Rachel Hagerman is the founding editor of The Spellbinding Shelf. She is studying English (Writing, Rhetorics and Literacies) at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. She currently works as a freelance writer, teaching assistant, tutor, Superstition Review content coordinator and blogger, and ASU Senior Writing Mentor. Passionate about literature, she plans to pursue a career in editing and publishing after graduation.
ASU professor and poet Patricia Colleen Murphy will read from her second poetry collection, Bully Love, at Changing Hands Bookstore this upcoming Saturday.
The collection won the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry, and it offers glimpses into the harsh but beautiful Sonoran Desert, painful but important memories, and an unexpected but powerful love for landscape and people.
Check out a book review of Bully Love by Spellbinding Shelf’s editor-in-chief here.
Changing Hands Phoenix and the ASU Center of Science and the Imagination (Go, Sun Devils!) are partnering to celebrate the launch of Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow, a new science fiction short story collection. The anthology explores the consequences—good and bad—of change and what tomorrow might bring for humankind. Authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Maureen F. McHugh—two of the contributors in this anthology—will be joining Changing Hands and ASU for the book launch.
Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of The Windup Girl, Ship Breaker,The Drowned Cities, Zombie Baseball Beatdown, The Doubt Factory, The Water Knife, and Tool of War. His work has won a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and has been nominated for three Nebula Awards and four Hugo Awards.
Maureen F. McHugh is the author of China Mountain Zhang, After the Apocalypse,Nekropolis,Half the Day Is Night,Mission Child, and Mothers and Other Monsters. She lives, writes, and teaches scriptwriting in Los Angeles, California.
Interview with Author & Photographer Anna Jean Ouellette
Meet Anna Jean Oulette, a local author and photographer from sunny Arizona! Anna is the author of the Raz series, Soft Soul, and 46 Miles. She is currently working on her sixth book.
1. You’ve already published five books in the past six years, which is certainly a very fast pace! How were you able to keep up this writing speed and motivation? Do you have a regular writing routine?
My writing routine has changed a lot throughout the years. In high school I used to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to walk to the nearest coffee shop and write my stories. Since I was such a morning person, this was a regular routine for me and not a difficult one either. However, when I started college, I no longer had the motivation to wake up at four in the morning, and my writing routine began to slack a lot.
Now, I work full time at a daycare for some extra money, so when my two year olds nap each day, I use that opportunity to write. Even though that is only an hour a day, versus the two to three hours that I used to commit, sometimes even more, words still get on a page, and my creative outlet continues to thrive. Writer’s block is definitely something that has existed, especially when writing 46 Miles. However, I usually overcome it by skipping whatever scene I am working on and writing a future chapter, which excites me enough to continue my current scene.
2. You began writing at a very young age, with your first novel, Raz, published at age 14. Now, six years later, have you noticed any changes in your approach to or relationship with writing?
I unfortunately write considerably less now than I did when I was fourteen. I used to sit in my room all day, challenging myself to test how many words I could write in a single day, one time reaching 20,000 as I was writing Izz. Now, I typically only write 1,000 words a week, but I definitely have a lot more in my life to balance now with two full time jobs, my family, planning a wedding, and writing. I wish I still had as much free time to spend writing, but I definitely take what I can get and make the best of it.
3. How did writing your first book compare to writing your subsequent novels? Did the writing process get easier or did you face any unique challenges with your later writing?
One challenge that presents itself when writing each new book is the need to grow. Each new book needs to be better than the book before, but I think my stories have definitely improved since Raz. There was slightly less pressure when writing my first book both because of that reason and because now people are waiting for the next book to be published. It has been a year and a half since 46 Miles was published, and the pressure of having to finish my next book before people forget about that one sometimes outweighs how much enjoyment I get out of writing. It’s definitely different to write with other people’s opinions in mind, rather than just writing for the sake of the story.
4. Your first book was the product of a NaNoWriMo project, which is a writing challenge to complete a novel of 50,000+ words during November, or National Novel Writing Month. Some writers criticize this challenge, arguing that the process doesn’t encourage enough reflection time. Yet, other writers praise NaNoWriMo, saying that it gives them the motivation they need to devote their time to a single creative project. In fact, several amazing published works started as NaNoWriMo’s, including Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and—of course—your very first novel! What are your thoughts on the NaNoWriMo process? Do you think the challenge helped your writing endeavors?
I absolutely love NaNoWriMo! I have always been very competitive, so the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month definitely stuck out to me! I did it with some friends, so my competitive side made sure I was always ahead of them and on track to finish. I got trifold boards and planned out all my characters and a basic plot line during October and then actually began the writing process on November 1st. I think having some aspects planned out ahead of time helped a fair amount. This challenge definitely helped me write Raz, and then I made my own personal goals for Izz and Adz. I wrote Izz in a month, as well, and Adz in three weeks. I spent a much longer time revising the second two books, however.
5. In addition to being a published author, you are also the photographer behind AJ Photography, where you capture headshots, senior portraits, wedding events, maternity photography, as well as photos for couples, newborns, families, models, and more. Do you notice any connections between your creative work as an author and as a photographer?
I brainstorm creative ideas in the same way for photo shoots as I do for my books. I get my inspiration from dreams, things other people say, and ideas that I randomly get and pick apart, until they become an entirely different idea. I am constantly daydreaming, and these daydreams are what turn into my stories and photo concepts.
6. Although most of your photography is professional work, one of the photo collections that stuck out to me most was your creative project—the Invisible Illness Project—which portrayed eight different mental illnesses in an attempt to defy our modern misconceptions. Can you share a little bit about your creative process in this work? How did you decide the ways you wanted to depict these illnesses?
I definitely got a lot of help from both friends and the internet when brainstorming for this idea. I chose models who have struggled with (or known someone who has struggled with) one or more of the mental illnesses that I chose. The models were then able to help better the ideas that I already had and bring them to life. When I displayed these pieces of art in the RAW Phoenix Gallery, I received enormous appreciation for my work, and many people said that they were able to relate to each piece.
7. And, finally, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything exciting at the moment?
My latest read is Different by Janet McLaughlin. It’s definitely an easier read, good for younger ages, but is about a girl with Tourette Syndrome, something I struggle with personally and that very few people write about in books. This author is amazing because she is helping spread awareness and overcome misconceptions of Tourette’s. I think that is why this book speaks to me so profoundly, even though it is written for a younger audience.
Learn more about Ouellette’s books here. You can also view her photography website here.
In honor of National Classical Music Month, we’d like to share some beautiful instrumental songs that were inspired by gorgeous books! We’ve even prepared a Spotify playlist for you that is the perfect length for a long commute to and from school or work. We hope you enjoy reading and listening along to some beautiful literary tunes.
Perhaps one of the most exciting ways books influence and inspire composers is in the creation of musicals. Take for example, how the composers of Les Miserables,Ragtime, and The Hunchback of Notre Dameeach captured the raw emotion of their respective fictional characters. Whether you’re listening (or singing along to) Éponine’s tears over Marius, Tateh’s excitement about his new home in America, or the gorgeous choral singers at Notre Dame, musicals have a special sort of literary magic that is distinct from other genres of music.
As a former orchestra member (Do I have any fellow violists out there?), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how literature has been an integral part of classical music. The first influential story that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture” is an absolute masterpiece and my personal favorite musical take on Shakespeare’s writing. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” is equally as fascinating. In this work, Liszt creates three character sketches from Goethe’s Faust: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. Instead of recreating the drama’s plot, as many other composers do when inspired by a work of literature, Liszt writes musical portraits that explore the three unique fictional characters.
Operas lend themselves well to literary inspiration, needing dramatic narrative and compelling, emotional characters. Verdi adored Macbeth so much that he composed a four act opera that begins with an appropriately dramatic overture. Henry Purcell used opera to capture the betrayal of Aeneas to Dido from The Aeneid. What better way to musically express the stormy drama in these works than elaborate operatic arias?
Combining both music and dance, ballet is another beautiful art form that can benefit from literary motivation. For example, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the famous waltz in his “Sleeping Beauty.” (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how well-read Tchaikovsky must have been to make all of his literary references?) Prokofiev tackles the classic Romeo and Juliet in his ballet, which he ended up using to build three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece later on in his life. I have to say, my favorite part of Prokofiev’s work is the scene where Tybalt recognizes Romeo. That particularly catchy song has definitely been stuck in my head a couple times!
What’s a play without a little musical accompaniment? Shakespeare is once again an influential force in the musical arena. Several of his plays are accompanied by well-composed music. In fact, Robert Johnson, an English composer and lutenist, is well-known for working directly for Shakespeare to provide music, like “Galliard” and “Full Fathom Five,” for his plays. Mendelssohn is another Shakespeare-admirer known for his music composed to accompany Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Join fellow ASU students and faculty for a book discussion at the Piper Writers House. This month, the ASU Book Group will be reading and discussing By the Forces of Gravity: A Memoir by Rebecca Fish Ewan.
This illustrated coming-of-age book shares Ewan’s childhood friendship that was cut short by tragedy as well as her adventures searching for love, acceptance, and truth alongside her cohorts.
Professor Ewan teaches landscape architecture in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU.
Be sure to pick up the book and bring a friend for this book discussion! A no-host luncheon will follow the meeting in the University Club next-door.
Location: Piper Writers House, 450 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe
Whether the recent book-to-film movie release got you to pick up Where’d You Go, Bernadette for the first time or reminded you how much you love this book, we’ve got you covered with a list of book recommendations sure to please fans of the book…and movie!
Mr. Penumbra’s 24–Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan. The Great Recession drives web-designer Clay Jannon to leave his San Francisco work and take up a new job amidst the book stacks at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The only problem: the book customers are rare and seem to only check out unusually obscure volumes from the dark corners of the store. Curious about this strange behavior, Clay sets out to investigate the clientele to uncover secrets about Mr. Penumbra’s book collection.
Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty. In this witty and hilarious novel, readers will follow the three Kettle sisters: Lyn, Cat, and Gemma. Each sister is a unique character, and—together—they bring laughter, drama and mayhem. Lyn has a (seemingly) organized life marked by checklists, work life, marriage, and expertise in motherhood. Meanwhile, Cat confronts shocking secrets in her marriage. And Gemma flees whenever her relationships hit that victorious six-month anniversary. They must work together to deal with the ups and downs of life; including their technologically savvy grandma, champagne hangovers, and parent drama.
The Rosie Project – Greame Simsion. Brilliant but socially awkward Don Tillman has decided it’s time to search for a wife. So, as a profound believer in evidence-based decision making, this professor of genetics creates an orderly, sixteen-page, scientifically-supported love survey to filter out bad marriage candidates. When he meets Rosie, Don decides she cannot possibly be a good match, but he agrees to help her track down her biological father instead. In the quest to find her father, Don realizes that, despite his rational analysis, love is surprising, making him wonder if he should change his mind about Rosie and his love survey.
On Turpentine Lane – Elinor Lipman. Meet Faith Frankel: at 32 years, she purchases a charming bungalow in her old suburban hometown and believes her life is finally on track. But, at the same time, she notices her fiancé is too busy to answer her texts as he posts photos of himself with other women on a crowdfunded cross-country walk. There’s also the issue with her dimwitted boss. And, oh yeah, returning to her hometown means she lives minutes away from her hovering mother and philandering father who is convinced he’s Chagall. As she settles into her new home, she questions her life choices as she grows closer and closer to officemate Nick Franconi.
Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple. Don’t worry; we couldn’t forget Maria Semple’s newest book, Today Will Be Different. A hilarious book about reinvention, sisterhood, and identity, this book follows Eleanor, a woman on a mission to become less of a mess. Today will be different. She will tackle problems, get a shower, do yoga, drop her son Timby off at school, and work on her marriage. But life throws her a few curveballs along the way, as life tends to do. Now, she must also deal with a son playing hooky, a husband who might be keeping one too many secrets, and a mystery lunch date with a former colleague.
And, of course, if you liked the book, Where’d you go, Bernadette, consider heading to your nearest theater and giving the movie a shot!
Are you hoping to meet more bookworms in your area? Changing Hands has answered your wishes with its latest book club: Long and Short of It. This new bimonthly club explores one book and one story collection that share a common theme in each interactive meeting.
The upcoming discussion features Chanelle Benz’s The Gone Dead and The Man Who Shot My Eye Out is Dead. Be sure to stop by Changing Hands before the meeting to pick up copies of the books. Then, meet fellow local book lovers at Changing Hands’ First Draft Book Bar to talk about your reads.
The Gone Dead – Chanelle Benz. Thirty years after her father dies unexpectedly in their Mississippi shack, Billie returns to her childhood home where she meets the McGees, a family who’s history has overlapped with her own family’s history in the days of slavery. As she reunites with this old home, she hears a disturbing rumor that motivates her to track down forgotten memories.
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead – Chanelle Benz. The characters in this short story collection are each wildly different, but they all share a hunger for adventure that lands them in tricky situations, causing them to rethink morality, confront identity, and experience love. Some of the stories feature an outlaw, a 16th century monk, and a young Philadelphia boy’s incarcerated father.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018 Genre: Fiction Pages: 384 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Ratings: 5/5 stars
Outside a small town on the North Carolina coast, Kya Clark’s family abandons her in a shack on the marshland, where she must learn to survive on her own, living off of the land she admires and studies. For years, rumors and prejudice follow Kya, known as the uneducated, wild “Marsh Girl.”
When two men from town become entranced by her wild beauty, Kya decides to open her heart to the vulnerability of love—only to find herself hurt and in pain.
After the town’s beloved quarterback, Chase Andrews, is found dead, townspeople point fingers at “Marsh Girl,” the suspicious figure that looms behind the twists and turns of the marsh’s waterways. How did Chase Andrews die? Was it murder? And if so, did Kya have anything to do with his death?
This coming-of-age story is my favorite book of the summer so far. It’s hard for me to characterize this book—other than to say it is a work of coming-of-age fiction. In some ways it is a mystery, revolving around the suspicious death of Chase Andrews and borrowing tricks from the crime fiction genre. In other ways it’s a romance, but it only offers small glimpses into Kya’s relationships with the two townie boys. Owens chose to focus more on the development of Kya and pain the men caused her. Still, in other ways, it has some elements of a young adult book, where Kya learns about menstruation and womanhood from a wise woman named Mabel. However, it targets a more mature audience in its commentary on human behavior, especially that of sexuality and violence. I think the fact that Owens borrows elements and storytelling strategies from so many different genres makes her work more compelling. Her story isn’t confined by one specific genre expectation.
The novel is a nonlinear narrative, containing switchbacks between Kya’s story growing up in the marsh and the discovery of Chase Andrews’ body (and subsequent investigation and court trial). Although date-jumbling like this can be a risky writing choice, I think Owens executed her plan perfectly. It was easy to jump between the two story strands, and I felt that she switched between the two parts of the story at the right moments, keeping me interested and not letting me forget about one narrative strand or the other. She never lost me once in all of the switchbacks, but I can’t say the same for some of the other books I’ve read that use this technique!
The protagonist, Kya Clark lives mostly in isolation with only the landscape to keep her company throughout much of the narrative. It was interesting to see a character like this learn to open up to other people and try to apply her knowledge of other creatures to her understanding of humanity.
The one critique I had was about the poetry of Amanda Hamilton that is intertwined throughout the novel. To me, the poems seem a bit trite and on the nose, but I believe this is forgivable once you reach the story’s conclusion. I’m jumping around a spoiler here, but the unexpected ending ties the novel together and answered my remaining questions, leaving me feeling satisfied with the story.
Because the book borrows from so many different genres and explores such an interesting protagonist, I suspect many fiction lovers will adore this beautifully-crafted novel.
I’m a sucker for a good dog story, even though, in the back of my mind, I know the story will break my heart. But, I think that’s why I love these books so much—because despite the predictable conflicts and resolutions, they elicit something in your heart that only dogs can. So to all of my dog lovers out there, this one’s for you. Get your tissues ready.
Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls. This beloved classic perfectly captures the bond between a boy and his dogs. When young Billy finally saves up enough money to take home two hounds of his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he is set on becoming the best hunting team in town. But, as with many stories about faithful pups, sadness awaits Billy and teaches him how hope can grow from despair. Warning: this book, along with the 2003 film, are wonderfully crafted tearjerkers. You may want to invite your own pup to be your reading buddy for this story.
The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein. Told from the perspective of Enzo the dog, readers will learn about his owner, race car driver Denny Swift, who helps teach Enzo what is means to be human. Enzo is there for his owner through the ups and downs of life, and alongside a considerable amount of television and people watching, the dog becomes a philosopher of sorts interested in the human condition. Be sure to pick up a copy of this heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting book before the film adaptation comes out next Friday.
Old Yeller – Fred Gipson. At first, Travis thinks Old Yeller is just a thieving, ugly, stray dog. He soon learns that Old Yeller is much more: a clever, loyal dog that wants nothing more than to help and protect his family on their ranch. After growing to love Old Yeller, Travis is faced with a tough choice when his dog is wounded. For those of you with Amazon Prime, you can take advantage of their e-book offer and enjoy this timeless classic for free.
Because of Winn-Dixie – Kate DiCamillo. After finding a suffering dog in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, Opal names the dog after the store and takes him home. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal learns how to make friends, grows closer to her father, and meets an eclectic group of people who teach her how to open up, forgive, and value friendship. This children’s book is perfect to read aloud with your children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews—or even to read by yourself and remember why you fell in love with the book in elementary school.
A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. In this book, a devoted pup provides humorous commentary on the human relationships he witnesses. He is reincarnated four times as different dogs and works to find a unique purpose through each of his four lives. The story focuses mainly on the dog’s time as Bailey, who belongs to Ethan, a young boy who encounters several obstacles in life beside his loyal dog. And, for any fans of this novel, you can also pick up A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to this heartwarming story.
The artwork featured on our blog is a watercolor and ink pen art piece provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.
You won’t want to miss next week’s book signing at The Poisoned Pen. The bookstore will be hosting three authors for a thriller book signing event from 7 to 8 p.m. on July 29. Authors include Jack Carr of True Believer, Mark Greaney of Red Metal, and Stephen Hunter of Game of Snipers. Be sure to check out the bookstore before the author event to order your books!
True Believer by Jack Carr. Former Navy SEAL James Reece’s skill and cunning are put to the test when the CIA recruits him to travel the globe and target terrorist leaders. But be careful who you trust in this political thriller—the conspiracies may prove to be more than simple rumors.
Red Metal by Mark Greaney. Amidst attacks from Russian tanks and satellite killing missiles, an American Marine lieutenant, French Special Forces captain and his intelligence operative father, female Polish partisan fighter, A-10 Warthog pilot, American tank platoon captain, and German sergeant must all work together on Operation Red Metal to defend America and her allies.
Game of Snipers by Stephen Hunter. Master Sniper Bob Lee Swagger decides to help a young woman who lost her son to war by finding the sniper who pulled the trigger. However, this favor soon turns into a consuming obsession, putting Swagger back into the action as he teams up with others to track the assassin whose skills seem to match his own.