Tag Archives: Savannah Book Festival
You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements is David McCullough Jr.’s 2012 Wellesley High School commencement address that orbited into cyberspace, reaching more than 2.4 million YouTube viewers. McCullough, who has taught school for almost 30 years and a father of four, expanded his speech into a book for teens, parents and anyone who cares about children. He takes a hard look at teens and technology, sports, responsibility, micromanaging parents, grade inflation and entitlement. Ahead of this weekend's Savannah Book Festival, McCullough fielded a few question with Jane Thimme for Savannah magazine.
Savannah Magazine: Who is reading You Are Not Special—teens, parents, teachers, grandparents?David McCullough Jr.: All four—but it was written with the teenager in mind.
SM: You express great concern that parents and teens are preoccupied with “conspicuous achievement.” Is one goal of this book to reassure young people that being average is okay?DM: Absolutely, yes—so many kids are anxious about, preoccupied with, or intimidated by this impulse to be conspicuously excellent in everything they do. It’s stunting their growth and one of my big hopes with the book is that it will liberate them from that thinking and turn their attention to things that matter a little more.
SM: Regarding the business of college prep, do students you know see anything wrong with gaming the system with professional college application consultants and professionally edited essays?DM: Many feel uneasy about it, but think it’s necessary to achieve the goals they set for themselves. I would not go so far as to say they feel like they’re compromising their integrity, but it’s almost that bad. That they feel like they’re taking advantage of every angle they can.
SM: You write about the sacredness of hard work. Are we raising over-indulged children who are short on the right stuff? Are they tough enough for what our world needs?DM: My concern is that no, they are not—that because we’re focusing so much on conspicuous achievement that the honest ways ability is earned are circumvented and kids are focusing too much on the result and not the process.
SM: On New Millennium technology, you list e-universe evils including vapidity, egocentrism and exhibitionism. Do tech tools completely sabotage encouragement of the spirit of selflessness?DM: I don’t know that it completely sabotages it because it can be used to great beneficial good—but in many cases it does work against ideas and attitudes I hope to promote with my own children and in school. One of my biggest concerns lately is that it is denying kids the chance to concentrate…to ruminate. They’re constantly preoccupied with the next communication that comes through the smartphone. Also none of these innovations, and some can be quite thrilling, but none get much past the novelty stage before the next thrilling thing arrives and that alone undermines the attention span one needs to evolve intellectually.
SM: In your “Rah, Rah” chapter, you zero in on sports “no limits mania,” but then write of your own positive experiences in the “soccer/industrial complex” with your daughter. Are we either on the train or off the train—is there a happy medium?DM: No, there seems to be no happy medium and it keeps getting worse and worse. The daughter about whom I wrote in the book is now a freshman in college and on a soccer team. She will claim she is a student first, but soccer is still dominating her college experience now. I fear that kind of commitment expected of young athletes is absolutely terrific for the development of the athlete part of their lives, but fear it’s coming at the cost of equally important aspects of one’s development. It’s also that way with every sport and with musicians or actors—or whatever one’s extracurricular interest is. My older child is also in college and is on a baseball team and writes for newspaper and is in classes and those three things means he doesn’t sleep.
SM: Is there anything I should have asked?DM: You haven’t asked me about how important my wife is in all of this. Ours is a complete partnership across the board. Her wisdom insights and humor inform all I say and think and do…we keep one another honest.
If You Go »David McCullough Jr. 9 a.m., Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, Wright Square
Karen AbbottLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy (Harper 2014) Abbott comes in from the cold to reveal the stories of a socialite, farm girl, abolitionist and widow who served as spies for the North and South during the Civil War.
John DeanThe Nixon Defense (Viking 2014) An inside and historical account of Watergate from one of the last surviving members of President Richard M. Nixon’s staff.
Patton OswaltSilver Screen Fiend (Scribner 2015) The celebrated comedian recounts his journey from stand up to sitcom and screen star against the backdrop of his addiction to cinema.
Christopher ScottonThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth (Hatchette 2015) A debut novel that took 15 years to write and is considered so powerful the publisher ordered an initial run of 100,000 copies.
Tavis SmileyDeath of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Year (Little, Brown 2014) Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act became law, the award-winning broadcaster renders a deeply revealing portrait of the trials and tribulations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last days.
Gabrielle ZevinThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (Algonquin Books 2014) In this ode to bookselling, Zevin illuminates the magical powers of independent book stores to connect people and community with the written word.
In her conversation with Wally Lamb, Amy Paige Condon discovers how an author and his reader come full circle.[caption id="attachment_12401" align="aligncenter" width="288"] Photo by Chris Hetzer[/caption] When I told friends I had the good fortune to interview Wally Lamb, I was met by two universal reactions. The first, complete and utter jealousy, followed immediately by their rhapsodizing at long stretches about how much She’s Come Undone—Lamb’s first novel and an Oprah Book Club selection—meant, and still means, to them. I even learned that the sister of a childhood pal had adapted that elegant, affirming narrative that follows Delores from the age of 4 to 40, for the stage. I feel that same ardent devotion for Lamb’s second novel, I Know This Much is True, also an Oprah Book Club selection. In it, Lamb weaves a complicated story of brotherly love against the backdrop of our own nation’s complicated and contemporary relationship with war, mental health and faith. I use the book’s first chapter in the creative writing class I teach on Monday nights to illustrate the power of choosing the right words at the right time. One line from the novel—“God is found in the roundness of things”—even found its way into my wedding vows. With his five novels, Wally Lamb has established himself as a gifted storyteller with deep wells of compassion and curiosity—which also rises to the surface in two edited collections of essays written by his students at Connecticut’s only women’s prison, the York Correctional Institute. He takes his time writing, and the wait time between books can seem interminable—up to 10 years in some cases. Still, there’s nothing wrong with rereading his books again and again, for they have the power to remain relevant and new. That much, I know is true.
Savannah magazine: When I read your novels, the concept that “all politics is local” takes on new meaning, because you render these intricate stories of personal and family drama against the backdrop of American history. I’m just going to own that I am awed by your ability to do this, and also ask you, does the seed of the story start with the big and home in on the individual character or does the character become attached to the scope of history?Wally Lamb: I think it’s the second one, although they sometimes happen simultaneously. I think ultimately what I’m interested in are stories that are about power and the uses of power and abuses of power. Of course you can talk about politics, national or international, and you can also talk about domestic situations. When the front door is closed, what is the power structure within a household? And, when I talk about abuses of power in We Are Water, the cousin of Annie abuses power terribly in a way that affects not only her but when she grows up and has kids and has a husband, it affects them in ways that they don’t understand. It’s the way power plays out both in the national landscape and also in private homes. I guess that’s probably one of my major themes. It came into sharp focus for me—I was a high school teacher for about 25 years and I really came down hard on bullying whenever I saw it. And then when I started teaching at the women’s prison, when I saw power and its abuses play out with these women in terms of their personal histories, whether it is incest, an abusive spouse or a partner. There is a power thing going on in an institution like a prison. That brought it into sharper focus for me. I’ve been doing that program for about 15 years and I can really see how it has informed the fiction.
SM: Your books have this undercurrent of learning to love others as well as self through forgiveness. I’m curious if this is something you’ve always explored as a writer or it is something that has strengthened through teaching at York?Wally Lamb: I think that has always been my instinct, but it was really reinforced and strengthened through my work with the women. I’ll give you an example. When the first of the women’s prison books came out—these are books that I edit, but it’s the women’s writing—a book group was doing that collection and they invited me to come and join them. I was challenged by one of the women there, and she said, ‘I want you to tell me what I should do with my reaction to your book? Because when I was reading their stories, there were some of them that I really, really liked. But because they weren’t writing about their crimes, I went on the Internet and researched them and then when I found out what they did, then I felt like I had been duped.’ And I wasn’t sure if I was duped by you, she said, or by the women. I felt a little defensive when she said that, and then I realized that she doesn’t know them as people. All she knows is the coverage of the trials and so forth. I said to her, somebody who is arrested and goes to trial for a very serious crime, they go into the courtroom and the jury hears one version of what happened by the defense team and another version of what happened by the plaintiff. And, I said, they are both versions of the truth but not THE TRUTH. Lots of times the truth is more complicated than either side’s version, and it’s probably somewhere in the middle. You do Internet research; you don’t know the whole story. One of the things that has been reinforced for me—and that I have a greater awareness of now—is that crime and punishment is a complicated equation. For every situation, you can’t simplify it as black and white, good people and bad people. A lot of the women that I work with have done some very bad things, but they are not bad people. And I don’t really feel like I am there to judge them. They’ve already been judged, which is why they have sentences. That’s not really my function. My function is to receive their writing and maybe help them say it better, be stronger writers and be better critics of each other’s writing.
SM: Have you seen the writing transform their lives?Wally Lamb: Oh, yes! In smaller ways for some; in very large ways for others. There was a woman in the program—she’s out of prison now; she’s served her sentence and has been out for a while. She won the First Amendment Award for her writing—her name is Barbara Parsons (first published as Barbara Lane). When she entered the program, she was terribly ashamed and grief-stricken, and she had snapped and shot and killed her abusive husband when she found out that he had molested her granddaughter. She had been sexually abused when she was a little girl by her grandfather, so she flipped out. He had been pretty abusive to her, too. She had been [in prison] for about 25 years. While she was there, one of her sons had been involved in a traffic fatality. She had been a middle class woman, never had trouble until this horrible thing happened and she did this horrible thing. When she entered the program, she was bowed over with guilt and shame. She couldn’t look me in the eye. She couldn’t read her stuff aloud. She would give it to me to read. And she would sit there with a box of Kleenex or toilet paper and just sob. But what happened by dealing with a lot of that painful childhood stuff and what happened the night of her crime, she came into her own. She became one of the hardest workers and became one of the best critics and writing group members. And, she ultimately, became one of the leaders of the group. That’s something I would have never predicted. Many of them carry this debilitating guilt inside of them … so when they unburden themselves of some of these awful secrets and get it out there on the page, they get stronger and if they’re brave enough to take it to the next step and share it with us, read it aloud, then they come into their own more.
“If we’re all carrying this heavy thing, it’s not breaking any of us because it lightens the load.”
SM: Do you find the readers that fell in love with your first two books want you to stay in that mold?Wally Lamb: Yeah. Some. But, I don’t feel obliged to do that because that would be kind of boring. I had a wonderful writing teacher way back when. I started writing fiction later than most people. I was about 30. I had been a high school teacher for years, and all of a sudden I started doing this on the side. Pretty early on, I entered a master of fine arts program at Vermont College, and I worked with a really wonderful writer named Gladys Swan, and she said to me, ‘Why do you want to do this? What do you want to write fiction?’ I had never really asked myself this question. I said, ‘I work with teenagers and somewhere over the course of the year we read the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. And I said, I love it that the kids, after about the first chapter or two, they want to read it, not because they have to read it. So, Gladys, I think I want to write something that people will want to read voluntarily.’ And, I thought that making up an impromptu answer, I had done a good job. But, she made a face like she was sucking a lemon or something. And, I said, ‘Well, what’s the matter with that’’ And she said, ‘You never write for a preconceived audience. What you do is write to explore and discover your own truths, and then you have the faith that whatever audience is meant to find that—big or small—will find it as long as you are truthful about those truths that you are exploring.’
If You Go:See Wally Lamb at the 7th Annual Savannah Book Festival, 11:30 a.m., Feb. 15, Trinity United Methodist Church.
If you see a ruggedly handsome man in a black cowboy hat looking a little out of place in Telfair Square this weekend, it may be award-winning author and Wyoming native C.J. Box. Christina Kelly sidles up and shares a chat with the bestselling mystery writer.[caption id="attachment_12371" align="aligncenter" width="432"] Photo by Michael Smith[/caption]
C.J. Box isn’t your average mystery writer. He’s the New York Times best-selling author of seventeen novels, including thirteen in the critically acclaimed Joe Pickett series. Box’s writing appeals to such a wide and loyal audience because of his memorable characters and riveting plots. Also, he’s not afraid to include real-life controversies in his fiction, undertaking such diverse topics as wind farms, animal rights, and the zero-footprint theme.As a testament to his craft, he’s won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel in 2009 for Blue Heaven, among other prizes. His books have been translated into 25 languages and both Blue Heaven and Nowhere to Run have been optioned for films. Fortunately, his fans don’t have long to wait for more from C.J. Box. The fourteenth novel in the Joe Pickett series, Stone Cold, will be published in March and his first short-story collection, Shots Fired, will appear this summer. As well, his Joe Pickett novels are being pitched as a television series by executive producer Robert Redford. Not bad for this outdoorsman who’s as comfortable on a trout river as he is on a best-seller list.
Savannah magazine: If somebody walked in on you writing, what would they see?C.J. Box: I’d either be at my desk in my basement office in Cheyenne or at a desk at my cabin on a trout river two and a half hours away from Cheyenne. In both cases, it would be a boring sight. I write best when I can’t look out a window and have the fewest possible distractions. I can’t have one of those idyllic light-filled rooms Ernest Hemingway used to brag about. If I could see outside (especially at my cabin) I’d see that trout were rising and I’d have to go catch them. At home, my view right now is of a snow-filled window well. There are rifles and other things on the walls, but if somebody walked in on me writing they’d walk away and say, “What a dull guy."
SM: What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from those books?C.J. Box: Very early on, I was a big fan of the Encyclopedia Brown series. I graduated from that to books like A.B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky and I read all of the James Bond novels. My favorite novel is still Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and my favorite writer is Thomas McGuane. Favorite hero? Probably Philip Marlowe from the Raymond Chandler novels.
Savannah magazine: Joe Pickett is your most well-known character. Are there any parts of him that are based on yourself?C.J. Box: I think for every writer there is a piece of them in every character he/she creates. With some, it’s more than others. Like Joe Pickett, I have daughters and I love my wife. I’m also an outdoorsman. But I’ve never been a game warden or worked in law enforcement, and I don’t seek danger in practically every situation. Also, I’m a better shot.
Savannah magazine: You’re often shown wearing a black cowboy hat which is most commonly associated with villains. Are you more a villain or a hero?C.J. Box: This is where I can reveal to you a little about the culture in the West! Black hats vs. white hats is an old western movie thing. In real life, men wear black hats in the winter months and straw hats in the summer months. There are a few men who wear silver-belly Stetsons (I’ve got one) but black is the preferred color and it has nothing to do with the color of one’s heart.
Savannah magazine: Have your three adult daughters read your books?C.J. Box: They’ve read all of the books. In fact, they help me out with first drafts and make suggestions and sometimes offer better ideas. Because they’ve read all the books they sometimes have a better overall perspective of the series than I do. My wife, Laurie, is my first reader and she’s an excellent editor.
Savannah magazine: You’ve written about federal government workers, long-haul truckers, serial killers, and some rather shady characters, so how do you research your books?C.J. Box: I enjoy the research part of each book and I try to get it right. I’ve accompanied cross-country long-haul truckers, climbed to the top of wind turbines, fired the largest handgun in the world, and traveled to interview the locals in places where I’m setting a novel. I find it very rewarding to hear from readers that I got the details right.
Savannah magazine: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?C.J. Box: As goofy as it sounds, I’m always astonished to learn from (some) aspiring writers that they don’t read much or read widely. I guess they like the sound of their own voice too much. Readers may not. Writers should read both critically and for entertainment to figure out how successful authors do it in regard to craft, characterization, motivation, point of view, etc. It’s right there on the page.
Savannah magazine: You’ve published 17 novels in 13 years. How do you keep up this pace? What gives you inspiration?C.J. Box: If I was waiting for inspiration I’d be working on Book Two. I write because it’s my job. Plumbers can’t take a day off because they have plumber’s block. I just go to work every day like everyone else. But I also love it and I think I’ve got the best job in the world. I’m just happy so many readers all over the world like the books.
Savannah magazine: Much of your writing is based in Wyoming, where you live. Perhaps it’s time to introduce your characters to Savannah. Possible?C.J. Box: One never knows. I was invited to give a talk this year in Wilson, N.C. and now Wilson is a location for the book I’m writing at the moment. I’m kind of a location predator.
If You Go:See C. J. Box at the 7th Annual Savannah Book Festival, 4 p.m., February 15, Trinity United Methodist Church.
She never attended the Yonahlossee camp herself, but author Anton DiSclafani invoked details from the actual girls’ retreat to create the setting for her debut novel. She also pulled information from past experience competing in the equestrian events. But DiSclafani hasn’t created her doppelganger. Thea Atwell, protagonist of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, is nothing like its author. Nancy Lawson Remler investigates.[caption id="attachment_12360" align="aligncenter" width="432"] Photo by Katie Langley[/caption]
Savannah magazine: Your bio says that you competed nationally in equestrian events. How successful were you? Ever go to the Olympics?Anton DiSclafani: I won sometimes. I did and do a kind of riding called dressage, so I started riding when I was about eight years old, and I started competing when I was around 11 or 12 and I competed throughout high school, and I competed on the national circuit, but I definitely wasn’t anywhere near the Olympics.
SM: How much is Thea like you?AS: Not at all. She’s really the opposite of me. I know horses. I’ve spent a lot of time around horses, so writing about horses was second nature to me, but I didn’t jump. Thea jumps, which requires a lot more bravery than I ever had. I started out jumping, which most people do. When you’re doing English, you start out jumping. Very quickly it became apparent I wasn’t brave enough to jump because the horses can feel your fear, so I switched to dressage, which is all flat work on the ground. So she’s the opposite of how I would behave, both on the ground and on a horse.
SM: And your own home inspires Thea’s Florida home, correct?AS: The place and the descriptions of place are definitely autobiographical: both her Florida home, which was based on the home I grew up in, which was built in the ‘20’s. And then my parents have a cabin in North Carolina, which is near where the real Yonahlossee was.
SM: I’m intrigued by how the Yonahlossee Riding Camp is such an unusual hybrid of a place—both camp and school for girls. Was the actual Yonahlossee that same kind of a hybrid?AS: No. Basically, I took the name of Yonahlossee and the setting. [The novel is] set in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The camp really existed in Blowing Rock, and it was called Camp Yonahlossee. But it wasn’t called the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. The real camp opened in 1923 and closed in 1985, and when it closed, it was the oldest girls’ camp in North Carolina. But very early on I was very clear with myself—because nobody else was reading the book at that point—that I wanted my Yonahlossee to be totally different from the real Yonahlossee. One of the reasons is that I didn’t want the responsibility of trying to stay true to a real place, which begs the question of why I used the name.
SM: Yes, please talk about that some more.AS: The answer is really as simple as I loved the name so much. But if someone had told me I couldn’t use the name, I wouldn’t have written the book. The name is so wonderful, and it was hard to think of a replacement. I looked up other native American names, but there’s just something about Yonahlossee That’s really beautiful and hard to find a replacement for.
SM: Tell me a story about writing this novel—something about your writing process that was funny or frustrating or enlightening.AS: So much of it was frustrating! I weirdly started to spend a lot of time with my cats when I was writing the novel. My office is kind of a sunroom, and it’s where my two cats eat their food. I would start writing, and I would give them their food, and when I would hit a point that was frustrating, I would brush them. So you would know how well my writing was going by how well brushed they were. If they were really well groomed, that meant the writing wasn’t going well that day.
SM: What is the question that you wish interviewers would ask but haven’t?AS: What was the most exciting part of selling your book, of being a first time author?
SM: Good one. So what is your answer to that question?AS: Holding the real book in my hands for the first time.
SM: Of course. And how exciting was it for you to get that acceptance from a publisher, to finally get that yes?AS: It was really thrilling, and it was also kind of shocking because I had been working four and a half years from when I started the book. Your whole world changes in an instant—in a good way. I’m not complaining. Having a book is exciting in itself, but I also teach at Washington University right now, [so publishing] meant that I could go on the job market because I had a book.
SM: If you could plan your own book festival, whom would you invite and why?AS: I really love an author Edward P. Jones. He lives in D.C. so it would be really cool to bring him in and to listen to him. I love his stories; they’re very lyrical, and the characters are really beautiful. I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, her new book, The Signature of All Things, and it would be fascinating to hear her talk about it.
SM: What are looking forward to doing when you come to Savannah?AS: My family went to Savannah for a trip about 7 or 8 years ago, and we thought it was beautiful, and we just loved walking and looking at all the houses, so I would really love to tour some old houses while I’m there.
SM: Can you give us a taste of what you’ll talk about when you come to town?AS: I plan to talk about my inspiration for Yonahlossee and being a southern writer and about the South and writing about the historic South.
If You Go:See Anton DiSclafani at the 7th Annual Savannah Book Festival, 11:30 a.m., Feb. 15, Boardroom at the Jepson Center for the Arts.
Historical novelist Melanie Benjamin explores Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh troubled yet committed marriage in her novel, The Aviator’s Wife. We learn more about the heroic feats of the larger-than-life hero's diminutive wife as well as the complicated emotional terrain that led her to write the landmark feminist book, Gift from the Sea. Lyn Gregory wades in.[caption id="attachment_12357" align="aligncenter" width="309"] Photo by Todd Rennels[/caption] Benjamin has written two other well received historical novels: Alice I Have Been about the life of Lewis Carroll’s muse and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, focusing on P.T. Barnum's star performer, Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Bump.