Martha Southgate and Occupy Wall Street

Martha Southgate is the author of The Taste of Salt, and multiple other novels. She is also a signatory of Today she is here talking about why she supports Occupy Wall Street. For more information about Martha, check out her website|twitter|facebook.

I had a hard time getting started on this piece. For one thing, OWS is not a movement that I wholeheartedly embraced from the moment it began—I didn’t think they were wrong. I just couldn’t see what they were going to get done. Further, I don’t think of myself as a political writer in any way. None of my fiction engages the great issues of the day (at least not yet). While as an African-American woman and writer, I can hardly ignore the weight of history and of political movements on my life and the life of my family, taking an active part in the political process is not something that I engage with easily by temperament, even though I come from a long line of rabble-rousers. Both parents were active in the civil rights movement and my mother was an abortion clinic counselor in the 1970’s, shortly after abortion was legalized. Following in their footsteps, I became a community organizer in Cleveland in the mid 1980’s. The organization I worked for was built on the model that Saul Alinsky outlined in his seminal Rules for Radicals. Briefly, the goal was to start with getting communities mobilized around a small goal, like better trash collection.

Then over time, as they became more skilled and organized, Alinsky posited that the grassroots folk would make the leap to actions that would change the system altogether. The community organizing that Obama did was in an organization that worked on this model. Mostly the work was phone calls, door-knocking and meetings, meetings, meetings.

Noble work, I still believe. But I hated it. I hated the meetings. I hated knocking on strange doors. Every phone call made my heart contract. Finally, after a few unhappy months. I quit. I never doubted the rightness of the organization. But I wasn’t certain that they would ever reach their ultimate goal of systemic change. And I was not the person to get out there and get my hands dirty finding out. I was too internal, too meeting-averse, too full of other notions. Too much a writer (or at that time, a writer-to-be. I did not start writing fiction seriously until my 30’s)
I’m not particularly proud of walking away from organizing but one thing about getting older is that it forces you to come to terms

with who you are, not who you wish you were. I’m not the activist type. I got out there for Obama (and imagine I will again) but I’m never going to do it in the bone-deep, vivid way that true activists do. And I think that may contribute to my ambivalence about Occupy Wall Street.

Let me say here loud and clear that I have absolutely no ambivalence about the overriding message of the movement. The gap between the wealthy and the poor in this country has reached obscene levels and the breakdowns in the system that have led to it are mind-boggling (in a bad way). The crazed Republicans who hope only to carry out policies that will make everything worse terrify me. There is no doubt who is in the right in this fight.

But it took me a while to get on board. Like many, I couldn’t quite see what was being accomplished at first. They seemed to just be sitting there, with a mass of very vaguely articulated demands and a lot of justifiable anger. Even though I live here in New York, it took me a while before I got to Zucotti park to see what was up—and the night I finally went, frankly, not much was. Drumming. Sitting. Signs.

And I’ll admit that I still have some concerns about what the next step is. In the civil rights movement, which some of the images of OWS directly echo, there was a clear series of more easily specified demands: Let us be full citizens. End laws that prevent that from happening. With OWS, because the roots of the problem are so much more complex and entrenched, it’s harder to see what specific actions can be taken and how they should be taken. I am hopeful that as the winter wears on, that those actions will begin to emerge, just as what started out as vague popular sentiment in the 1960’s ultimately wrought enormous changes in the nation.
I’m not gonna grab a sleeping bag and move down to Zucotti Park. But as the phrase “the 99%” has entered the lexicon and there is discussion, substantive discussion about how this country might begin to be repaired, I have come to believe that this is where change starts. With a rumble. With a noise. With a sleeping bag in a park. With pointing out an injustice and refusing to waver. This is where it starts.

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Interview with David Nicholls, author of One Day

On August 3, I was lucky enough, along with a group of bloggers, to be able to speak with David Nicholls his novel One Day, and the movie adaptation. For a giveaway, as well as my thoughts on the book and expectations for the movie, see my review post.


Jen: You have written both books and screenplays, how does the process compare?

David Nicholls: It’s a long time since I wrote a book, unfortunately, because I’ve been sort of tangled up in these various screenplays, which I love. But, the hardest thing is, when you write a novel, you create the characters. You kind of cast them in your head… You’re very much the director, the designer, the music coordinator, the editor. And when you move on to a movie, you have to kind of spread that load. You might get asked what you think of a particular location or a costume design, but it isn’t your responsibility.

And that’s not a bad thing. That can be quite liberating to know very precisely what the parameters are of your role. But, inevitably you can feel as if you are losing a little control. And so, on this movie, I felt that much less than I have in the past….
The other difference is you lose a lot of your equipment, if you like, your technique. It’s very hard to do an internal thought process.

A lot of what happens to Emma in the three years she leaves University happens in her head. And unless you use acres and acres of voiceover, minute after minute of long, protracted voiceover, you can’t really get a thought process. You can’t really get an interior monologue onto the screen.

So, there’s this terrific pressure all the time to move things forward and to concentrate on what people say and what they do rather than what they think and feel. And that can be quite tough…

And finally, I suppose there are the budgetary and scheduling restraints. I mean, the most obvious example of this, and I’ve used it before, is if you write in a novel, you know, “it’s raining,” then it’s sort of just words on the page. It’s nothing. And if you write “it’s raining” in a screenplay, then suddenly they’ve got to hire all this equipment, stand around in the rain all night, and it costs an extra 200,000 pounds. It’s not your 200,000 pounds. And someone is going to ask, “Does it really need to be raining?”

Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway as Dexter and Emma


Jen: I’m really interested in Emma and Dexter’s relationship, because it’s this grand relationship and there are all these obstacles in the way, but they never feel like you’re just throwing obstacles for the purpose of throwing obstacles. And they’ve got this love that’s this great cross between romantic love and friendly affectionate love.

David Nicholls: Yes. I mean, this is the great conundrum for the writers of modern love stories. You know, what are the obstacles? What are the modern obstacles to people getting together? The sort of golden age love story, there are kind of class divisions and family feuds and all of these very powerful barriers, the kind of Romeo and Juliet barriers. And now, what are those barriers? And I think they’re to do with temperament and personality.

And in One Day, there’s a mixture of plot driven obstacles, like letters that don’t get sent and phone calls that don’t get answered and a single stupid remark that pushes them away from each other for a period of time and being with someone else….
Those things are fun to plot, but the main obstacles are to do with their growing up. There’s a period of time where Emma is just much too self-involved and lacking in self-confidence and much too depressed, I think, for it to be the right time with Dexter. I know definitely a long period of time where Dexter is just too immature and just too self-involved and too foolish, really, to be the right match for Emma.

David Nicholls

And that seemed to me to tally with real life, with the observation of the relationships between my friends, that often the process of getting together was incredibly protracted, incredibly complex, incredibly complicated because it wasn’t quite the right time. And I think maybe that’s the great modern obstacle, that we all take a lot longer to settle into a relationship and to settle into thinking that it’s the right time.

This post was written as a result of an interview set up at the behest of Big Honcho Media

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Authors Helping Authors – An Interview with Authors Kim Wright and Sarah Pekkanen

Recently, authors Kim Wright and Sarah Pekkanen sat down to talk about their experiences in publishing. Both have just published their second novels: Love in Mid Air and Skipping a Beat, respectively.

Kim: One of the things that’s most surprised me about publication is how much writers help each other. Like a lot of people, I’d had some harsh experiences while trying to get published, so part of me figured that the deeper you got into this world the more elbow-slinging and competitiveness you’d find. But the opposite happened.

Sarah: I’ve had the exact same experience. Jennifer Weiner was so pivotal when my first book The Opposite of Me came out. She was, of course, a very established and successful author so it was incredibly generous of her to take an interest in someone who was just starting and a complete unknown. And as I’ve gone along I’ve found that same spirit of helpfulness everywhere.

Kim: There’s sort of a sisterhood among the recently published. I think it’s because writers are expected to promote their own books and so many of us aren’t very good at it. We’re private people who stay home, work in our nightgowns, and talk to people who only exist in our heads. Then all of a sudden you’re published, boom, and you’re expected to know how to establish a platform and interact with the public.

Sarah: Yes, so we’re all trying to help each other and exchange ideas. Things like the blog tours or the giveaways or taking out ads together and splitting the cost. Female novelists will often recommend the work of their peers, saying something like “If you enjoyed my book, maybe you’ll like hers as well….” Or “Here are two books with a different take on a similar issue.”

Kim: Do you think male novelists help each other like that?

Sarah: No.
EDIT 8:30 Eastern 7/21/11: But I certainly don’t mean male writers don’t support each other – or don’t support women authors, for that matter – but I haven’t seen the same formal banding together of male authors on social media as I have among female authors. Several male authors have been enormously helpful to me personally – like the brilliant writer Matthew Quick, who chatted with me on the phone when I was panicking about my second book – and I count many male authors as friends.

Kim: Me either, and it’s just another example of the male ego sabotaging the man. Because people who are readers tend to read a lot. When I go into a bookstore I usually buy two or three books at a time and the Amazon free shipping system is set up to encourage people to buy several books at once. And who checks out one book from the library? You leave with an armful. Writers aren’t really in competition with each other, since if someone buys my book they might well buy yours at the same time. A rising tide lifts all boats, as my grandfather used to say.

Sarah: There’s also the emotional component of providing support for each other. Having a book out is scary and it’s really hard for anyone who isn’t going through the process to understand it. That’s how we met, isn’t it? I remember my publicist raved about your book and sent it to me to read. I loved it too, so we connected on Facebook and one day you wrote something about how you were struggling with your second book. I had just finished my second and could relate so much to what you were saying that I emailed you and offered to talk….

Kim: That’s precisely right. That phone call was a godsend for me.

Sarah: Have you met most of your writer friends through social media?

Kim: Yes. This is kind of funny. When Love in Mid Air first came out I got on a Facebook friending frenzy and sent friend requests to all these established authors. Here I was this total nobody reaching out to all these somebodies. But a lot of them friended me back and some of those relationship have turned into real dialogues, real online friendships, like ours.

Sarah: And then sometimes the people who have met on line meet in person if they all find themselves at a writing conference like the AWP. It’s amazing how quickly these relationships can grow and spread and I think they’re a tribute to the fact writers are sometimes a little bit lonely. We have our friends and families in real life but they can’t completely understand the ups and downs of writing or the kind of pressures writers put on themselves. So I’ve loved using the social media to connect to other writers….we’re figuring it out together as we’re going along.

Kim Wright

Sarah Pekkanen


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Randy Susan Meyers’ Oh, D.E.A.R.

Do you remember D.E.A.R? At my elementary school that meant “Drop Everything And Read,” something we typically did for 10 or 15 minutes every day. Best part of my day, really. As my TBR and Library piles are battling for supremacy and trying to sneak in around the review copies who have staked out places on my calendar, I’m thinking back to the simpler days of D.E.A.R., when I believed I had time to get to any book I wanted. And that, of course, got me fantasizing about a world where I really could just Drop Everything And Read for more than just 15 minutes a day.

Randy Susan Meyers is busy celebrating the paperback release of her debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, but she is here telling us about the books calling to her, the books she wants to just drop everything and read:


My teetering pile of bedside books is matched only my the length of my writing ‘to-do’ list, but as I drill down, these are the books I can’t wait to dig into:

The Report by Jessica Kane

I read an excerpt on Granta’s online site, which drew me in immediately. This is a story of the largest loss of civilian life in the UK in World War II, when 173 people died in a crush on the stairs down to a tube station used as a shelter during air raids. A friend (whose taste I trust implicitly, fellow writer Kathy Crowley) said it was a book that “sticks.”

The Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus

I read an essay about this recently launched book, (on writer Ellen Meeropol’s blog) which described it as a book she immediately read twice. The collection includes stories of “A high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin. A Jewish immigrant soldier and the German POWs he is assigned to supervise. A refugee returning to Europe for the first time and the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A son of survivors and technology’s potential to reveal long-held family secrets.” I am drawn to stories of the Holocaust told from all the angles of the prisms

Eden Lake by Jane Roper

Eden Lake won’t be available until May 2011—but other work I’ve read by Jane has been very funny (to wit, this piece from Poets & Writers on what writers really mean in workshops.) The book’s description reads: In 1968, newlyweds Clay Perry and Carol Weiss transformed a sheep farm in central Maine into Eden Lake—a nontraditional, progressive summer camp for children. Thirty years later, at the height of the Lewinsky scandal and the dot-com boom, Clay and Carol’s marriage is long over and the camp has become a pricey playground for entitled suburbanites. When an unexpected tragedy strikes, the Perryweiss children have to decide what role Eden Lake—and all that it stands for—will play in their lives. I am obsessed with summer camp, so this book had me at hello.

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

I have loved every book Meg Wolitzer has written (The Position, The Ten-Year Nap) so I only had to know she had a new book coming out (in April) to be dying to read it. I know only what I’ve read on the Amazon page, but it has me totally intrigued (a sexual-distaste spreads through an entire town.)

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartók

In the realm of memoir, I was captured by Judith Bolton-Fasman’s Boston Globe review of Mira Bartók’s THE MEMORY PALACE: Bartók’s mother, Norma Herr, was a schizophrenic who felt both haunted and hunted. But Norma was also a musical prodigy whose concert career was abruptly halted after her first breakdown at the age of 19. By the time she divorced Paul Herr in 1963 she had two young daughters whom she shuttled between her parents’ home shadowed with memories of abuse to a dump of an apartment on the other side of Cleveland.

RANDY SUSAN MEYERS spent eight years as assistant director of Common Purpose, a batterer intervention program where she worked with both batterers and domestic violence victims. Previously, she was director for the Mission Hill Community Centers where she worked with at-risk youth. She is the co-author of the nonfiction book Couples with Children. Her short fiction has been published in Perigee, Fog City Review, and Grub Street Free Press. She currently teaches fiction-writing seminars at the Grub Street Writers’ Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

Buy The Murderer’s Daughters at:

Indiebound | Powells | Amazon *

*These are affiliate links. I received a copy of this author’s book from the publisher for review.

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Books Guaranteed to Put Me To Sleep – Guest Post by Lauren Grodstein, author of “A Friend of the Family”

Lauren Grodstein teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Camden and is the author of “A Friend of the Family,” which I reviewed yesterday.

A few nights ago, after yet another round of searching for the lost pacifier, I found myself, once again, unable to fall back asleep. The house was quiet – the kid snored, the husband snored, the cat snored at the landing at the base of the stairs. These three are frankly outstanding in their ability to go from alert to unconscious in the time it takes a normal person to sneeze. Meanwhile, once I’m up, I’m up – and, at three a.m., I’m usually ticked off, surrounded by snoring and pacifiers, wondering once again how I got into this mess. There was a time in my life when I slept, regularly, til noon! These days it’s a triumph if I’m still asleep at five-thirty.

However, on those occasions I’m able to go back to sleep, it’s usually due to the help of one of four books that now stake permanent territory on my nightstand. These books are well-written enough not to wake up my irritable inner grammar maven, but boring enough not to wake up my imagination, either. They’re like literary Ambien. This week, in honor of daylight savings, I’m sharing this list as a gift to all the exhausted parents out there, since I cannot give them the biggest gift of all: a child who sleeps through the night.

1. In Suspect Terrain, by John McPhee

John McPhee is a masterful reporter who’s done books on everything from oranges (fabulous) to Alaska (a bit meandering at times, but still well worth a read). However, in “In Suspect Terrain,” McPhee, alongside intrepid geologist Anita Harris, documents the geographical history of the eastern United States, spending a whole lot of time at the Delaware Water Gap and dropping mad knowledge about igneous rock and conodonts. The writing is lovely; the topic is dull as, literally, dirt. Four pages in I’m asleep and dreaming about sediment.

2. Fascinating Womanhood, by Helen B. Andelin

This gem is actually very absorbing the first few times you read it; it’s a 1960s guide to man-catching, akin to 1996’s The Rules, and full of such pearls as “Beneath his desire for worldly acclaim lies an even more intense yearning, and it is HIS DESIRE TO BE A HERO IN YOUR EYES. It is for this he lives and breathes.” (caps author’s). When I first read this book in my twenties, this advice seemed hugely amusing, but ten years later, with my hero fast asleep next to me, reading it not only knocks me out, it also knocks out my ability to feel any sort of amusement whatsoever.

3. The Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen.

Virtuous vegetarian recipes; sweet black-and-white illustrations. Pass me some of that Arabian Squash-Cheese Casserole before I lose consciousness forever.

4. Lonely Planet Vancouver, by the Lonely Planet people.

Vancouver, as a city, has many of the same qualities I look for in a sleeping aid: it’s pleasing, calm, attractive, and, deep down, just the tiniest bit boring. Believe me, I love Vancouver the way any normal person loves maritime Canada, and I keep this guide on my nightstand because it’s as close as I’m going to get to the city any time soon. Nevertheless, what is Vancouver if not rainy weather, homemade scones, urban kayaking, and efficient public transportation? Just thinking about it makes me drowsy in the nicest possible way.

So there you go: my four insomniac go-tos. If you have any suggestions of books that knock you out, please email me at Three in the morning is coming all too soon, and believe me when I tell you I need all the help I can get.