by JZ Bingham, VP Acquisitions, Balcony 7
As an acquisitions editor, I can’t help but read between the lines of an author’s work to find out what he or she is truly made of—what inspires them, what motivates them, their respect for readers and the art of storytelling. It takes but a few pages, maybe a chapter, before this is revealed to me. The clues lie in form, substance, word choice, and restraint (or the lack thereof). There’s certainly an art to it, and the best storytellers have a God-given gift.
Two of my favorite storytellers that have this gift are authors whom I have the pleasure of knowing, in person. I’ve read their works (and edit Mahon’s for Balcony 7), and decided to introduce the two, knowing their love of storytelling and their backgrounds could become the foundation for a wonderful literary discussion at Vroman’s. They both loved the idea—and our event is in a few weeks, so allow me to introduce you:
Patricia Mahon, an Irish/American dual citizen with an educational pedigree that spans Oxford and Trinity College (also an avid student of Yeats and a teaching fellow), has a treasure trove of work for which she’s already received accolades (poetry, several musicals, and over 20 original songs) and from which she’s now making her literary fiction debut. Mahon’s Age of Distraction series of contemporary novellas are being released bi-annually, beginning with The Island (Balcony 7, April 2016), The Vineyard (B7, Sept. 2016), and The Abbey (B7, Spring 2017, based on the three-act play The Abbey Yard, which ran for six weeks at The Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles in 2000).
Anne Perry, who hails from England, wrote her first novel in 1979, The Cater Street Hangman (St. Martins Press), a mid-19th century Victorian crime drama introducing Thomas Pitt, who would become the central character in 30 additional novels in the Pitt series. The other famous character in a Perry series, set in the late 19th century, is William Monk, who made his debut in 1990’s The Face of a Stranger (Fawcett), and continues into book 21, published last year. When we include Perry’s World War I series (five novels) and her Christmas novellas (the 14th to be published later this year), over 70 books and almost 27 million sold have made Anne Perry a household name in literary fiction and a New York Times Bestselling Author.
Now, imagine a languid sunny day in West Hollywood, ensconced within a fashionable bistro, the soft rays warming crisp white tablecloths while Trish and Anne engage with introductory chit chat, order coffee, crepes and ice cream, and I finally melt into the background to watch a literary back-and-forth between the two writers that was formidable to observe, and flowed as naturally as the blood in their veins. I realized I’d made a perfect match, and the Anglo/Irish Lit Chat will make readers feel the same way I did in that bistro—confident in knowing literary fiction is in good hands.
Trish grew up with oral storytelling, as is the Irish way, and many of her stories bring back decades of lore mixed with contemporary angles that capture the perils of technology sapping our creative energy with its distractive elements of connectivity, and its truncated shorthand that seemingly drives a stake right into the heart of poetry and prose. In fact, Trish has so many familial stories and character studies that her novellas (averaging about 200 pages each), have been called “stories within stories,” and rightfully so. Her love of classics laces every work with literary excerpts that inspire her—and propel her protagonists as they navigate the ebb and flow of each plot, led throughout the world by their global writing app.
At a café just off Sunset, Trish felt herself in the presence of fiction royalty as Anne sipped basil-infused water and she gulped American coffee. Ironically, Anne has become a fan of Trish’s work and their common love of Anglo/Irish classics begins as a literary tag-team: As Anne recounts some of Trish’s excerpts from The Island, she then launches into the development of her first fantasy novel, Tathea (Deseret, 1999), really a religious allegory about a grieving Empress given the chance to seek truth and wisdom. It’s always fascinating to hear an author speak to her inspiration, and with Anne’s long string of success, a first-hand account of how a writer known for crime dramas becomes inspired to write a hefty (504 pages) fantasy is, in itself, novel. And I’ll never forget listening to Anne segue from Wordsworth’s excerpt in Trish’s novel into her own favorite work of Yeats, what she called the best description of love she’d ever read, reciting the whole of it in her soft English lilt, and eliciting goose bumps on my arms.
The origins of both Trish and Anne’s inspiration are firmly rooted in Anglo/Irish literature and poetry. On the evening of our lit chat, scheduled at Vroman’s July 13th, lovers of literary fiction will hear what famous and not-so-famous names from centuries past and not-so-past continue to drive the pen to paper of a new generation of torch-bearers; how the literary form may be stretched and massaged, but never disrespected and overlooked; and importantly, how the success of a novel should never be inspired by commercialism (mirroring fads and contrivances), for commercial success will follow masterful storytelling—an organic process that begins in the gut, speaks from the heart, and bares its soul to the reader like an offering of timeless truths, with a healthy dose of respect for humanity.
Please mark your calendars to join us on July 13 for this great Lit Chat!!