Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Aloha to Laura Harrington and ALICE BLISS
"This may be the Our Town of the 21st Century." Anne Roiphe, author of Epilogue, a Memoir
It is my distinct pleasure to host Laura Harrington on our last day of Military Appreciation Month. She joins us here at SOS Aloha to celebrate her debut novel, ALICE BLISS:
When Alice Bliss learns that her father, Matt, is being deployed to Iraq, she's heartbroken. Alice idolizes her father, loves working beside him in their garden, accompanying him on the occasional roofing job, playing baseball. When he ships out, Alice is faced with finding a way to fill the emptiness he has left behind.
Matt will miss seeing his daughter blossom from a tomboy into a full-blown teenager. Alice will learn to drive, join the track team, go to her first dance, and fall in love, all while trying to be strong for her mother, Angie, and take care of her precocious little sister, Ellie. But the smell of Matt is starting to fade from his blue shirt that Alice wears everyday, and the phone calls are never long enough.
Alice Bliss is a profoundly moving coming-of-age novel about love and its many variations--the support of a small town looking after its own; love between an absent father and his daughter; the complicated love between an adolescent girl and her mother; and an exploration of new love with the boy-next-door. These characters' struggles amidst uncertain times echo our own, lending the novel an immediacy and poignancy that is both relevant and real. At once universal and very personal, Alice Bliss is a transforming story about those who are left at home during wartime, and a teenage girl bravely facing the future.
Kim: You give us a glimpse of Americana from your childhood:
I grew up in an old frame farmhouse on six acres of land outside of Rochester, New York. Those six acres were the kingdom of my childhood. We had fields, a stream, a breathtaking stand of American elms, an extensive vegetable garden, the remnants of an apple orchard, asparagus and strawberry beds and two sixty-foot grape arbors. There were summer afternoons at the picnic table outside the back door, under the shade of an elm, snapping beans to be blanched and put in the freezer. I remember melting paraffin and sterilizing canning jars as I helped my father make grape jelly and grape juice, tomato juice, tomato sauce and salsa.
Yet most military brats do not experience this (maybe if they visit Grandma over the summer). How did your Americana experience influence your creative process with musical theater?
Laura: I know this description sounds bucolic. But my parents never had much money. They did all of this gardening and preserving as a way of raising four children on limited means. I’m amazed at how often I am struck with all that they taught me; the kinds of skills that were taken for granted in their generation: how to grow and preserve your own food, how to make your own clothes and curtains, how to darn socks, turn a collar.
As to how this Americana experience influenced my creative process with musical theatre … I’d have to say that it didn’t. My musical theatre work touches on a lot of historical subjects from Joan of Arc to Martin Guerre, to The Perfect 36, which is about the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Lest that last one sounds a bit dull, I like to think of that musical as the women’s 1776. My more contemporary music theatre work would be Lucy’s Lapses, a black comedy about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease, Crossing Brooklyn, about a young couple – 2 idealistic teachers -- dealing with the fallout from 9/11, and Alice Unwrapped, which in the musical is about a girl in New York City. Not much Americana there.
Kim: You wrote in your bio, "I worked and traveled in Europe for a year." Where did you travel?
Laura: I travelled in France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia.
Kim: What did you do for work?
Laura: I was an au pair in Paris, washed dishes in Switzerland, and simply travelled around Italy, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia, hitchhiking or taking buses, mostly staying in hostels, mostly able to live on a dollar a day. I stayed longest in Greece and Turkey, living on Crete for a month, travelling to Lesbos and Samos, and from there to Ephesus and Kusadasi in Turkey. I remember landing on an island and knowing that I’d have to wait a week or two for the next boat if I wanted to leave.
Kim: What did you take away from this experience that you can apply to writing and publishing?
Laura: I travelled because I wanted to be a writer and at 17 and 18 years old I was looking for experience and trying to figure out who I was and what I believed in. I like to think that I was filling the well, learning how to observe, learning about the wider world, learning about myself in new situations, facing new challenges, and broadening my idea of the world and my place in it. Ideally all of this has become part of the fabric of my thoughts and experiences and imagination and finds its way into my writing and onto the page.
Kim: Tell us what inspired ALICE BLISS and what you would like readers to learn from it?
Laura: The inspiration for ALICE BLISS came from several sources.
I’m haunted by this war and the fact that so many of us can live our lives as though we are not at war. It feels decadent to me that most of the nation can pretend that there is no war going on. I keep asking myself: Where is the gas rationing, the Victory Gardens, the War Bonds?
I also have the sense that we have an enormous well of unexpressed grief and sadness over this war and the losses and sacrifices of our soldiers.
At the same time, I lost my father, who was a WWII navigator/ bombardier stationed in France. I am lucky enough that my relationship with my father deepened and grew over the years. ALICE BLISS was born out of my thoughts and concerns about war and peace and my grieving for my father.
What would I like readers to learn from ALICE BLISS?
I’d like to introduce readers to the effects of the war at home, the burdens that so many families and children are carrying every single day. Alice’s family, like all Reservists’ families, does not have the support of a community on base. They live in a small town amongst people who probably have absolutely no idea what they are going through. I wanted to try to capture that sense of isolation as well as show the possibility of a community learning to rally around a family in times of loss.
Mahalo, Laura, for joining us at SOS Aloha. I appreciate your thoughtful writing that brings to light exactly what your wrote, "the effects of the war at home, the burdens that so many families and children are carrying every single day."
As my readers know, I typically don't write reviews as I struggle to find the right words to describe my feelings. So I would like to reference the link posted on Laura's website from Libarmywife:
I’ve been asked to review a few books, all military family related. I’ve read some really good ones and some absolutely awful ones. This one, this one is one of the really good ones.
Use this link to read the rest of the review. And use this link to read an excerpt of ALICE BLISS.
Thanks to Penguin Books, I am giving away a copy of ALICE BLISS to one randomly selected commenter. To enter the giveaway,
1. Leave a comment about something "Americana" in your life.
For our international readers, something from your life that represents your country - special meal, tradition, etc.
2. This giveaway is open to all readers.
3. Comments are open through Saturday, June 4, 10 pm in Hawaii. I'll post the winner on Sunday, June 5.
Kim in Hawaii
As Laura mentioned in her interview, "Where is the gas rationing, the Victory Gardens, the War Bonds?", referring back to how Americans rallied within their communities during WWII.
Margaret Mallory, Scottish Historical Romance Author and daughter of WWII veteran, sent me this link.:
North Platte Canteen
These women from Nebraska served cookies to the troop trains. It is fun to look at these vintage images .... and that spirit lives on today as the American public does support our deployed personnel today through the USO, Operation Homefront, and countless other military charities.