Friday, July 24, 2009

The Rose Variations - July's Debut Author Pick

Rose MacGregor laughed and shouldn't have. Frances, it seemed, was going to cry. Frances Dupre, leaning against the kitchen counter of Rose's sublet in a twisting old neighborhood in St. Paul on a muggy August night, held a full wine glass that she didn't seem to be drinking from, but rather posing with as the tears trickled down her face. She wept because Rose was lucky in love, while she, Frances, was not. This was ridiculous, something Frances had invented out of thin air.

Thus begins THE ROSE VARIATIONS, a novel penned by Marisha Chamberlain (SOHO Press), a playwright, poet, and now novelist from Minnesota. The story follows the professional struggle of Rose MacGregor, a fledgling composer who navigates the wily paths of academia during the mid-seventies, a decade when women were just beginning to break through the 'glass ceiling' of promotion and tenure. The theme explored throughout is the balance of heart and mind, and how to find fulfillment in both. Rose is determined to stay independent, which gives her plenty of room to struggle with loneliness, ambition, and even at times love. Her quest is all too human - to answer the complex question of happiness.

A number of colorful characters support her journey: Alan, gay department colleague discovering his own balance in life and love; Frances, secretary of the Department who has a love affair with the married Department Chair; Lila, the bearded cello prodigy who returns from self-imposed sabbatical to play Rose's compositions; Guy, the stonemason who triggers love and lust in Rose; Natalie, Rose's unbalanced sister who has a niece out-of-wedlock; and the mysterious piano tuner.

The writing has moments of lyricism, especially when the author waxes eloquent on music. Indeed, there is a lilt to the story, a fine melody that wraps around the reader. I love music, was myself a performance major for a year, and this focus was what initially attracted me to purchase the book. Dialogue provides momentum; Chamberlain's playwrighting skills are enviably illustrated in her first novel.

That said, I found much of the story predictable, particularly the events shaping the relationships between the characters, some of which bordered on cliche. The conclusion left me vaguely unsatisfied, for it provided no new insight into the perpetual dilemma faced by ambituous women who wish to 'have it all'.

Rose has so much to share; this was a rare instance when I wished the story was told in first person or, at the least, close third. But the story is narrated in a rather formal third voice, staying true to Rose's point of view most of the time. But there are times when we (satisfyingly) get into Rose's head, like when she allows herself to experience love:

She needed stillness in which to sink down. Instead, she felt herself going up and up, groping upward in her mind, past Frances, up past tenure, up, up, groping her way up the face of the moon, no handholds nor footholds, just a dazzling, slippery surface, and an upward urge no one could sustain.

The Author... Marisha Chamberlain is a playwright, poet, and fiction writer who lives in Minnesota. Scherazade, a stage play, won the Dramatists Guild/CBS National Award, and her book of poems, Powers, won a Minnesota Voices Award.

The Press... Soho Press is a New York based independent publishing company that "place(s) a high priority on publishing quality unsolicited materials from new writers." Their list is eclectic and edgy, with a strong emphasis on crime fiction (they're the US firm pubbing Stuart Neville's THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST - yay!) and literary fiction. Read their
Blog. This is a press whose offerings I covet for my shelves.

Sing your way to the closest indie bookstore (or click yourself directly to the source) and enjoy THE ROSE VARIATIONS.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fabulous Flash Fiction - Forty For Free!

Available NOW for your reading pleasure -- The Editor Unleashed Flash Fiction Forty Winners.


--Defection (Yours Truly)
--Mirror, Mirror (Greta Igl)
--Pure White (Stephen Book)
--Rough Trade (Stephen Nicholson)
--Sportsmen (John Towler)
--Unscrambling Love (Angel Zapata)
--Ten One-hundreds of a Second (Deborah Bundy)
--The Mercantile Exchange (Kim Beck)

Peace, Linda

Friday, July 17, 2009

Writing What You Don't Know?

The conventional wisdom is to write what you do know. If so, then my stories should be rife with middle-aged women undergoing middle-aged crises of work, heart, and soul. But they are not. Instead, for some strange reason I write from the perspective of young men (very young men who most would argue are really on the cusp of adulthood) who have very different life experiences and situations than myself.

Why do I write what I write?

This fascination with young men likely stems from my total lack of understanding of what drives them. Males in their late teens and early twenties are mysterious creatures and, I sense, conflicted ones: how does one become a man in this society?

Aboriginal societies send their pubescent males into the wilds for walk-abouts. Other tribal groups will circumcise, conduct trial by fire challenges, or encourage duels to death. American society sends young men to college and/or work and tell them to provide for the family they will create. But now, with women sharing the load - and sometimes taking the lead in resource provision or even choosing to go solo - young malehood seems to be at a crossraods.

I think of this often, especially in context of my ten-year old son whose legs grow ever more lanky and whose jawline sports soft blond fuzz. How will he become a man?

This wondering must be why characters Ben and Clay and Kevin bubble up through my subconscious, demanding to Be.

The writing... a preoccupation these past three weeks. Almost finished GONE, a story I am very proud of because I stretched in so many ways. Polishing my opening of PURE for submission to my writing workshop starting July 25. Working on three HINT FICTION pieces due in August, as well as some garden-inspired poems for another deadline. Also playing around with a non-fiction book proposal on prescription drug abuse...

The reading... Finished MIDDLEMARCH - yay! Am in thrall with a fantastic anthropological study RIGHTEOUS DOPEFIEND by Phillippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonboem which follows homeless heroin addicts in San Francisco. The authors get close and personal with camera and interviews. The writing is phenomenal and very accessible, and the photographs heart-breaking. Finishing up July's debut author write-up - look for it next week - the monthly hump was bumped due to my writing frenzy...

The awards... Shellie of Layers of Thought and fellow blogger from Project 100 sent me a Heartfelt Award. Thanks Shellie - glad you and others feel warm fuzzies in my little blog room. My turn to nominate:

Deborah: Makes the world of writing and riding come alive from the foothills of North Carolina. And she's a damn fine friend to boot.

Paige: Artist, photographer, poet... her blogs are fine places to settle with a glass of wine.

Greta: Fabulous writer - and foodie. Her recipes and prose both make me drool.

Hope: Writing with a dash of humor of lots of compassion.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


For some time now I've felt the saturation of too many words, of too much life, crowding my heart and head. Mornings, when I wake with the chortling birds, the words have come reluctantly, exerting their own tug-of-war that not even two cups of coffee can overcome. I have a short story due the end of July for an anthology and, as of last week, not a sentence committed to paper. Not even an idea. So when I left for North Carolina last week, I left sans computer, sans files, sans everything but a few stories written by friends. I decided to BE - in the moment, in the breath - for a few days.

On Sunday morning I stole away with my husband to the daylily farm a few miles from my parents' house. The air was swollen with moisture. While my husband chose his specimens, I paced the lanes between furrows of flowers, their reds and oranges, lilacs and pinks richer in the overcast. I walked for exercise - it was a large field as daylily fields go - and to release the tensions that continued to dog me. Workers pulled plants from the ground and tended the lilies still striving toward a distant sun. In the back field, a young man and woman clambered from a pick-up truck and began to harvest hydrangea blooms. Watching them as I walked, the muse snuck in and whispered: Clayton Oxendine Pettigrew, and the story unfurled.

I am smitten with my new character and his story, and hope to constrain GONE to its 2500 word limit - I have not written a 'proper' short before. But I like the sprawl of a novel, the luxury of space a long story affords, so who knows? For now, Clayton plants the red clay of Eastern North Carolina and I farm my words...

Peace, Linda