Thursday, April 5, 2012

Generally Horrible Questions: Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin
Gianna here.

Melanie Benjamin is able to do what very few authors are able to do (and if you are an unpublished historical fiction writer - read her books, follow  her on FB and Twitter). Melanie takes a little known piece of history and crafts a fully developed, complex, and intriguing page-turner. Most writers hit one or two off that list. Alice I Have Been is  the story of Alice Liddell who became Lewis Carrol's 'muse' as he wrote Alice in Wonderland (I was the only one on the planet that hadn't heard the rumors by the way). The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the truly fascinating story of two-foot eight-inch tall Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump. This novel takes you on a ride of the twentieth century; anyone who was important met with Tom Thumb and  his bride. This magnificent and dignified story made my 2011 best-of list. I highly recommend both of these for your book club--so much to discuss.

Melanie has two national bestsellers under her belt, is finishing up a third novel for Random House, which sure to be another bestseller...yet things aren't so great right now for this author.  You see, baseball season is now underway and Melanie is a Chicago Cubs fan. As the summer trudges on we ask that you keep her in your thoughts and maybe every now and again if you could throw a little "Go Cubs" her would be appreciated. [For the record, the Astros are ranked dead last for the second year in a row.  We don't have the Cubs fans' fortitude.  Go bourbon.  Lots and lots of sweet bourbon. Let's blay pall!]

Melanie was naive enough to agree to do our Horrible Questions. She won't make that mistake again.

Go Cubs.

1. What book are you always trying to get people to read (besides your own…that’s our job)?
Galore by Michael Crummey. It’s a tough one to categorize but it’s absolutely wonderful and magical and stays with you a long, long time. [This gem is Liz's #1 book of 2011, so obviously Melanie has excellent taste.]

2. What is the single most interesting thing you’ve learned researching your books?
That authors were concerned with sales figures even as far back as Lewis Caroll and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland! [Luckily Disney really brought this book to life.  I mean, who read if there's a Disney movie to watch instead?]

3. I’ve never read ____ and I am so ashamed!
Faulkner. [We know people in Mississippi and we're telling on you.]

4. What book (or books) changed your life?
Gone With the Wind. I was a voracious reader, always, but Gone With the Wind was the first adult book I read (even though I was probably 11 or 12 when I read it). I’d never been as transported into a different time and place, as I was with that book. I think it’s probably what led me to write historical fiction, to tell the truth. I remember reading it on a long car trip from Indiana out to Colorado; I was in the back seat of the family station wagon, and I don’t think I looked at a single bit of scenery the entire trip, I was so sucked into that book. [Imagine a long debate between Gianna and Liz about the racial and/or gender implications of acting out scenes from Gone With the Wind.  Suffice it to say that Gianna should be involved in the delivery of babies and Liz will never go hungry again.]

5. Are there movie plans in the works for either Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb or Alice I Have Been? You can tell us, no one reads this blog.
A wonderful actress named Meredith Eaton has optioned The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. She wrote me the most beautiful letter sharing how much the book meant to her, an actress with dwarfism, and how it’s now her greatest ambition to bring the story to the screen. I hope she can! [That's pretty awesome.]

6. Best and worst book tour experiences?
Back before I was with Random House, I had two other books published to little fanfare, so I organized some tours on my own. Now I know, when it’s the author behind a tour (instead of a publisher), bookstores don’t really take you very seriously. There’s a tendency to just stick you up by the front door so you can accost everyone who comes in, begging them to buy your book. On one such occasion I was told to circulate throughout the store handselling the book. So I did; I went up to one woman with a game smile on my face but before I could even say hello, she hissed, “Go away! I will NOT buy your book!” Afterwards, I sat in my car weeping as I stuffed a huge chocolate chip cookie in my mouth, and I called my husband and wailed, “I’m never going to another bookstore as long as I live!”

Now that I’m with Random House and writing historical fiction, my experiences have been MUCH less humiliating! I think my favorite booksigning recently was at Prairie Lights in Iowa City; it was packed with students attending a journalism boot camp at the university, and their assignment was to cover my appearance. So during the talk, they were all Tweeting about it, and afterwards I was swarmed by students asking to interview me – it was all so much fun. And such a treat to read their pieces the next day, up on the seminar’s website. It was just so lovely to see students excited about their future careers; it was a privilege to be a part of that experience.
[You were kind to grant them all interviews, though we think you should nurture your inner diva and hiss cruel things at them.  Like Gianna hisses at Liz.]

7. I have read _____ and I am so ashamed.
The Bridges of Madison County.  [Holy God.]

8. Liz or Gianna?
Both! [The Random House employee who "works" on this blog is now dutifully offended.  The correct answer is always Liz.  Always.]

Mrs. Tom Thumb.
The tall guy is P.T. Barnum
9. Melanie, please think long and hard before answering this question. We all know that the Cubs are awesome (in a heartbreaking sort of way). Who is the most awesome Cub ever? Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, or Billy Williams?
Ron Santo! Unfortunately, I only moved here 16 years ago, so I didn’t grow up a Cubs fan (or a baseball fan, really; I grew up in Indianapolis, a town with no professional baseball team). But I have grown to love the game and it’s primarily because I listen to the WGN radio broadcasts, and of course, Ron Santo was the color guy until his death last year. So Ron Santo became real to me, in a way those other players have not. [Before Gianna abandoned Liz for UT Press, when we took road trips together, we brought Gianna's satellite radio along in order to listen to Ron and the Cubs broadcasts...and debate his level of intoxication.  RIP.]

10. Just a small hint of what you’re working on next…please?
It’s called The Ambassador's Daughter, and it will be out in 2013. It’s the story of the marriage between Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh, and it’s absolutely the most difficult book I’ve yet to write – and also, I think, the best. (She said, modestly.) What an epic, complex, exhilarating and heartbreaking story they shared! Anne had a strength I’m not sure is always evident in the writing she left behind; that’s the Anne I wanted to share with the world. [Hurry it up already!]

Thanks Melanie.  We hope your career isn't too damaged by associating with the likes of us. 

1 comment:

  1. I can now say I survived Liz & Gianna's Horrible Questions! Thanks for the opportunity, and Go Cubbies! (Except they lost yesterday. Already. Again. Ad nauseum...)