Monday, May 27, 2013

A Room of One's Own

I loved my office in Maryland. It was green and pretty and looked out over our backyard. It had hard wood floors and bookcases and light. But then we moved (though losing that office was a small price to pay to be back in San Diego).

Now we've been back for three years, and I realized I hadn't taken the time to personalize the space where I spend most of my days. White walls and clutter definitely don't speak to creativity. My office was actually stressing me out.

And so with the new book in my editor's hands and some time on my own, I decided to create my little corner of the world...a room of my own.

One important thing to me was a work table for other creative projects (painting, sewing, etc...)

A chalkboard wall next to my desk will be the place to dream about my next book.

The closet and books are organized now. It's a miracle.
(I'll put up a curtain eventually.)

I wanted to put up some of the larger prints of my photography here as well.

Work table and photo of Esmee to remind me that creativity requires this kind of childlike abandon.

My collection of corks -- one for each novel (published and unpublished) I've written.
And my great-grandfather built that little bookcase where I now keep all my crafty junk.

An old soda bottle crate for paints.

My writing space.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Books of Summer

It's Memorial Day weekend, which even here in sunny southern California, signals the advent of summer. And so I begin compiling my list of summer reads. And what better books to complement the season than novels set at summer camps?
Here are some I can't wait to read and re-read (blurbs are from

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns"The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, from the best-selling author of Apologize, Apologize!, introduces Riddle James Camperdown, the twelve-year-old daughter of the idealistic Camp and his manicured, razor-sharp wife, Greer. It's 1972, and Riddle's father is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Between Camp's desire to toughen her up and Greer's demand for glamour, Riddle has her hands full juggling her eccentric parents. When she accidentally witnesses a crime close to home, her confusion and fear keep her silent. As the summer unfolds, the consequences of her silence multiply. Another mysterious and powerful family, the Devlins, slowly emerges as the keepers of astonishing secrets that could shatter the Camperdowns. As an old love triangle, bitter war wounds, and the struggle for status spiral out of control, Riddle can only watch, hoping for the courage to reveal the truth. The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is poised to become the summer's uproarious and dramatic must-read."

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A Novel"It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer."

The Inverted Forest
"Late on a warm summer night in rural Missouri, an elderly camp director hears a squeal of joyous female laughter and goes to investigate. At the camp swimming pool he comes upon a bewildering scene: his counselors stripped naked and engaged in a provocative celebration. The first camp session is set to start in just two days. He fires them all. As a result, new counselors must be quickly hired and brought to the Kindermann Forest Summer Camp.

One of them is Wyatt Huddy, a genetically disfigured young man who has been living in a Salvation Army facility. Gentle and diligent, large and imposing, Wyatt suffers a deep anxiety that his intelligence might be subnormal. All his life he’s been misjudged because of his irregular features. But while Wyatt is not worldly, he is also not an innocent. He has escaped a punishing home life with a reclusive and violent older sister.

Along with the other new counselors, Wyatt arrives expecting to care for children. To their astonishment, they learn that for the first two weeks of the camping season they will be responsible for 104 severely developmentally disabled adults, all of them wards of the state. For Wyatt it is a dilemma that turns his world inside out. Physically, he is indistinguishable from the state hospital campers he cares for. Inwardly, he would like to believe he is not of their tribe. Fortunately for Wyatt, there is a young woman on staff who understands his predicament better than he might have hoped.

At once the new counselors and disabled campers begin to reveal themselves. Most are well-intentioned; others unprepared. Some harbor dangerous inclinations. Among the campers is a perplexing array of ailments and appearances and behavior both tender and disturbing. To encounter them is to be reminded just how wide the possibilities are when one is describing human beings.

Soon Wyatt is called upon to prevent a terrible tragedy. In doing so, he commits an act whose repercussions will alter his own life and the lives of the other Kindermann Forest staff members for years to come.

Written with scrupulous fidelity to the strong passions running beneath the surface of camp life, The Inverted Forest is filled with yearning, desire, lust, banked hope, and unexpected devotion. This remarkable and audacious novel amply underscores Heaven Lake’s wide acclaim and confirms John Dalton’s rising prominence as a major American novelist."

Shelter: A Novel

"In a West Virginia forest in 1963, a group of children at summer camp enter a foreboding Eden and experience an unexpected rite of passage. Shelter is an astonishing portrayal of an American loss of innocence as witnessed by a mysterious drifter named Parson, two young sisters, Lenny and Alma, and a feral boy called Buddy. Together they come to understand bravery and the importance of compassion. 

Phillips unearths a dangerous beauty in this primeval terrain and in the hearts of her characters. Lies, secrets, erotic initiations, and the bonds of love between friends, families, and generations are transformed in a leafy wilderness undiminished by societal rules and dilemmas. Cast in Phillips’ stunning prose, with an unpredictable cast of characters and a shadowy, suspenseful narrative, Shelter is a an enduring achievement from one of the finest writers of our time."

The Interestings"The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life." 


Camp"Every secret has a price.

For most girls, sleepaway camp is great fun. But for Amy Becker, it's a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent to Camp Takawanda for Girls for the first time as a teenager. Although Amy swears she hates her German-immigrant mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy's autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled about going to camp. At Takawanda she is subjected to a humiliating "initiation" and relentless bullying by the ringleader of the senior campers. As she struggles to stop the mean girls from tormenting her, Amy becomes more confident. Then a cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy's mother's past, which sets in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

Camp is a compelling coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets. It will resonate with a wide teenage readership. Camp will be a strong addition to school recommended reading and summer reading lists, and it is appropriate for anti-bullying programs. Mostly, though, Camp is a mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters to share."