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Author Archive: "Lois Leveen"

Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him.

He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well.

It's about Juliet and... her wet nurse.

At least, that's what the data junkies at FiveThirtyEight.com claim. As does Jim Carter, aka Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey.

What is up with the nurse? In the first scene of the play in which Juliet appears, the nurse first appears as well. And in that scene, when Juliet's mother makes a passing reference to Juliet's age, the nurse exclaims, "Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour." She then takes three speeches totaling over 40 lines to do it, somehow managing to work all sorts of details about her own life story in. You know that friend who always tries to make everything about her? That's the nurse.

Sex Tips for Authors (Well, What Authors Trade Instead of Sex Tips)

[Editor's note: Please join us at our Burnside location tonight at 7:30, where Lois Leveen will be presenting her new novel The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Click here for full event information.]

Wayyyyy back in October, I found out my novel The Secrets of Mary Bowser would be published on May 15. But it was only a couple of weeks ago that I began to wonder what I would actually do on May 15. And, for that matter, on May 14, and on May 16. I had no idea. So I asked some of my friends who are published authors.

Heidi Durrow (author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky) told me that the day her book came out, she had a "gussy me up day": she got her hair done, and also her nails and toes, to be ready for her book launch party. But then she panicked that no one would show up. Ten minutes before the reading, only a dozen people ...

Fear of a Red Tractor

Fear of a red tractor. That is what keeps a novelist up at night.

Remember the good ol' days when barber, surgeon, and dentist was a single occupation?

Okay, maybe those days weren't so good. But at least back then, the dentist was probably too busy to be a literary critic, too. My dentist, however, is another matter.

Last year, while giving my molars the once over, the dear old DMD told me about a book he'd been reading. A book he really liked. Until he got to a description of "a red John Deere tractor" sitting in a field. He immediately put the book down, never to finish it. Because, as he put it, "everyone knows, John Deere has never made a red tractor. That was put in there by some New York editor."

Only a West Coast dentist can make a New York editor sound like such an unseemly villain.

Authors — and our editors — are always trying to add specificity to our descriptions, to make things more real. Except that when you get that "real" detail wrong, you have blown ...

Judging a Book by Its Brazilian

"We're giving you a French flap," my publisher said.

"That's fantastic!" I said.

Then I immediately Googled "French flap."

Which it turns out is not, as I feared, some new variant on a Brazilian wax.

A French flap is a fancy-pants design in which the cover includes an extra folded bit on each side, which gives the publisher more room to tell you about the book, and gives you a built-in bookmark to fold into place. (Unless of course you decide to read the book in one sitting, in which case, I'm sure you can find some creative use for your flap page).

Belgian chocolate stashed in French flaps.

The French flap says, exquisite physical object. But, being bilingual, it also says pas trop cher. A French-flapped tome is not only elegant, it's less expensive, less heavy to schlep around, and less of a space-hog on your bookshelf than a hardback.

Yes, I said it. My book, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, is not coming out in hardback. This is the kind of news that until not long ago ...

Hot-Wiring Nancy Pearl’s Sedan

To an author, librarians are superheroes. First, they are incredible sources when we are researching and writing. Then, they are vital connectors for helping readers find our finished books. And if librarians in general are superheroes, Nancy Pearl is the superduperhero, the librarian so cool she has her own action figure. So when Nancy Pearl defines the four elements that make a person fall in love with a book, who wouldn't listen?

Story. Character. Setting. Language. Pearl calls these four elements doorways , "because when we open a book, read the first few pages, and choose to go on, we enter the world of that book." And since books take us places, I figure we might as well carry Pearl's four-door metaphor into sedan-land. That way, I can hotwire it and take it for a blog-entry spin.

Here's what Pearl means by her four doors:

A book heavy on story is a page-turner, and we fall headlong into its can't-wait-to-find-out-what-happens-nextness. What in graduate school I was taught to call narrative desire and what in ...

How a Novel Happens

I didn't know I was going to be a novelist.

Or a Civil War Enthusiast.

So how did this happen?

The embarrassing thing is that I now own both the Playmobil Civil War set,
and several volumes from that Time-Life Civil War set you see in the background.

Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — I was a geeky academic-wannabe, sitting in my grad school library, reading a book of women's history. Buried in the book's 300 pages were a few paragraphs about Mary Bowser. Born a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia, Mary was freed by Bet, the headstrong (guess what that is code for) Van Lew daughter and sent North to be educated. But Mary returned to the South and, during the Civil War, became a spy for the Union... by pretending to be a slave to the family of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Wait a minute — I thought the Civil War was boring. A seemingly endless list of dates, battlefields, and names of generals we had to memorize in high school. Who knew ...

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