Interview With Author Tanya Egan Gibson

April 17, 2012 at 12:18 am (Interviews) (, , , , )

Tanya Egan Gibson, photo from article: http://www.marinij.com/lifestyles/ci_12499312

I read How to Buy a Love of Readingby Tanya Egan Gibson at the very first of this year.  What a great start to 2012! The book left me nonsensically speechless.  It has really set a tone for all my 2012 reading and for how I want to grow my blog and develop the novel I have been working on for half my life.  It set a standard for writing in general and for reviewing books and treating authors that I hope to live up to.  I am thrilled to pieces to have Tanya Egan Gibson here with me today for a written blog interview, and I hope you enjoy what she has to say as much as I do.

  1. Fitzgerald is obviously a heavy influence for you, who else were among your first literary loves?

Kurt Vonnegut, for sure, in high school.  Slaughterhouse-Five changed the way I thought about what a novel “should be.”  C.S. Lewis in elementary school.  I loved the Narnia books.  I wanted a wardrobe.  Oh, and between that, all of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales.  I had a serious crush on Holmes—the more eccentricity the better.

I should probably clarify, too, that it took me a really long time to appreciate Fitzgerald.  I didn’t like The Great Gatsby in high school or in college.  It wasn’t until I was assigned to teach it at a high school in California that I saw it differently.  One of my students asked, “So why is Daisy such a bee-atch?”  Which snapped me out of concentrating on the book’s famous symbolism (The Green Light!  The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg!) and refocused me on the people (characters) and their desperation to be loved.

  1. My favorite part of HTBALOR is how raw Hunter comes across, how much his character development rings true.  That’s rare for a female author to write a male character so well.  Is he the character you identify with most? Or did you fall in love with him a little? (Admittedly, I did a little of both.)

As a lifetime watcher of shows like Beverly Hills 90210 (the original one) and its successors, I always found the rich-kid-who-lives-alone-in-a-posh-hotel-or-other-parentless-situation to be a cool trope.  (Yeah, we can call it a stereotype, but the literary ring of “trope” sounds much more forgiving.)   I’m fascinated by stereotypes because it seems to me that people (real people, not just characters) often end up becoming them of their own volition, giving up on some of their most interesting dimensions for the safety/security/ease of neatly defining themselves.

The rich-kid-who-lives-alone is nearly always a misunderstood “bad boy” who (when we meet him at, say, the beginning of a CW television series) is engaging in self-destructive behavior and has a mean streak.  Usually, as the series progresses, the character cleans up his act (usually for the love of a good girl) and he learns to become a responsible person (with, perhaps, a couple of dips into recidivism when the ratings need a boost) and discovers his inner poet/artist/recycling advocate/vegan.

So, when I wrote Hunter, I kept wondering what such a character would be like the other way around: What if the character was originally a responsible, mature-beyond-his-years person who knew who he was?  What if living alone with too much money and little supervision hadn’t turned him into a spoiled, self-destructive brat?  What if he liked to cook and knew how to clean and didn’t act or feel embarrassed about being a book geek?  What would it take for that character to end up turning himself into the self-destructive-kid-with-a-mean-streak stereotype?  Looks. And being looked at.

I suppose that’s a long preface and I still haven’t answered your question—sorry! What fascinates me about Hunter is that being so highly visible (an overnight hottie who never meant to be a hottie) deprives him of being himself.  He wants to be kind and gentle and loving and loved.  At his core these—and privacy—are what he most values.  But these aren’t qualities valued in an appearance-obsessed community or expected of him as the community’s golden child.

So many of the good things Hunter does for other people are quiet, under-the-radar, private.  Yet he’s constantly getting the message from his parents and peers—and even his college application essay prompts–that nothing matters if people can’t see it.  (Thank you, reality TV society.)  So he kind of splits himself into public-Hunter and private-Hunter.  And in so doing, unravels.

Which, finally, brings me to answering your question: Yeah, I probably understand Hunter the best out of my characters because he’s desperate to reshape his world into something lovely and full of love—and also made to feel embarrassed about such inclinations. Like private-Hunter, I’m hopelessly thin-skinned and I get crushes on authors (even dead ones) and I daydream about them being kind.  I’m very self-conscious, an introvert who pretends to be an extrovert because I really like people and like to talk with them—even though they often scare me.  I write about love and loveliness; I believe there is much love and loveliness in life waiting to be discovered.  (I’ve been called a Pollyanna.  To my face.)  But I’m no longer embarrassed by it.

  1. It’s clear you have a love/hate obsession-like relationship with meta-fiction.  It’s also clear how beautifully you write the layers of a book, like a rose in bloom or an onion being peeled.  When you are writing, do you find that meta-fiction lends itself to these unfolding layers or does it work against it?

Yup, I wrote a novel that makes fun of meta-fiction while taking the form of meta-fiction. So yeah, I do both love and hate it.  Oh, and thank you for the compliment.  Back to the love-hate relationship: It’s complicated.  Self-consciousness tends to get in the way of emotion.  (Have you ever watched a play where one of the actors is supposed to say something like, “I swoon for you!” but is too embarrassed to go all the way with it, his self-consciousness turning it hollow?)

Meta-, of course, is about consciousness of self.  But it also invites the reader backstage, saying, “Slip in behind the curtain.  It’s okay, there’s room.  Check out that actor’s insincerity!”  Maybe this affords the reader the opportunity to observe up-close that the actor is shaking, and gives him or her clues to the emotion behind the hollow “I swoon for you.”  Maybe the real story isn’t the play on the stage, but rather the story of why that actor is too terrified/nervous/exhausted/ill to embody the emotion of that line.  So the question is whether it’s worth sacrificing the outer story (the story being played out onstage with the supposedly swoon-worthy damsel) to this inner story.

For me, the answer is sometimes, and only if I’m sure that the main narrative (swoon-worthy damsel) is ultimately deepened, emotionally, by that meta- jolt.  When you go meta-, you’re sacrificing the readers’ waking dream—plucking them out of a world and then asking them to willingly reenter it.  That’s a lot to ask.

The short answer to your question: I cut way more meta-material than I ever use.

  1. One of the characters, Bree McEnroy, writes a meta-novel.  Do you have a favorite book from another author that fits this genre? If so, what is it and when did you first discover it?

Waterland, by Graham Swift, is one of my favorite books ever.  I discovered it in graduate school, where my love-hate relationship with postmodernism and all things meta- broke down into way more hate than love.  Waterland was assigned in a British Literature course I did, in fact, love–a respite from talking about literary theorists with difficult French names.

The novel is about a history teacher who is supposed to be teaching his students about the French Revolution.  But who, because he’s sort of losing it, starts telling his students about his own personal history instead.  Among other things, the book calls into question the difference (if any) between story and history.

  1. Your book references several fictional characters as authors and includes excerpts from their work.  Do you have full manuscripts of these books lurking away somewhere? Like J.K.Rawling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard and Quidditch Through the Ages, do you have plans to publish these?

No full manuscripts exist of Between Scylla and Alta Vista or Unwritten.  I promise.  I did write small excerpts of them for my website, though, where a few pages of each of these books “exist” on a virtual bookshelf.  In “Hunter’s journal” (on my website)—the story he wants to write about a girl and boy going on a ski trip in fact existed as a large flashback in an earlier draft of HTBALOR.  (It was originally the story of how Hunter and Carley, the protagonist of HTBALOR, met.  Later, it was replaced by a shorter flashback near the end of the book where they bond over an incident on the Long Island Sound.)

  1. As a writer, I dread asking this question (I have no idea if I will finish my own novel this year or this decade), but as a fan I am dying to know: when can we expect another book?

HTBALOR was published eight or nine years after I started writing it.  I’m hoping the novel I’m currently writing (the working title is LANDS) won’t take quite that long.  Like HTBALOR, it contains a meta- element, and getting all the layers of it to line up (while at the same time making each layer emotionally true to itself) is, as I indicated above, kind of tricky.  Plus, I’m balancing writing with taking care of my two wonderful children, ages 7 and almost-4.  One nice thing about LANDS: it takes place at a fictional theme park, so my children love coming along on amusement park research trips and think the pictures in my shelf full of amusement park research books are very cool.

  1. The cover art of the Dutton hardback edition, also featured on your website, is the reason I picked up your book.  As a writer and art fanatic with a Bachelors in Marketing, I can’t help but wonder: Were you involved in picking out this art, or was it all Dutton? If so, what was your level of involvement?

Dutton chose the cover design and illustration, which were done by an artist named Ben Gibson (no relation).  I think it’s beautiful, and I was particularly happy about the way the girl’s body.  The spine of the book kind of becomes her spine, but the rest of her body seems to blend into/disappear into the couch.  Weight is overly important in the fictional community of HTBALOR—the protagonist, according to the personal trainer hired by her mother, is 57 pounds overweight—and this rendering of Carley honors the conclusion of the book, in which the reader is never told what “size” she ends up.

  1. Does the cover art for this book represent your own art tastes? Who is your favorite artist? (Or what is your favorite piece?)

I’m kind of a Philistine when it comes to art.  Not a three-dogs-playing-poker or velvet-Elvis glow-in-the-dark wall art Philistine—but still pretty unknowledgeable.  (I did, at least, learn something from doing research for Bree’s never-to-be-completed book about art patronage.)  I’m particularly fond of my seven-year-old daughter’s pastel rendering of two orange Amazon rainforest frogs and my three-year-old son’s multi-colored blob paintings that he insists are either trucks, dinosaurs, or me.

  1. Carley and Hunter are both only children.  Did you have siblings growing up?

My brother wasn’t born until I was ten or eleven and we were raised in different households—after my parents divorced, my father remarried, so we’re half-sibs who were kind of each raised as only children.  While it’s wonderful to have a sibling as an adult (my brother is very cool), I definitely wondered, as a child, what it would be like to have someone there to do things with.  My daughter likes to tell people that my husband and I had her little brother “so I’ll always have someone to play with.”  Which is not exactly untrue.

  1. What is one thing you want your readers and fans to know about you?

I love reading and writing so much, and feel unbelievably fortunate to have a book out there in the world.  I love to write emails to authors when I enjoy their books, and when I receive emails/Facebook messages/Tweets from readers who connected emotionally with HTBALOR, it makes my day.  Reading, for me, is all about connection, and when people take the time to tell me that my novel made them feel something, I’m thrilled beyond words.

Please follow Tanya Egan Gibson on Twitter @tanyaegangibson.

Follow this link to purchase How to Buy a Love of Reading.

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“Bad” Habits and Edna

January 25, 2012 at 11:34 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

I have a really bad habit, that I have no intention of breaking, of judging books at a glance, by their cover.  This habit our parents and grandparents warned us against, is justified to me by two things: my marketing degree and a blurb Paul Collins wrote in his book Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books.

Regardless of that justification, it has led me to some horrible mistakes (I thought Rudolf Steiner’s Festival series was going to inform me of the historical significance and establishment of festivals, not be metaphysical ravings of his take on religion butchered by an editor) but also to many happy mistakes.

Directly, it led me to Tanya Egan Gibson’s (Yes, I have a writer crush on her right now, forgive me) How to Buy a Love of Reading, whose cover is amazing, but what’s inside is unexpectedly ten times better.  Indirectly, I have discovered the delightful Edna St. Vincent Millay, and that story is a little more intricate.

You see, I once belonged to an online book club.  It was lovely place that I adored, where as a group, we read lots of British things.  We had fabulous nicknames (I was Lady Klemm of Deasa Manor) and were only required to read the selections and maintain our character.  At first… later there were a whole host of requirements, like reading and participating more each year than you did the last and agreeing with the admin of the group on every particular.  I was kicked out- “expunged” the admin liked to call it – indirectly for getting pregnant and having a child, directly for knowing the proper definitions of literary terms.

In this group, the Mitford Sisters were often referenced, Nancy the most often for her Pursuit of Love.  Browsing my favorite bookstore one day, I saw a book which I presumed was by Nancy Mitford, but only at a quick glance, and impulsively added it to my stack of purchases.  I took it home without further survey.

You will laugh when I reveal that instead of Nancy Mitford, I had grabbed a book by… wait for it….

Nancy Milford,

but didn’t realize this until months later as I was reading through my TBR pile, something every voracious reader has stashed about the house and never seems to diminish no matter how quickly you pluck through it.

Alas! It was a biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford.  Well, who is this?  I asked myself.  I can’t read a biography on a person without reading their work first.  I want to have a feel for the quotes, I want to understand their mood they were in while writing my favorite piece, and I can’t get the full picture without having a favorite piece!

So, back to the bookstore I went and found myself a hardback of Edna’s poems, a collected works.  It’s been heavenly.  Reading her poetry has made for some of the sweetest moments with my baby.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Late at night, when she’s teething and can’t sleep, we rock in the glider and in the lamplight of my library I whisper lines from Edna.  When the kiddo is at her crankiest, she sometimes crawls into the chair ahead of me and points to the white spine, she is aware that she is soothed by the rhythm of these poems.  When it’s raining, like today, and we’re feeling scratchy and feverish, all the singing and hot tea in the world is no match in comparison to the calm that is offered by reading Edna aloud.

Poetry is not something I read often; it’s not my “go to” genre.  But I appreciate it, usually the sarcastic and simple like William Carlos Williams, a pre-teen favorite of mine. Edna St.Vincent Millay has changed that for me, I think.  I’m prepared to seek out more poetry in the future, especially as I raise this kid, my beautiful daughter, in hopefully the most literary household anyone has ever seen.

Buy Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Work Here

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Inner Voices and Elizabeth Kostova

January 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The Swan Thieves

Author: Elizabeth Kostova

Publisher: Little, Brown

Genre: Fiction

Length: 561 pages

Buy Work by Kostova

There are writers whose voices fall in step with some inner voice of my own.  They have a seamless and perfect tambour that has no problem intertwining and conversing with the language of my soul.  F.Scott Fitzgerald is one of those writers, Tanya Egan Gibson is one of those writers, John Steinbeck is one of those writers – their sentence structures find a rhythm that beats to my own personal drum.

Elizabeth Kostova is not one those writers.

Her stories are so fascinating.  I have every desire to read everything she’s ever written.  But making that desire a reality is a struggle.  I find myself saying “Just get through this chapter so you can find out what happens next,” both in The Historian and The Swan Thieves.

Therefore, as I’m reading The Swan Thieves, I feel as though I am not the right person to review her books.  Kostova is talented and inspiring: such captivating stories! such a high word count for a debut novel! (The Historian was a little over 241k words) such interesting ideas! But she just doesn’t speak to me.

When I come across books like these I become exceptionally curious.  I’d like to know who she does speak to, what’s the difference in our brains? Is it a geographical dialect issue? Do I not follow her phrasing because my inner voice is either southern, British, or some indistinguishable ‘Yankee’ and she speaksMichigan? I don’t know, I’ve never been toMichigan.  Please read it yourself and come discuss with me, I’d like to find out!

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How to Buy a Love of Reading… Just buy Gibson’s book

January 2, 2012 at 3:27 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: How to Buy a Love of Reading

Author: Tanya Egan Gibson

Publisher: Dutton, a member of Penguin group

Genre: Fiction

Length: 389 pages

Buy: http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=anakawhims-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B0058M744A

I cannot begin to count, honestly, the number of times I was brought to tears by this book.  Something that was supposed to be light and fun proved to be something beautiful and amazing, something that moved me more than words can express.

I cannot begin to count, honestly, the number I times I fell in love with Hunter.  Over and over again, reminding me of boys I fell in love with in real life.  Stranger still, reminding me of myself.

I found Carly amazing, and brave, and beautiful, a character who reminded me of people I both love and hate.

I found Gibson reminding me why I fell in love with Fitzgerald in high school and how I cherish every blessed word of Gatsby and every word written about it.

I found myself wanting to share this jewel with a dear friend who has already left this world and lonely because of all the disappointment in his missing it.

I sit here writing the most incoherent review in the immediate moment of completion because I’m blown away, dazed, and I don’t want it to end, even though the ending is so perfectly final.

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