THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY went international this week, launching in the UK.
Little Giant was chosen by Waterstone’s Books to be part of its Book Circle promotion, and just received a four star review in OK Magazine! In addition to the UK, the book will also be released in Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic.
Deb Kristina will make her first official tour appearance for REAL LIFE & LIARS at the Printers Row Lit Fest on June 7 in Chicago, where she will appear on a panel titled, “Female Persuasion” on Sunday, June 7 at 11 a.m. in the Burnham Room of Hotel Blake. Fellow panelists are Kimberla Lawson Roby, Janelle Brown and Therese Fowler. A signing will follow, and Liars will be available nine days before the official release date. Come on down if you’re in the Windy City!
Also, Kristina just learned that Liars will be a “Breakout” novel featured in Target stores starting in August!
Do you Twitter? Come join Kristina in the live Twitter conversation “LitChat” on Friday, June 5, to talk about Beach Reads. Details here!
Graduate Deb Anna David Anna’s second novel, BOUGHT, was released by Harper Collins on May 19th, and has already earned raves from Booklist (“glitzy, glamorous, gossipy”), nerve.com (“I practically devoured this”) and the dailystab.com (“One of those fabulous books that sucks you right in and you just cannot put down”). Profiles on Anna on websites like LAist.com and TV appearances on CBS and Fox News helped the book zip down to the 400’s on Amazon on its release day.
We’re very pleased to have Joshilyn Jackson as our guest today on the ball. Her third novel, The Girl Who Stopped
Swimming, was a national bestseller that Entertainment Weekly called a “ghost story, family psychodrama, and murder mystery all in one… a wild, smartly calibrated achievement.” It released in paperback this week. She is also the author of the award winning novels Gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia.
I’m a geek, okay? Not just “a little geeky.” A little geeky would be going to see the new Star Trek movie the day it came out. Which I did. In fact, I drove 40 miles to see the IMAX version, which definitely tips me over into Moderately Geeky. You might let me stay there, if I did not reveal that I left over an hour early to stand in line so I could have the best seats.
That’s irreparably red alert Geek-o-riffic. But perhaps not a terminal case. In my defense, I was not wearing a Star Fleet academy uniform. So. There is that.
ASIDE: I think they should issue Street Cred cards that we Geeks could flash at each other. The cards would showcase our top three nerd-factors, so we would instantly know where we stood in relation to each other on the geek-o-meter. My card would say,
–I’ve been on the internet, surfing BBSes and playing MUDs, since 1996. AND I AM A GIRL.
–My first two crushes were Leonard Nimoy and the constellation Orion.
– I own DVD box sets that feature Xena Warrior Princess. Which I bought to replace my VHS boxed sets of Xena Warrior Princess. *cough*
This card would put me higher on the totem pole then a person who, say, has seen Rocky Horror 411 times, but well under someone who claims to be trilingual because they are fluent in English, Klingon and Linux.
Like most geeks, I am charmed and intrigued by all kinds of supernatural whatnots. Vampires (the kind that eat you more than the kind that want to take their shirts off and kiss you). Aliens. Demons. Witches. And yes, I’ve long had a soft spot for ghost stories.
So I’ve often wondered why I didn’t go that direction when I got serious about writing novels. I guess we all tell the stories that mean the most to us, and as fun as I find movies featuring rubber puppets with big teeth, and as much I LOVE me some Stephen King, most of my favorite reads have been Southerny, gothicy things.
I retain endless love for books like Rambling Rose, Crazy in Alabama, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Paris Trout, anything by Frank Turner Hollon or Flannery O’Connor. Those stories are personal to me, since my roots in the South are deep and go down under the sugar-sand to where things get dark and murky. I love this place. I felt the seven years I spent in Illinois as an adventure, but also as an exile.
Now that I am back in Georgia, I never want to live anywhere else. I think we Southerners are quirky as all get out, and I love us. I love here. And yet some things about my homelands repulse and horrify me, and our hyper-polite attention to manners is spread thick over a long, ugly, and blood-soaked history. Growing up here has influenced my writing more than any other factor.
I do not believe in ghosts, but if you live in Georgia, you’d have to have skin as thick as new bricks not to find cold spots in the rooms of a lot of our older houses, especially in small towns. I find cottages and fields and cemeteries that are clearly haunted by history, if not actual things that go bump and clang. Once, on a rambling drive up through North Georgia, we pulled over to look at the shell of an abandoned church, and the second I walked in, I felt like a cat with 40 foot whiskers—I could feel vibrations all through that place and the hair on my arms stood up like what remained of the floor’d been carpeted in electricity.
In all my wanderings through the South, I’ve never hit that kind of Shivery Something in a subdivision. It’s little lost rural places—where most folks don’t have the homogenizing influence of the internet and HBO and where Starbucks and Wendy’s have not yet appeared on opposite corners—that holds the South’s ghosts now. What we call The New South is becoming just another piece of America, with the same clothes from Target and the same dinners at Chili’s and the same water coolor conversations about American Idol.
Don’t get me wrong—-The New South is better is so many ways. Not least—I’m neither red nor blue, more of a purple, really—but my vote-wasting third party heart soared, watching some of my southern sister states vote for Obama. Not because of or even in spite of his race, but because they thought he was the best person for the job. That’s a miracle.
But seeing how the South has changed made me want to write a ghost story, after all. My kind, more related to The Lovely Bones than, say, Poltergeist. I had a yen to send the ghost of a young girl into one of those Laura Ashley fabric coated bedrooms that populate the ever-more-homogenized gated communities of the New South. The spirit of 14 year old Molly would wake up the woman sleeping there, Laurel Hawthorne, a hyper-conventional wife and mother. Molly would take Laurel to the backyard, to see her own small body, floating lifeless in the Hawthorne’s pool. She’d want Laurel to find out what happened to her, in this neighborhood that is, above all, supposed to be safe.
Worse, Molly would open a door that would let in Laurel’s childhood ghost—the Old South kind, the one that followed her family out of poverty stricken DeLop, Alabama. In order to help Molly and protect her own child, Laurel would have to face all the family secrets and skeletons she thought she’d muffled under Egyptian cotton sheets and shut out with a state of the art security system. I especially wanted Laurel to have to involve her strange, estranged and rowdy sister, Thalia in order to put those ghosts to bed…Thalia is a piece of work and probably my favorite character. I laughed out loud writing half her lines and blushed writing the others.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming just released in paperback this week. If you aren’t familiar with my work, I hope you’ll give it a try. I think it’s a good summer read. That is, if you don’t mind a few shivers at the beach…
As anyone who’s been following The Ball this year – or who has read FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA – knows, it might seem as if I have traveled a lot. But the other day, I met up with a dear friend who racks up frequent flier miles like the rest of us collect dryer lint. Listening to her most recent jaunts between Atlanta, Zambia, China and Laos, (she’s the director of the CDC’s Global AIDS Program) I feel as if I’ve never even left the farm.
So, mindful of all the places in the world I have yet to visit, I would like to humbly offer this list of some of my best and worst travel recommendations.
Best place to go island hopping, sunbathe nude and eat olives (sometimes all at the same time): Greece.
Worst place to realize you really should NOT have drank the tap water, (NO MATTER WHAT THE GUIDE BOOK SAID): on a bus somewhere in Turkey.
Worst place to have a life-threatening nosebleed (or probably any other life-threatening ailment): Uzbekistan.
Worst way to travel: on the next flight out of Uzbekistan, with your nose packed in gauze and hooked up to an IV, (for some reason, it really makes the other passengers nervous).
Best place to get medically evacuated to: Thailand – medical care is excellent, hospitals are immaculate, shrimp and massages are considered medically necessary.
Best place to have hot coffee spilled on your lap while watching giraffes run alongside you at sunrise: The overnight train from Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya.
Worst place to book a second class sleeper car to share with your in-laws: The aforementioned train, also known as the Lunatic Express (no wonder our tickets were so cheap!)
Best place to feel like a kid in a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse (and maybe see an elephant in your pajamas): The Treetops Resort in the Aberdare Mountains in Kenya.
Best place to bring children: Thailand, where construction workers will actually climb down off their scaffolding, not to cat-call at you, but to cootchy-coo your baby. And incredibly patient waitresses will entertain your children so you and your hubby can enjoy a fabulous meal. (ALL meals in Thailand are fabulous.)
Worst place to take the kids: The Hermitage in St. Petersburg (they REALLY mean it when they say “NYET TOUCHING THE PRETTY, SHINY NATIONAL TREASURES!”) followed by Moscow, where, trust me on this, NO ONE THINKS IT’S THE LEAST BIT CUTE, when your kids chase the pigeons around Red Square.
Best way to attempt to drive cross-country with your kids: In a 25-year-old, biodiesel RV that “drives like a marshmallow,” leaks oil, smokes like a chimney and won’t go more than 40mph uphill. It was fun! Actual quote, from one of Deb Eve’s actual children.
Worst way to actually GET across the country: In the aforementioned 25-year-old biodiesel RV that drives like a marshmallow, leaks oil, smokes like a chimney and breaks down everywhere. It would have been better if it ran. Actual quote from one of Deb Eve’s actual children. (The same child. The other one was busy rolling her eyes and making sure NO ONE actually saw her riding in the affectionately named “Alum-A-Womb.”)
Best way to make a short vacation seem long and/or Worst way imaginable to travel with a toddler: On a skutje (a very rustic type of sailboat with very low edges and cramped spaces) sailing through the canals of northern Holland. Did I mention we were two families of four sharing this skutje and it was ten, very rainy days? And that we didn’t bring a leash for the toddler?
Best place to shrug your shoulders and say, “What the hey?”: Maui Sands, the indoor waterpark and hotel in (get this) Sandusky, Ohio. But they greet you with “Aloha,” toss leis around your neck, your kids will LOVE it and after one or two tropical drinks, you won’t even remember that you are in a strip mall, NOWHERE near the ocean!
Best overlooked (and let’s face it, overlookable) tourist site in America: The Jell-O Museum in LeRoy, NY. Yup, an entire museum devoted to a dessert made from the connective tissue of hooved animals. Also available to meet the dietary requirements of people of the Jewish faith. Direct quote from the museum’s docent, who does not have nearly as much of a sense of humor as should be required for that job.
Happy travels and I’d love to hear about some of your best and worst travel recommendations.
With three, little kids, I’ve sort of hung up my traveling shoes for a while (and, besides, I’m totally bowing down in the traveling department to Deb Eve), but I have this theory about traveling. You don’t necessarily have to go anywhere to do it.
Maybe I have this attitude because I traveled so much when I was growing up. My mom used to take me on these wild trips (London to Hong Kong by train, anyone? No? How about hiking in the hill country of Thailand?), and I went abroad to France during high school, and after I married my English husband, I lived with him in the UK, which seems like it would be similar enough to the US, but isn’t, trust me.
What traveling really did for me was to ignite a wonder of the world. I learned to appreciate that even though someone may be wearing goatskin and drinking out of a gourd, she might have identical issues to mine: a lousy boyfriend, a temporary falling out with her siblings. And I learned to accept that some things will never be the same. This, above all, is most excellent training for writing fiction.
Like I said, traveling for me now involves a litany of sippy cups, juice boxes, toys, blankets, extra underpants, favorite, stuffed dogs. Gone are my days of zipping up a duffel bag and setting off. But I hope I’m inspiring open hearts in my kids. Even if we take a day trip to a museum, or just go on a beach vacation, I hope we do it in a spirit of open-mindedness instead of just mindless recreation. Because one day soon, when they’re a little older, my kids better watch out. They just might find themselves tubing through a cave in Belize. And, of course, we’ll have Deb Katie to thank for that suggestion!
If there’s one thing my family taught me, it’s how to travel on a budget. We camped on our vacations or stayed with relatives (avoiding hotels). We also cooked on our own food on the road. The goal was to see as much as possible with a limited budget. We did okay because we did end up traveling a lot. We took a cross country road trip when I was eleven, went to England three times before I turned 14, and traveled through Europe when I was thirteen.
My parents are professors, so they always liked to go to historic sites and often spent hours in museums. They also love to hike. In our trip across the country, our goal was to see as many national parks as possible and we hit some amazing ones: Yellowstone, the Black Hills, and Yosemite are the ones I remember the best. In between, we ended up spending many hours in our VW bus on the road. When we got bored with our books and each other’s company, we would pick up a hitchhiker. The hitchhikers always had great stories to share about their time on the road, and were usually very entertaining.
Traveling on a budget usually meant having some unusual experiences. I learned that roadside food in Greece is spanokapita, that rice takes forever to cook on a small stove at high altitude in the Colorado mountains, that you get really wet when a hurricane hits the Outer Banks, and that the Jack Rabbit bus line in Iowa does not count heads after stopping at a rest area (I had to chase after the bus).
When I compare notes with friends, I realize that I missed quite a few quintessential American experiences. I never went to Disney World or amusement parks. We never ate fast food. My parents didn’t believe in child centric vacations, but took vacations that they enjoyed that they hoped we would to. But I don’t feel like I missed out. In fact, I spend most of my vacations traveling a lot like they did (minus the cook stove), and hope to teach my son that you don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to see the world. And in fact traveling on the cheap means you get to see a lot more of it.
I never was much of a traveler. I’m no good at packing, I like my OWN bed and my OWN house (and heaven help you if you keep me up past my bedtime… and that’s Pacific time, thank you very much), and on top of all that, I’m such a contented homebody that I don’t feel the need to go elsewhere. (Until I have a couple of glasses of wine, and then suddenly I’m a world traveler in the making… “Why DON’T we go to Argentina next year??”)
But even a grumpy troll like me manages to relax and enjoy myself from time to time, and here are five of my favorite travel memories to prove it. (I can’t say they’re my top five, because I can be very forgetful in small patches, so there’s a good chance I have a lot more favorites.)
1. Istanbul, Turkey. My parents, my little sister and I had traveled to Turkey to attend my brother’s wedding. We were staying at a little tiny hotel in the Sultanamet area, near the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. The days were hot and slightly full of bickering, but one night, my mothers, little sister, and I sat at the tiny rooftop restaurant (all the food was prepared by the waiter), sipping wine and relaxing. It was cool, and a fog had settled on the city. Across the square, we could see the spires of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia coming up out of the fog like lighthouses. The smaller mosque across the street from the hotel began their call to prayer, and we all just sat and listened and were mesmerized as the sound echoed around us, as it had done for hundreds of years.
2. Ballycarbery Castle, County Kerry, Ireland. Driving the Ring of Kerry in the southern part of Ireland, we diverted from the main path a bit and came across the ruin of an ancient castle. It was blocked off by barbed wire, but many someones had tied the wire up and helpfully supplied a little bridge so the curious rule-benders could explore anyway. We climbed among the ruins and walked the narrow staircases and stared up at sky through what had once been the home of a nobleman and his family.
3. Cave tubing, Belize. Wearing insect repellant that melted the print off the label of my sunscreen, we hiked through rainforest for 40 minutes to get to a launch point. We then floated down caves that were like the real life version of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. (Those ride designers were pretty talented guys.) For a while, it rained on us. I had two or three millisecond-long episodes of being amazed that someone was pointing a light exactly where I wanted to look, before remembering that I was wearing a helmet light.
4. The Butler Arms Hotel, Waterville, Ireland. Since we traveled at the end of the tourist season, we were basically the only people at this sprawling, gothic-feeling inn. With the help of a couple of pints of cider, the place might as well have been the lodge from The Shining. We explored the darkened hallways and the creepy terrariums, waiting for ghosts to spring forth from every corner. When we came down the stairs into the lobby after finding an open door at the end of one hallway, the lady at the front desk said, in the manner of a true horror film, “You’ll get lost up there.” It was deliciously eerie. (Although probably only on a dark, rainy October night. I’m sure it’s lovely in the summertime.)
5. New York, NY. Everything we’ve ever done there. I’m sorry, I can’t narrow it down. I love New York. I’d never been until I was 29 years old, and I was sure I wouldn’t like it. But I loved it and felt at home immediately. Although I must say, a recent highlight was seeing “Billy Elliott” on Broadway and hanging out backstage afterward with our friend, actor Greg Jbara (who just won a Drama Desk Award and is nominated for a Tony… cross your fingers for him)!
(Oh, and unofficial #6 would be staying at Dromoland Castle in Ireland, where the bar/lounge/fancy-Irish-term-for-t is in a turret of the castle filled with porcelain King Charles Spaniel statues.)
So tell me, what’s YOUR favorite travel memory?
~ Katie Alender
My best vacation ever came out of my only regret.
It was 1996, or maybe 1997, and my husband and I were poverty-stricken newlyweds living in a dodgy apartment (we once came home to find police surrounding one of the buildings, and later heard there were shots fired and people seen fleeing out of windows). Bruce worked at night, which meant in the evenings I was ready for happy hour and he was all set for bacon and eggs, and those were on the days we managed to see each other at all.
One day we were talking about regrets. No, my regret had nothing to do with signing a lease on that apartment (I won’t even tell you what we found in the stairwell one day). See, in college, I studied Italian for the simple reason that I flunked the Spanish placement test despite two years of perfect “A” grades in high school Spanish. I liked studying languages, and thought Italian sounded pretty. So I signed up, and really loved it. I took Italian for two years, and again, got A grades. Professore Francese tried to get me to study abroad one summer in Italy. I thought, there’s no way my parents could afford that, and I certainly can’t on my own.
I mentioned this to my mother off-handedly and she shocked me by saying, “Well, we could probably make it work.” Was I delighted? Did I start packing a bag? No. Not to put to fine a point on it, but I was a complete chickenshit. I didn’t go.
By the time I was a flat-broke newlywed in a not-at-all-lucrative career at a small-town newspaper, I thought for sure I’d missed my chance to visit Italy.
Bruce told me we should go to Italy as a couple. I probably laughed. But he convinced me we could start saving, just a bit here and there, whatever we thought we could afford. I think we started with $25 a month.
Four years later, we were sipping sparkling wine in a gondola in Venice, having already walked through the Colosseum, admired the Boboli Gardens in Florence, posed for goofy pictures in front of the leaning tower of Pisa, and drank Bud Lights sitting outside at a pub called Il Stregatto (the striped cat) while watching fashionable Italians stroll by.
So much for regret! That trip turned out to be the romantic honeymoon we couldn’t have dreamed of four years before, and the source of so many happy memories.
Come to think of it, it’s about time we start saving for another trip…