Month: April 2015

Poem in a Virtual Pocket: Long Island Sound

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Anchor Beach and Charles Island: two locations on Long Island Sound in Milford, Conn.
Anchor Beach and Charles Island: two locations on Long Island Sound in Milford, Conn.

EmmaLazarus-1_3If I was able to get my act together this morning (which I was not), I would have made copies of “Long Island Sound” by New York writer Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) and properly celebrated “Poem in Your Pocket Day” by sharing it at all the places I went.

But alas, this did not happen. And the day is now almost over, even though it feels like it’s just begun! So I’ll pretend this blog is my pocket, and that we’re meeting somewhere along Long Island Sound.

My house on a hill in Connecticut looks out over the Sound, which technically is a 21-mile tidal estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, located between the southern Connecticut and northern Long Island, NY, shores. I’ve been lucky enough to live near it my whole life.

– Cindy Wolfe Boynton

Long Island Sound
By Emma Lazarus
I see it as it looked one afternoon
In August,—by a fresh soft breeze o’erblown.
The swiftness of the tide, the light thereon,
A far-off sail, white as a crescent moon.
The shining waters with pale currents strewn,
The quiet fishing-smacks, the Eastern cove,
The semi-circle of its dark, green grove.
The luminous grasses, and the merry sun
In the grave sky; the sparkle far and wide,
Laughter of unseen children, cheerful chirp
Of crickets, and low lisp of rippling tide,
Light summer clouds fantastical as sleep
Changing unnoted while I gazed thereon.
All these fair sounds and sights I made my own.

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Manhattan Project anniversary = Wives of Los Alamos giveaway

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Wives of Los AlamosSeventy years ago this week on April 27, 1945, members of the World War II-era Manhattan Project‘s Target Committee met for the first time to begin selecting sites in Japan to drop the atomic bomb. Tokyo Bay, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kokura, Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Sasebo were among the possibilities.

The novel The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit–first released in hardcover last year–tells the story of the Manhattan Project from the perspective of the scientists’ wives, who did not know what their husbands were building.

Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the location of the principal research and design laboratory for the atomic bomb’s creation. Yet in the same place this life-destroying force was being created, so were life-enriching ones: babies were born, friendships forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos itself transformed from a boys school on a hill into a community–though not a typical one. Its residents, particularly its wives, were strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, and the freedoms they didn’t have.

Focused on the remarkable group of women who carved out a life there, The Wives of Los Alamos wonderfully brings this time, project and community to life … And Literary New England has two copies of the paperback to give way to you!

To win one, like Literary New England’s Facebook page and comment on our Facebook post that links to this article. If you already like us on Facebook, just comment. Deadline is midnight tonight, April 29!

You can learn more about TaraShea Nesbit and The Wives of Los Alamos by listening to our 2014 interview with her in the Literary New England Radio Show archives.
WivesOFLosAlamos_abomb_grandeAn image of the first atomic bomb being exploded and observed by Manhattan Project staff. It was detonated at 5:30 a.m. July 16, 1945, at the Alamogordo air base, 250 miles south of Los Alamos. As most people know, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the two Japanese sites chosen to be destroyed by the nuclear weapons developed by the Manhattan Project. “Woe is me” was Albert Einstein’s reaction.

Scissors, please. These Spinster-inspired paper dolls are a must!

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Spinster Paper DollsBy Cindy Wolfe Boynton
What’s very possibly one of the best things, in my whole life, that I’ve ever stumbled across? These super-awesome literary spinster paper dolls, which were created to go along with the release of journalist Kate Bolick‘s memoir Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own.

Adding to my excitement is that like Bolick herself (who grew up in Newburyport, Mass.), four of the five literary goddesses turned paper play-things have ties to New England. In Spinster, Bolick weaves their lives and choices into her own, showing us the unconventional ideas and lifestyles of:

  • Journalist Neith Boyce, who lived in Massachusetts and is buried in New Hampshire
  • Social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of the must-read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” who was born in Hartford, Conn.
  • Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was born in Rockland, Maine
  • Novelist Edith Wharton, who lived in Massachusetts

Irish writer and essayist Maeve Brennan is also featured.

Download printable versions of the paper dolls here, which are part of a “Spinster Kit” that also includes recipes for each of these writers’ favorite cocktails, a list of their works you should read, and a Spinster discussion guide.

SpinsterIn Spinster, which grew out a 2011 cover story Bolick wrote for the Atlantic, Bolick explores not just modern notions of romance, family, career and success, but why she, and more than 100 million other American women, remains unmarried. She uses her personal experiences as a starting point to delve into the history of the idea of spinsterhood, examine her own intellectual and sexual coming of age, and discover why so many fear the life she has come to relish.

Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edith Wharton each helped shape Bolick, influencing both her personal and career choices and, ultimately, this book.

Kate Bolick will be one of my guests on the May 11, 2015 Literary New England Radio Show. We’ll also be giving away copies of Spinster, so save the date!

You may also want to mark Friday, May 15, on your calendar. From 5-7 pm, Bolick will be at Edith Wharton’s home The Mount in Lenox, Mass, to give a free reading and signing. Entitled “Kate Bolick’s Awakening at The Mount: A Reading and Reception to Celebrate Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,” the event will feature hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and, says The Mount website, “conversation about what it means to live independently.” Bolick will also read from Spinster and then sign copies.

If you go, please send photos! I’m so incredibly bummed not to be able to attend.

Random House went through 100 designs before deciding on Hausfrau’s cover

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Watching this video takes just more than one minute. But choosing the cover of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s New York Times best-selling Hausfrau was a lengthy task. An article on Mashable explains:

“I worked with five designers, one illustrator and two letterers on more than a hundred versions of the jacket,” said Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House Publishing Group.

The design, as Schiff sees it, should give readers a clue about the experience, or how they will feel while reading the book, “rather than giving away the plot or the the details of the story.”

“The final design, with its stark Swiss typography against the moody and lush floral grouping, conveys a sensual but claustrophobic atmosphere,” Schiff said.

That mood is especially fitting for a book like Hausfrau, which tells the tragic story of adultery and a breakdown of a woman and her marriage.

I don’t think I agree with the Mashable reporter’s use of the word “tragic” in describing Hausfrau. I’d use the word “uncomfortable,” or maybe “darkly insightful.” And as I’m typing this, I’m wondering how much of my different perspective comes from the fact that I’m a woman, and the Mashable reporter is a man.

Hausfrau, which has been described as a “modern-day Anna Karenina,” is the story of 30-something-year-old Anna, an American living with her husband in Switzerland and struggling with isolation, among other challenges, because she can’t speak the language. Desperate to feel happy again, she tries to figure out her life through a series of new experiences, including German language classes, Jungian analysis and a series of sexual affairs that she enters with an ease that surprises even her.

As Jill and I talked about on the Literary New England Radio Show earlier this month, Hausfrau can be erotic, but at its heart it’s an exploration–an exploration of how we lose ourselves, and the imperfect choices that can help us find ourselves again. That doesn’t sound very tragic to me.

– Cindy Wolfe Boynton

Elizabeth Berg, Kristy Cambron & Susan Crawford: Amazing lineup for tonight’s Literary New England Radio Show!

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3books_660_April27Each of the acclaimed authors on tonight’s Literary New England Radio Show will sweep you away–to 1800s Paris, to German-control WWII Prague, and into the mind of a woman with bipolar disorder who can’t remember whether she murdered her friend. Join us at 8 p.m. for interviews and book giveaways with:

  • Elizabeth Berg on The Dream Lover, a lush historical novel based on the sensuous life of 19th century writer George Sand
  • Kristy Cambron on A Sparrow in Terezin, a powerful story of hope, survival and two women, in two different times, whose lives are perilously bound by a Holocaust survivor
  • Susan Crawford on The Pocket Wife, a thrilling exploration of marriage, murder, and a woman on the edge of madness

Hosted by Cindy Wolfe Boynton. Poke around this site for more book giveaways, author talk, event information and to listen to past episodes — book-tatstic updates posted regularly!

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Amazing flow chart of our beloved Maine writer’s books and characters, created by @TessieDesign in 2014. Learn more about the chart and artist here: http://tessiedesigncompany.blogspot.com.au/. Pretty awesome labor of love!

Wrap Yourself in The Tapestry, the 3rd Satisfying Novel in Nancy Bilyeau’s Tudor Series

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By Cindy Wolfe Boynton

Finishing The Tapestry–the final book in Nancy Bilyeau’s Tutor-era trilogy about Dominican novice Joanna Stafford–means saying goodbye to one of recent historical fiction’s most original, likeable and feisty heroines. … Though I’m hoping this goodbye isn’t forever.

“I’m not going to say that I’m never going back to Joanna, because she feels like part of my family,” Nancy said during our interview, which aired on this past Monday night’s Literary New England Radio Show. Linda Goodnight, author of The Memory House, and MO Walsh, author of My Sunshine Away, were my other guests.

“People’s responses to these books have also been just super,” Nancy continued, “so it’s possible that one day I’ll return to Joanna and write more. I do have other ideas for her. I’m also so passionate about Tudor England.”

It’s no secret to anyone who listens to the Literary New England podcast, or follows me on Twitter, that I’m a huge Nancy Bilyeau/Joanna Stafford fan. I LOVED the first two books in the series, couldn’t wait for The Tapestry to be published, and was ecstatic reading it from beginning to end.  Skillfully written and plotted, and full of Renaissance color, The Tapestry did not disappoint.

Like The Crown and The Chalice, The Tapestry is part thriller, part mystery and part romance. All are set in the mid-1500s. And, similar to Deborah Harkness’s The Discovery of Witches/All Souls series or JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, each consecutive novel becomes bigger in length and scope, with The Tapestry satisfyingly brining Joanna’s story to an end.

In this page-turner, Joanna–whose life has been threatened more than once since Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell began destroying priories –has resolved to live quietly in her village of Dartford, weaving tapestries. A woman ahead of her time, she’s determined to live life on her terms, which means no more involvements in dangerous quests, conspiracies or the royal court. But then her cousin King Henry summons her to Whitehall Palace to add to his tapestry collection, which occurs in this excerpt from Chapter 1:

I was once told that whenever I felt suspicious of someone’s intent, no matter how faintly, I should trust that instinct, but since the man who issued this advice had himself tried to kill me, and nearly succeeded, it was difficult to know how much weight to give his words.

I felt this distrust in a place where all others seemed at ease, as I followed a page through the tall, gleaming rooms of the Palace of Whitehall, filled with the most prosperous subjects of King Henry VIII. To anyone else, it would seem the safest place in all of England.

But not to me. Never to me.

Only eight days earlier I’d received the summons, calling me back to London, the city where I had seen much cruelty and death. I read it in my small house on the High Street of Dartford, where I had come to serve as a novice at its priory of Dominican sisters and hoped and prayed to prove my worthiness to take vows and become a Bride of Christ. But, two years ago, by the king’s command, our exquisite priory was torn down, and I was cast out with the others.

“This missive is from the king’s council, Sister Joanna,” said Gregory, pushing it into my hands as if it were a loaf pulled fresh from the oven that was singeing his fingertips. Gregory was a clerk in the town. He married the vintner’s daughter just after Candlemas Day, and his face soon thickened, like a hunting dog turns fat and sleek when brought into the house at season’s end. But Gregory, no matter his station now, once served as porter to our priory and continued to take an interest in my welfare. He still called me Sister. When a letter came to town bearing the royal seal, Gregory insisted on delivering it to me.

I thanked him and closed the door on the bright noise of the High Street. My fingers heavy with dread, I found a knife to break the beeswax seal.

In the court of the king that, unknown to him, Joanna has twice attempted to overthrow, the former nun fears for her life, and rightly so. An assassin attempts to kill her within moments of arriving at Whitehall. And with so many hidden plots and agendas surrounding her, it’s impossible to tell who is friend or foe.

Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Thomas Culpepper, Eustace Chapuys, Edward Seymour and the fascinating German painter Hans Holbein are among the characters brought to life in the compelling The Tapestry, where Joanna goes in search of the former friar she loves, fights for her life, faces off against the king and is ultimately forced to choose her fate.

Nancy’s bio on Amazon says that although she lives in New York City, her mind is always in Tudor England. In The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry, her passion and expertise on the 16th century are clear. She also blogs extensively about the period, right now focusing many of her posts on the PBS series Wolf Hall, which is based on Hilary Mantel’s magnificent prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Nancy’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the players and mindset of the time make her blog, like her books, deliciously rich.