The art really is in isolating yourself and letting as few things into your head as possible. To only admit those things into your head that come from a direction where no one else ever looks. That is the difficult thing.
Earlier in the week, while extolling the many virtues of Rachel Shukert’s Everything Is Going to Be Great, I mentioned that there would be a forthcoming guest post from Rachel about the family of mafia cats that lived in an abandoned building in her Nebraska hometown. Yes, I know that mafia cats sounds like a weird subject, but trust me when I say that this post is hilariously absurd.
Hello. My name is Rachel Shukert. I’m a compulsive shopper, a gay icon, a Harper Perennial author, and a cat lover.
It is in this last capacity that Erica Barmash has asked me to address you today. I am going to tell you a story about cats. Not Cats, as in Rumpleteazer and Mungojerrie, who as we now know are actually people wearing unconvincing cat outfits, but actually, mewing, scratching, indiscriminately-peeing-on-things felines. (I guess I could tell you a story about the time Rum Tum Tugger got drunk and tried to have his way with Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat, despite never having displayed any previous homosexual tendencies, but I’ll save that for another time, although I suspect the market for erotic fan fiction based on Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals is vastly bigger than anyone thinks it is.)
Here is my story about cats.
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, which is a lot different than growing up in New York City. New York City kids, or at least the ones I’ve known, are over-monitored and overscheduled, every waking hour seen as an irreplaceable rung in the ladder to dazzling achievement. That isn’t to say that people in Omaha don’t accomplish anything interesting: they do. But basically, you figure that if you’ve got a couple years of college under your belt, a house with a foundation, and don’t spend your days marooned on your sofa smoking Doral menthols with a much younger boyfriend named Spud that you’re afraid to leave alone in the house with your kids, you’re doing okay. It’s sort of like what George W. Bush (remember him?) called “the soft bigotry of low expections,” except in this case it also applies to white people.
The nice thing about nobody expecting much from you is that you wind up with of free time, to hang out in condemned buildings and make up elaborate stories about feral cats.
The condemned building came first. I had a friend, an older guy who had the deed to an abandoned bungalow in South Omaha that he was trying to convert into an art studio, and I used to drive there sometimes after school in nice weather, to keep him company while he worked.
Then the feral cats moved in. One day they were just there, a male and a female, huddled together inside a pyramid of clean pine boards, bedding down together in the sawdust, hissing like maniacs whenever anyone came near them. My friend, with the touch of Frances of Assisi, managed to wear them down, cooing lovingly into their furious faces and tempting them into submission with albacore tuna and leftover stew. Before long, the female gave birth to three male kittens, tiny and blind and covered in soft black and white fur. Shortly after that, ostensibly as the female was nursing and focused solely on her newborns, another, younger, suppler feral female appeared to enthusiastically attend to the male’s needs. Mysteriously, the second female never seemed to conceive, which the first female My friend was philosophical about this. “It might be due to her promiscuity,” he said reasonably. “She could have something wrong with her. Gonorrhea, for example, builds up scar tissue in the fallopian tubes and can make you sterile.”
“You think there’s kitty gonorrhea?” I asked, incredulously.
“Why not?” he shrugged. “There’s kitty AIDS.” Whatever the case, the first female was pretty smug about her rival’s sterility. I guess I would have been too.
With all this domestic drama, it was inevitable that for us, they should start to take on human properites. Less inevitable, perhaps, is that they would be the properties of an Italian Mafia family, but if you met these cats you would understand.
The male was Don Domenico Gatti (which sounds like “Gotti” and is also Italian for “cat”). Don Dom for short. Don Dom was a huge ginger tom, with hard hazel eyes and an resplendent ruff of coarse fur that stood on end when he was angry, which was often. He ruled his family with the same iron paw with which he ran the entire Gatti crime syndicate. Don Dom could be tender, but he was also shrewdly manipulative and often selfish. He took the best hunks of tuna for himself, the choicest bits of stew. His family both feared him and craved and his approval. His authority was absolute.
Don Dom’s wife was Louisa, the large, sour-faced tabby he had first appeared with. She was a difficult woman, overbearing yet cold, effusive but impossible to satisfy, in the manner of a certain kind of Mediterranean matriarch. The DSM was not written with feline psychology in mind, but borderline personality disorder seemed to fit with the way she took everything personally, how she would mewl on and on about the ingratitude of her sons, the faithlessness of her husband, only to rebuff their conciliatory advances. There’s just no pleasing some cats.
Louisa’s greatest ire, naturally, was reserved for Sophia, her husband’s mistress, a voluptuous Sophia Loren type with a gleaming brown coat, piercing green eyes, and a lithe body and delicate bone structure that hinted at distant Siamese ancestry. Louisa detested Sophia, and Don Dom seemed to take a perverse pleasure in stoking the flames of her rage, insisting on copulating with his mistress in full view of his wife, growling in encouragement from the sidelines of their frequent battles. “Why are you doing this?” Sophia would yowl plaintively, as Louisa lunged at her, claws bared. “You have the name, the money, the security. What do I have?”
The answer, to all but Sophia, was evident.
Sophia had the Don’s heart.
The three Gatti brothers were fond of both mother and mistress, and were growing into fine prospects for the family. Eduardo, the oldest, was the hothead of the family, prone to bouts of good-natured violence. He would prove to be a valuable soldier one day, his father thought, if only he could learn to control his temper. His brother Luciano, however, was the golden child. Precocious, charming, intelligent, he was the only one who could defuse the conflict between Louisa and Sophia, make peace between Eduardo and Don Dom during one of their frequent quarrels. With his father’s connections and his own intelligence, he would go to a top university, Harvard or Princeton, then on to law school, and eventually shepherd the Gatti family into mainstream legitimacy. And then there was the youngest brother, Ernesto, quiet, sensitive, bordering on the mystical. Ernesto would disappear into dark corners for days, and emerge looking thin and pure. He would sit for hours in perfect meditative stillness, his head cocked to one side, his eyes fixed mistily on something known only to himself.
Ernesto was the brother who became a priest.
Ernesto was the first one to die. Perhaps, as my friend said, when we laid him to rest in the backyard, clumsily reciting passages from the Latin mass and laying a tiny cross fashioned from two twigs and a bit of white twine, perhaps Ernesto was never really of this world. But what of Eduardo, fiery, passionate, earthbound Eduardo, who fell next, of the same mysterious illness? And when Luciano went, Luciano, the hope of the family, the pride of the Gatti, things could never be the same. How could they be? You can go after one death, maybe two, but three? And entire line, wiped out an instant? Who can survive that?
The bungalow; the piles of sawdust, the stacks of unvarnished pine, all swathed in death. Don Dom and Louisa, their petty squabbles long forgotten in the face of such devastation, retreated to separate corners to mourn. They could barely muster the strength to eat. My friend tried his best to tempt them with duck and liver pate that cost $17 a pound, but to now avail. Sophia prowled helplessly, uselessly around the floor, an interloper to their grief. For Don Dom, even her charms could soothe the pain of losing three sons. Defeated, she finally crept out one night, never to return. She was still beautiful. She could start over, make a new life, have a family of her own, maybe, a family where she would not be destined to exist on the margins, adored but never loved. I liked Sophia. Whatever she did, I hoped it made her happy.
I can’t remember exactly what happened to Louisa. I think my friend found her in the crawlspace after a blizzard, which had kept him away from the bungalow for a few days. I do remember he told me she looked peaceful. “She’s with the boys now,” my friend said, wiping away a tear. “She’s out of her pain.”
Don Dom stuck around for a little while after that, and then he too was gone. He was too tough, too ornery to do what Louisa had done, to slip away serenely into frozen oblivion. Maybe with his wife gone, he went to find Sophia, to try to put the terrible past behind him. Maybe he entered the witness protection program, and lives to this day in some abandoned garage in Florida, playing bocce ball and going to strip clubs with other undercover mobcats.
Maybe he went back to Palermo to die.
My friend never finished his renovation project. I graduated from high school and went away to college.
Adulthood is all about numbing the pain of the past with the minutiae of the present. We do our best to forget, or we get overwhelmed and forget to pick up our dry cleaning and harass the finance lady for our 1099 forms. I did a very good job. I forgot all about the Gatti, until I was in the Harper Perennial office the other day, and Erica and I started talking about cats.
Happy on sale day to one of my favorite authors, Rachel Shukert!!!
Everything Is Going to Be Great is Rachel’s memoir of her travels through Europe in her twenties. It is hilarious, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Entertainment Weekly said that “[Everything is Going to be Great] comes off like a cross between David Sedaris and Chuck Palahniuk….lurking beneath the jabs and one-liners is an affecting—and pretty unforgettable—coming-of-age tale,” and Jezebel said “Rachel Shukert’s new memoir Everything Is Going To Be Great does something unfortunately rare in women’s writing: celebrating mistakes….what Everything affirms is that screwing up from time to time—or even a lot—doesn’t make you a terrible person.”
For those of you in New York City, Rachel will be reading tonight at McNally Jackson (52 Prince St). Then she will be partying (with the Harper Perennial team) at a party hosted by Tablet Magazine at a nearby bar. At Rachel’s last reading, I laughed so hard I cried. And I’m not just saying that. There were actual tears.
For those of you not in New York City, I promise to take incriminating photos.
And come back later this week for Rachel’s guest post about the family of mafia cats who lived in an abandoned house near her childhood home in Omaha.
I just got back from our summer 2011 launch meeting. Yes, you read that correctly—we just talked about books that won’t be published till a full year from now. Our launch meetings are where most of the company (sales, library and academic marketing, publicity) find out about upcoming books for the first time. There’s not a ton of discussion (we save that for our planning meetings), but the launch meeting helps us start thinking about what our goals are for these books . . . and gets everyone psyched to read them. So here’s what I’m looking forward to for summer 2011. Some things to keep in mind:
—None of the books we just launched were duds, so even if I don’t mention a book right now, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to read it. These are just the ones that are particularly Erica-targeted.
—We only launch our paperback originals, so there are also many reprints of books that were published in hardcover that are awesome too.
So here’s the list! In no particular order:
1. Children of Adults by Chad Kultgen Chad is the author of The Average American Male and The Lie, two of the foulest, most hilarious books I’ve ever read. In this book, he’s focusing on the sex lives (online and off) of junior high school kids and their parents.
2. Skinny by Diana Spechler
It’s about a counselor at a fat camp. I am not-so-secretly addicted to shows about weight loss. I liked Diana’s first book, Why By Fire. This seems like a win for me.
3. Book of Lies by Mary Horlock
A teenage girl murders her best friend. I read that sentence and I was in.
4. The Greek Affair by Simon Van Booy
Two books of short stories, three books of philosophy, and finally, a novel from Simon! I know I’m not the only one excited.
I won’t get to read any of these for a while, but in a way, I love that. Something to look forward to . . .
If you read this blog, you’ve read me go on about Katrina Kittle’s The Blessings of the Animals, which goes on sale next week. To celebrate the publication of the book, Katrina recently ran a contest on her blog, asking readers to send in short essays about animals that had been blessings in their lives. I’m proud to include the winner, Poppy, in today’s Harper Perennial Pets! Read below for her owner’s lovely piece, and check out Katrina’s blog for pictures of some of the other animals.
“I had forgotten how easy it was to receive and give love. Without any strings attached. Without earning her trust. Yet, there love was, sitting in front of me with bulging eyes, an under bite, and Yoda like ears.
I am adopted, and although I don’t consciously let that define me in any terms, it is still very much a part of who I am. My heart beats a little faster for those who are displaced, not wanted, or abandoned. Perhaps that’s why I immediately fell in love with Poppy. Poppy, who came from North Carolina’s coast with heart worm, teeth problems, and was left at a Pound. She was lucky to be placed into Chihuahua Rescue and Transport and spent a year with a foster mother. I saw her little picture on the internet and knew that it was meant to be. Much like the way my mother saw a tiny black and white picture of me and knew that I was meant to be her daughter.
Her kisses in the morning wake me up. Her sighs at night put me to sleep. Her eerie way of knowing when I am sad is comforting. Her dancing and dainty feet keep me laughing. Her flying white fur prevents me from wearing black. She charms everyone who meets her and has a legion of fans. To say that she has changed my life would be corny. To say that she is the light of my life would be the very honest truth.”
—Kimberly Mohn, Morrisville, NC
I’d like to start this post off by mentioning that I don’t normally go through the trash. But the other day, as I was standing by our copier, I noticed an envelope in the small basket nearby. It was addressed to Tracie Lords. As a fan of Tracie’s autobiography, Underneath It All, I was immediately intrigued. What kind of fan letter would someone send Tracie? And more importantly, why would someone throw it away?
And so I picked it up and read it, and now I’m going to share it with you. Any identifying details have been removed, of course, but I think the overall impression is the same.
Dear Ms Lords,
I am writing this letter to kindly request an autograph picture of you after seeing you in “Open Up Traci,” “Bad Girls III,” “Blade,” “The Tommyknockers,” “Roseanne,” and “Melrose Place.”
I am a retired veteran whose hobby is writing for and collecting autographs of famous actresses through the mail and having a signed photo of you would be something that I would greatly appreciate very much.
Thank you for you time and consideration and best wishes to you.
Sincerely your fan,
And now that I have shared with you all, I can throw it back in the trash.
If you look at my to-be-read pile (my personal to-be-read pile, not my work to-be-read pile), you’ll see some themes emerge. I love two types of books more than any other: coming-of-age novels and literary thrillers, with short story collections coming in a close third and family dramas right behind them. These are the books I’m drawn to, so they take up the most real estate. My work TBR pile, of course, is not dictated merely by my whims but also by what I’m working on. I don’t read every book we publish, but I’d say I read almost all of our trade paperback originals—which are often short story collections and coming-of-age novels and family dramas. I’m not complaining, but I don’t always get the chance to read outside my comfort zone.
As readers, we fall into patterns that are hard to shake off. Do you ever read outside your comfort zone? If you’re into historical fiction, when was the last time you picked up sci-fi? And if you love mysteries, have you ever dipped into short stories? And more importantly, what are the best books to read in a given genre if you’re not usually into it? For example, I’d never really read any dystopian lit before, but I loved Laura Kasischke’s In a Perfect World when I read it. And when it comes to coming-of-age, I will pimp Bryan Charles’ Grab Onto Me Tightly As If I Knew the Way until the end of time. (All you fans of Peter Bognanni’s House of Tomorrow would love that one, I swear.)
Tell me what book you’d recommend from your favorite genres in the comments! Help me add to my already towering TBR pile!
As some of you know, every six weeks or so I send out an email with books for review. This email usually features 6 or so books. They’re almost always books of ours that I’ve read, books that I am passionate about, and books that might need a little extra push from me and from you guys to get out there. Occasionally (okay, most of the time) I work mentions of Chipotle and/or cats into these emails as well. Writing these emails is, hands down, one of my favorite parts of my job.
That’s where you come in. Do you want to get on this list? If you do, please please leave a comment on this entry. Put your email address in the email field, and your blog address in the actual comment.
September 24th will mark the release of the movie version of HOWL, based on Allen Ginsburg’s legendary poem, featuring graphics by Eric Drooker, and starring everyone’s favorite lit crush James Franco.
And if you’re interested in the movie, you might want to check out our HOWL: A Graphic Novel, on sale August 31st. It’s a graphic novel version of HOWL, featuring Eric Drooker’s art from the movie. And James Franco is in it. Which is reason enough for me.
Some of our authors go on bookstore tours. Some go on blog tours. But Jason Mulgrew, author of Everything is Wrong With Me, is going on a bar tour! (And ok, there might be a bookstore and a library thrown in.) See below for more info from him, and please note that I’m not just posting this info because the last time we hung out Jason bought me as many amaretto sours as I wanted. I’m posting it because he threatened to kill me.
Kidding! So kidding.
Also, bloggers in the below cities: if you decide to hit up any of these events, please let me know! Now, here’s Jason:
The first order of business is that we’ve got some book-related events coming up. If you haven’t been to one of my readings before, how it works is that I show up (usually with a pretty solid buzz), I read a story or part of a story (usually one that I wrote, but who knows?), then we do a Q&A at the end. Everyone goes home happy, except me, who ends up masturbating in some strange hotel room while watching Pornhub clips on my iPhone. It’s a real experience, for sure.
At any rate, if you live in the following cities and are looking for something to do, come on out. Note that events in Cleveland, Chicago and Milwaukee are not so much “readings” but more “I’m taking a week off and road tripping/getting drunk in each of these cities, but in order to write off the entire trip come tax time, I have to say it was in support of my book, so if anyone asks, I did a reading.” This also means that there will be no books for sale at these events – we’re meeting in a bar, after all – so you should buy a copy in advance and bring it with you (if you show up at my event without a copy of the book, I’ll fucking strangle you) (and not even in the sexual way) (probably). Finally, the formal LA and NJ Shore readings should last about an hour and you should try to be on time, whereas the bar ones will last longer and be more loose with time, because, well, I’ll be getting pretty drunk.
Full details are as follows:
Thursday, July 22 at 7pm
14651 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Jersey Shore (Surf City)
Wednesday, July 28 at 7:30pm
Ocean County Public Library
Long Beach Island Branch
217 S. Central Ave.
Surf City, NJ 08008
Monday, August 9 at 6pm
323 E. Prospect
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
Wednesday, August 11 at 6pm
1645 West Cortland Street
Chicago, IL 60622
Thursday, August 12 at 6pm
The Irish Pub
124 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Whether you’re re-reading now or read long ago, honor To Kill a Mockingbird by writing a letter to one of its characters! I would probably choose that poor rabid dog . . . .
Dear Atticus, Dear Scout, Dear Boo…
Letters With Character call for submissions to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Ben Greenman’s Letters With Character celebrates the art of letter writing as a form of fiction. Sunday July 11th was the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In honor of this timeless classic, Harper Perennial and Ben Greenman are asking for your letters to your favorite character from To Kill A Mockingbird. Email your submission to LettersWithCharacter@gmail.com and check out the site here to see which ones we post!
Harper is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird all summer long. Check for local and national happenings on our Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/OfficialToKillAMockingbird50thAnniversary and our official website.
On Friday, I had the brilliant idea that I should re-read the book in time for this anniversary (I had always planned to do it sometime this month.) My history with TKAM is an odd one. I first read it in fifth grade and hated it. Like, couldn’t get past the first 50 pages hate. The teacher who had given it to me was appalled (as my teacher the previous year had been when I gave The Diary of Anne Frank the thumbs down.) Luckily, in eighth grade I had to tackle TKAM again as assigned reading, and things went much more smoothly. But though I clearly remember liking it, I really couldn’t remember much else about it.
So on Friday night I dug into TKAM for the third time in my life, and I’m happy to say that it’s the best so far. I feel like I can finally appreciate the clarity and simple beauty of the writing. I feel like it’s finally sticking with me in a way it didn’t the first or second times. I’m only about a third of the way through, but I’m looking forward to finishing sometime this week.
Of course, we’ve got tons going on for the anniversary, including parties and events, and you can check that out here: http://tokillamockingbird50year.com/. But mostly, I just encourage you to pick up TKAM again, even if you’ve read it before, because I think you’ll be glad you did.
From July 12 to July 18, the below authors will be discussing their experiences as debut fiction authors. Each day, they will tackle a different question related to the experience of writing, publishing and promoting their work. If you’re on Goodreads, it would be really awesome if you’d join the group and leave comments or questions for the authors (either specifically or as a group). The authors participating are:
Moderator: Katrina Kittle (The Blessings of the Animals)
Sonya Chung (Long for This World)
Malena Watrous (If You Follow Me)
Emily Gray Tedrowe (Commuters)
Peter Bognanni (The House of Tomorrow)
I’ve raved many times about Katrina, Emily, and Malena (all HP authors), and I just read Peter’s book this past weekend and loved it too. I can’t wait to see what they all have to say. This is the first panel of its kind on goodreads! Which is also awesome.
Mary Karr’s LIT affected me more than any other book I read this year. A story of getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live, for me it was most about finding your place in the world as an adult when your childhood in no way prepared you for it.
Mary’s son, Dev (who is clearly a great filmmaker) made this trailer for the paperback release, and I love it: