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Author/Reader Discussions > MAD HOPE Author/Reader Discussion

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message 1: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
October's Author/Reader Discussion book is Mad Hope.

Thanks to Coach House Books, we have 8 copies up for grabs, internationally.. win one and join us over at TNBBC Goodreads next month to discuss with author Heather Birrell!

Simply comment click on the link and comment on the blog to enter.


Good luck guys!!

message 2: by Rosanna (new)

Rosanna (RosannaBell) | 125 comments I tried to leave a comment via my iPhone. I don't know if it went through. Can you let me know? My e-mail is
Thanks for hosting giveaways each month and exposing us to new indie books and authors. I've enjoyed the selection.

message 3: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
It went through. I have all comments set to require moderation. And you're very welcome Rosannna. I love sharing good books with you guys!

message 4: by Hanne (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) I'm not sure what's going wrong, but i don't seem to be able to give a comment? tried yesterday and this morning again. i see other people's comments coming through, but not my own...
o i hate it when the internet doesn't do what i want it to do *sigh*
any tips?

message 5: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
Hmmm.. I have my comments set up for moderation, meaning they dont post until I approve, but I have nothing in the queue from you.

What is happening when you attempt to post the comment?

message 6: by Hanne (last edited Sep 04, 2012 09:59AM) (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) Not much - looked fully normal. Asked for a profile, i picked the name and URL one and i pressed publish. No error, nothing.
I'll try again, maybe just as an anonymous; and with explorer. Maybe it's another firefox trick; i love that browser but it can be foxy.

EDIT: Tried again, looks a bit better - at least now i get a message that my reply will be visible after it's been approved. So i guess it worked this time

message 7: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
You're in, Hanne!!I just approved it. Maybe it was just being glitchy?

message 8: by Hanne (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) yay! i was starting to think that the internet was against me! :D

message 9: by David (new)

David O'Neal | 89 comments ARRRGGGHHH i see mine posted as a "reply" does it still get consideration?

message 10: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
yes, it does!

message 11: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
Winners have been notified!! Were you one of them? http://thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.c...

message 12: by Kelly (new)

Kelly | 28 comments So excited to win a copy of Mad Hope! Can't wait to receive it in the mail.

message 13: by Jen (new)

Jen (PerogiesGyoza) Hi! I am thrilled to have won a copy of Mad Hope! Can't wait to discuss this with you all!

message 14: by David (new)

David O'Neal | 89 comments I actually won something! My MAD HOPE of winning became reality! I feel honored and can't wait to dive into this.

message 15: by Joe (new)

Joe (dogboi) | 68 comments Does the discussion start on October 1st, or sometime after?

message 16: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
Discussion starts on October 15th and continues with the author through the end of the month.

message 17: by David (new)

David O'Neal | 89 comments has anyone recieved the book yet?

message 18: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
Good question! The books are coming from Canada... so curious to know who has and who doesn't.

message 19: by Hanne (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) hi everyone, mine arrived yesterday.
(so that was canada-belgium)

message 20: by David (new)

David O'Neal | 89 comments of course right after I wrote that i ran out to check the mail and it arrived! toronto to Seattle - check! finishing another book and then will dive in

message 21: by Joe (new)

Joe (dogboi) | 68 comments I got mine. Beautifully put together book. Tight binding. Coach House really puts out quality stuff. I wish I was Canadian so I could submit there, lol.

message 22: by Hanne (last edited Oct 08, 2012 02:09AM) (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) Meanwhile, i started reading and i've been wondering why i didn't read more short-stories before. I actually like it: you can read one a day and really treasure it.

So far i only read the first 2 stories, and especially the second one (My friend Taisie) was like a piece of art: a beautifully written snapshot of someone's life. I smiled with Rhubarb and Custard, I winced with the description of "another weird-sized boulder plunked down by God" and nodded that Anton probably does "have Nobodies in his life too".

So far i'm very impressed. This evening: story 3!

message 23: by Kelly (new)

Kelly | 28 comments Hanne wrote: "Meanwhile, i started reading and i've been wondering why i didn't read more short-stories before. I actually like it: you can read one a day and really treasure it."

I found myself wondering the exact same thing. I thought that I would find it hard to become attached to the characters in so few pages, but that wasn't an issue at all.

message 24: by Jen (new)

Jen (PerogiesGyoza) I'm over in Japan so it's October 15th already, hope you don't mind if I start.

I have so much I want to talk about. It's amazing how attached you can get to some of these characters in such a few short pages.

First I have some questions for the author, Heather Birrell.

In Dominoes, the wannabe author, Maddie, says "Writing is supposed to be the ultimate act of empathy, but it's not. It's forgery; the ultimate act of a mooch." Do you agree with her?

On your website there is a great quote from Junot Diaz about short stories, but I was wondering if you could expound on how you feel about them as a medium, please?

I listened to you reading from BriannaSusannaAlana on AuthorsAloud ( and I was wondering if when you write do you do it with a voice in your head reading it aloud?

Also, Etienne Brulé Park shows up more than once in Mad Hope, and I was wondering if there is something there that lends itself to the dramatic?

message 25: by Hanne (last edited Oct 15, 2012 01:32PM) (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) first of all i have to admit that i didn't completely finish the book yet. there was a plan, but as so often plans don't work out.

i want to start with the story Dominoes as well, which is interesting because we have an author talking about writing through a character: stories should be written about a pivotal astonishing moment.

Yet i feel that this is not at all what Heather did with the stories i finished so far. They don't feel like typical stories, no big discoveries made, no journey; they feel much more real, not stories perhaps, but snapshots of people's life. In most of the stories (I have read so far) we don't learn the outcome, the ending, we're just along the ride for a little while we listen to someone's thoughts and learn of their past.
after the first story, I learned to slow down: to stop reading for the story itself, but to read for the words, for the atmosphere; to enjoy the snapshot given to me without wondering how it will end.

So my questions to Heather, do you agree with the pivotal astonishing moments? And how difficult was it to write these stories as snapshots rather than a line from begin to end?

And lastly, most stories really have a lot of depth and are beautifully written (like every phrase is almost 'quote-worthy'). So I'm wondering how long it generally took you to finish one story?

EDIT: after having read the second part, i have to add that my no-pivotal comments are mainly about part 1. i'd say that the death of a father is definitely an important turn-around

message 26: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 190 comments I had a new-found appreciation for short stories after reading Mad Hope. I suppose it's like Hanne said, to read it for a snapshot of someone's life instead of wanting to know what happens after.

My question to Heather: was there a reason/idea behind "Dominoes", "Bye Bye Flangle Nuts" and "Dingbat"? Did you intend to explore this event more deeply from different angles, which resulted in the three stories?

message 27: by Jen (new)

Jen (PerogiesGyoza) I also like the idea that it's a series of snapshots. I also appreciate that sometimes Heather does give us an ending of sorts, like when we find out what will happen in the future in Geraldine and Jerome, like an added bonus!

message 28: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
hey guys! sorry im late to the party! my laptop caught a nasty virus so im sending the greetings from my smart phone... all hail smart phones :)

welcome Heather to tnbbc. we are thrilled to have you.

i have read the collection and really went wild with the frog references. maybe a bit overboard even.

my question to heather is.... what's the connection between the frogs and your stories?

looking forward to seeing everyone elses thoghts as well, and forgive me if i am not checking in as often as i normally would.... while my pc is being cleaned up.

message 29: by Joe (new)

Joe (dogboi) | 68 comments I don't read a lot of short stories, but I really enjoyed this collection. I enjoy contemplative stories. Like Lori, I was wondering about the frog references. For me, frogs represent a sort of transformation (Water breathing tadpoles to land dwelling frogs).

message 30: by Toula (new)

Toula (MsToula) | 1 comments I am certainly looking at Frogs in a different way after reading "Frogs" which I absolutely enjoyed.

message 31: by Heather (new)

Heather (HeatherBirrell) | 11 comments Hello everybody and thanks Lori and TNBBC for hosting me and Mad Hope!

First of all I want to thank you all for your thoughtful questions – it’s very gratifying for a writer to be read so closely. I hope you don’t mind if I address them together here.

I'll start with your questions re: short stories as genre. They are a passion of mine – to read and to write – so I am very glad some of you are feeling more enamoured of the form. For me, the short story offers an intensity and depth that is often missing from novels. And yes, there is a ‘reality’ to them that comes, I suppose, from the fact that they are not shoehorned into a more ‘satisfying’ novelistic narrative form (which is what makes them frustrating to some people). I love that they are able to capture fleeting moments of consciousness, that they don’t offer easy answers, but that they can still provide fascinating windows into people’s lives, and instances of true revelation and uplift (for the reader if not for their characters). The American short story writer George Saunders talks about the short story as an ‘efficient joke’ that (and I’m paraphrasing here) sends the reader’s mind hurtling back through the story to recall details and double entendres so that they can ‘get’ the punchline. There is something very poignant and powerful to me about the way stories work – a yearning quality about them that feels more like the work of some good essays, which are literally trying to figure something out.

As for how I conceive and write the stories… This is hard for me to express. I think I just think more in short story form, although I am pretty sunk into novel writing right now (a project I have been working on for fifteen years!!!). When I first started writing, I was often told my stories were too elliptical, probably because the narratives were seldom linear or chronological. Scenes seem to gather around themes rather than lining up in ‘order’. And, no, I don’t really write with a voice in my head, although I am pretty conscious of the way words sound and the music of a sentence. I am not a fast writer – I published my first book in 2004 – although to be fair, I have been busy teaching and raising children too…

I don’t think, like Maddie from the linked stories, that writing is the act of a ‘mooch’. I do think it involves large and sometimes terrifying empathetic leaps, although it does of course, have magpie elements (ooh, I must steal that shiny thing for myself). Those stories, perhaps more than the others, have their roots in autobiography (the death of my own father when I was 27, a similar tragic gay-bashing that occurred when I was a teenager and was seldom talked about), although the circumstances of the fictional family are quite different from my own. I think the death of a father/husband is such a huge and multi-faceted thing for a family to absorb, and that the meaning of the loss changes through time, and I wanted the linked stories to reflect that. Maddie’s nascent writerly efforts are part of that sense-making process and I thought it might be possible (although not necessary) for the reader to read the second and third stories in the trio as stories she herself had written. Plus I thought Jeremy deserved a voice! My first collection I know you are but what am I? actually has another story from Maddie’s point of view, wherein the father plays a larger role.

Etienne Brule Park! This is a park near where I grew up. Toronto is a city built on parks, and its ravines especially are mysterious and beautiful places that butt up against residential neighbourhoods. They are full of wildlife and secret places and this particular park looms large in my psyche. It is a pretty cool foil too to the more urban landscape of a large city.

Frogs! The collection was certainly not conceived with frogs in mind, although I toyed with making Frogs the title of the book. But I don’t actually like the idea of a ‘title’ story as I think it puts a lot of pressure on that story to be somehow the ‘best’ or emblematic of the collection as a whole, and that seems unfair to all the other stories. But I guess in the editing and ordering process, the frog became a spirit animal or familiar… I love the poem I used as an epigraph because of its awkward diction and grammar, and the way it seems to embody mad hope (‘When he hop he fly almost.’), and our earnest fumbling to transcend our limitations.

Okay, if I missed something, please let me know!


message 32: by Yulande (new)

Yulande Lindsay (Lande40) | 11 comments The trio of stories - Dominoes, Bye, Bye Flangle Nuts and Dingbat - were fascinating. What was your motivation here? The theme? Also No one Else Really wants to Listen. Did you know these women? Their voices seemed so...real.

message 33: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod
I really took the frog connection to the extreme, then, Heather! In my review, I played with the fact that our fables and fairy tales paint frogs as tricksters and somewhat adaptable creatures... and relaid that back to your own stories in this way:

Many of the stories, though seemingly completely separate from one another, had many underlying connections. Children, for one, appear in some form or another in almost every story. Also, your stories appeared - to me - to share a similar thread of survival, overcoming or at least facing, fears or worries....

I was wondering if anyone else saw similar things as they read.

message 34: by Heather (new)

Heather (HeatherBirrell) | 11 comments Hi Yulande and cook club crew,

I think the motivation behind the trio was simply that I couldn't quite let go of that particular family... and I needed to keep trying to understand their dilemmas through different lenses. I think the theme there is probably that we find ways to muddle through even the worst type of tragedies, and that part of that muddling has to do with the bonds we have forged with our family members, however fraught and unfathomable...

'No One Else Really Wants To Listen': I don't actually know those women, except in my head. Although I feel like I got to know women like them when I was pregnant then the mother of an infant and prone to desperate google searches! People often say you can find something of the author in every character s/he creates, and I think this is especially true in this story. I knew I wanted to explore this exceptionally terrifying and thrilling time in a woman's life through a number of different voices, and eventually the story was shaped into its present form...


message 35: by Heather (new)

Heather (HeatherBirrell) | 11 comments Oh, and that should read 'book club crew'. Although I'd be honoured to be part of a 'cook club crew'. And completely out of place as I am not the cook in my family!

message 36: by Hanne (last edited Oct 17, 2012 02:11PM) (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) I'd feel a little out of place too in a cook club, I'm a horrible and clumsy cook!

First of all, I like the fact that you didn't name the collection 'Frogs', I agree that I would probably have read too much into it.
I read 'Frogs' yesterday, and after reading all the above comments I was really looking forward to it, although I had no clue what to expect. First of all, parts of that story really made me grin, I thought you were able to capture teenagers particulary well (and then I noticed on your bio this morning that you teach in high school so I guess that explains it!)
'Time is up!'; i loved that ending. Yet the kids move on in their 'all consuming and extreme drama'. The real ones whose time is up are the frogs, the fetus and the canary obviously.

Lori, i still have to finish 2 stories, so i'm probably not yet in a good position to answer on the recurrent theme. Loss and how to deal/survive afterwards did strike me so far though, and i love how that connects with the title of the book. Don't we all have some mad hope when we're trying to push through?

Heather, you mentioned that you read a lot of short-stories as well. I'm really enjoying this right now, so I wondered whether you could recommend us some authors and books for those of us who want to continue exploring this particular genre? (I hope that this is not an impolite question)

message 37: by Jen (new)

Jen (PerogiesGyoza) Also on Frogs, I was wondering what you all though of Naadiya's choice of her male science teacher to take her to the abortion clinic.

message 38: by Yulande (new)

Yulande Lindsay (Lande40) | 11 comments Thank you, frankly this was my favourite story. As for the trio, I get that and really, I wanted to explore t hat family even more, perhaps from the mother's perspective? Maybe Rosa too?

Heather wrote: "Hi Yulande and cook club crew,

I think the motivation behind the trio was simply that I couldn't quite let go of that particular family... and I needed to keep trying to understand their dilemmas..."

message 39: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 190 comments I definitely saw the recurring children/parents and dealing with loss or some form of personal struggle.

I suppose Naadiya knew of her teacher's former occupation (or somewhat heard of in rumours?) Otherwise it might have seemed an awkward choice. I thought he handled it quite well though. Very matter-of-fact and also without any coldness or contempt towards Naadiya.

I imagine if she had chosen to approach a female teacher, there might have been complications. With women being more empathetic, emotional, wishy-washy and all that, a female teacher might have tried to talk her out of it.

message 40: by Yulande (new)

Yulande Lindsay (Lande40) | 11 comments Yes, I wondered about that too. Did she know? The thing is she's 14, would she have understood the complexities of his position? Because his role was to ensure that women became pregnant, stayed pregnant, harshly discouraging contraception and definitely abortion. So why did she choose him?

Jessica wrote: "I definitely saw the recurring children/parents and dealing with loss or some form of personal struggle.

I suppose Naadiya knew of her teacher's former occupation (or somewhat heard of in rumours?..."

message 41: by Hanne (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) Yulande wrote: "Yes, I wondered about that too. Did she know? The thing is she's 14, would she have understood the complexities of his position? Because his role was to ensure that women became pregnant, stayed pr..."

I don't think she knews that much of his history. I think she just knows that he used to be a doctor. She needed help with one the questions asked, the medical terminology, and might have wanted a non-complicated and safe person to aid her as Jessica suggested.

message 42: by Heather (new)

Heather (HeatherBirrell) | 11 comments Hello all,
Hanne, you mentioned wanting short story recommendations... (Not impolite at all; a wonderful question.) I am a big Alice Munro fan. She is absolutely masterful. My favourite collection is The Love of a Good Woman. Don't be put off by the settings, which may seem staid or small town-ish -- her grasp of the complexities of character is amazing. Canadians Lisa Moore and Zsuszi Gartner also worth checking out. Also, American writer Deborah Eisenberg, who writes fantastic longish stories. Her latest collection is Twilight of the Superheroes. Grace Paley, anything by. Mary Gaitskill and Amy Bloom (whose novel Away also just blew me away). To me the novel THe Gathering, by Irish writer Anne Enright, reads like a short story; it has that same intensity and interiority. And, just in case you think I never read any male authors: Canadian John Gould (Kilter -- these are very short stories), Americans George Saunders and Jim Shepard. Chilean writer Roberto Bolano has a great collection called Last Evenings on Earth. I like Haruki Murakami's short fiction too, although I prefer the sustained dream state his novels create.
Hope you find something here to keep you reading -- always looking for recruits in the short story camp!

message 43: by Hanne (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) Thanks Heather - that's definitely a lot of recommendations to keep me busy for a while!

In the meanwhile i finished reading. And Lori's question really got me thinking about themes. To me, the theme of this book is not fully out there, and I guess it is up to the reader's interpretation. I guess we add our own experiences to it, and use that to decide what jumps out to us.

To me, a lot of the stories are about survival, about how we manage to pull through. And yes, also about the relationship between parents and kids. About what happens if you lose a parent, or if the child you wanted isn't coming, of the child you didn't want, is. Parent-kids-relationships are always tricky. And no matter how good the intentions and how hard people try, they're also never fully bruise-free. But we learn to deal with it. I actually came across a quote in the book that explains it better than i can:

“although we all have dark bruised spots on our pasts that never seem to heal. Instead of fading, they pass through the colours of the rainbow, shining dully, differently, on each and every moment in our lives.”
Even when we read this book, and decide what the theme is :)

So Heather, are you smiling with our theories? Do you want to lift the veil a little?

message 44: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (TNBBC) | 9627 comments Mod

What was different for you with this batch of short stories compared to your first collection?

Were any of the stories we see in MAD HOPE originally written around the time of the first collection?

message 45: by Joe (new)

Joe (dogboi) | 68 comments Heather,

Since you're a fan of short stories, I assume you read literary mags. Do you have any favorite lit mags? I've a stack of various lit mags I have to dive into, but one can never have too many!

(My partner thinks I have too many books. My brain can't wrap around the concept of the phrase "too many" in front of the word books. It seems like an oxymoron. He's not going to be happy when I tell him I'm running out of shelf space and need to buy yet another bookcase, lol).

message 46: by Heather (new)

Heather (HeatherBirrell) | 11 comments Hello Everybody!
On the other side of the country at the Vancouver Writers' Festival. So wonderful to be here getting to read from my work and talk writing to other writers and readers. The panel I did today was called All in the Family and the one I'm participating in on Sunday is called Coupled and Uncoupled. So I guess that says something about my writerly concerns -- intimate relationships and how they work and change... I wish I could tell you that I had specific themes in mind when I was writing these stories, but most of them started with a particular image or situation or question I couldn't shake. The connections came later; and even now I am sometimes surprised by a readerly or critical interpretation -- which doesn't make it wrong, only unexpected. I do think that survival and the parent-child relationship are preoccupations of mine, as is dealing with loss. But I also think the stories are quite funny in places, and admit to being somewhat surprised that several reviews emphasized their 'darkness'. What I'm trying to say is that the stories are no longer mine now that they're out in the world...

How was this creation of this collection different from my first? Hmm. I think I gained confidence in terms of my craft, but also acquired a certain courage in terms of speaking my own truth; so that the newer stories perhaps share a different type of writerly conviction. And yes, some of the stories in Mad Hope have been hanging around for close to ten years (my first collection came out eight years ago). They were definitely re-shaped and (re)contextualized in the editing process though.

And yes to lit mags! Honestly (and sadly), I don't read nearly as many as I used to pre-children, although, like Joe, I have stacks of them (mostly in the bathroom). Some Canadian ones I can recommend include The New Quarterly (great place to submit too; they really respect writers and often respond with more than a form letter), Descant, prism international, Brick. On-line there Joyland and The Puritan and The Rusty Toque...

And Joe, I think another bookcase is an excellent idea.


message 47: by Kelly (new)

Kelly | 28 comments Heather - throughout the collection you introduce characters of different ages, different genders, and from all walk of life. How were you able to get in touch with characters that you have so little in common with?

Also, you write both in the first person and third person point of view - what would you say are the pros and cons of each for the writer and the reader?

message 48: by Hanne (new)

Hanne (Hanne2) it's interesting that some of these stories have been around for so long in your head or on paper somewhere on your desk. so i'm curious: if you read them now, do you feel completely satisfied that they are perfect as they are; or do you sometimes get a little itch and think if only i change a word there, and a sentence here?

(to be very clear, this is not me saying they aren't well written or edited, quite the contrary, i just think as the creator of the stories, you will look at them very differently than us readers)

message 49: by Heather (new)

Heather (HeatherBirrell) | 11 comments HI Kelly and Hanne,

Thanks for your questions. As far as writing about people who are very different from me in terms of age, gender, circumstance, etc -- I usually have some kind of point of entry into the character's consciousness, whether it be a common concern or passion or an intriguing situation. If I am fascinated by a certain scenario, I will sometimes resist taking the easiest way in and choose a character whose perspective is different from the one I feel most comfortable with (the grandmother in 'Impossible to Die In Your Dreams', the narrator (a gay man) in 'My Friend Taisie'. It creates a challenge for me, and (hopefully) makes things more interesting for the reader. And then it's a big empathetic leap to write through the character's eyes -- but I have to say I often find it incredibly liberating to write about characters very different from myself... Pros and cons of first and third person: I like the wiggle room a writer has with 3rd person; there is always the option of telescoping out a bit to get a better/broader view of a character or to comment on their internal lives. I would say third person intimate is probably my favourite POV -- it offers all the immediacy and familiarity of the first person with the possibility of a more distanced perspective. For me, the first person is trickier to get right, you really have to lock in to a voice -- but if it is done right it can be so powerful and ring so true. And I think there's a pretty magical feeling about that 'locking in' for a writer -- and the reader too, if they find the voice compelling.

And as for the impulse to change the stories now that they are shut up in their book... I'm not sure any writer entirely feels a work is 'finished' (although I suspect it is more likely that a story feels finished than a novel, simply because of its compressed nature). I still feel that some of the stories could have ended in a number of different ways. 'Wanted Children' had a different ending in Toronto Noir, the anthology in which it was first published, and I discussed several endings to that story with my editor. And when I do readings, I often end up tinkering with individual sentences, cutting a word or adjusting the phrasing, because there is something about the rhythm that doesn't quite work for me. But on the whole, I am okay with the book as it is -- I have to be so that I can move on to my next project. A book is a product of a particular time in a writer's life and sensibility -- that can't really be changed. Also, I'm not sure a writer's 'progression' is entirely linear; sometimes 'older' stories, although possibly not as technically accomplished, have a certain energy that is missing from more recent work. And sometimes a story grows out of an experience that cannot be repeated...


message 50: by Miranda (new)

Miranda (czenko) | 4 comments I hope I'm not the last one to the party. I feel guilty, but hopefully I'm still welcome!

Firstly, wow – your stories are remarkably well-crafted. They grab me immediately, slapping down the character's internal conflict on the first page and sticking to the end. I want to grab a pen and underline everything for how gravitating each sentence is.

So, I'm eager to know how you craft your beginnings, particularly the first few lines. Some first-lines are great hooks like Geraldine and Jerome's “Geraldine went for an ultrasound of her left breast and tried to make friends with the technician,” an immediate addiction. Or “'In my next life,' I tell Taisie, who is drying a glass pitcher with a tea towel covered in tiny Eiffel Towers, 'I will come back as a dancer.'” What advice would you give to somebody trying to achieve the density you are able to accomplish?

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