Ask Dana Sachs & Joshua Henkin - Tuesday, April 16th! discussion

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Ask Dana & Joshua!

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message 1: by Margo (new)

Margo (maothrockmorton) | 1 comments Mod
Welcome to the group! Dana & Joshua will be answering questions on Tuesday, April 16th! In the meantime if you have a question for Dana or Joshua or just want to introduce yourself feel free to do so in this thread.


message 2: by Rina (new)

Rina (PJSGRAN13) | 2 comments I just wanted to say to Joshua that I enjoyed his book despite its sadness. I, as an avid reader, can only say that I thought the writing was lovely and the character and stories wove neatly into the package. all in all, a good read! so thanks.
and Dana, sorry I haven't read your book but will look into doing so shortly. thanks anyway. I think writers are very special people.


message 3: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (JackieFireIceBookreviews) Hi my name is Jackie, and I just wanted to tell Joshua that I enjoyed his book. For me it was a really good page turner. I enjoyed reading about all of the characters in the book. I do have one question for Joshua, Will there be a second book, that continues with the same characters? If so, then i am so excited for it to come out! Thanks :D


message 4: by Deb (new)

Deb Novack (goodreadscomgoodreaddruidgirl) | 1 comments I would like to tell Joshua that I truly enjoyed his book. I would like to ask him how he comes up with his story-lines and characters


message 5: by Emily (new)

Emily | 1 comments Joshua-I thought your book was an incredibly engrossing and poignant read-you really have a handle on adult sibling relations! I'm interested in the craft of putting together a novel-how do you keep the plot moving while also developing such memorable, multifacted characters?


message 6: by Drew (new)

Drew (dmontag) | 2 comments Oh no! I feel bad asking a question of Joshua, when there aren't any questions for Dana yet.

Joshua, I was very impressed with how well you got inside the heads (and hearts) of all the main characters, and I wondered how you managed to do this for the amazing female characters.


message 7: by Susan (new)

Susan (susanjake) | 2 comments I have a question for Dana. I've loved all your books, starting with "The House on Dream Street." I wanted to know with "The Secret of the Nightingale Palace", what came to you first: the characters, the historical background, or the artwork? There are so many amazing parts to your novel that I was curious to know how the story developed.


message 8: by Rina (new)

Rina (PJSGRAN13) | 2 comments okay, it's been two days since my last post. I just finished The Secret of the Nightingale Palace. wanted to say how much I enjoyed this novel. its ending was one I never suspected (makes this a mystery for me!). I like reading without "figuring" things out except on a superficial level. so, thanks for this. I look forward to reading another of your books in the near future.


message 9: by Susan (new)

Susan (susanjake) | 2 comments I felt the same way about the ending! It had me in tears, it was so good!


message 10: by Jocelyn (new)

Jocelyn Eikenburg (jocelyn_eikenburg) | 1 comments Hi Dana, just wanted to say I enjoyed "The Secret of the Nightingale Palace" very much, and was wondering if you could talk about the structure of the novel -- how did you decide to create what some are calling a "book within a book"?


message 11: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Hawk | 1 comments Hi Dana,

I loved The Secret of the Nightingale Palace so much that I can’t wait to read it again. I particularly admired how you explored themes like poverty and prejudice in a way that was organic to the story. A moment that especially stands out to me is when, at Henry’s wedding, Goldie sees and meets his demure, accommodating wife. Goldie seemed both superior and intimidated at the same time. Talk about a powerful scene! I’d love to hear your thoughts on competing versions of femininity and how they might have affected the characters in this book.

Also, all of the deeper themes were so seamlessly woven into the story that I wonder how much you consciously worked them into the book and how much came out of the story naturally?


message 12: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Hello, everyone! I've been looking forward to today's discussion and I'm honored to be paired with Joshua Henkin. Thanks to Goodreads for hosting us. I'll reply to the comments and questions individually and I look forward to seeing where the discussion goes.


message 13: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Rina wrote: "okay, it's been two days since my last post. I just finished The Secret of the Nightingale Palace. wanted to say how much I enjoyed this novel. its ending was one I never suspected (makes this a..."

Rina, I'm touched that you went out and read my book when you saw that I was part of this discussion with Josh. And, of course, I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. I won't say anything about the ending (no spoilers!) except that it's been really interesting to me to see how people react to it. I also like what you say about "figuring out." I think that in many ways our brains can't help making connections and trying to see beyond the moment on the page. Surprises are part of the fun, too, aren't they?


message 14: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I have a question for Dana. I've loved all your books, starting with "The House on Dream Street." I wanted to know with "The Secret of the Nightingale Palace", what came to you first: the character..."

Hi Susan, I'm so glad you liked the book! Basically, in creating the plot, all of these elements came together a little at a time. In the beginning, I was thinking about an estranged grandmother (Goldie) and her adult granddaughter (Anna). I thought that if I put them together in a car (well, a Rolls Royce) and made them drive across the country together, something interesting would probably happen (though I didn't know what yet.) Once I put a mysterious collection of Japanese art in the trunk of the car with them, the story started coming together in my mind very quickly. It still took a lot of pondering to really figure out what happened, though, both in the present day story and in the story about Goldie during World War Two in San Francisco. Sometimes, I was really stumped about where to go next, but mostly it was a lot of fun.


message 15: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Hi, everyone. I'm really happy to be joining you for this discussion. And I'm particularly pleased to be participating with Dana, who is not only a great writer but an old and close friend. I look forward to answering your questions.

Josh


message 16: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Rina wrote: "I just wanted to say to Joshua that I enjoyed his book despite its sadness. I, as an avid reader, can only say that I thought the writing was lovely and the character and stories wove neatly into ..."

Thanks so much, Rina. That means a lot to me. A writer spends a lot of time on a book (in this instance, five years and more than 2000 discarded pages), so it's nice to see it out in the world and to have people reading it. I've talked to a lot of book clubs about the book, and there's nothing more rewarding than getting to hear the various responses to your story and your characters.


message 17: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Jackie wrote: "Hi my name is Jackie, and I just wanted to tell Joshua that I enjoyed his book. For me it was a really good page turner. I enjoyed reading about all of the characters in the book. I do have one que..."

Thanks for the kind words, Jackie. I really appreciate them. I'm not in general a sequels kind of guy, in that I spend so much time on a book that by the time I'm done with it I'm sick of the characters and ready to move on. And I'm already working on a new novel and on a bunch of short stories. That said, I don't think it's out of the question that I might return to these characters down the line. It's a book that covers a short time span (three days), and though certain things are resolved at the end of the book, there's much still to come for these characters, so I wouldn't rule out returning to them.


message 18: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Jocelyn wrote: "Hi Dana, just wanted to say I enjoyed "The Secret of the Nightingale Palace" very much, and was wondering if you could talk about the structure of the novel -- how did you decide to create what som..."

Jocelyn, A character who is 85 years old will naturally inspire questions about the past. This particular character, Goldie, isn't willing to talk about her story. As you can guess from the title of the novel, I was very interested in this idea of secrets, particularly in the secrets that we keep from the people that we love. I think that most people have a strong urge to control their own story, to present their past in a way that makes sense and, to some extent, sounds positive and maybe even beautiful. Goldie certainly does that. So, the story within the story (or book within the book) came out of this need to contrast the story that Goldie was offering to her family (and Anna in particular) with the real story of what happened to her during World War Two.


message 19: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Deb wrote: "I would like to tell Joshua that I truly enjoyed his book. I would like to ask him how he comes up with his story-lines and characters"

Thanks for your kindness, Deb. I don't plan out my story in advance. If you do that, you get what a friend of mine calls Lipton-Cup-a-Story; you end up injecting your characters into a preordained plot, and what they do doesn't end up feeling organic. Instead, I try to put my characters in situations where the stakes are high and there's the potential for conflict, and then I just see what happens. I think of the Passover question: Why is this night different from all other nights? That's the central fiction question, too. So in this case I had a situation of a son's having died and two parents who are splitting up, and that seemed promising to me. But beyond that, I didn't know anything. I think if there's no surprise for the reader there's no surprise for the writer. You proceed by intuition. Not that everything you intuit works. Not by a long stretch! I threw out more than two thousand pages. So you have to bark up a lot of wrong trees to get to the right tree. But they key is to bark.


message 20: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Joshua-I thought your book was an incredibly engrossing and poignant read-you really have a handle on adult sibling relations! I'm interested in the craft of putting together a novel-how do you ke..."

Thanks, Emily, and you're right, it's hard to get that balance in terms of craft. For me, story grows out of character instead of the other way around. In other words, to my mind fiction is first and foremost about creating interesting and compelling characters, and I think if you know your characters, really know them, then the story will arise from that. Say I have a character and I ask myself, does she sleep on her stomach, her back, or her side? You might think that's a banal detail, but nothing is banal if it's given meaning, as all things in fiction should. What if she sleeps on her side because she hears better in one hear and she sleeps on her good ear so as not to hear the sound of her infant crying. Out of a seemingly banal detail grows a whole story.


message 21: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Drew wrote: "Oh no! I feel bad asking a question of Joshua, when there aren't any questions for Dana yet.

Joshua, I was very impressed with how well you got inside the heads (and hearts) of all the main chara..."


Thanks, Drew. I think writers are gossips at heart. We watch and listen and pay careful attention. I think that's our disposition. My mother likes to say that when I was a toddler I insisted on being picked up and I had to look into every store window. That's what a fiction writer is like: someone who has to look into every store window. Whether your characters are male or female, young or old, rich or poor, shy or gregarious, If you live with them long enough they start to come to life for you, and if they come to life for you, that's the first step toward making them come to life for the reader.


message 22: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Tiffany wrote: "Hi Dana,

I loved The Secret of the Nightingale Palace so much that I can’t wait to read it again. I particularly admired how you explored themes like poverty and prejudice in a way that was organ..."


Tiffany, I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it. Thank you! Your first question deals with issues of femininity. It's true that one sees broad range in the book, from the young Goldie, who is poor and trying to make it on her own, to her sister Rochelle, who seems to have everything but also finds her conventional life unrewarding, to Anna, who has so many options but can't make a choice at all. By the time I wrote the wedding scene, I was so immersed in the emotions and challenges facing Henry and Goldie that whatever you see, in terms of complexity, just came naturally out of my own sense that their situation was messy and confounding. The characters were constantly observing each other and comparing their situations to those of others.

I think your second question relates to the first one. To be honest, I was so focused on developing the story and the characters that I really didn't think about theme very much at all. It's interesting, in retrospect, to consider what themes the story raises, though, and I feel it's important to talk about them, but themes in fiction are very similar to issues that develop out of situations in real life: We observe what's happening and then we try to make sense of it.


message 23: by Drew (new)

Drew (dmontag) | 2 comments Joshua,

I see that you're coming back to Ann Arbor on Monday to sign books. I'll be there. How did your years at the University of Michigan affect your writing?

Drew


message 24: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Even though Josh and I are friends, I haven't had enough chances to ask him about his book (we don't live in the same city, unfortunately). So, I'll ask a question here. Can you write a bit about how you developed your characters? Each one is so human and vivid to me, so I'm very curious to know what your process was in deepening them and making them such individuals. (By the way, on the question of sequels, I could follow Noelle through at least another couple of books).


message 25: by Diane (new)

Diane Sachs | 1 comments For Dana: I loved your book, the characters, the plot, the warmth and good feelings overall. But I also learned so much about San Francisco in the 40's, about Japanese art, about the internment, about fashion, about driving across middle America. Did you know about these things before you wrote the book? If you did research, did it come from need or from curiosity?


message 26: by Daniel (last edited Apr 16, 2013 08:38AM) (new)

Daniel Milligan | 1 comments Hi Dana, I finished your latest book on a plane returning to San Francisco from Memphis.... very appropriate, yes? I really enjoyed it.

I have a question related to others here about the ending. I, too, was surprised by it (in a good way) and I was wondering if you were tempted to hint at that possibility earlier in the book –– or if you set out purposely to keep it a total "secret" until the very end. For that matter, did you hint at it and I missed it?


message 27: by Kim (new)

Kim Fay (literateinla) | 1 comments Hi Dana,
I am a fan of all your books (fiction and non-fiction), and I am interested in the turn you chose to take with The Secret of the Nightingale Palace. After so many years of writing about Vietnam, what made you choose to write what I'll call, for lack of a better term, a more domestic story? Secondly, even though your two novels are very different, they embrace many of the same themes of family and identity. Will these themes find their way into your next novel, and can you give us a little hint at what you're up to next? Thank you!!


message 28: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Diane wrote: "For Dana: I loved your book, the characters, the plot, the warmth and good feelings overall. But I also learned so much about San Francisco in the 40's, about Japanese art, about the internment, ab..."

Thanks, Diane! I used to live in San Francisco, so I know the city pretty well. I did do a lot of research for all the passages that take place in the 1940s. I should say that the research came from need AND curiosity. One of the joys of being a writer, for me, comes from being able to immerse myself in a subject that interests me and call it "working." The subjects that you mentioned all fascinate me, so I just dove in and used the results of what I found in the story.


message 29: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Daniel wrote: "Hi Dana, I finished your latest book on a plane returning to San Francisco from Memphis.... very appropriate, yes? I really enjoyed it.

I have a question related to others here about the ending...."


Daniel, I'm so glad you enjoyed it--and, yes, it's very apt that you read it while traveling to San Francisco from Memphis! My response to your question about the ending sort of echoes some of the things that Joshua said about developing character. When I began writing the book, I had an idea about where the story was going. After a few drafts, though, after I'd gotten to know the characters much better, I realized that I was trying to take them in a direction that they would never have gone in. They had become fuller human beings in my imagination and they had minds of their own that went against my intentions. The ending of the book changed completely after that. That progression, I think, affects the rest of the book. As for hints, there are some, but they're really subtle. On that topic, I think this little essay might interest you: http://page69test.blogspot.com/2013/0...


message 30: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Drew wrote: "Joshua,

I see that you're coming back to Ann Arbor on Monday to sign books. I'll be there. How did your years at the University of Michigan affect your writing?

Drew"


Great, Drew. I look forward to meeting you. Please do come over and say hi. I lived in Ann Arbor for 8 years, starting in my mid twenties and into my early thirties, so it was a really instrumental time for me--and it's also the time when I really started to write; I got my MFA in fiction writing from U of M. A good chunk of my last novel, Matrimony, takes place in Ann Arbor, and though it's been a while since I lived there I have such fond feelings for it. I'm really looking forward to being back--and to getting a sandwich at Zingerman's! I recently did a radio interview where I talked about Zingerman's at length.


message 31: by Joshua, Author of The World Without You (new)

Joshua | 8 comments Mod
Dana wrote: "Even though Josh and I are friends, I haven't had enough chances to ask him about his book (we don't live in the same city, unfortunately). So, I'll ask a question here. Can you write a bit about h..."
Dana--that's such a hard question to answer, but a really important one. I'd be curious to know the same thing from you. For me, it's really a matter of asking myself a lot of questions about them, and principally of living with them day in and day out for a long time. It's a bit like parenting--you spend enough time with your children and you really get to know them, and i think the same is true of one's characters. I'd like to ask you something, which is about the role of research in your work. There's such a strong sense of history in your book, yet your novel in the best sense doesn't feel like it's researched. In other words, it wears its knowledge lightly. How do you do that?


message 32: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Hi Dana,
I am a fan of all your books (fiction and non-fiction), and I am interested in the turn you chose to take with The Secret of the Nightingale Palace. After so many years of writing about Vi..."


Thanks so much, Kim. To answer your first question, I primarily consider myself a storyteller. For a long time, Vietnam kept giving me stories that I wanted to write about. I have to say, though, that when I began to mull over this story I was happy that it wasn't about Vietnam. I never grew tired of writing about that place (I still may do so in the future), but I did want to see if I could feel inspired by something else. Happily, I was! As for your second question, I'm really drawn to story or character more than to theme, but I'm sure that I gravitate toward the issues that interest me again and again, so it's not surprising that you see similarities.

My next novel, which I've only just started, takes place in Budapest. It is a family story--about an American family living there. I spent a semester there last year, so I'm thrilled to have a chance to write about it.


message 33: by Dana, Author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel (new)

Dana Sachs | 10 comments Mod
Joshua wrote: "Dana wrote: "Even though Josh and I are friends, I haven't had enough chances to ask him about his book (we don't live in the same city, unfortunately). So, I'll ask a question here. Can you write ..."

Josh, I understand what you mean about developing characters. It is sort of like raising children. You watch them for so long, but the most profound moments are sometimes when they reveal things about their personalities that, until that moment, you didn't know were there. Fictional characters do that, too.

Thanks for your comments about the research in my book. Having lived in San Francisco helped a lot because there were so many places there that inspired me (the Japanese Tea Garden, of course, the grand department stores, the views over the San Francisco Bay.) In order to make it feel like the 1940s, I spent time thinking about and researching the details of life at that time--what people ate, how they dressed, perfume, music, luggage. I didn't have to know everything; I just needed to know enough to make that world seem vivid and real. Learning about that period was one of my favorite things about writing the book.


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