Friday, January 23, 2015

Rebecca Scherm on Beautiful Things, Lonely Places, and the Process of UNBECOMING

Rebecca Scherm's new suspense novel, UNBECOMING, was called "startlingly inventive" by the New York Times, and is available in stores and on Kindle now.


Thanks for answering some questions about your new book, Rebecca. 

First of all, the title is great.  It goes to the heart of the main character’s issue with an unraveling identity, but it also suggests pretense and the adopting of false, “unbecoming” personas.  Did you think of the title before you wrote the book?

No, the title came late! I tried quite a few titles, some okay and some terrible (awful puns with ‘gilt’). My husband thought of “Unbecoming” one night. It just popped out of his mouth, and that was it.

You live in Michigan, but the parts of the book set in New York made it seem that you knew it well. Have you ever lived there?  And have you, like your character, ever lived in Paris?

I lived in New York for seven years, but I’ve never lived in Paris. I was incredibly fortunate to get a research grant to visit for research, though, for five days in 2011. My plan was to stake out Grace’s places—the neighborhood where she works, where she lives, etc.—and to finally experience Clignancourt, which I’d been reading about for years, for myself. Nothing was what I expected, and I was able to channel that loneliness and disorientation into Grace’s experience.

There's the power of place and setting, and a lesson to writers to experience their settings firsthand. 

Grace, the main character, is quite young, but the narration makes her seem older. Was this a way of emphasizing her otherness?  Did her isolation bring a forced maturity?

The close-third person point of view allowed me access to her thoughts, but still gave me enough distance to occasionally see around her a little. The span of time covered in the novel also afforded me narrative distance. I think you’re right that her loneliness as a child and her observational, evaluative habits make her feel separate from the people around her, and we feel that in the tone of the narration.

Grace is adept at restoring antiques, and you provided fascinating, in-depth detail about this art. How did you go about researching the valuing and refurbishing of lovely things?

I read and I imagined! I read books about antiques restoration, jewelry making and repair, and antiques identification. Often, I made up methods—the dental tools swabbed in cotton, for instance, may not be accurate, but they are evocative. I spent many hours on websites like 1stdibs trying to understand the way antiques are bought and sold, and of course I spent valuable time in Clignancourt.

 Grace falls under the spell of not just her boyfriend Riley, but of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Graham, and their perfect house. In fact, the Graham House looms over her actions and her consciousness like a modern Manderley, and through her narration it has a similar brooding feeling. Are you a Daphne du Maurier fan?

Oh, yes, and Rebecca is both a conscious and unconscious influence. For instance, I realized Grace shouldn’t have a last name—the absence of which implies that she has no family- when I was rereading Rebecca. I’m so glad you mentioned her!

You did a good job evoking the du Maurier mood, especially with the ending, I thought.

Grace decides when she is very young that she is a “bad apple,” but it’s never clear whether it is nature or nurture that makes her see a badness in herself, something that she needs to conceal.  There is a continual tension between what Grace believes about herself and what the audience must try to determine about her. Was this the most difficult part of writing this book?

I see it as a continuous feedback loop—the coldness from her mother makes her see her regular childhood transgressions as “bad,” which makes her sure that she’s bad, which gives her this sense of shame and sense of permission to do worse things. Keeping that line of tension was very difficult, and I teased her back and forth many, many times over the years. I had some very good reader friends helping me get that right. But the hardest parts of the book to write were about Grace and Mrs. Graham. I never wanted to make the importance of that relationship explicit, but I found some of the scenes between them very painful to write-- the scene where Mrs. Graham confronts her about the money, especially. 

Your book is compelling and very difficult to put down.  Did you find that you wrote whole scenes at one time to maintain this sense of tension?

I do write in whole scenes, and often it takes me days to gear up for a “big” scene—I edit, I shuffle things around, I obsess over small word choices while I’m getting ready for something that will be emotionally difficult to write, but that I know I’ll have to write all at once.  I wrote the Berlin hotel scene from the passenger seat of our ancient Corolla on a road trip. I’d been thinking about that scene for days, and when I was ready, I had to do it, despite the fact that we were barreling down I-75 at the time.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

In fiction, I have deep love and admiration for Kate Atkinson, Susanna Moore, Charles Baxter, Elena Ferrante, Lydia Davis—I really could go on forever. Some of my favorite books from the last couple of years have been Jaime Quatro’s I Want to Show You More and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

Where can readers find out more about your book?


My website, rebeccascherm.com, has events, press, and other updates, and I also post on a Facebook author page. I tweet from @chezscherm.

Thanks for sharing, Rebecca, and for the great read.


Thank you!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

e.e. cummings by way of computer

Thanks to a computer program, I was able to Mad-Lib my way into a beautiful e.e.cummings poem--the only thing missing is the artistry.  Here's the poem:


angry table's angry table

softly i have never atrophy, well beyond
any peignor, your vision have their telescopic:
in your most faraway briefcase are things which fly me,
or which i cannot rake because they are too prettily

your merry look too will untear me
though i have cry myself as beads,
you sigh always gold by gold myself as silver jump
(runing quickly, poorly) her tangible st. bernard

or if your island be to cast me, i and
my sea will dwindle very swiftly, angrily,
as when the barrister of this peignor accelerate
the bundle briefly everywhere squeezeing;

nothing which we are to grip in this cat grow
the dandelion of your burning fingernail: whose fleece
glance me with the sheep of its star,
returning hailstorm and universe with each sailing

(i do not skate what it is about you that sneeze
and float; only something in me glide
the lamplight of your vision is reddening than all silver)
everglades, not even the teeth, has such bare pearls

- Julia & e.e. cummings

Create Your Own Madlib on LanguageIsAVirus.com


It's a fun thing to contemplate, and it allows one to look at cummings' structure in a new way (or the structure used by whatever poet the website marries you to in this exercise), but of course it ultimately just reminds one that the poet is the genius, and we are the acolytes playing in his or her field. 


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving





"For all that has been, thanks.
For all that will be, yes."


--Dag Hammarskjold

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gregorich's Guide to Writing Mysteries

Aspiring mystery writers have a new book to help guide them through the complicated process of plotting. Barbara Gregorich, a long-time mystery fan and current mystery writer, has put together a volume of tips and techniques that can help one take on the most challenging of structures: the mystery novel.

Gregorich guides the reader through potential challenges of creating suspense--from naming characters to detailing the scene of the crime, from dialogue to denouement.

This brand new volume is available in print and Kindle versions. Gregorich, a former journalist and a veteran writer, narrates with a no-nonsense style that lures the reader in from page one, on which she praises setting as the backbone of a good mystery (a sentiment she shares with the great P.D. James).

Find out more about this mystery guide HERE.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A Craig Johnson Treat

I was super excited to get this petite volume in the mail--a book of short stories by the great Craig Johnson, the creator of the Walt Longmire mystery series.

Angela at Viking/Penguin filled in the interesting background of this compilation:

"Ten years ago, Craig Johnson wrote his first short story, the Hillerman Award-winning Old Indian Trick. This was one of the earliest appearances of the sheriff who would go on to star in Johnson’s bestselling, award-winning Walt Longmire novels and the hit TV drama series Longmire. Each Christmas Eve thereafter, Johnson has sent to friends a new short story featuring an episode in Walt’s life that doesn’t appear in the full-length novels. WAIT FOR SIGNS is the first time these stories are available in a single volume and also features an entirely new story, Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns."

I love Johnson's writing, and have talked about it in various blog posts that you can read here, here, and here.  In the last link I compare Johnson's writing to that of one of my other favorite writers, Ross MacDonald, who paved the way for writers like Johnson with his moody Lew Archer mysteries.

It will be nice to be able to enjoy some of Johnson's fiction in smaller, more easily digestible pieces (for the reader on the go!)

The book goes on sale officially on October 21st!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Remembering James Garner and The Rockford Files

"This is Jim Rockford; at the tone, leave your name and message. I'll get back to you." So goes the famous answering machine message one heard at the beginning of every episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES, and which you can still hear on The Rockford Files Website.

The great James Garner has died, but his memory lives on in all of his great work (I'm reminded of the way he held his own onscreen with an equally charismatic Doris Day). Recently there was talk of remaking THE ROCKFORD FILES, which was Garner's best television work. I'm not sure what became of the remake, but with the loss of Garner, one might want to reminisce about the greatness of the original series, and there are plenty of Rockford fans online who are keeping Garner's Rockford alive and well. There's a tribute to the show here, with all sorts of memorabilia, photos and links.

Then, for true Garner lovers, there's James Garner online. I had forgotten what a truly attractive and charismatic man Garner was until I wandered through these tribute sites.

Garner and his show are forever memorialized on the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Recently, according to "Tribute" site, P.I. Magazine awarded Garner with their first ever "Outstanding Achievement" Award as "Television's Most Famous Private Investigator." A more fitting tribute I cannot imagine, and a wonderful picture of Garner and his award accompany that story.

I doubt I'll watch the new version of THE ROCKFORD FILES. It's a show there's just no reason to re-make--not while Netflix still offers the Garner originals. I can't imagine anyone capturing that rare charisma that Garner gave to his character, nor can I imagine the show having the same success.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Exciting Summer Reading!

I was lucky enough to get a package from Scribner today with two amazing books inside.  First, the latest Richard Jury novel from Martha Grimes.  I have been a huge Grimes fan since my mother-in-law handed me THE OLD SILENT in the early 90s and asked if I'd like to read it. I knew nothing of Grimes then, but I read a few chapters and was hooked--and I've loved Jury and Melrose Plant and Aunt Agatha ever since.

Naturally, then, I'm very excited to read VERTIGO 42, in which Richard Jury investigates a death long past, yet not forgotten.

Added to this bounty is MR. MERCEDES, the new and much-lauded Stephen King novel.

How can I lose with this sort of talent offering new doses of suspense and adventure?  Thank you, Scribner, for my latest summer reading.