Monday, October 6, 2008

The Best Place to Be by Lesley Dorman (with interview and giveaway)

When I learned that The Best Place to Be by Lesley Dormen was a novel in stories, I was intrigued. I read a book last year that claimed to be a novel in stories, but I was disappointed. In my mind, the stories should stand up by themselves (they are stories, after all), but together, they should enhance one another and pull it all together. Dormen accomplished this and more.

The Best Place to Be grabbed me from the very first page. Dormen tells the story of Grace, a woman trying to find herself in the hustle and bustle that is New York City. She chronicles Grace's difficult relationships with men, but mostly the challenge of maintaining a relationship with a difficult mother and a father who hasn't been present since she was young.

Telling the stories in the first person (and out of order, beginning with Grace at age 50) showcases Grace's quirkiness and humor (including her obsession with documentaries about the Kennedy assassination, her inability to fire the housekeeper who doesn't do anything right, and her need to purchase thousands of dollars worth of clothes and then rush off to her therapist to discuss her shopping). In the final story, "The Best Place to Be," Grace says:
My plan had been to meet middle age with exquisite dignity and chic restraint. As usual, I have veered off course. I was headed in the Dame Edna direction. (page 157)
While I couldn't relate to being 50 or having affairs with married men, I could understand Grace's feelings of not being where you thought you'd be...and then realizing you're content where you are. My favorite passage comes from the same story:
I looked out the window and was filled with contentment. I was on a train. There was no landscape, ugly or beautiful, to demand my attention. No aspiring terrorist had taken the seat next to me. None of the passengers within view were badly dressed. . . . I was happily married but alone, nothing in the immediate past to regret, nothing in the immediate future to fear. In between--the best place to be. (page 161)
You can read an excerpt from The Best Place to Be here.
******

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lesley. I had so many questions about the stories, Grace, and her writing process, and she graciously answered them all!

What inspired you to write The Best Place to Be?

I wrote the very short story "I Asked My Mother," and fell in love with the voice of this funny, angry, confused young woman who had such a complicated relationship with her mother and with herself. That first-person storyteller made me laugh and moved me. I wanted to hear more from her.

The Best Place to Be is "A Novel in Stories." Did you intend that from the beginning or had you written a short story or two about Grace and decided to turn them into a novel?

I didn't know that I was writing a novel--I just wanted to take this voice and shape it into stories. So yes, I wrote a second story ("The Old Economy Husband") in which we hear from Grace later in life. By the third story, I still wasn't done with Grace. I began to think, Hmm. Maybe they'll add up to something larger. Then I put that idea out of my mind and refocused on the next story.

I'm intrigued by the novel-in-stories construct, and I thought you pulled it off brilliantly. Each story can stand on its own, but reading them together was so fulfilling. Were the stories published individually elsewhere?

Most of the stories were published individually--all but one, actually--in various literary journals and in The Atlantic Monthly. When I sold the collection, my editor asked me to fill in a few holes for consistency. It was my idea to order the stories non-chronologically.

What inspired you to create the character of Grace? It was so easy to fall in love with her quirkiness and humor despite the pain. Was it difficult to create such a well-developed character within the confines of a short story? I loved how I learned a little bit more about her from story to story, and with the stories out of order chronologically, it was fun to put all the pieces of Grace together in my mind as I went along.

My inspiration for Grace was definitely her quirkiness and humor. She really made me laugh. At the same time, I understood that her humor came from the deepest core of her and covered up a lot of pain and vulnerability. This was a character who was so flawed, certainly damaged, yet so resilient. I loved that resilience and found it poignant. My challenge as a writer was to connect to Grace's vulnerability, to "play dumb" as it were as a writer, to let Grace's voice come through me, to hear her tell her own story at different ages. But you can't create a three-dimensional character--especially in first-person--if you aren't connected to her sadness and anger, to all her feelings, because the humor comes out of that. It's a point of view. Each time I finished a Grace story, I'd have to begin the discovery process all over again, to tap into her heart and soul, as if she were a brand-new character. Which in a certain way she was, since I have her telling her story at different ages--from eighteen to fifty-something.

What is your favorite story in the book?

My favorite story is "General Strike." It was the last Grace story I wrote, and it was the hardest for me to write. I think all the themes come together in it--her sadness over the loss of her father, her sustaining marriage, her special intimacy with her brother, her longing to reconcile the past and present.

Where do you do most of your writing? Could you describe your writing process? How much time do you spend every day writing?

I write in my apartment in Greenwich Village, at a beautiful old oak desk my husband found for pennies many years ago and that we recently learned is being slowly eaten from within by some kind of termite. So the wood is developing all these cracks and creaks, and I'm scared it's going to come crashing down one day, taking my computer with it. Actually, that's a pretty good metaphor for the writing life. I do spend every day writing when I have something "cooking." Getting started is what's hard. I'm a big procrastinator, and I'd be lying if I said I wrote every day. But when I'm on to an idea, a voice, a situation, I tend it like a slow-cooking pot of soup on the stove. I can't stay away.

Who are your favorite authors? What kinds of books do you most enjoy?

Oh, there are so many writers I love and admire. Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Mary Gaitskill, Joan Didion, Julie Hecht, Annie Ernaux, to name just a handful of living writers. I love writers who can both move me and make me laugh, and I love writers who can take me inside the experience of being female in some surprising, illuminating way.

You teach fiction writing at the Writer Studio in Greenwich Village. Any advice for us aspiring novelists?

My advice as a teacher is to read wonderful writers, allow yourself to feel competitive with the best of them, ask yourself, how did she do that? A terrific piece of writing should move you in some way. Focus on the craft of a piece of writing that does move you. Try to take it apart, to look at it clinically, as a writer and not a reader. Wonderful writers put on a show. Try to get backstage and figure out how the magic is being created. What feels most urgent inside you to communicate--feelings, ideas, images--will be the clay, but you need technique to mold it. Poetry is a terrific inspiration and a tool for a fiction writer. A narrative poem, for example, offers up an emotionally fueled short story in a page or less. Some surprising marriage of feeling and form is what I'm always after.

I think that's some great advice that I'm going to try to put to use. Thanks, Lesley! It was a pleasure working with you!

**Would you like to win a copy of The Best Place to Be? Lesley has generously offered a copy to one lucky reader. (Thanks again, Lesley!)

~~Please leave a comment on this post telling me why you want to read The Best Place to Be or what you found most interesting about my interview with Lesley. Leave your email address with the comment so I can contact you if you win. **You MUST leave an email address! Any comments without email addresses will not be counted.**

~~You can get an extra entry by blogging about the interview and giveaway. Just leave the link to your post in the comments. **If you don't have a blog, you can get an extra entry by emailing 5 friends to tell them about The Best Place to Be with a link to this post. Please cc me on the message.**

~~The deadline is Midnight EST on Saturday, Oct. 18.


I want to give a special THANK YOU to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for this wonderful opportunity!




Follow Lesley around the blogs! Click here for the complete list of tour stops!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The Best Place to Be from the author for review purposes.


51 comments:

Carol said...

I've never read a novel in stories before. I think it's a great idea! Being over 50 myself, I would love to read about Grace's feelings at different times in her life.
mittens0831 AT aol DOT com

Trish said...

hey Anna--I'd love to be entered. I really like what Lesley says about reconciling the past with the present--sometimes easier said than done. I've been seeing short story collections a lot lately and while I love reading them I don't always make time. This would be perfect. Thanks!

trishsreadingnook at gmail dot com

wordlily said...

A novel in stories is such an intriguing idea! That alone makes me want to read this book. I love the interview in that she discusses her writing place (it's comforting to know that she doesn't exactly write everyday), as well as hearing who writers like to read.

wordlily AT gmail

teabird said...

This sounds wonderful - I love novels in stories. Cynthia Ozick's Puttermesser Papers comes to mind. Please allow me to enter this giveaway!

teabird seventeen (17) at yahoo dot com

Marvin D. Wilson said...

Sounds like a wonderful book, and that was a VERY good interview. Thanks, Anna AND Lesley. Lesley I particularly enjoyed your advice to aspiring authors to feel "competitive" with other really good authors. You hit a nerve with me on that one, because that's exactly how I feel when I'm reading a well written innovative book - I'm like - Wow! - I see what he/she's doing - I can do that - why didn't I think of that - lol.

Overall great post/interview.

Marvin Blogs at Free Spirit: http://inspiritandtruths.blogspot.com/
Eye Twitter 2 - http://twitter.com/Paize_Fiddler

Serena said...

Ok I've never read a novel in stories and I think that would be fantastic. I like being able to find connections in short stories, especially if they are in a collection or "novel in stories." I had that problem with the recent book I reviewed--no link between the stories really.

As for the interview, Lesley grabbed my attention with this portion of the interview:

"Poetry is a terrific inspiration and a tool for a fiction writer. A narrative poem, for example, offers up an emotionally fueled short story in a page or less."

I say amen! I have to say that many times I get comments about my short stories and editors will ask if I'm a poet...and they can tell in my stories. I still don't know if that is a good thing or not!

do I really need to leave my address; you know it! LOL

savvyverseandwit AT gmail DOT com

Literary Feline said...

I don't think I have ever read a novel told in stories before--at least not quite like this. I'd definitely be interested in trying though. Please enter me.

Literary Feline said...

I did mean to include my e-mail address, by my finger was too quick!
literaryfelineATgmailDOTcom

J. Kaye Oldner said...

Great interview! I'll post about your giveaway this week! :)

Lady Blogger said...

Anna~ Another fantastic interview!

I want to read this book because I like the idea of many different stories coming together as one.

creamy.tomato.soup AT gmail.com

(You know who I am!)

Thanks! :)

Anna said...

Thanks to everyone who has entered so far!!

Carol: If you get a chance to read the book, I'd love to hear what you think, whether you related to Grace's story or not.

Trish: I'm not one for short story collections. I especially liked The Best Place to Be because it connects the stories in a novel, and I got to follow the same characters throughout.

Wordlily: I love the thought of writing at an old desk, but I feel bad about Lesley's termite problem. :( I also was glad to hear that there's an accomplished writer who doesn't write every day!!

Teabird: I've never heard of that book, but I wrote the title down and will check it out! Thanks!

Marvin: Thanks very much! Lesley gave some great advice! Normally, when I read something that blows me away, I know I can't do something like that. I know I shouldn't think that way but I do. Doesn't stop me from trying, though. :)

Serena: I'd love to hear what you think about the novel-in-stories construct. And I thought of you the minute I read Lesley's advice about using poetry as a writing tool!

Literary Feline: I just love the novel-in-stories idea. If you get a chance to read the book, I'd love to hear what you think!

J. Kaye: You're a doll! Thanks so much for mentioning the giveaway!!

Lady Blogger: Thanks so much! It makes my day to know that you're reading my blog and enjoying my reviews. (I miss you soooo much!) If you get to read the book, please tell me what you think!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hey, Anna. I just posted this at Win a Book for you.

I just finished reading interlocked short stories, myself. The Dew Breaker, by Edwidge Danticat. Breeni posted it at her place as part of her Halloween extravaganza.

Anyway, as always, no need to enter me. I'm just dropping in to babble at you...

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Excellent interview, Anna. The book sounds interesting. I was most caught by the author's words to aspiring writers: "My advice as a teacher is to read wonderful writers, allow yourself to feel competitive with the best of them," What a tremendous idea! Difficult to acheive, as well, I should think.

hhollyd at yahoo

Iliana said...

I'm really looking forward to reading Lesley's book... No need to add me in the drawing but just wanted to stop in and say I enjoyed your interview!

Anna said...

Susan: Thanks so much for posting my giveaway! It's much appreciated! Feel free to pop in and babble any time you wish!! And thanks for letting me know about Breeni's review. I'll be sure to check it out!

Holly: I'm glad you stopped by! It's great to "see" you!! Isn't the best advice always difficult to follow?? ;)

Iliana: Glad you enjoyed the interview! I'll be looking for your post about the book!

Janel said...

Grace sounds like such a great character, plus I've never read a novel composed of short stories. That is such a great concept!

Thanks for introducing me to this book. It's going on my wish list!

jgbeads AT gmail DOT com

Janel said...

I've also blogged about this contest on my sidebar here: http://janelsjumble.blogspot.com/

Jeannie said...

Hi Anna. I enjoyed reading this post very much- thank you!

I really enjoyed hearing about the development of Grace, especially how the author mentioned being connected to Grace's feelings- like the sadness and anger. She describes Grace in a way that makes her seem so real. I had to read the interview twice to see whether or not Grace was based off a real person.

I also always enjoy how you ask the authors for their advice. It's nice to get some first-hand knowledge from those who have "been there, done that." :D

Thanks again.

themiyamas at hotmail dot com

Anna said...

Janel: Thanks so much for posting the giveaway! I think Lesley tied the stories together brilliantly, and if you don't win the book, you should definitely get your hands on a copy anyway. ;)

Anna said...

Jeannie: I'm glad you enjoyed the interview! I'm fascinated by the fact that every writer has his/her own way of doing things. And it's nice to get some helpful tips from the experts. ;)

I probably should've asked Lesley whether Grace is based on a real person!! LOL

Jen - devourer of books said...

I really liked how she worked with the formatting, but I just wasn't crazy about Grace.

windycindy said...

Hi, I can relate to being over 50 and wondering where you are in your life!
I have learned to be content at where I am in life. Thanks, Cindi
jchoppes[at]hotmail[dot]com

Anna said...

Jen: I'm looking forward to your tour stop tomorrow!

Cindi: I think it's really important that we either accept where we are or do something to change it! Thanks for sharing!

Dawn said...

I like the idea of "linked" stories. I also LOVE New York, and always enjoy reading that lets me visit somewhere (if only in my mind!)

Please enter my name in your drawing - thanks!
dawn (dot) rennert (at) verizon (dot) net

Shana @ Literarily said...

This sounds like a fantastic book. I love the idea of short stories all linked together and Grace sounds like a wonderful character.

Anna, no need to enter me in the contest.

I can just picture the author writing at her desk in her apartment in Greenwich Village.

(And I love the quote about aging with exquisite dignity and chic restraint. I'd love to do that too but like Grace would all too likely fall short!)

Beawhiz said...

I'd like to read this book because I think I've got a lot of quirks, and Grace's sound interesting.

I also chuckled a little about your desk!

busweet(at)gmail(dot)com

Keyomi said...

arent we all.."somewhat a woman trying to find our own self n the hustle and bustle of our city life??"
i would love to read it to know more and understand more of the psychology and choices Grace makes!

From your interview, what i liked was that Lesley openly admitted that It was her idea to order the stories non-chronologically. I think it worked out fine for this book!! It adds intrigue to the whole plot!

For the 3rd entry, i am linking you to my blog! check it out.

Thanks :) looking forward this giveaway!

[spellbound18@hotmail.com]

Keyomi

Alyce said...

I like the idea of many stories put together as a novel. I've never read a book like this before - it sounds interesting.

akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

darbyscloset said...

Oh yes! This book sounds great!!!
I have never read a novel made up of short stories (accept when a novel takes place in a 24 hr period and each chapter seems like a different story) and I'd love to read this book..please enter me!
Darby
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

Alyce said...

I blogged about it here:

http://athomewithbooks.blogspot.com/2008/10/weekly-giveaway-roundup_08.html

Anna said...

Dawn: I agree that one of the best parts of reading is "visiting" places you've never been!

Shana: I hear you on the aging thing. My husband would agree. :P

Beawhiz: I love Lesley's story about the desk. Though the part about the termites stinks. :(

Keyomi: I know some people might be put off about the stories being out of order, but I think it really makes it a better story. Thanks for linking to the giveaway!

Alyce: It is a unique book. I think you would enjoy it! Thanks for blogging about the giveaway!

Darby: If you've never read a novel in stories before, I would recommend Lesley's to start. I've read one other but didn't see how they were stories. It was really just a novel. I'd love to know what you think if you get a chance to read it!!

Wendi B. - Wendi's Book Corner ~ Rainy Day Reading in Seattle said...

Anna - this book sounds wonderful, and I enjoyed your interview!

I have never read a book in stories, in fact, this is the first time I've even heard of it! I would love a chance to read this book - please include me in your giveaway.

I have posted a link to your givewaway in the giveaways section of my blog (by the way, thank you for stopping by and letting me know about it!!!)

~ Wendi
wbarker (at) hotmail.com
http://wendisbookcorner.blogspot.com

PS - I've just posted my first author interview!! Yeah!! I'm glad to see that you have been successful with a bunch of the authors you have read!

tanabata said...

Great interview! I love the idea of a novel in stories and revisiting the same characters. I've read a couple of books that I think would qualify but they didn't follow the same characters and were only very loosely connected.
Lesley writes about Grace with such affection, it really does sound like a wonderful read.

I've mentioned your giveaway on this post.

(tanabata2000 at gmail dot com)

Alea said...

I would like to read this because I love short stories, anthologies, and collections. A novel in stories sounds awesome! One I really liked, which isn't actually a novel in stories but stories that connect somehow is Kissing in Manhattan.

I'd love to enter!
aleareads @ gmail dot com

A Real Librarian said...

I haven't read many novels in short stories, so I am looking forward to this. The characters strength and resilience that Lesley talked about makes me want to read more about her. Thanks for the chance to win!!

areallibrarian[at]gmail[dot]com

Anna said...

Wendi B.: Thanks so much for linking to the giveaway. And congrats on your first author interview. I'll be visiting your blog soon to check it out!

Tanabata: You're right about Lesley writing about Grace affectionately. You can tell Grace was a character that really affected her.

Alea: I'll have to check out Kissing in Manhattan. Thanks for the recommendation and for entering the giveaway!

A Real Librarian: You're very welcome! Grace really is a resilent character!

Jessica said...

The process of writing is unique for each person, so it's always interesting to hear about how each person does it, in what setting, etc.

sundaygirl at gmail dot com

Anna said...

Jessica: I'm always interested in the author's writing process. I learned a lot of helpful tips that have improved my own writing.

Kimberly said...

I just turned 40 so I can't fully relate, but in a way I do.

I appreciate the interview. As a "wannabe" published writer (I'm just a freelancer right now) I appreciate the insight into how other writers find their inspiration and how they perfect their craft.

Thank you for a great giveaway.

HunnyV "at" Optonline "dot" net

mrs.mommyy said...

I love any book the pulls me in and keeps me reading just keep finding out whats happening- this looks like one of them mrs.mommyyatgmail.com

Baba said...

I am an avid reader and would love to win this book. Sounds so enticing. Thanks for the chance.

Anita Yancey said...

I would like to read this book, because I can relate to Grace. She as well as the book sound wonderful. Please enter me.
ayancey@dishmail.net

Jackie B. said...

Like so many of the others, I am not familiar with a novel of stories before. I like the fact that you can follow along with the same characters throughout and still have a "complete bedtime story" for several nights in a row!

bison61 said...

I like the lines about her plan to meet middle age with exquisite dignity and chic restraint. As usual, I have veered off course, I'd love to read this

tiramisu392 (at) yahoo.com

blueviolet said...

I particularly enjoyed hearing about the desk where she writes and the precarious state that it's in. I found her to be a very likable author. I would love to read the book!
doot65{at}comcast[dot]net
Elizabeth

AmandaSue said...

This sounds like a really good book, I like how the character is trying to find herself, and I think thats what draws me to this book as I feel like I'm trying to find the real me too.

Anna said...

Kimberly: I love reading about an author's writing process. When I interview an author, I always try to ask one or two questions about writing.

Mrs.mommyy: With the stories out of order, I couldn't stop reading because I wanted to put it all together. It was a real page-turner.

Baba: Thanks for stopping by my blog! Happy reading!

Anita: It's always interesting when you really relate to the character. It's not necessary but it gets me thinking.

Jackie B.: I agree, but the book didn't last several nights for me! The pages just flew by!

Bison61: That was my favorite quote in the book. That's so me (except 20 years younger than Grace)!

Blueviolet/Elizabeth: Lesley is great, so friendly! She wrote a sweet message in the book she sent me.

Amandasue: I hear you on that. I always figured I'd know who I was by the time I hit 30, but nope. But I like the adventure LOL

Sunny said...

I havent ever read a novel in short stories. It sounds very interesting! I'd like to see how they are individual stories, yet weave together.

sj3girls(at)hotmail(dot)com

Anna said...

Sunny: Thanks for stopping by my blog! That's what I like best about the book, how Lesley succeeding in connecting stand-alone stories.

Wendi B. - Wendi's Book Corner ~ Rainy Day Reading in Seattle said...

Success!!

Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index
!

:) Wendi

Anna said...

Thanks, Wendi!