Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 28, 2015

Women Writers at Brookline Booksmith

Passing kids speeding on scooters, people carrying groceries, a woman in a purple coat leaning on a cane, and students pressing cell phones to their ears, I entered Brookline Booksmith. Even on a Tuesday night the shop bustled, with some people garbling titles that the knowledgeable staff still managed to find. One had an arm cradling books as she climbed a ladder, giving it a gentle shove to glide past long, full shelves.

A panel arranged by the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association met downstairs. Amaryah Orenstein gave us a warm introduction, and congratulations to Alysia Abbott, winner of the Dorothy O’Connor Writing Contest for her article about autism and advocacy.

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Lisa Borders asked our panel great questions about characters, structure, obstacles, and research. We began with comments on the role of place in our novels. Lauren Acampora spoke about wanting to know the hidden and often astonishing lives of people in the suburbs as she wrote The Wonder Garden, and the ways characters and houses merge. Of course setting was vital for Virginia Pye, whose novel, based on her grandmother’s life, takes place in China before WW II. Heidi Pitlor, who mentioned the constraints of time with its ticking clock as being important to her, said that she usually begins with a sense of plot, works through character, and only then really considers setting. For my historical fiction, I find the particulars of place to be a way to stitch together the past and the present. And it’s a good way for me to get outside of peoples’ heads.

We talked about the need to write a lot of pages before we knew the ones we needed. Heidi spoke a little wistfully about having to let go of a character whose general niceness seemed to clash with the tone of The Daylight Marriage. She said, “She was a portal, but not needed in the end.” Lauren nodded. “A midwife.” She talked about whittling a novel into a short story. Someone mentioned that it was a great story, and Lauren thanked her, but said it’s hard not to wish she knew 250 pages before that a story was what it needed to be. Before we all got too maudlin about words lost along the way – I mentioned the 150 pages I cut from Little Woman in Blue as some scenes didn’t add enough to the theme – Virginia mentioned the delight of sometimes being able to add writing that had been put aside earlier. She said that she wove in bits of poems or stories she’d written but hadn’t published, and felt they added to the texture of Dreams of the Red Phoenix.

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All the people here and their books were new to me, but by the end of the evening I felt as if I were among friends. I’m glad to have new novels to read as I drink tea on a drizzly but still golden day.

And I’m grateful to brookline booksmith for including my novel on their shelves. May I mention it’s fun to see my name briefly hover over Jane Austen’s?

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Responses

  1. Such an interesting group to listen to! And so satisfying to hear your answers to the questions, Jeannine. Always on target and without show, your spoken words are often like your poetry – making unusual connections. I’m amazed how much you remembered of the discussion. I’m just pleased I remember I was happily there.

    • So wonderful to look out and see your smile. And feeding me soup beforehand was perfect!

  2. It sounds like a lovely evening, listening and joining the conversation among those new to you, but connected through what you all know. I’m happy that you’ve had so many talks about your book, Jeannine. I loved it, and do recommend it often to friends.

    • Thank you for recommending, and for the lovely review you shared online, too. I am lucky to have you as a reader and friend.

  3. So good to see Little Woman in Blue assume her rightful place on the bookshelf. 🙂

    “Words lost along the way” make for interesting side trips, don’t you think? I’d venture to say that many set-aside words have found their way into your book events, in one form or another, and idle conversations, too–all of which point toward the deeper joys of the writing process, within and beyond the actual pages. Fun stuff, and I’m glad that you’re enjoying May Alcott’s reintroduction to the literary scene. She’s right where she belongs, as are you.

    • Thank you. And yes, I tend to believe those lost words find their ways to something that matters, if not on the page.

  4. I love this glimpse into writers’ talk and thought. It was so interesting to read of the many angles through which you entered character and purpose. What a lovely, civilized evening.


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