Tag Archives: Lemuria Books

Spotlight on The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn

I am reading a spectacular debut by an exciting new literary talent.  It’s Matthew Guinn’s The Resurrectionist, coming July 8 from W.WNorton & Company.

“Sleepers, awake!”

Resurecctionist n. (a). Hist. A body-snatcher; a resurrection man; (bgen. a person who resurrects something (lit. & fig.); (c) a believer in resurrection

About The Book:

resurrectionistA young doctor wrestles with the legacy of a slave “resurrectionist” owned by his South Carolina medical school.

Nemo Johnston was one of many Civil War–era “resurrectionists” responsible for procuring human corpses for doctors’ anatomy training. More than a century later, Dr. Jacob Thacker, a young medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse and assigned to work public relations for his medical school’s dean, finds himself facing a moral dilemma when a campus renovation unearths the bones of dissected African American slaves—a potential PR disaster for the school. Will Jacob, still a stranger to his own history, continue to be complicit in the dean’s cover-up or will he risk his entire career to force the school to face its dark past?

First-time novelist Matthew Guinn deftly weaves historical and fictional truth, salted with contemporary social satire, and traditional Southern Gothic into a tale of shocking crimes and exquisite revenge—and a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining moral parable of the South.

 

 

 

 

About The Author:

A native of Atlanta, Matthew Guinn earned a BA in English from the University of Georgia. He continued graduate school at the Matthew_GuinnUniversity of Mississippi, where he met his wife Kristen and completed a master’s degree. At the University of South Carolina, where he earned a Ph.D. in English, he was personal assistant to the late James Dickey. In addition to the Universities of Mississippi and South Carolina, he has taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at Tulane University’s School of Continuing Studies in Madison, Mississippi.

Matthew and Kristen live in Jackson, Mississippi, with their two children, Braiden and Phoebe.

 

 

Perspective-2-photo

“Dog days and the fresh bodies are arriving once again.”

Historical Note: (from the book)

The events of The Resurrectionist are drawn from actual medical practice in the southern United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth.

Guinn is indebted to Abraham Flexner and Robert L. Blakely.

Abraham Flexner was a crusader for medical college reform in the early twentieth century; his report for the Carnegie resurrectionman02Foundation, entitled Medical Education in the United States and Canada, was published in 1910.  Flexner’s expose of the schools of his era–many of them rife with charlatanry, operated without regulation for pure profit–ushered in a new era of medical reform.  For sheer revelatory content, his report rivals any novelistic invention.

In 1989, the archaeologist Robert Blakely was called to the Medical College of Georgia when human remains were discovered in the earthen cellar of the campus’s oldest building during renovations.  His work, aided by the cooperation of MCG authorities, culminated in the publication of Bones in the Basement: Postmortem Racism in Nineteenth-Century Medical Training (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1997).  

Although Guinn changes names and locations, the character of Nemo Johnson is drawn from the enigmatic biography that Bones resurrectionman03in the Basement sketches of Grandison Harris, a slave purchased by the MCG faculty prior to the Civil War.  Harris functioned as the school’s janitor, butler, and body snatcher–or resurrectionist, in the parlance of the day.  With the faculty’s silent endorsement and support, Harris routinely pillaged Augusta’s African American cemetery, Cedar Grove, until his retirement in 1905.  Harris died in 1911, having never divulged his activities and without facing official censure for carrying out his nocturnal duties.  To date, the location of Grandison Harris’s remains in Cedar Grove is unknown.

Bookmagnet Says:

Prepare to be fascinated!

Here are some great websites to learn more:

Grandison Harris

My Georgia History

The legend

Purchase A Signed Copy From Lemuria Books

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Book Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Knopf; 336 pages; $24.95).

           

The End Of The World As We Know It does not necessarily mean The End.  In The Stand, Stephen King unleashed a flu epidemic, “Captain Tripps,” onto mankind, killing billions.  Some possessed a natural immunity to the disease.  These survivors were central in the fight between good and evil.  In the end, Las Vegas and the “Darkman” were obliterated, but life went on.

Cormac McCarthy also wrote about The End Of Time.  In his bleak and powerful novel The Road, an unnamed father and son journeyed through a post-apocalyptic and utterly unrecognizable landscape.  McCarthy used nuclear war instead of a disease but his characters also struggled, this time against angry survivors who were hell-bent on making a new world as they saw fit.

Yet, in both these ravaged and savage landscapes, pockets of humanity still existed; hope lived on.  As it does in Peter Heller’s transcendent and beautifully lyric debut The Dog Stars.

Nine years before The Dog Stars begins a flu epidemic wiped out most of the world’s population.  Think something like this is just fiction?  Look up the 1918 Spanish flu, and I guarantee you will get chills.  In Heller’s story, a superbug mutated and combined with bird flu.  The first cases of the Africanized bird flue appeared in London; in all likelihood, though, the virus originated at a national weapons lab.  Not long after, the flu had spread everywhere.  Chaos erupted.  If flu were not enough, another catastrophe got added to the mix.  A blood disease similar to HIV wreaked havoc on those who survived the flu.

You can imagine the kind of world left behind.  It’s a kill-or-be-killed existence, something Heller’s protagonist, Hig, knows all too well. As Heller writes, “Old rules are done Hig.  Went the way of the woodpecker.  Gone with the glaciers and the government.  New world now.  New world new rules.  Never ever negotiate.”

Hig is an “old man at forty” who lost his wife and their unborn child to the flu.  Hig’s narrative is unconventional as Heller uses flashbacks and sometimes strange streams of consciousness to tell us his story.  After the flu struck, encephalitis felled Hig.  “Two straight weeks of fever, three days 104 to 105,” Hig explains, “I know it cooked my brains.”  There is no pattern to Hig’s thoughts.  They are often jumbled and mish-mashed, often without segue from one thought to the next.  He begins many of his sentences with “and” or “so” and most of his thoughts are fragments.  What Hig has lived through and what he has lost speak to us from the page.  Heller uses a very powerful device, and Hig just would not be Hig without it.

After living through The End, we would try to make a home in a place of familiarity and safety.  That is exactly what Hig does.  He makes his home at a small, abandoned airport, where he sleeps under the stars with his faithful old dog, Jasper.  He shares the airport with Bangley, his neighbor and “good ole boy,” who often saves Hig’s “bacon.” Bangley needs Hig because Hig pilots an eighty-year-old 1956 (do the math and the year is about 2036) Cessna that he nicknames “the Beast.”  Hig and Jasper patrol the airport’s perimeter, which means Hig can see who or what is coming before the who or what gets there.  Most of the time.

In the novel’s most violent episode, nine people stalk Hig as he returns from a hunt.  Bangley warns him from his spot on a tower and coaches Hig on what to do.  Remember this is a kill-or-be-killed world.  A firefight ensues.  One of the stalkers is a young boy, who Hig kills.  Killing may come easy for Bangley, but it is hard for Hig. He is losing hope, especially as he sees the blood disease slowly kill the Mennonite families who live close to the airport and who he furnishes some supplies.

Hig knows he has to leave the airport and Bangley to restore his faith.  A few years ago, he heard a voice over the radio while flying.  It was a woman’s voice who referenced the Grand Junction airport.  Hig is determined to go there and to find out what is out there, if anything.  Heller shows that sometimes one must take a leap of faith.  Sometimes one has to venture out into the unknown.

Because Hig flies a plane, readers are given a birds’ eye view of what is below.  Climate change has made our world almost unrecognizable and alien.  Few fish exist.  Droughts are common.  Animals such as bears, cows, and elk are rare.  Birds are almost extinct.  “The tiger left, the elephant, the apes, the baboon, the cheetah.  The tinmouse, the frigate bird, the pelican (gray), the whale (gray), the collared dove.  Sad but.  Didn’t cry until the last trout swam upriver looking for maybe cooler water.”

No wonder Hig thinks of dinosaurs: “I thought of a painting I had seen at the natural history museum in Denver.  A bunch of mixed dinosaurs, I remember triceratops, fleeing across a sparse plain pursued by fire, and volcanoes erupting in the background.  I wonder if they could run as fast as a mama grizzly or a deer.”

Holding on to memories can go far in keeping a person alive.  Hig is testament to this belief.  Yet, he must let go of the past in order to embrace his future.  In a world devastated by violence, flu, and climate change, sometimes a person has to take certain liberties, especially if he no longer remembers the names of constellations.  Sometimes, like Hig, we must make it up as we go along.  In a time when there are no rules, Hig has to decide what his rules are; only then can he restore his lost hope.  The Dog Stars reminds us that even when mankind has been wiped out, humanity never truly dies.

Heller contrasts violent brutality, charred cities, and empty houses with pastoral scenes of nature.  There is such beauty in this story, even when everything is dead or dying.  Heller seems to relay an underlying message for readers: Take care of the Earth before his fictional story becomes an actual reality.  Cold milk, fresh apples, a touch, a faithful dog, naming the stars, going fishing, a bird call–the fragile stuff of everyday life.

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It Just Runs In The Family

The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos (Simon & Schuster; 368 pages; $25).

 green shore

Good writing must run in the Bakopoulos family.  Brother and sister, Dean and Natalie Bakopoulos have written three books between them.  Dean is the author of Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon (2004) and My American Unhappiness (2011).  This year, Natalie joins her brother with the release of her lush and picturesque debut The Green Shore.  They are the children of immigrants; their mother is Ukrainian and their father is Greek.  In a nod to her father’s birthplace, Natalie sets her story mostly in Greece and focuses on a dark period of the country’s history, one that is virtually unknown to most: the 1967 to 1974 military dictatorship.

This period in Greek history, quite honestly, was Greek to this reviewer.  Natalie Bakopoulos, though, takes this event and personalizes it.  In her novel, the political becomes personal, and the personal becomes political.

Bakopoulos does this by introducing readers to one Greek family and telling the story from multiple perspectives: Eleni, the matriarch and doctor with a passion for healing; her brother Mihalis, a poet who was once in exile; her daughter Sophie, a rebel at heart who flees Greece for Paris; and younger daughter Anna, a reluctant revolutionary but perhaps the fiercest of them all.  Revolution and resistance seem to be part of this family’s DNA sequence.  They all resist the military junta, yet each finds unique ways to oppose the colonels.  This family truly drives Bakopoulos’s story as we see what revolution will do to a country, a city, a community, and a family.

Since Bakopoulos is part Greek, she is intimately aware of Greek history and tradition.  Her knowledge and familiarity with Greece make this story all the more authentic.  Early on in the novel, Eleni and the rest of the family celebrate Easter.  Each takes a dyed-red egg.  Bakopoulos writes, “As was tradition, they would each take a hard-boiled, bright red egg and hit it together with the adjacent person’s, first the pointed end and then the round.  The last one with an intact egg was destined to have good fortune for the rest of the year.”  Reading this description, I could not help but wonder if the family itself would be cracked and broken by novel’s end.  Bakopoulos’s use of this Greek tradition is clever foreshadowing.

Although the family is intact by the end of the book, the dictatorship has altered each of them.  Eleni decides to help those people who have been tortured and abused by the government.  She, along with an intriguing man she meets, opens up a free clinic in secret.  This is Eleni’s way of resisting the junta.  Mihalis, meanwhile, continues to write and speak out against the colonels.  He, more than the others, is on the military’s radar since he is an artist and former exile.  His vitriol, not surprisingly, gets him into trouble once again.  It is Mihalis’s spirit that Sophie has inherited.  She and her boyfriend, Nick, get caught up in the early days of the revolution.  The colonels take Nick prisoner and Sophie flees to Paris.

The Paris setting allows Bakopoulos to explore another locale, but the heart of this novel lies in Greece, not in France.  And it shows in the writing.  As far as this novel goes, Paris cannot hold a candle to Athens.

Sophie may be away from the dictatorship, but the revolution is still a part of her quotidian existence.  It is through Sophie’s absence from Greece that Bakopoulos is able to focus on how a person can be homesick not only for a family but for a country, even for a nation in political turmoil.  Bakopoulos shows Sophie’s deep longing for home, a sentiment that only grows as the years go by.

Perhaps Sophie is less of a revolutionary in Paris, but only because she is not directly involved in the resistance.  Sophie, though, soon becomes a revolutionary in other, more personal and unexpected ways when she is pregnant and happily unwed.  The traditional Eleni must come to terms with her daughter’s newfound independence.

With Sophie’s departure from home, the younger Anna feels lonely.  She turns to her older married lover for comfort, but their relationship is doomed to fail, as all such associations are.  Anna is brooding and moody much of the time.  The decision to rebel comes too abruptly in her case.  It is almost as if she thinks protesting the junta is the ultimate way to stick it to everyone in her life.  I felt Bakoupoulos should have provided more allusions to Anna’s ultimate path.  However, in some cases, it is only one event or even one split second that prompts a person to resist.  But it feels wrong for Anna.  Her resistance almost gets her killed.

When The Green Shore ends, the military is still in power, although the last days of the junta are near.  Bakopoulos shows us that, regardless of revolution, life still goes on.  Lovers marry.  Women give birth.  Children grow.  The elderly die.  These are a fact of life and do not change based on political leanings or whims.

Natalie is the new Bakopoulos to watch.  Good writing or a rebellious spirit—sometimes it just runs in the family.

The Green Shore comes out June 5.  Bakopoulos will sign copies of her novel and do a reading from the book at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 27, 2012.

The version I read was an Advance Reader’s Edition.

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April Fiction–Lots of Books Blooming!

This is the start of something new.  Spring is new, and the time could not be more perfect.  From now on, at the beginning of each month, I am going to share with you the notable new releases for that month.  You’re in luck!  There’s much to talk about for April.

Before I begin, please note: If there is a book you’re keen on that is not listed here, let me know.  Perhaps I do not know about it and would like to read it.  I will try to limit myself to ten books.  Sometimes I may have more; sometimes I may have less.  It all depends.

Without further ado.  Here are the books I’m excited about for April.

1.  The Lifeboat Charlotte Rogan

The debut novel of Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat, is getting a lot of attention right now.  That is amazing, considering it was released on April 3.  The New York Times ran a review in which I learned Rogan was 57 when she got her book deal.  What an inspiration she is!  The Lifeboat is perfect for your book club and the main character, Grace, on trial for murder, will generate much discussion.

2.  The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

This novel was released March 27, but Amazon has the title listed as one of its best of April.  Another debut, The Land of Decoration features a ten-year-old heroine named Judith.  It’s difficult to resist a story which Emma Donoghue, author of Room, said “grabbed me by the throat.”

3.  The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead

Robert Olmstead’s The Coldest Night is another title you can pick up now.  Olmstead sets his story during the Korean War and after.  I am lucky because Olmstead will visit Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 19.  If your local bookstore features signings, check to see if Olmstead will be there.

4.  The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

People Magazine loves this novel about four Harvard roommates who reunite after 20 years.  Their seemingly perfect lives are anything but.  The Red Book has been called The Big Chill meets The Group.”  This novel is out now.

5.  Calico Joe by John Grisham

John Grisham’s newest book, Calico Joe, is one of Amazon’s best books of the month and comes out April 10.  This time, Grisham turns to baseball and explores the themes of forgiveness and redemption.  Like all of Grisham’s previous novels, Calico Joe is sure to become a bestseller.

6.  The Cove by Ron Rash

The bestselling author of Serena returns with The Cove.  The novel is about a sister and brother and the cove, which may be cursed, where they live.  Rash will appear at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS, on April 18.  Be sure to check in your area.  Your city may be a stop on his tour.  The Cove is an Amazon best book of the month.

7.  The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I must confess that I have never read Anne Tyler, but The Beginner’s Goodbye intrigues me.  Tyler tells the story of a middle-aged widower who is having a difficult time dealing with the death of his wife.  Until he starts seeing her, that is.  Amazon has this listed as one of the best books of the month.

8.  A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

I cannot wait to read Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, to be released April 17.  Cash’s debut has been compared to those of John Hart and Tom Franklin.  Amazon chose the novel as one of its best books of the month.  Cash will sign copies of his book on June 1, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS.  A Land More Kind Than Home is a “mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town.”

9.  Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

The author of The Absence of Nectar and The House of Gentle Men (two of my favorites) returns with Blue Asylum.  I would love to interview Hepinstall.  During the Civil War, a Virginia plantation mistress is put on trial and convicted of madness.  She is sent to Sanibel Asylum, where she meets many interesting people.  Hepinstall asks the questions what is madness and who decides in this gripping tale.

10.  Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

On the cusp of World War I, a young English actor has an affair.  She later goes to the police and accuses her former lover of rape.  In a twist, the young man is saved from trial by two diplomats.  William Boyd’s upcoming book is already getting lots of buzz before its April 17 release.  This one could be a stunner!

 

Which books are you excited about this month?  What about for summer?  I’d love to hear all about them!

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Meeting Jonathan Odell at Lemuria Books

I have conversed with author Jonathan Odell via this blog and finally had the pleasure of meeting him in person yesterday.  Mr. Odell appeared at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, on March 7.  He signed copies of his newest novel The Healing at 5 pm and then read from the book at Lemuria’s Dot Com Building at 5:30.

Jonathan Odell

Mr. Odell arrived early.  He met Lemuria staff and then signed about 400 books.  He still had some time before the signing began so he popped downstairs to Broad Street Baking Company and Cafe for a break and a latte.

When 5:00 came, my mother and I were the first of his fans waiting in line.  My mother and Mr. Odell spent some time catching up.  They both attended R.H. Watkins High School in Laurel, MS.  My mother was a childhood friend of Mr. Odell’s twin brothers, Doug and David.  She remembered Mr. Odell being in the band.

Pam Boler and Jonathan Odell

Mr. Odell was so friendly not only to us but to everyone who attended.  There was a fair-sized crowd.  He took his time talking to us and inscribing and even lining books.  Everyone remarked on how personable he was and how much they adored The Healing.

Jonathan Odell and me (bookmagnet)

Book signings at Lemuria are a joy to attend.  It is always great to see Zita, Lisa, Maggie, and Joe.  We were sad, though, to miss Nan.  It is also wonderful to catch up with friends we first met at Kathryn Stockett’s signing of The Help in May of last year.  We love seeing Susan and Wanda!

You just never know what treasure you will find at Lemuria.  For example, in one of the rare book rooms, my mother came across a very special John Grisham book.  My mother, it has to be said, loves Mr. Grisham; he is her favorite author.  She opened a signed copy of The Runaway Jury to read “Official 5/22/96 Lemuria Signing Elbow Book.”  Puzzled, she asked what it meant.  Joe Hickman explained Mr. Grisham liked to write quirky things in a few novels to see if they would end up on the internet for sale.  This particular copy was what he rested his elbow on as he signed books.  What a find!  It took some persuasion on my part, but she bought it.  Now she has a message for Mr. Grisham: She will treasure it always and never put it on Ebay.

John Grisham's "Elbow Book"

You will not want to miss an author coming to Lemuria next week: Alex George, author of A Good American.  Mr. George is very friendly and loves to discuss his novel.  He will be at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS, on March 14 for a signing and a reading beginning at 5 pm.

Book signings are a great way to make new friends and meet your favorite authors.  Just as we were lucky enough to meet Mr. Odell.  I urge you to pick up The Healing.  It is one of those rare novels you will cherish for years to come.

Thanks, Mr. Odell, and thanks, Lemuria!

 

 

 

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Meeting Jesmyn Ward

On Saturday, December 17, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, I had the honor and pleasure to meet National Book Award winner and Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward.  Ward is the author of Salvage the Bones and Where the Line Bleeds.  She is only 34 years old and is already a prestigious author.

I asked Ward how it felt to win the National Book Award.  She said she still cannot believe it.  She is still overwhelmed and keeps thinking one day she will wake up and it will all have been a dream.  There was a great crowd at Lemuria of readers who wanted to meet this remarkable young woman.  She was humble, friendly, and smiling.  She took up time with everyone, inscribing and lining her novels.

After the signing, Ward read from Salvage the Bones in Lemuria’s Dot Com Building.  Unfortunately, I could not stay to hear her, but I heard she has a wonderful speaking voice.  That’s good, because I believe Ward will win many awards; in fact, the National Book Award is just one of many for this talented young Mississippi writer.

If you have not yet picked up Salvage the Bones, I urge you to do so.  It is very real, it is heart-wrenching, it is well-written, and it is powerful.  While you’re at it, also pick up her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds.  Immerse yourself into Ward’s writing.  You will be glad you did.

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Erin Morgenstern the Amazing Enchantress

The Night Circus has been called the book of the fall, even the debut novel of the year. Critics compare the author, Erin Morgenstern, to J.K. Rowling and proclaim the book the Harry Potter for adults. Since its release on September 13, The Night Circus has certainly taken the book world by storm. Amazon chose it as one of its Best Books of the Month for September and it is currently ranked number 29 in sales there.

I am a member of four signed first editions clubs and each one picked The Night Circus for its September book. One of those clubs is Book Passage with locations in San Francisco and Corte Madera, California. Mary Benham oversees Book Passage’s Signed First Editions Club, where the emphasis is on emerging authors. As Benham explained in an email, “There are 4 or 5 of us who weigh in on the choices. We read lots of advance galleys, and the publisher sales reps bring a lot of good debut fiction to our attention as potential choices. I also look at the upcoming events calendar to find potential candidates, as well as checking Publishers Weekly and other publications. It’s an inexact science and always challenging; the book we choose just has to “feel” right. We have close to 300 members in the club, and I get very few complaints, so we must be doing something right.”

Book Passage had its eye on The Night Circus long before all the buzz around the book started. “We don’t always choose our selections so far in advance,” Benham revealed, “but our buying director read it in manuscript form several months ago and passed it along. We realized that this was something special.” Special indeed.

Morgenstern visited Book Passage’s Corte Madera location on September 18 to sign copies of The Night Circus and to read from her novel. Benham said the event was well-attended. Morgenstern’s reading was followed by a question and answer session. Benham wrote, “Some of us wore red and black, but we chose not to go overboard with the circusy theme, choosing instead to let Erin’s abundant literary and artistic gifts speak for themselves.”

Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, also chose The Night Circus as its September First Editions Club pick. Zita White manages the First Editions Club there.  Lisa Newman is one of several Lemuria employees who weigh in on the monthly selections and wrote via email that the book “certainly is the biggest book of the fall.” Newman went on to say that The Night Circus “has the most buzz and Random House has supported this book from the get-go. I read the book in April–so you can see one of the ways they were very proactive in getting the word out about this book. Through our strong relationship with Random House, we were able to see The Night Circus long before the buzz hit even most booksellers. It certainly is not everyday that a debut book gets this much coverage. It is a wonderful book with wide appeal with outstanding support from the publisher–this is a winning combination.  Our children’s room manager, Emily, also believes that The Night Circus has a teen market.”

When asked why Lemuria singled out The Night Circus, Newman revealed it “may be the pinnacle of a surge in a genre that seems to bridge traditional adult fiction to fantasy fiction. We are always on the hunt to get the debut book for an up-and-coming author. In the past we picked Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. If we choose well, our First Editions Club customers have very collectible books on their shelves at home.”

I attended Morgenstern’s signing at Lemuria on Monday, October 3, where I got to meet the author. Lemuria employees were decked out in variations of Morgenstern’s monochromatic color theme of black, white, and red. Fans of the book sported top hats, tights, scarves, and even masks. It was a lively and colorful event. Morgenstern took time to chat with readers, sign copies, and answer questions. She could even be seen perusing Lemuria shelves looking for some good fiction! After the signing, Morgenstern read from her novel at the Lemuria Dot Com Building, which was decorated in a circus theme. Then, for about an hour, she chatted with fans and answered their questions.

I was lucky enough to chat by phone with Morgenstern on October 2. She was in Oxford where she was signing and reading at Square Books later that day. Morgenstern answered my questions while sitting in a porch swing and even surrounded by a few cats. It was her first visit to Mississippi.

When asked what gave her the idea for this unique and beautiful story, Morgenstern said she was writing an entirely different novel at the time. Like many of us attempting to write a book, she just got bored. “It wasn’t going anywhere,” she confided. “So I decided to take my characters to the circus.” Morgenstern was not a fan of going to the circus as a child. But she is a fan of magic and loves the Harry Potter franchise.

If I wrote a novel, I would have to thicken my skin to read negative reviews. But not Morgenstern. She’s glad that some negative reviews are trickling in now. The fact that not everyone loves The Night Circus is a good thing. “It’s not a book for everyone.”

Morgenstern did not set out to be an author. In fact, she studied theater at Smith College. Reading old blog entries on her web site, I was struck by all the rejection letters from publishers she received and all the re-writes her novel went through before it ultimately got the green light. I asked her how hard it was to stick with the novel. Morgenstern replied that it was very difficult, but she took author Neil Gaiman’s advice: keep writing. “I didn’t want to give it up,” she maintained.

My favorite characters in The Night Circus are Celia, Poppet, and Bailey, but Morgenstern really does not have a favorite character. Celia, she mused, “is most like me.” Celia is emotional, and Morgenstern said she is, as well.

An author’s writing process always fascinates me, and several questions touched on that subject. Morgenstern does not like to write in silence; she wants some background noise. Often, the sounds she most likes to hear are music. She’s a fan of Iron & Wine and Florence Welch. Typically, she writes at home, at her desk. Much of this novel was written in Salem, Massachusetts. Morgenstern sometimes writes ideas or scenes on paper, but she usually writes on her computer. While she wrote The Night Circus in the third person, giving readers the perspectives of various characters in the story, her new story is in first person. I was most interested in all the re-writes she painstakingly muddled through. I wondered what the first draft looked like. “Celia was not in the story,” Morgenstern said, in an explosive revelation (I cannot imagine The Night Circus without Celia). Poppet and Widget were there, though. But the circus itself “was more the main character.”

Morgenstern is a huge fan of Mississippi’s own Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History (1992) and born in Greenwood. She affirmed that Tartt’s novel is one of her all-time favorite books, so much so that she took a side trip while in Mississippi to visit Greenwood. While there, she ate a breakfast named after the book. She also loves Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami, whose novel 1Q84, she most recently read. I asked her: “So many people want you to sign their books but whose autograph would you most like to have?” Without hesitation, “[Haruki] Murakami,” she answered, raving about the advanced copy she read. Mr. Murakami, if you read this, please send Morgenstern a signed and hopefully inscribed copy.

The conversation then turned to other topics. If you know Morgenstern, then you know she loves her cats, Bucket and Tessa. I asked how they were doing. “They are spending six weeks in my parents’ basement,” she replied. Morgenstern misses them, and I am sure they miss her. Morgenstern, like myself, is a huge fan of Lost. “What are you watching now?” I wondered. “I just downloaded the first season of True Blood on my computer,” she answered and hoped to watch it during flights.

To anyone working on a first novel, Morgenstern urges you to stay with it. “Don’t give up.” Morgenstern is at work on a new novel that is sort of “noir Alice in Wonderland.” Her fans will eagerly await her next book. In the meantime, I suggested an illustrated edition of The Night Circus. She agreed that would be nice. From my lips to the publishing God’s ears.

I would like to thank Mary Benham, Lisa Newman, Kathryn Santora, Alison Rich, and especially Erin Morgenstern.

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