Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Alice Bliss + Giveaway

When Alice was fourteen. Her father, Matt Bliss left for war. He left her, her sister, Ellie and their mom, Angie to care for themselves. Every day after that, Alice would wear her father’s blue shirt as it smelled like him. Their mother dropped out of touch with reality, causing Alice to care for her sister. At first Alice wanted to do things that their father did with them like eat backwards dinner. This was dessert first or send pictures of her and him together in his care packages. Though, the longer that their father stayed gone, the harder it became to hold onto memories of him.

Alice Bliss is author, Laura Harrington’s first novel. This book was inspired from her one woman musical titled Alice Unwrapped. I absolutely fell in love with this book and Alice. Every once in a while a book just reaches out and grabs me by the heart and I found that in Alice Bliss! Alice grew up fast. It was a little sad to see that she had to become an adult and not get to enjoy her teen years before she had to actually grow up. Ellie was funny. She was a sun beam of fun. She definitely acted her age but she also reminded me of Scout from to Kill a Mocking Bird. She was curious and also had wisdom to share. Alice was a good sister to Elle. Beware if you start this book as you will find yourself lost in it. The ending was a good one.

Laura Harrington a novelist, playwright, lyricist and librettist. She also teaches playwriting at MIT. ALICE BLISS grew out of Harrington’s one-woman musical Alice Unwrapped, which ran off-Broadway in New York and in the Minneapolis Fringe Festival in 2009. Turning it into a novel gave Harrington an opportunity to write about war from the perspective of those at home, to delve into growing up against the backdrop of war and loss; and finally to explore the loss of a father; something with which she has personal experience.

Harrington’s father was a navigator/bombardier in WWII, and both of her brothers enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Both brothers were forever changed by their experiences, and her father suffered from PTSD following the WWII. He was unable to talk about what he went through. She cites growing up a witness to her father’s silent suffering as one of the greatest mysteries and inspirations of her life.

Q&A with Laura Harrington, author of ALICE BLISS

Who is Alice Bliss?

Alice Bliss is a 15-year-old girl in 10th grade, living in upstate New York, deeply connected to her dad who is serving in Iraq with his Reserve unit.

ALICE BLISS the book grew out of Alice Unwrapped, a musical. What was the inspiration for the musical and how did it evolve into a book?

The musical was a commission, actually, and the creation of a new form in music theatre: the one-act, one-woman musical. Paulette Haupt, our commissioner and producer, was inspired by Alan Bennett’s play: Talking Heads. Bennett wrote a series of searing, touching, funny monologues for BBC television. They were subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio and then performed live in theatres.

It was an extreme challenge to tell a story in 30 minutes with one singer. I actually wrote 3 stories for this commission, but found I loved the character of Alice best.

And, oddly enough, the very first germ of the character of Alice came from another musical that I wrote with Jenny Giering, Crossing Brooklyn. In that show, Alice was a teenage runaway, living in Prospect Park, sleeping in the carrousel at night. That character was cut from the final version.

With Alice Unwrapped, at 30 minutes, almost entirely sung, we could really only dramatize one key moment in Alice’s life. And I realized that there was a much larger story to be told. Which is when decided I wanted to write a book.

ALICE BLISS is a profoundly moving uplifting novel about those who are left at home during wartime and a teenage girl bravely facing the future. It chronicles the impact of the war on those left at home: children, partners, family members, the community. With the US in a war the story is quite timely. Do you have a connection to the world in which you write?

My father was a navigator/ bombardier in WWII, flying missions into Germany from his air base just north of Paris. Both my brothers enlisted in the Air Force in 1966. So, while I don’t have a family member serving in this war, my family has been deeply impacted by war.

My father suffered from PTSD following the war, a time he would never talk about directly. Nor would he talk about the experiences during the war that had so devastated him. The silence surrounding my father’s war experiences has probably been the single greatest mystery and inspiration in my life. I believe that my fascination with war grows out of my need to understand these experiences and to bear witness to this silent suffering.

What do you hope families experiencing a similar scenario take away from reading your book?

I hope they will feel that I am telling their story and doing justice to it.

While writing the book I was simply immersed in the story, but now that I’m done I can step back and look at the larger picture. It strikes me that you can live in many parts of the US completely untouched and unaware of the wars we’ve been engaged in for the last 8 years. And there’s something about that fact that is terribly unsettling. I think there is an enormous amount of unexpressed grief surrounding these wars and that ALICE BLISS, like good theatre, creates an emotional catalyst that allows us to feel that grief.

And because the book is not “about” the war, but about a family and a town and growing up, the emotional impact sneaks up on you.

What is your writing regimen?

When I’m writing—whether it’s a book or a play or a musical or an opera—I write every day. When I’m between projects, or researching and imagining a new story, I can spend weeks and months reading and walking and taking notes and asking questions and developing characters and a storyline. I find the in-between times very, very uncomfortable. Living with uncertainty, wandering around in the middle of mental chaos is very challenging. I’m happiest when I’m writing.

When you write do you have a story in mind and then the characters evolve to tell that story or do you create characters and the story comes from them?

I begin with the characters, with a strong sense of “voice.” I really hear my characters and learn a great deal about them by getting them talking. However, the story is evolving at the same time the characters are beginning to jell. Because what’s a character without a story? To me, story is paramount.

ALICE BLISS is not a book about war. When you were writing did you find it challenging to focus on the personal story of the family rather than the politics?

I made a strong choice early on not to go to Iraq in the book. I knew that the emotional impact would come from keeping the story focused on Alice and her family at home. At the same time, Matt, Alice’s father, is such a key character and we have so little time with him before he ships out. How do we keep him and his story present? Finding that balance was challenging and an interesting puzzle to solve.

What inspired you to write this book now?

I think that making the war personal is important. Telling the stories of those left behind, illuminating the lives of spouses and partners and children who have a loved one deployed is important. Do we know their stories, their struggles? Do we hear their voices? I hope we can begin to see this war one child at a time, one soldier at a time, one missing father at a time.

You capture the main character Alice wonderfully; her strength, vulnerability and awkwardness of being a teenage girl. Were you anything like Alice growing up?

I think we are all like Alice. That combination of strength, vulnerability, awkwardness and intensity is universal to those years.

I was the youngest of four children, and my siblings were quite a bit older, so I had a much more solitary childhood than Alice did. But there’s something about those years that I can still see, hear, taste, and feel. For whatever reason, I have intense empathy for teens.

What type of books do you like to read?

All kinds. If I’m researching a project, like Napoleon or Joan of Arc, or the American Civil war, I can get lost in my reading lists.

I love novels. I’d rather read a book than eat. I love history, I love great non-fiction, I love good writing.

What are you reading now?

Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader, a beautiful series of essays about books and reading and words. It turns out that Anne Fadiman was also a collector of big words, like Ellie.

Jane Smiley’s new book: Private Life, and Graham Robb’s, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris.”

My wish list is lengthy and always growing. I am a big fan of my local library.

Which aspect of your work do you most enjoy?

The freedom to think my own thoughts, pursue my own passions, indulge my own obsessions. The necessity of reading. Being able to think of reading as part of my job. How lucky is that? And the opportunity to learn a great deal, even to become a mini expert about all kinds of things, like Napoleon in exile on St Helena’s, Joan of Arc’s last 3 days in prison, Sherman’s march to the sea, the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, marathon dancing, etc, etc. It’s fun, and it’s never, ever boring.

Who are your heroes?

My parents. I’m inspired by them and guided by them every single day of my life.

The peacemakers. Whoever and wherever they are.

What would your colleagues be surprised to learn about you?

I’m constantly looking for ways to be a kid again, to play.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring.

What inspires you?

The world around me. Every day.

Thanks to Meredith. I have a copy of this book to giveaway to one lucky reader. US only and no PO Boxes. Leave a comment with your email address and a winner will be picked June 2, the book's release date.


AmandaSue said...

I'd love a chance to read this book!

unforgetable_dreamer_always (at) hotmail (dot) com

Sharn3960 said...

Sounds like a wonderful book. I'd love to read and review it!

Sharn3960 [at] comcast [dot] net

windycindy said...

I am also much younger than my two siblings! My brother was 14 years older than me and my sister is 10 years older than me...
Your book sounds delightful!
Many thanks, Cindi

appydo1 said...

Sounds devine! I love absorbing books, especially when they're about strong female characters!


Donna said...

I would love to read this book. Donna

Tiffany Drew said...

Looks like a great read, please count me in! Thanks!


Tracy Smith said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. I'd love to read it!

countrysunset40 (at) aol dot com

Cheryl said...

Good luck to you all. Hope you still pick up a copy if you don't win

ForbiddenDreams said...

Sounds like a wonderful book thanks for hosting such an awesome give away. :)


Mona said...

Thanks for the giveaway :)
Like Laura, I LOVE to read but I am also a foodie. I enjoy books about food but they make me want to eat.