Monthly Archives: October 2014

Like Olive Kitteridge, Actress Frances McDormand Was Tired Of Supporting Roles


Frances McDormand plays Olive Kitteridge in the four-hour HBO miniseries adapted from Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of short stories.i
i

Frances McDormand plays Olive Kitteridge in the four-hour HBO miniseries adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of short stories.

Jojo Whilden/HBO


hide caption

itoggle caption

Jojo Whilden/HBO

Frances McDormand plays Olive Kitteridge in the four-hour HBO miniseries adapted from Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of short stories.

Frances McDormand plays Olive Kitteridge in the four-hour HBO miniseries adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of short stories.

Jojo Whilden/HBO

When asked to describe character Olive Kitteridge, actress Frances McDormand uses these words: “Heaven. Delicious. Full-feast. Three course meal. Soup-to-nuts.”

Olive is a caustic New England teacher, created by Elizabeth Strout in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book Olive Kitteridge. McDormand says that in literature, you come across rich characters like this all the time — in film, not so much.

“Female characters in literature are full,” McDormand tells NPR’s Melissa Block. “They’re messy, they’ve got runny noses and burp and belch. Unfortunately, in film, female characters don’t often have that kind of richness.”

Now, Strout’s collection of linked stories is being adapted for the screen. The two-part, four-hour miniseries airs on HBO on Sunday and Monday.

“To contemplate the idea of taking someone like Olive, who is a full literary character — but also a complex human being — to film was a real conundrum, actually,” McDormand says. “Because it couldn’t have been done in 90 minutes. Four hours was just enough; six hours would have been better.”

Interview Highlights

On Olive’s husband, Henry — played by Richard Jenkins — who is a gentle, well-liked small-town pharmacist, who in many ways is the opposite of Olive

I want everyone to remember — and I think people who’ve read the novel feel this way — happiness can be tyrannical. … Yes, too much happiness can be tyrannical, especially to someone like Olive. So when, often on the set, when we would we be filming and people would say, “Oh, poor Henry,” when Olive would maybe be a little harsh with him. … Forget poor Henry. Sometimes, think about poor Olive. She has to deal with his tyrannical happiness.

But I think that one of the main things that keeps them together is the fact they’re supposed to be together. And they made a choice to be together. We meet them at a crisis in their life. Olive’s 45, Henry’s 55 and they’re both in unrequited love affairs. And then we get to follow the next 30 years of their life together.

The story of Olive and her family is told mostly in a series of flashbacks. Above, Olive (McDormand), her husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins), and their son, Christopher (Devin McKenzie), have a tense moment at the dinner table.i
i

The story of Olive and her family is told mostly in a series of flashbacks. Above, Olive (McDormand), her husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins), and their son, Christopher (Devin McKenzie), have a tense moment at the dinner table.

Jojo Whilden/HBO


hide caption

itoggle caption

Jojo Whilden/HBO

The story of Olive and her family is told mostly in a series of flashbacks. Above, Olive (McDormand), her husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins), and their son, Christopher (Devin McKenzie), have a tense moment at the dinner table.

The story of Olive and her family is told mostly in a series of flashbacks. Above, Olive (McDormand), her husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins), and their son, Christopher (Devin McKenzie), have a tense moment at the dinner table.

Jojo Whilden/HBO

On the trouble Olive has reciprocating love and affection

Marriage is a complicated thing and I think that — when we meet Olive at 45 and her son Christopher is 13 — she is in a crisis point in her life because, when she was 13, her father was 45 and committed suicide — violently, and she found him in the kitchen. And, from that point forward, the fear of connecting and surrendering herself to her son, to her husband, to anyone was a real risk — a real danger. So, I think that she finally finds, with Henry really late in their life, that he was the true love of her life.

On whether she ever needed a break from Olive (author Elizabeth Strout said she wrote Olive Kitteridge as interconnected short stories rather than a novel because she thought the reader might occasionally need a break from the character)

Absolutely not. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had as an actor. Also because I’ve made a career of playing small supporting roles, mostly to male protagonists, and one of the reasons I thought I was perfect casting, from a producing standpoint, for Olive was that she is, too. In the short stories and in her family’s life, she is a supporting character. She’s a supporting character that should be a leading lady. And that was always my situation as a supporting actor in film. I never needed a break, are you kidding?

On the physical challenges of playing Olive

The body suit I had to wear on hot days … that didn’t help with hot flashes. … We played with different sizes of body suits from the beginning of the storytelling. And we decided to start with my body — I weigh 150 pounds, I’m 5 feet, 5 inches. At the time we shot, I was pretty much on the other side of menopause — though, as we know, it never ends. I had to move backwards to 45 from 52 at the time. Which was not fun, by the way, I must say.

But anyway, we decided to go with my body, which — comparatively speaking, with other actresses of my age — I am considered a medium-to-larger woman. Now, in comparison to other women in the world, perhaps I’m seen as smaller. But I’ve never had a problem thinking of myself as a large woman. And so I had absolutely no problem thinking of myself as Olive, who thinks of herself as a large woman.

On an interview with The New York Times in which she said, “I have not mutated myself in any way,” and that her husband, director Joel Coen, “literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who’ve had work. I’m so full of fear and rage about what they’ve done.”

One of the reasons that I am doing press again after 10 years’ absence is because I feel like I need to represent publicly what I’ve chosen to represent privately — which is a woman who is proud and more powerful than I was when I was younger. And I think that I carry that pride and power on my face and in my body. And I want to be a role model for not only younger men and women — and not just in my profession, I’m not talking about my profession. I think that cosmetic enhancements in my profession are just an occupational hazard. But I think, more culturally, I’m interested in starting the conversation about aging gracefully and how, instead of making it a cultural problem, we make it individuals’ problems. I think that ageism is a cultural illness; it’s not a personal illness.

Read A Review Of Olive Kitteridge

On how difficult it is to get older — and how cosmetic surgery doesn’t make it any easier

Getting older and adjusting to all the things that biologically happen to you is not easy to do, and is a constant struggle and adjustment. So, anything that makes that harder and more difficult — because I don’t believe that cosmetic enhancement makes it easier; I think it makes it harder. I think it makes it much more difficult to accept getting older. I want to be revered. I want to be an elder; I want to be an elderess. I have some things to talk about and say and help. And, if I can’t, then — not unlike Olive — I don’t feel necessary.

Spine-Tingling With A Twang: Great Alabama Ghost Stories


The Drish House in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is the site of "Death Lights in the Tower," the second ghost story in Kathryn Tucker Windham's 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. You can hear Windham tell the story here.i
i
The Drish House in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is the site of "Death Lights in the Tower," the second ghost story in Kathryn Tucker Windham's 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. You can hear Windham tell the story here.

Halloween is a day for ghost stories, but if you’re a skeptic, don’t fret. As the late Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham assured her listeners, tales of restless spirits are for everybody.

“I collect ghost stories,” Windham said. “Now, the nice thing about ghost stories is that you don’t have to believe in ghosts to enjoy hearing a good ghost story.”

And if you’re looking for a good ghost story, Windham — a former commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered — has got you covered. Her spooky tales are really folklore, based on legends that have been passed down for generations by Alabama families.

Listen: Three Ghost Stories

Kathryn Tucker Windham tells three classic spooky stories.

‘);

var $visualizer = $audioElm.find(‘.audio-visualizer’);
var bar = ‘‘;

for (var i = 0; i 100) {
// safeguard
positionSought = duration – 10;
}

return positionSought;
};

scrubber();

$(window).resize(function(){
$bucket.find(‘.scrubber’).off(‘mouseup mousemove mousedown drag dragend’);
scrubber();
});
}

var setState = function(state){
$playButton.data(‘status’, state);
switch(state){
case “play”:
$bucket.addClass(“playing”);
$bucket.removeClass(“isLoading isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘play’);
break;
case “pause”:
$bucket.removeClass(“playing isLoading”);
$bucket.addClass(“isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘pause’);
break;
case “buffer”:
$bucket.addClass(“isLoading”);
$bucket.removeClass(“isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘buffer’);
break;
case “stop”:
$bucket.removeClass(“playing isLoading isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘stop’);
break;
}
}

var send_play_metric = function()
{
try
{
NPR.metrics.event({
‘network’ : ‘NPR Site’,
‘category': ‘Secondary Audio’,
‘action': ‘Play Audio’,
‘label': audioUrl
});
}
catch(e)
{
NPR.messaging.exception(e, ‘NPR.metrics.StreamingAudio’, NPR.messaging.constants.METRICS_ERROR);
}
}

var send_pause_metric = function()
{
try
{
NPR.metrics.event({
‘network’ : ‘NPR Site’,
‘category': ‘Secondary Audio’,
‘action': ‘Pause Audio’,
‘label': audioUrl
});
}
catch(e)
{
NPR.messaging.exception(e, ‘NPR.metrics.StreamingAudio’, NPR.messaging.constants.METRICS_ERROR);
}
}

var updatedBackToTop = function(state) {

var $backToTop = $(‘#back-to-top’);
if($backToTop.length !== 0) {
if(state === ‘play’) {
$backToTop.addClass(‘media-playing’);
} else {
$backToTop.removeClass(‘media-playing’);
}
}
}

$playButton.on(‘mouseup’, function(e){
e.preventDefault();
// the “case” values correspond to the player at time of button click – the player’s current state, not the state the user is engaging.

switch($(this).data(“status”)) {

case “play”:
send_pause_metric();
playerInstance.pause();
setState.apply(this, [“pause”]);
break;
case “pause”:

send_play_metric();
playerInstance.play();

if(!$bucket.hasClass(‘streaming’)){
setState.apply(this, [“play”]);
}
break;
case “buffer”:

break;
default:
send_play_metric();
playerInstance.play();

if(!$bucket.hasClass(‘streaming’)){
setState.apply(this, [“play”]);
}
}
});
});

The Phantom Steamboat of the Tombigbe

‘);

var $visualizer = $audioElm.find(‘.audio-visualizer’);
var bar = ‘‘;

for (var i = 0; i 100) {
// safeguard
positionSought = duration – 10;
}

return positionSought;
};

scrubber();

$(window).resize(function(){
$bucket.find(‘.scrubber’).off(‘mouseup mousemove mousedown drag dragend’);
scrubber();
});
}

var setState = function(state){
$playButton.data(‘status’, state);
switch(state){
case “play”:
$bucket.addClass(“playing”);
$bucket.removeClass(“isLoading isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘play’);
break;
case “pause”:
$bucket.removeClass(“playing isLoading”);
$bucket.addClass(“isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘pause’);
break;
case “buffer”:
$bucket.addClass(“isLoading”);
$bucket.removeClass(“isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘buffer’);
break;
case “stop”:
$bucket.removeClass(“playing isLoading isPaused”);

updatedBackToTop(‘stop’);
break;
}
}

var send_play_metric = function()
{
try
{
NPR.metrics.event({
‘network’ : ‘NPR Site’,
‘category': ‘Secondary Audio’,
‘action': ‘Play Audio’,
‘label': audioUrl
});
}
catch(e)
{
NPR.messaging.exception(e, ‘NPR.metrics.StreamingAudio’, NPR.messaging.constants.METRICS_ERROR);
}
}

var send_pause_metric = function()
{
try
{
NPR.metrics.event({
‘network’ : ‘NPR Site’,
‘category': ‘Secondary Audio’,
‘action': ‘Pause Audio’,
‘label': audioUrl
});
}
catch(e)
{
NPR.messaging.exception(e, ‘NPR.metrics.StreamingAudio’, NPR.messaging.constants.METRICS_ERROR);
}
}

var updatedBackToTop = function(state) {

var $backToTop = $(‘#back-to-top’);
if($backToTop.length !== 0) {
if(state === ‘play’) {
$backToTop.addClass(‘media-playing’);
} else {
$backToTop.removeClass(‘media-playing’);
}
}
}

$playButton.on(‘mouseup’, function(e){
e.preventDefault();
// the “case” values correspond to the player at time of button click – the player’s current state, not the state the user is engaging.

switch($(this).data(“status”)) {

case “play”:
send_pause_metric();
playerInstance.pause();
setState.apply(this, [“pause”]);
break;
case “pause”:

send_play_metric();
playerInstance.play();

if(!$bucket.hasClass(‘streaming’)){
setState.apply(this, [“play”]);
}
break;
case “buffer”:

break;
default:
send_play_metric();
playerInstance.play();

if(!$bucket.hasClass(‘streaming’)){
setState.apply(this, [“play”]);
}
}
});
});

The Face in the Courthouse Door

Stephen King On Growing Up, Believing In God And Getting Scared


Hear The Original Interview

“The more carny it got, the better I liked it,” King says of his new thriller, Joyland. The book, set in a North Carolina amusement park in 1973, is part horror novel and part supernatural thriller. King talks with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross about his career writing horror, and about what scares him now.

Originally broadcast May 28, 2013.

In The Life Of ‘Olive Kitteridge,’ It’s The Little Things That Add Up


Frances McDormand stars in the HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories by Elizabeth Strout.i
i

Frances McDormand stars in the HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories by Elizabeth Strout.

JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO


hide caption

itoggle caption

JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO

Frances McDormand stars in the HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories by Elizabeth Strout.

Frances McDormand stars in the HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories by Elizabeth Strout.

JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO

Olive Kitteridge, a new two-part, four-hour miniseries that runs on HBO Sunday and Monday, sounds like the kind of long-form dramas TV used to make back in the ’70s and ’80s when miniseries ruled. Like them, Olive Kitteridge covers an entire generation in the lives of its characters — a 25-year span — but otherwise, it couldn’t be more different. Most of those sprawling classic miniseries were set against major historical events, and were as much about passionate romance and glamorous costumes as anything else.

Olive Kitteridge, which stars Frances McDormand as a fiercely acerbic New England teacher, wife and mother, is just the opposite. It’s all about family, and friends and the tenuous relationships that make up life. There’s no glamour whatsoever in Olive Kitteridge, unless you count a wedding ceremony or two — but even those are layered not with pomp and circumstance, but with the tiniest, most revealing bits of human behavior.

Olive Kitteridge comes from an interrelated collection of stories by Elizabeth Strout about the residents of a small town in Maine. It’s centered mostly around the title character, played by McDormand, who so strongly responded to these stories, and this character, that she optioned it from the author the week before the book won a Pulitzer Prize. Great timing.

Richard Jenkins plays Henry, Olive's husband.i
i

Richard Jenkins plays Henry, Olive’s husband.

JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO


hide caption

itoggle caption

JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO

Richard Jenkins plays Henry, Olive's husband.

Richard Jenkins plays Henry, Olive’s husband.

JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO

Adapting the stories for television was a tough act to pull off — but McDormand, who’s also the executive producer, does it superbly with her chosen on-screen and off-screen collaborators. The director is Lisa Cholodenko, who demonstrated her ability to film intimate family dynamics in The Kids Are All Right and Laurel Canyon. The screenplay adaptation is by Jane Anderson, who wrote Normal. Playing opposite McDormand, in the equally crucial role of Olive’s husband, Henry, is Richard Jenkins from Six Feet Under. And the supporting cast, giving great support every step of the way, is truly top-notch, including a late but pivotal appearance by Bill Murray.

Olive Kitteridge tells most of its story in a series of flashbacks. We first get to know the central family when Olive is a math teacher at a public school, Henry is a pharmacist, and they have a young son, Christopher. At the dinner table, tensions are high. Henry is infatuated with one of his young employees at work; Olive is dismissive of both the girl and Henry.

Like The Affair, currently running on Showtime, Olive Kitteridge sometimes returns to the same scene with a slightly different perspective. But most of the time, it relies on its actors to convey all that’s unsaid but implied, and they do it beautifully. As Henry, Jenkins, at times, almost oozes with longing and unrequited love — then, at other times, surprises you with his humor and self-assurance. And as for Olive — well, without an actress as strong and talented as McDormand, this miniseries simply would fall apart. It’s as powerful a performance, and as challenging and complicated, as when Claire Danes starred in HBO’s Temple Grandin. If you don’t care for Olive, even at her most abrasive and disconnected, then nothing works. But everything in Olive Kitteridge works just fine.

There’s one scene in which Olive is shown accidentally overhearing some other characters discussing what they really think of her — and not just her personality, but her style of dress, her relationship with her son, everything. McDormand doesn’t have a line of dialogue in that scene — she just listens — but she reveals such quiet devastation that you’re with her from then on.

Olive Kitteridge allows its characters to age, and their relationships to change. And it also allows some of those characters, and those relationships, to die — which somehow, by the end, makes you appreciate the small miracle of survival all the more. By focusing on the little things over a long period of time, Olive Kitteridge reminds us that the little things add up, in the end, to the biggest things of all.

David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching, and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Book News: J.K. Rowling Exposes Origin Of Harry Potter’s ‘Twee’ Nemesis


J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.i
i

J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


hide caption

itoggle caption

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.

J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Remember when J.K. Rowling promised new Harry Potter materials on Pottermore for Halloween? Well, today she delivered. For those without a membership to Rowling’s website, NBC’s Today show has republished Rowling’s profile of Dolores Umbridge — a villain whose desire to control is, according to Rowling’s accompanying essay, “every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.” And like many villains, this character has roots in reality: an old, “spiteful” teacher of Rowling’s with a “taste for twee accessories.”

Seeking Donations Toward Diversity: NPR’s Bilal Qureshi noted the rise of #WeNeedDiverseBooks in June, and the campaign has continued to grow. The movement for multicultural representation in children’s literature began as a response to a lack of diversity in the lineup of presenters at this year’s BookCon. In the months that followed, it has incorporated and become an organization. Now, it’s turned to crowd-funding site IndieGogo to ask for donations.

“Yes, we’d love to find ourselves in books and read about ourselves and our own experiences, but it’s also important to read about people who aren’t like us,” author Matt de la Pena says in the campaign’s video. “It’s only then that we’ll have a full understanding of the world around us.”

‘Goodnight Moon’ Goes Bilingual: That venerable standby of early children’s literature has picked up a few new words to go with its pictures. HarperCollins has released Goodnight Moon/Buenas Noches, Luna, which pairs its English text with Spanish translations on the page. GalleyCat says it’s the “first-ever bilingual version” of the book, which is available at a reduced price over at First Books.

The Pick Of The Picture Books: The New York Times Book Review has announced its list of the 10 best illustrated children’s books of the year. Included with the titles are sample pictures from the books themselves.

Finished, For Now: In The New Yorker, Nicholas Dames offers a history of that inevitable nugget of text we so often take for granted: the chapter: “Inevitability does not, however, imply meaninglessness. The chapter is tied intimately to our notions of literacy. … More than this, the chapter has become a way of looking at the world, a way of dividing time and, therefore, of dividing experience.”

‘Distraction Is On The Syllabus': “The Internet is the greatest poem ever written,” says Kenneth Goldsmith of the University of Pennsylvania. The professor, who is also a poet and an editor, tells Newsweek why he’s teaching a class called “Wasting Time on the Internet” – which, according to its course description, will require interaction “through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs,” along with readings from such heavyweight theorists as Raymond Williams and Guy Debord. Goldsmith relates the “new digital landscape” to the sleep states explored by the Surrealists, adding, “People say we’re not reading and writing anymore. But in fact we’re reading and we’re writing a lot more than we ever have. It’s just not being valued as much.”

Book News: J.K. Rowling Exposes Origin Of Harry Potter’s ‘Twee’ Nemesis


J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.i
i

J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


hide caption

itoggle caption

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.

J.K. Rowling reads to children at the 2010 White House Egg Roll. According to a new essay, her own experiences as a young student helped inform the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Remember when J.K. Rowling promised new Harry Potter materials on Pottermore for Halloween? Well, today she delivered. For those without a membership to Rowling’s website, NBC’s Today show has republished Rowling’s profile of Dolores Umbridge — a villain whose desire to control is, according to Rowling’s accompanying essay, “every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.” And like many villains, this character has roots in reality: an old, “spiteful” teacher of Rowling’s with a “taste for twee accessories.”

Seeking Donations Toward Diversity: NPR’s Bilal Qureshi noted the rise of #WeNeedDiverseBooks in June, and the campaign has continued to grow. The movement for multicultural representation in children’s literature began as a response to a lack of diversity in the lineup of presenters at this year’s BookCon. In the months that followed, it has incorporated and become an organization. Now, it’s turned to crowd-funding site IndieGogo to ask for donations.

“Yes, we’d love to find ourselves in books and read about ourselves and our own experiences, but it’s also important to read about people who aren’t like us,” author Matt de la Pena says in the campaign’s video. “It’s only then that we’ll have a full understanding of the world around us.”

‘Goodnight Moon’ Goes Bilingual: That venerable standby of early children’s literature has picked up a few new words to go with its pictures. HarperCollins has released Goodnight Moon/Buenas Noches, Luna, which pairs its English text with Spanish translations on the page. GalleyCat says it’s the “first-ever bilingual version” of the book, which is available at a reduced price over at First Books.

The Pick Of The Picture Books: The New York Times Book Review has announced its list of the 10 best illustrated children’s books of the year. Included with the titles are sample pictures from the books themselves.

Finished, For Now: In The New Yorker, Nicholas Dames offers a history of that inevitable nugget of text we so often take for granted: the chapter: “Inevitability does not, however, imply meaninglessness. The chapter is tied intimately to our notions of literacy. … More than this, the chapter has become a way of looking at the world, a way of dividing time and, therefore, of dividing experience.”

‘Distraction Is On The Syllabus': “The Internet is the greatest poem ever written,” says Kenneth Goldsmith of the University of Pennsylvania. The professor, who is also a poet and an editor, tells Newsweek why he’s teaching a class called “Wasting Time on the Internet” – which, according to its course description, will require interaction “through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs,” along with readings from such heavyweight theorists as Raymond Williams and Guy Debord. Goldsmith relates the “new digital landscape” to the sleep states explored by the Surrealists, adding, “People say we’re not reading and writing anymore. But in fact we’re reading and we’re writing a lot more than we ever have. It’s just not being valued as much.”

Halloween Makes Us Think Of … Diversity In Romance!


Promo cropi
i
Promo crop

Once upon a time, when I was just out of college, I worked in a magical place called the Washington International School. The old Lower School building was a former D.C. public school on Olive Street in Georgetown, drafty and problematic, but full of character — and full of children from all over the world.

Halloween at WIS was an international gift: Students were invited to come to school in either costume or traditional dress, and mid-morning, they’d all line up in a gigantic mass on the playground and parade around the block. It was a delightful sight, and possibly the only place on the planet where you might see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers queued up behind tiny kindergarteners in jewel-toned Indian saris, Nigerian agbadas and Japanese kimonos. Beautiful and fun, in the singular way that young children celebrate who they are and what they love before anyone teaches them to be self-conscious about it.

Born in the international crossroads of El Paso, Tex., I went on to study international relations in college, found Olive Street and traveled extensively. Diversity in all things has always been important to me and diversity in fiction is a concept that I am happy to see gaining steam. Seeing someone who looks like you reflected in the pages of a book as a fully rendered, three-dimensional character can be powerful and transformational. And I, of course, believe these characters — in particular these female characters — show up most often in romance novels.

So in honor of the growing diversity in the romance industry — and those little kids in their kimonos and agbadas, here are a few of my favorite diverse romances.

My Beautiful Enemy

Sherry Thomas embraces aspects of her own Chinese heritage in My Beautiful Enemy. Partially set in China, with a Chinese heroine, the love story sprawls across years, continents and misunderstandings, and it’s absolutely packed with Chinese historical and cultural details, including wuxia elements (think martial-arts stories like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The storytelling is a bold new direction for Thomas, yet maintains the emotional intensity she is celebrated for.

Also look for Jeannie Lin’s rich and intricate The Lotus Palace, a Tang Dynasty tale of star-crossed lovers.

Last Train from Cuernavaca

Set in Mexico during the Zapatista uprising, Last Train from Cuernavaca by Lucia St. Clair Robson manages to be both lush romance and compelling history. I was struck by the realistic details and the tragic truths of a country in turmoil. I was also stunned to learn the two main characters — an English widow who owns a hotel in Cuernavaca and a young woman revolutionary who dresses like a man and leads troops — are based on real lives.

For a contemporary Latin spin, check out Charity Pineiro’s e-published South Beach Sizzles collection, which reads kind of like Sex and the City, if the city were Miami.

Destiny’s Captive

If you’re looking for African American romance, there are many great choices. Start with Brenda Jackson for contemporary — she has a number of stand-alones, family sagas and series, including the long-running and celebrated Westmorelands.

Try Beverly Jenkins for African American historicals; I’m particularly looking forward to this week’s release, Destiny’s Captive. Set in California, Florida and Cuba during the 1870’s, the book’s intrepid heroine Pilar — who’s descended from pirates — kidnaps seafarer Noah Yates so she can steal his ship to run guns and help win independence for Cuba. Fun!

A Bollywood Affair

by Sonali Dev

•

Sonali Dev’s A Bollywood Affair is an impressive debut and a charming contemporary Indian fairytale. Celebrated Bollywood director Samir Rathod is determined to free his brother from a forced childhood marriage, but things get complicated when Samir finds the bride in America and falls for her — without letting her know who he is. Vibrant and exuberantly romantic, Affair is chock full of details that reflect India’s social and cultural flux.

I also enjoyed Shona Patel’s Teatime for the Firefly, set in India during the political struggles of the 1940’s, and featuring an extraordinary heroine who fights for her happy-ever-after against great odds.

Diverse romances follow many paths beyond race and ethnicity, and I know I’m missing huge swathes here — for a deeper discussion and lots of great reads, check out LoveInTheMargins.com and RomanceInColor.com. I’d also like to mention that October saw the launch of a wonderful website, QueerRomanceMonth.com. Loosely modeled after Read-A-Romance Month, QRM is full of essays that highlight the importance of LGBTQ romances.

Happy reading!

Bobbi Dumas is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis. She mostly reviews for Kirkus Media, and she discusses books on her blog ReadWriteLove.net.