon after that I read that Literary Mama was looking for columnists and on a whim I pitched it and they said yes and I started writing the column Bare-breasted Mama. The responses from readers, many whom hadn’t had cancer but either knew someone who had or just responded to the midlife issues about motherhood and marriage and career that I wrote about, were so soulful, that next thing I knew, I pitched the idea of writing it into a book to a new agent and he sold it and that’s why I am here.
READING here. Chapter 3 and if more time chapter 6
Before your questions, I want to say that while the book is about my brush with breast cancer, it’s really more about how the diagnosis served as a catalyst for me to re-examine the entire trajectory of my life, the choices I made, the ones I didn’t make. And it ended up inspiring dramatic changes in my life. I stopped hesitating so much. I re-negotiated my relationship with myself and my husband and slowly started becoming the person I’d always meant to be and living the life I’d meant to live. And in the two and half years since my surgery, I wrote and sold this book, ran two half marathons, went to yoga bootcamp, launched two daughters off to college, trained two puppies, and finally saw Italy. So whether you’ve had cancer or been touched by it, or not, I don’t want you to be afraid of a book with the word cancer in the title. I know the word scares some people. But the book is actually very life-affirming and my hope is that by vicariously experiencing my ups and downs and ups again that you will be inspired to take a fresh look at your life and start living your life as if it matters. All of it. Right now.
That’s it. That’s what I’ll be saying (more or less) September 30th at Kepler’s in Menlo Park and October 1st at Book Passage in Corte Madera and Books Inc. on Chestnut Street in San Francisco and October 5th at Bluestockings Radical Bookstore and October 7th at KGB Bar in NYC… and other places all listed in detail here. So if you’re anywhere near any of those hoods, I would love to see you! Also, if you live in or near San Francisco, you can see me on KGO-TV “View from the Bay” on tomorrow!
And to each and every one of you debs past and present and to all our loyal readers, you have made this journey more amazing than I ever dreamed it could be. Thank you is not enough.
Posed for Murder is now available for pre-order at Barnes and Noble, Deb Meredith is very pleased to report. Last weekend, Meredith met lots of booksellers at the New England Independent Booksellers Association conference. She had a great time, and her feet are just starting to recover!
Deb Kristina just heard the release date for Real Life and Liars will be June 16, 2009, which is almost exactly nine months from the date she got that snippet of news. A professional website redesign is coming, so stay tuned for that.
Deb Gail will be on TV in San Francisco “View from the Bay” KGO-TV on September 30th. Also live radio interview on Talk America Radio “Touch of Grey” that morning. That night at 7:30 she will be at Kepler’s in Menlo Park and on October 1st at Books Passage in Corte Madera at 1 p.m. and Books in in the Marina at 7:30 p.m. The following week in NYC in between readings at Bluestockings on October 5th and KGB on October 7th both at 7 p.m., on October 6th she will be on the “Dr. Drew” radio show. Back in the Midwest on October 13th she will be on WGN-TV in Chicago and on October 21st on WTJM-TV “Morning Blend.” In between and after lots of readings and other appearances. Hope to meet/see some of you on the road!
Friends of the Debs
Congratulations to author Jay Montville on her offer of representation from Ted Malawer of Firebrand Literary!
What We’re Reading
Inspired by a rousing night at the Hollywood Bowl for a Sound of Music Sing-Along, Deb Katie finally read Forever Liesl, which she picked up in an airport a couple of years ago.
Joanne Rendell has been a friend of the Debs for a long time–and several of the 2008 Debs got to spend time with her in San Francisco at a conference last summer. Her much-anticipated debut novel, “The Professors’ Wives’ Club,” recently launched to wonderful reviews. We’re delighted to have her as a guest this week, and happy to have her write on our theme this week–banned books.
The Professors' Wives' Club
Banned books never go quietly into the night. Indeed, if your book gets banned for any reason, your future sales record will probably look very rosy (I hear Salman Rushdie has a very nice New York pad, thank very much). I’m secretly hoping my debut novel The Professors’ Wives’ Club
might be banned for inciting groups of women to rise up and fight mean deans who threaten to bulldoze beloved faculty gardens!
Even the mere mention of banning books is enough to whip up a storm. When it was recently rumored that vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wanted a list of books banned from her local library in Alaska, a media whirlwind ensued and now when you google “Palin and banned books” you find hundreds, if not thousands, of posts on the matter.
It’s completely understandable to me that banning a book, and thus banning our freedom to read what we wish and write what we wish, causes so much furor. But what really interests me – and enrages me – is the way so many books, while not banned, continue to be shunned, demeaned, and denigrated by the book-reviewing establishment. These books may not be barred from the shelves, but they are brushed under the rug like an unsightly dust bunny by the media literati.
I’m thinking particularly of popular fiction by women, for women, and about women which, in my opinion, is too often the butt of jokes, the butt of critique, or is flat out ignored by those with reviewing powers.
Women love books. We always have, probably always will. Of all the books that are currently bought and read, we do most of the buying and the reading. It’s a fact: we are the reading sex.
We are the writing sex too. Our foremothers, like Jane Austen and the Brontës, wrote novels which would be read by millions and live on for centuries. Today, books by JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, and Danielle Steele prop up the entire publishing industry. Women are prolific writers and we are the all time bestsellers.
Yet, in spite of this, our books are often ridiculed, demeaned, or ignored.
“America is now given over to a damned mob of scribbling women,” wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in the mid-nineteenth century just at the moment when many women like Austen had taken up their quills and were writing novels (and were finding a big hungry audience for their work).
Not much has changed since Hawthorne. Although Austen and the Brontës now get the respect they deserve, women’s fiction today still struggles to be taken seriously. Romance novels continually get stereotyped as “soft porn for desperate housewives.” Chick lit has been dismissed by the literati as throwaway “fluff” obsessed with shopping and shoes. And even women writers like Jodi Picoult who tackle more serious issues are often labeled “hysterical” and “melodramatic” by snooty reviewers. The book reviewing world even criticizes books for “pandering to female audiences,” as if that is such a terrible thing (yes, Publisher’s Weekly said this about the short story collection, This is Chick Lit).
Perhaps we shouldn’t care what the reviewers say. After all, women’s fiction is immensely popular, in spite of what the New York Times Book Review or Publisher’s Weekly says or, more often, doesn’t say about it. From Harlequins to the novels of Picoult, books by women keep on selling.
But I can’t help caring. My own novel The Professors’ Wives’ Club is popular women’s fiction and one of the book’s central themes is about standing up for what you believe in – and the power of groups of women, acting together, to stand up for what they believe.
Our books may not be banned, but they are unfairly maligned and looked over. It’s time to whip up a storm of our own. It’s time for us “damned scribbling women” – and “damned reading women,” for that matter – to fight back against the reviewing elite and stand up for the books we write and love!
Joanne Rendell was born and raised in the UK. She has a Ph.D. in literature and is married to an NYU professor. She lives in faculty housing in New York City with her family.
For reasons I still haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of, the summer I was fourteen my mother decided it would be tremendous fun to take a little mother-daughter trip. On a train. From London to Hong Kong.
Bear in mind that this was back in the pre-Glasnost Dark Ages. Reagan was in the White House. The Day After had just beamed its vision of post-nuclear civilization across America, scaring the beans out of everyone. The Iron Curtain didn’t even have a tiny speck of rust on it, yet our route would take us through Russia, across Siberia, Mongolia, and down through China. “It’ll be an adventure!” my mother assured me. “We’ll learn so much!”
Now, if two of you are going to travel by train for seven weeks through various countries you know virtually nothing about, you need a lot of books. Books for entertainment. Books for information. Books that tell you what to see, what to eat, what to avoid, what not to do.
Unfortunately, none of these books happened to mention the border procedures between Poland and Russia. First, because the great Proletarian Dream of the East did not include uniform train track widths, we were halted at a dreary, anonymous platform for four hours while the gauges on the train were changed to fit those of Mother Russia.
Second, a flurry of nurses arrived in long-skirted, tall-hatted uniforms straight out of the Crimean War. “Health papers!” they barked and then proceded to scrutinize our vaccination booklets with the scientific focus of microbiologists.
We were left on our own for quite some time. Outside the compartment window, a little show was going on. Groups of gray-uniformed soldiers arrived wearing various hats of varying heights. Hats, I was quickly learning, were a big deal in the East. Inside the train, I lolled on the couchette with Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison.
“What are you reading?” my mother asked and picked the book up to see. She frowned. “This seems very adult,” she said. I couldn’t believe she’d dragged me halfway around the world to a communist regime only to suddenly decide that it was a good time to police my reading habits, but before an argument could really get started between us, the carriage door slid open and the blunt nose of a machine-gun greeted us, followed by the even blunter face of a Russian soldier. He ogled the stack of books propped on the little compartment table, hoisted his gun straighter, and then he invited us outside on the platform, along with our books.
It’s awkward being the foreigner anywhere, but it’s especially uncomfortable when you are a foreign fourteen year-old surrounded by a group of Stalinesque soldiers with guns, some of whom have taken all your books and your mother away to an interrogation room for an East meets West chat. I tried to smile and broke into a sweat. “Where are you from?” one of the soldiers growled. “San Francisco,” I said, and the group broke out into approving murmurs.
They let me back on the train and some time later my mother reappeared, sweating herself from the load of books she was hauling, but no worse for the wear. “They only took a few,” she trilled, settling back into our compartment. Apparently, she was sat in front of a desk where a woman examined our books, then counter-checked the titles in a massive tome of state-approved and state-banned books.
The train let out a groan and creaked back into commission, and as we pulled away from the knot of guards I wondered what had happened to our books. Did someone secretly read them? Were they incinerated? Sold on the black market?
Who knows. My mother went back to writing in her journal and I returned to Tar Baby. Neither one of us said anything more about the experience. My mother never said anything again, either, about what I should or shouldn’t be reading. The USSR had taken care of that.
I can’t remember who said this, but the quote has always stuck with me. There’s something in me that loves to hear how we writers are so powerful and dangerous. None of us, of course, wishes to die or be persecuted like a Russian poet, but at a time when poets and writers have a hard time getting published and read, the idea that a writer was so popular and subversive that the government felt they needed to execute them is significant.
I was lucky when I was a kid to have a librarian who allowed us to check out whatever we wanted, and to have parents who believed that kids could handle grown-up ideas. My parents were willing to talk and debate with me about politics, etc., from an early age. So I’m not afraid to read anything (except horror stories late at night). IMHO, reading Marx doesn’t turn you into a communist anymore than reading the Koran turns you into a Muslim, but reading both will probably turn you into a more well -rounded individual who understands world politics a little better.
I remember when the Todd Haines film Poison was released, and Senator Jessie Helms spoke out against it as “filth” and was horrified that the NEA had given it a grant. Not to give too much away, but the film had a homosexual rape scene in it. I remember how excited everyone was in the Good Machine office, where I was doing my first internship in the film business, because Jessie Helms’ outrage was definitely going to be great for box office. We don’t hear about many of the small indie films released or books published, but the ones that are banned are the ones everyone wants to see and read (Salman Rushdie, anyone?).
Now that I have a small child, I do feel in some ways that I need to protect him a little from things that are too scary or too grown up for him to handle (most of which seem to be on television rather than in books). But I think parents can go too far. We do not live in pink candy-floss world, and if our kids are going to solve some of the gargantuan messes that people have created on the earth, they’re going to have to know something about death, fear and prejudice. Teenagers can get pregnant, go to war, drive a car, get addicted to drugs and go to jail. I think they can handle reading about another kid’s angst in Catcher in the Rye, and perhaps they will even find it helpful.
So—what are your favorite banned books?
This week at the Debutante Ball, our theme is Banned Books Week, which takes place between September 27 and October 4.
Most of what I read as a child was pretty tame—just about every book was something that my parents could have picked up, started reading, and not had a problem with (which is good, because that tended to happen in my house—for instance, the week we all randomly picked up and read my 11-year-old sister’s book Camp Zombie and confessed, in a festival of family wimpiness, that we all found it terrifying).
I never bothered to sneak to my friend’s house and look over Madonna’s controversial book, Sex. I never perused any steamy romances at the paperback rack at the library. When I did branch out, it was to the not-so-exotic realm of John Grisham or Michael Crichton—even Stephen King was too scary for me.
So when I wrote my book, I wrote what I knew, in this sense. Most parents could pick up Bad Girls Don’t Die and check out any of the pages without becoming alarmed at what their kids were reading.
And I did it on purpose. Call me a prude, but when I’m a parent, there are going to be things I don’t want my kids exposed to. You can bet if I see an unfamiliar book on the coffee table, I’ll scoop it up and read a few paragraphs to get an idea of what exactly is being fed into my little angels’ minds.
So why should I care about Banned Books Week?
(Ha! Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I ended my post right there?)
The reason is that I believe, as my parents believed, that just because something isn’t right for me doesn’t mean it isn’t right for somebody. And I believed, even as a teen, that my behavior should be governed by my own self-control, not from a blanket effort to remove “bad” influences from my reach. Like every teen in the history of the universe, I had plenty of naughty stuff in my reach—but I was raised not to reach for it.
My book does actually have a few things going on that might raise a couple of eyebrows. It deals with ghosts and the supernatural, which many people out there might not be okay with (people like, er, me, circa 1990). It has a few fight scenes, which some people might dislike, but I feel are important to the story line (hey, some things are worth fighting for).
Do I expect every parent in America to pick up my book and be totally okay with it? No. I happen to think the vast majority won’t find any cause for complaint. But for the few that do, I’d like to trade my understanding and acceptance of their viewpoint for their understanding and acceptance of mine.
If they don’t want the book in their house, they’re completely welcome to pluck it from the innocent fingers of their children and do with it what they choose. But I ask that they confine their plucking to the fingers of their own progeny and allow other parents to exercise their own discretion.
I really admire the philosophy of The Center for Media Literacy, which I first learned about reading Hell Burns, the media journal of Sister Helena Burns (and how’s that for a ban-worthy blog title?). The idea is that you can’t get your kids away from the media, so give them the tools to be aware of and interpret what they’re being exposed to. Instead of banning a book, discuss it. Even *gasp!* read it.
Far be it from me to advise other people on how to raise their kids. But I can’t recall a single acquaintance whose teenaged reading habits—even the steamier variety—proved problematic as the teen in question entered adulthood.
Besides, I was too wimpy to read Stephen King, and I grew up to write spooky supernatural books. So who knows—those kids reading the spicy bodice-rippers will probably grow up to write thousand-page ornithology textbooks.
~ Deb Katie Alender (who, yes, is having way too much fun with Photobucket and should knock it off already)