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Making the Personal Political, or at least Public, with Karen Rizzo

Famous Baby

Karen Rizzo didn’t set out to create a storm of controversy, but her debut novel, Famous Baby, certainly made some people uncomfortable. The novel is about a highly successful mommy blogger whose subject–her daughter–finally comes of age and is none to happy about being raised in the public eye. Reviewers from the mommy blogging world were scathing in their analysis and quickly dismissed Karen because she couldn’t possibly know what she was writing about – she isn’t a blogger.

But she does. The novel is at points funny and poignant and damning. It asks readers to ponder just what will happen when all of these adorable babies become surly adolescents or fully realized adults. It also asks what do we as writers owe our readers.

When I read Famous Baby, I immediately thought of Heather Armstrong of Douce.com. She is one of the original mommy bloggers,  has millions of followers, and makes close to $50k a month (!) through her blog. Her readers have recently complained because she is no longer writing in great detail about her children or about her recent divorce. And the result, her revenues and readership are down. What’s a mommy blogger cum entrepreneur to do?

I sat down with Karen at Books, Inc. to discuss the novel, these issues and so much more. I’m thrilled to say that you can now listen to our interview. Just click on the link below…

Karen Rizzo Head Shot       Interview with Karen Rizzo

The Courage of Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman at the Peninsula Parlour

Ayelet Waldman at the Peninsula Parlour

It takes courage to leave your successful law career to focus on family and then to shift careers and re-enter the workforce as a writer. It takes courage to write novel after novel unmasking the often tormented nature of mother-love. It takes courage to publicly declare you love your husband more than your children. And, it takes courage to write a follow up collection of essays mining the complexity of motherhood knowing you will face scorn and derision for speaking your truth. But it took all of Ayelet Waldman’s courage to finally write about the Holocaust.

“I waited nearly twenty years to tackle the subject because I knew I wasn’t ready either as a writer or as person,” she told the large audience in attendance at last night’s Peninsula Parlour held in Palo Alto.

Born in Israel, but raised in Canada and the United States, Ayelet explained, “There have been so many stories about the one good German or about redemption after the horror of the Holocaust. I wanted to write a novel that offered a more complex look at what Jews experienced. When I discovered the history behind the Hungarian Gold Train I knew had something that would allow me to tell the story I wanted to write.”

Heading from Hungary to Germany in 1945, the Gold Train was seized by American troops and, as Ayelet writes in her new novel, Love and Treasure, was filled with:

 “1,500 cases of watches, jewelry, and sliver, 5,250 carpets, thousands of coats and stoles and muffs of mink fox,s an ermine, crate of microscopes and cameras, porcelain and glassware, furniture, books, and manuscripts, and tapestries, gold coins and bullion, the few remaining precious gems, the liturgical objects, the stamp collections and silver-backed hairbrushes: al the items, valuable and less so, that constituted the wealth of the Jews of Hungary, 437,402 of whom had been deported to Auschwitz over the course of just 56 days..”

Like the diaspora of the European Jews, Love and Treasure is written in three fragmented parts that span over one hundred years and is only held together by a talismanic pendant with a bejeweled peacock on its face, one of the many spoils of the Gold Train.

What makes her novel truly powerful is Ayelet’s willingness to question the modern understanding of what it means to be a Jew, the complex agendas and tactics used to found the nation of Israel, and the concept of rightful ownership of both the objects and experiences of World War II.

Since the book’s debut, Ayelet, yet again, is facing a media storm. She has been accused of being an anti-semite and, conversely, an anti-Zionist. At least, she is no longer being accused of being a bad mother.

“I knew tackling these issues would cause a swell of response,” Ayelet said, “but I felt ready for it. I could have written another story about motherhood, I know it so well now, but there is a freedom in writing what you don’t know, even if there will be consequences.”

As the recently deceased Maya Angelo once said,

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.”

Thankfully, Ayelet Waldman is filled with both.

Keeping It Real With Nothing But The Truth

John Keats once wrote, “Nothing becomes real until it is experienced.” Perhaps that is why last night was so memorable. I had the honor of joining five other writers at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto to read our essays from the recently published anthology on life transitions called, Nothing But The Truth. It was, as they say, a pinch-me moment. 

Since founding Peninsula Parlour a few years ago, I have interviewed authors on their process, their inspiration, and their craft. Attendees have clapped and cheered as the writers have read their works and all the while I have wondered what that glow might feel like.

Standing Room Only at Books, Inc.

Standing Room Only at Books, Inc.

Now I know.

In front of a standing room only crowd, I read my essay, Staying the Course, about making the choice to stay married. It is an emotional and raw and honest story of how I finally came to understand that my husband is, and always has been, home to me. After I finished reading, the audience clapped. They actually clapped.

Lisen Reads

Lisen Reads

And they didn’t just clap for me. They loved the work of the other writers as well, most of whom were experiencing the glow of reader appreciation for the first time. Chris Beirne shared her story of making peace with the changes to her body after breast cancer. Kim Festa, who flew all the way from New York for the event, read about surviving and thriving after a childhood felled by emotional and sexual abuse. Jane Ganahl, founder of Litquake, talked about mastering chosen singlehood and Nancy Davis Kho made us laugh when she shared her feelings about teaching her daughter to drive. Jennifer Bush  moved us with her story of becoming a mother to an autistic son. Rose Gordy read from her essay about becoming a nun and then unbecoming one.

Writers Who Told Their Truth

Writers Who Told Their Truth

Rose’s words reminded me of my interview with Harriet Scott Chessman who said, “Writers are much like nuns. We give a vow of poverty, we must have faith the words will come, and our experience is solitary, often prayerful. I write with the hope that someone is listening.” Last night, many someones were.

Thanks to all who joined us. You made it real.

If you would like to read our essays, please consider purchasing a copy of Nothing But The Truth: 73 Women Write on Life Transitions. The book is the second anthology published by A Band of Women, a fast growing membership organization of 7,000 women strong and growing. It was started just a few years ago by Christine Bronstein. ABOW is committed to helping women build community and having their voices heard.  In two years Nothing But the Truth has turned over 100 ABOW members into published authors. To learn more about how to become an ABOW member, visit their website.

I look forward to having more real experiences with you at the next Peninsula Parlour.

The Horror; The Horror Again: Mining the Incomprehensible with Susan Minot

“It’s incomprehensible and yet we must not ignore these things happen,” Susan Minot said to a standing room only crowd at the most recent Peninsula Parlour. We gathered at Books, Inc in Palo Alto to listen as Susan discussed her long awaited tour deforce, Thirty Girls.

The novel, inspired by a 1996 mass abduction of school girls in Uganda by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, weaves together two disparate and yet intrinsically linked stories. Esther, one of the abducted girls, struggles to make peace with her life after captivity. Jane, an American journalist in Uganda writing about the kidnapping, struggles to make peace with her own life.

The weight of these two stories might seem deeply imbalanced, but Susan shared she believed, “Our struggles are what connects us in our humanity. They may not seem as dire, but they are important to us and should not be dismissed.”

The novel’s dark subject matter may lead readers to shy away, to hide from the trauma that Minot so deftly, unsparingly, and beautifully evokes, but that would be a disservice to the very girls who have been kidnapped. We may not want to face it, but incomprehensible things happen and then happen again.

Two days after our interview, 100 girls were abducted in Nigeria. After reading Thirty Girls, we can imagine the horror these girls are facing in ways we never could before. We may want to avoid it, but we mustn’t.

As one character in Susan’s novel says, ” I hear their stories and feel bad. How does it help them if my head if filled with horrible images?” Another character says, “It helps them if you listen.”

Thanks to Susan Minot’s deeply compelling book, we are listening. What do we hear?

The horror; the horror again.

 

 

 

 

The Hope of Rachel Louise Snyder

Often we would prefer to ignore the darker natures of our souls where hidden bias and self-delusion exist. But it is just these places that journalist, professor, and now novelist, Rachel Louise Snyder focuses on in her work.

“I write about struggle and survival because that is where the hope is,” she said at the Peninsula Parlour earlier this month. We gathered at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto to discuss her debut novel, What We’ve Lost Is Nothing. Rachel shared that for her, “Writing about the darker issues allows me to initiate a discussion about the two opposing forces in human nature. As a journalist, I have covered natural disasters and without fail I have seen on the one side people acting in treacherous and self-interested ways and on the other, people who believed we are all in this together and doing everything they can for complete strangers. At it’s heart, I wanted my novel to address these issues.”

And boy does it.

Contained in the twenty-four hours after a mass neighborhood burglary, her novel shows that tragedy will alter us no matter how hard we try to imagine we are unaffected. As one of the key characters, Michael, says, “I believe now is one of those moments where life really tests you.”

In some ways the novel is a parable of September 11th, in some ways it is a commentary on issues of race relations, and in some it is a discussion of human nature. What We’ve Lost is Nothing asks, “In the face of the unimaginable, how will you respond?”

“I am basically an optimist and believe that good triumphs,” Rachel shared. “At least, that is what I hope.”

Our conversation reminded me of that wonderful poem by Theodore Roethke:

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

May your better nature shine in all that you do. I look forward to seeing you at the next Peninsula Parlour.

The Grace of Harriet Chessman

Harriet Chessman at the Peninsula Parlour

Some books speak to us because of the depth of characters, others the complex and rich narrative. Harriet Chessman’s latest novel resonates because of its quietude. Reading The Beauty of Ordinary Things is to immerse oneself in an extended prose poem, the gift of a silent walk on a snowy day. Earlier this week, Harriet joined me in the beautiful Atherton home of Marie Vought for a night to remember.

First, we honored Lynda Steele, who will soon be retiring after twenty-five years as Executive Director of Abilities United. Since 2012, the Peninsula Parlour has been a proud partner of AU. Together with our devoted attendees, we have donated nearly $5,000 to support their work. It was a moment to remember.

Then, we got down to the business of the novel and the gifts and challenges of being a writer. Harriet shared that this novel was her most personal. “It is an homage to those who overcome challenges and find grace in their lives…I wish for grace in my every day,” she said.

Harriet explained one of the lead characters, Benny, a returning Vietnam Vet, “is so much like me, sometimes I can not distinguish between us.” The other main character, a monastic nun names Sister Clare, is modeled after one of Harriet’s closest friends. “I wanted to write a story that honors the beauty of nuns and the choices they are forced to make in choosing the monastic life.”

“Writers are much like nuns. We give a vow of poverty, we must have faith the words will come, and our experience is solitary, often prayerful,” Harriet told the packed room. “I write with the hope that someone is listening.”

But unlike many modern books, her work is quiet and offers a respite from the noise of everyday life. When asked why he might chose to stay in this world, her character Benny writes to Sister Clare:

It doesn’t have to be something big or dramatic. It just has to be what it is. And you could say it isn’t that such things are especially amazing to look at. They can be totally ordinary. It isn’t beauty only. It’s something more.” 

This is the beauty of ordinary things.

 

Gold Star Moms Make The Night

April Smith at the Peninsula Parlour

Having the privilege to interview outstanding authors in front of a live audience is deeply rewarding, but sometimes it isn’t just the author that makes the night special (although, of course, the authors are always compelling). Sometimes it is the readers themselves who make all of the difference. Last night was just such a night.

April Smith, best selling author of the FBI agent Ana Gray series, joined us at Books, Inc. Palo Alto to discuss her first foray into literary fiction. Her novel, A Star for Mrs. Blake, is based on history and tells the story of five mothers whose sons died fighting in World War I.  These mothers, and thousands like them, were invited at the behest of the U.S. government to take an all expense paid pilgrimage to the burial sites of their fallen sons.

Mothers whose children have died fighting on behalf of our country are called Gold Star Mothers. Last night, a group of them came to the Peninsula Parlour. Karen Meredith, proud mom of 1st Lt. Ken Ballard who died in Iraq, shared her experience as a modern day Gold Star Mother. Lance Corporal Travis Layfield’s mother, Dianne Layfield, invited us to visit her son’s Story of Service site to learn more about him.

They came to hear April talk about how she was inspired to write her novel. “It was thirty years in the making,”  she told us. She’d come across the diary of a young soldier, Lt. John Hammond, who was charged with escorting the World War I Gold Star Mothers on a pilgrimage to France. She saw inspiration in this little known history and felt compelled to tell the story.

“I wanted every detail right,” she shared when asked about her research. “I visited every location in the novel and spent hours upon hours in archives unearthing the truth of these pilgrimages.”

But it was her deft handling of grief that the modern day Gold Star Mothers applauded. “You said what we still can’t say,” one told us. “Now others might just understand.”

I urge you to add A Star for Mrs. Blake to your reading list. If not for the strong character development and page turning prose, then for the history upon which it is written. A history we are still living with today.

Gold Star Mother’s Tattoo in honor of Lance Corporal Travis Layfield

 

 

 

Holiday Reading

I was driving home this evening listening to yet another top ten list for 2013. Music, people, movies. We are all busy assessing and weighing in. When it comes to books though, very few seem to agree. Maureen Corrigan offered a great list on NPR which included a number of female authors and the New York Times list included many women as well (surprise).

We asked some of our favorite Peninsula Parlour authors to give us their top ten. We didn’t limit it to 2013 and we didn’t tell them it had to be their favorites. We just wanted advice on what to read by a warm fire or on a beach somewhere. Here is what they shared:

 

Meg Waite Clayton (author of The Wednesday Sisters). 

“My ten, off the top of my head (and assuming you don’t want us to list each other’s books;

if you don’t mind that, let me know!) – split between pretty new and oldies but goodies.”

Meg Waite Clayton

1.     The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

2.    We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

3.    The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

4.    What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton

5.    The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

6.    The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

7.    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (so much better than the movie!)

8.    Inventing the Abbots and Other Stories by Sue Miller

9.    Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

10.   To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 Cornelia Nixon (author of Jarretsville

 “For my ten books, here’s the current list I just taught in Fiction Since 1960, plus one bonus.”

Cornelia Nixon

1.     Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin

2.    Cathedral by Raymond Carver, CATHEDRAL

3.    One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

4.    The Known World by Edward P. Jones

5.    Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahari

6.    Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

7.    The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

8.    Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

9.    Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

10.   Old School by Tobias Wolff

 

 Ann Packer (author of Swim Back To Me)

“Totally random list of ten books I love.”

Ann Packer

 

1.     Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker

2.    Into the Great Wide Open by Kevin Canty

3.    Dale Loves Sophie to Death by Robb Forman Dew

4.    The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

5.    The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison

6.    Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy

7.    The Risk Pool by Richard Russo

8.    Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

9.    Her First American by Lore Segal

10.   The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert

 

Ellen Sussman (author of The Paradise Guest House

Ellen Sussman

Ellen Sussman

“My ten favorite books.”

1.   Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

2.   Arcadia by Lauren Groff

3.   The Fault in our Stars by John Green

4.   Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

5.   The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

6.   Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

7.   The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

8.   Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

9.   A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

10. Room by Emma Donoghue

 

 

Lalita Tademy (author of Red River

“Not sure how to go about a Top 10, so I made my own rules:

1, Read for the first time (although not necessarily first published) in the last 2 years;

2. Female author; 

3. Loved it.”

Lalita Tademy

 

1.     AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Adichie

2.    The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

3.    The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

4.    Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

5.    The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

6.    Room by Emma Donohue

7.    Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

8.    The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

9.    The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

10.   Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt”

 

Lisen Stromberg (Host, Peninsula Parlour) 

“I couldn’t resist adding a list of my own. Call it ‘Host’s Prerogative.’ My Rules:

1. Read it in the past few years;

2. Wasn’t on a previous list;

3. Made me think.”

Lisen Stromberg

  

1.     The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

2.    Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

3.    Disgrace By J. M Coetze

4.    The Gathering by Anne Enright

5.    Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

6.    None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

7.    Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

8.    Sula by Toni Morrison

9.    The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

10.   Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

 

 

 

 

Litquake Palo Alto: A Huge Success

Recently, the Peninsula Parlour extended its “campus” to the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto where Litquake was hosting its second annual literary event. Just think, PP on steroids without the fog. There were many fantastic speakers, panels, and, of course, lots of books for sale.  Dan Handler, Andrew Sean Greer, Jane Smiley, Ellen Sussman, Ann Packer, Gail Tsukiyama, and many other luminary authors were there. It was fun to hobnob with the literati.

Litquake Emerging Authors Panel

I was privileged to moderate a panel on emerging authors. Litquake Founder, Jane Ganahl and I decided to invite female writers who are “emerging” into writing as a second career to be our guest authors. Tracy Guzeman whose debut novel, The Gravity of Birds, was published at the beginning of August joined us. As did Nina Schuyler whose second novel, The Translator, was published in July. She says she is “re-emerging” given her last novel was published in 2004 and then “life got in the way.” Finally, Amy Franklin-Willis, whose novel, The Lost Saints of Tennessee just came out in paperback, also joined us.

I shared a quote from James Woods’ in an article he wrote for the New Yorker. He pondered if great writers can be good family members:

Perhaps the story teller is especially ill suited for a happy family life. For even as the fiction writer tells humae stories about behavior and motive and family relations–what one might think of as a sympathetic skill–so he or she is also a little like the proverbial choirboy at the funeral: coldly observing, carefully pillaging, rearranging,impersonating, and re-voicing the very material that constitutes “family.”

Our panelists whole-heartedly disagreed. Family, how ever you define it, is the juice that helps the writing flow. “We are better writers because of our “other commitments” was the general consensus. How then, does she do it all?

Nina regaled us with her discipline. Mother of two, juggler of five different free-lance jobs, wife, friend, and the model for “how does she do it all,” Nina explained that she is up at 5:00 am, keeps to a daily page commitment, and has the power to say no to email/Facebook/Twitter/ and all other digital distractions. This passion to her craft has enabled her to stay true to writing career. That and the occasional chocolate reward.

Tracy recounted how she juggles her marketing/event planning career with her writing. Given the cycle of event planning with her clients, she is able to balance a six months on/six months off work life allowing her to dive in deep to her writing life.

Amy says, “We all need a good wife.” Luckily, she has one. As the primary bread-winner, Amy has been able to squeeze in writing between her full-time job and duties raising the couple’s three daughters largely because of her great partner (and great kids). “It’s a team effort. I can’t imagine doing this alone,” she told us.

The room was packed, the air-conditioning overworked, and still the audience was bright and lively. More than half the room was filled with aspiring “second career” novelists. The best advice our panelists’ gave? Don’t give up! 

Some other tips?

1) Consider using Freedom to shut down that pesky digital world and give yourself focus. It’s called “productivity software” for a reason.

2) www.750words.org is a great way to track your daily progress.

3) Scrivener  is software that allows you to organize your manuscript. Best used from the start of a project.

What’s up next for the Peninsula Parlour?

As you know, we’ve partnered with Books, Inc. in Palo Alto and will be hosting a full schedule there this fall. Here is our line up of interviews:

On September 17th, I’ll be interviewing debut author, Anthony Marra, at Books, Inc. The event is free and open to the public.  Sign up here. And if you’d like to buy his book in advance, you can do so here.

On October 15th, the prolific writer, Dennis McFarland, and I will be in conversation. His newest book, Nostalgia, will be published on October 1. Sign ups coming soon.

On November 19th, Nina Schuyler will be joining me for an in-depth conversation about her novel, The Translation. We’ll be taking about how our words can ever really be understood, and even then, only in context.

Come join the conversation.

Lalita Tademy Reminds Us It’s About Perseverance

Lalita explains the hard work of writing

She didn’t know what she was going to do with the rest of her life when she quit her high powered job as VP/General Manager at Sun Microsystems, but Lalita Tademy knew it was time for something else. That something else turned out to be not one, but two best selling novels based on her ancestors who lived in slavery and then freedom along two rivers in Louisiana.

“Those first few days and months after the rigor of the corporate world were disorienting,” Lalita said. “But soon, I immersed myself in the history of my family.” She visited the area around Cane River where her mother’s people were from. She learned about her great grandmother Emily who loved to dance and about Emily’s mother Philomene whose savvy spirit helped secure a better life for her children. But it was when she discovered the bill of sale for $800 of her great, great, great, great grandmother Elizabeth that she knew she “had to tell their stories.”

To find the voices of her ancestors she kept diaries for each one. She imagined their daily lives, the food they ate, the clothes they wore, the challenges they faced. On her wall, Lalita had a spread sheet that detailed the price of cotton, the weather, the politics of the periods in which her characters lived. “I pieced together their lives from documents and stories and then I made up the rest,” Lalita told us.

“The tough issues are where the good stories are,” Lalita said

Her imagination, routed so deeply in research, resulted in Cane River, a novel that offers an alternative to the slave narrative. “This is more than a story about my family in slavery, it is a story about mothers and daughters and what we women do to take care of our own,” Lalita said. She is too modest to admit it, but her work has been praised by academics as changing our understanding of what women experienced in slavery, a “herstory” to the rest of us.

It has also given many readers insight into the volatile issue of the preference for fairer skin. Lalita’s great grandmother, Emily, was well known for favoring her ligher skin children, extended family, and friends. “I couldn’t understand why Emily was ‘color-struck’, but in writing this novel, I came to have great compassion for the challenges she and all of my relatives faced.” In Cane River, Lalita writes of her ancestors,

“Five generations under one roof, all women, in an unbroken sequence, starting with [Elisabeth] and descending down to Angelite. From coffee, to cocoa, to cream, to milk, to lily. A conscious and not-so-conscious bleaching of the line.”

Her second novel, Red River, moved the reader from the matriarchal line to the patriarchal. Her father’s family can trace their roots back to the river Nile in Africa where a free man whose last name was Ta Te Me came to this country to find his fortune and soon became enslaved. Lalita tells the story of the Colfax Massacre (more commonly known as the Colfax riot – revealing how language reflects perspective) where over one hundred newly freed slaves are slaughter by a collection of white men who were  the precursors to the Ku Klux Klan.

She did as much extensive research for her second novel as she did her first. “You think once you’ve written a novel that now you know how to do it. But, each time is a new experience and offers new challenges and opportunities,” Lalita shared with us.

She also shared that her first novel required thirteen drafts and was rejected by fourteen agents. Her perseverance was inspired by her belief that to honor her family, she must tell their stories. Her second novel? Again, draft after draft. “You have to let go of your adorables when you write,” Lalita explained. “You can love a section, a scene, even a character, but if it doesn’t serve the story, it has to go.”

Lalita graciously signed books for us