Friday, July 13, 2018

BENJAMIN LUDWIG


Interview with Benjamin Ludwig

Benjamin Ludwig is the author of GINNY MOON, published by Park Row Books of HarperCollins on May 02, 2017. To date it has been published in eighteen countries. His novella, SOURDOUGH, was the recipient of the 2013 Clay Reynolds Prize for the Novella. A former English teacher and new-teacher mentor, he holds an MAT in English education and an MFA in creative writing. He and his family live in New Hampshire.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading a book called FIFTEEN DOGS by Andre Alexis. It’s a great book, one that I hope people will pick up and devour. The pitch totally hooked me as soon as I heard it: “And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic.” I’m always interested in books about dogs, and this was utterly tragicomic. I’m reading it for the second time, now. I like to read deeply rather than broadly – there are several books that I re-read every year, and I think this might end up being one of them.

What first sparked your interest in writing? 

I caught the writing-bug in third grade, the same year I fell in love with writing. I wanted to impress a girl who happened to be a bookworm, so I picked out a copy of the same book she was reading, sat next to her, and tried to strike up a conversation. She completely ignored me. So I started reading the book…and fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder. My buddies weren’t impressed, but I was enthralled. Soon after, I started writing my own stories, most of which were about a family of raccoons crossing a dangerous meadow. They had a pet squirrel named Jack, as I recall.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

The constant surprise. Most of the time, when I think I know what’s going to happen next, my characters end up surprising me. Ginny was like that. I made an outline to guide me through the writing process, but she refused to follow it. She had her own ideas about how things should go. It was all I could do to keep up with her.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

I write in two places. In the morning before the kids are up, I write on the couch, with the woodstove burning, and the dogs sprawled out nearby. During the day, when everyone is at school or work, I write at the dining room table so that I can spread out all my notes, outlines, and papers. Most of my revision and planning takes place during the day because I can get to at all the things I need without worrying about waking up the rest of the family. My mornings, though, are for purely creative work.

What are your passions?

Aside from writing? I love chopping wood, and gardening, and being outside. Hiking has always been a favorite activity.

What inspires you?

Poetry and music. Or maybe I should say music and poetry. The playfulness of structure, which I find easiest to perceive in those two things. Creativity has always been, for me, about setting up expectations, and then thwarting them in clever ways. That’s what music and poetry do, I think.

Ginny has such a distinct voice and perspective. Did it take a while to get that right or did her voice come to you from the start? 

Ginny’s voice came to me in a very mysterious, exciting way. I came home one night in 2013 from my daughter’s Special Olympics basketball practice with a voice ringing in my ears. It wasn’t my daughter’s voice, and it wasn’t the voice of any of the other kids I’d just been talking with at practice.  It was a desperate, quirky, driving voice – one that demanded to be written. So I sat and I wrote, and immediately saw that I had something beyond exciting. After that I wrote out an outline – but Ginny refused to do what the outline said. And thank goodness! Her direction proved to be much better. 

Did Ginny’s character require much research or did you write her more from empathy? 

I didn’t do any research at all, for Ginny as a character. Her voice made the character, if that makes sense. What she said, and how she said it, suggested a lot of the backstory, and pointed directly to some of her disabilities.

What made you decide on short chapters or is that simply what felt natural for this book?

I think Ginny’s own direct, to-the-point style demanded that the chapters be short. There were times when I tried to make some of the chapters longer, but she found my attempts to be (as she would put it) tedious.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Cultivate your ideas, and take them seriously. Human beings have creative thoughts all the time, but it’s so, so it’s easy to breeze past them, and to say, “That’s just a silly idea.”  The hardest thing for a new writer to do is to accept that a lot of their ideas can and should be developed. We sell ourselves short, I think, and underestimate ourselves all the time.

Friday, July 6, 2018

THE SWEETNESS OF TEARS


Review of THE SWEETNESS OF TEARS by NAFISA HAJI

With this beautiful novel, Haji spins a powerful and engaging family epic. The book opens in teenage Jo’s perspective as she struggles to reconcile something she learned in school about eye color with her own personal experience. From there, each chapter follows a different family member, coming back to certain characters again only much later. Each character connects to the others and we trace these connections along the way as we learn about this complex family tree. Everyone brings a unique perspective and life experience; however, together they form an affecting mosaic.

I fell in love with this book more than a little. For starters, the writing is gorgeous. I’m not usually one for picking out specific quotes, but the following insight into anger really moved me: “Anger is like milk. It doesn’t keep. It becomes sour.” The quote goes on to impress me further with: “Grief...ages better than anger. It is eternal.” And the quote is all the more touching in context: the woman speaking has her right to anger, but is explaining why she chooses instead to feel her grief to her fullest and treat the anger as something dangerous and unpredictable.  

As if that weren’t enough, the plotting is utterly compelling, too. I felt fully drawn into the story on every single page and, despite my habit of reading multiple books at a time or going days to weeks without continuing a specific book, I never had the least bit of difficulty keeping track of everyone in this story and picking up where I left off. This is one of those books about which my strongest criticism is that it had to end.

I worry that, gushing aside, I’m not explaining what this book is about enough for some readers. That said, the actual plot or “hook” is hard to describe without giving too much away as I’m convinced a great part of the wonder is in how skillfully everything unfolds detail by detail. If I tell you now how each viewpoint character is connected to each other, it robs you of the discovery process along the way, not to mention the other unexpected ties between their very different lives. It’s a beautiful family epic and we’ll leave it at that.

I finished THE SWEETNESS OF TEARS eager to get my hands on everything this author has ever published.