A book is born!

Today is the official birthday of Her Own Vietnam, known in literary parlance as the pub date, release date or launch date.

bday cake colorful

Why so many candles? Because it took me so many years to write the book.

What happens next?

Here’s what happens when a book is launched.

– You can now buy it as a paperback or ebook. Click here for details.

– You can win a free signed copy on Goodreads until November 3.

– You can join me on visits to a series of wonderful book blogs. Click here for specifics.

– You can wow your book club with these discussion questions.

Most of all

Most of all, what happens when a book is launched is that people start to read it. (At least I fervently hope so.) People I know, who will read it out of kindness or to see what the heck I’ve been up to all this time. People I don’t know. People who will have their own opinions and perspectives.

Maybe even you.

Her Own Vietnam belongs to you now. I hope you two will be very happy together.

Cat and HOV

Book fever


My current to-be-read pile

My current to-be-read pile

I don’t’ know about you, but I have so many books I’m longing to read that it’s a wonder I can make time for frivolous things like work or sleep.

What I’m reading now

I tend to have a few books going at once, in different genres and different formats. Here’s what I’m currently reading.

  • We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride (novel)
  • The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart (novel – audiobook)
  • The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (essays – ebook)
  • Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares by Carmen Oliveira (biography – ebook). This one’s for my book group.

What I plan to read

In the photo above, you can see my stack of books to be read. I also have a TBR stack you can’t see, because it contains ebooks and audio books. These include:

  • Abroad by Katie Crouch (novel)
  • The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (novel)
  • Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks (novel)
  • Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary (nonfiction)
  • Above the East China Sea by Sara Bird (novel)
  • Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza (novel)

Bookstores: part of the problem

Part of my problem is that I live in Washington, DC, a city with a rich culture of independent bookstores.

Busboys and Poets, for instance, is a small local chain of restaurants. Each restaurant holds a tiny jewel of a bookstore, and each conducts regular readings and programs – all designed for politically progressive people. If ever a commercial venture was built to siphon away my paycheck, it’s Busboys and Poets.

But they’ll have to stand in line behind Politics and Prose, one of the nation’s pre-eminent independent bookstores. Politics and Prose has a fantastic – and relentless – program of readings by wonderful authors of all kinds. On Saturday I heard Adele Levine talk about Run, Don’t Walk, her moving and witty chronicle of working with amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. On Thursday I’m going to hear Amy Bloom discuss her new novel, Lucky Us

Libraries: also part of the problem

Of course, all of these books, including audiobooks and ebooks – even Kindle books – are available from the public library. That helps my budget. It doesn’t help me fight the fever.

Book fever

I’ve got it bad. Am I suffering alone? Let me know what’s on your to-be-read list.

Make me care. I dare you.

Photo by David McSpadden

Photo by David McSpadden

Over the years I’ve read and cherished many books that speak directly to my interests. A brief glance at my bookshelves reveals a few examples.


  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  • American Woman by Susan Choi
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Is This Tomorrow? by Caroline Leavitt
  • Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward


  • Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss
  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
  • The Temple Bombing by Melissa Fay Greene
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

It was easy for these authors to woo me as a reader. They wrote about topics in which I was already intensely interested.

But the kind of literary seduction I love most is when writers, through the power of their words and ideas, force me to care about issues or stories that hold no intrinsic attraction for me.

You made me love you. I didn’t want to do it.

The novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is one example. Thomas Cromwell? Henry VIII? Meh. But her writing drew me in immediately, and I devoured all three books in the series. Other examples include the novel Doc by Mary Doria Russell, the biography Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, and pretty much anything ever written by John McPhee.

Recently I’ve encountered two nonfiction books that fall into the category of literary seductions.

My latest literary seductions

One is Home Fires by Donald Katz. (Yes, audiobook lovers, that Donald Katz – the one who founded Audible.com. He had a distinguished career as a writer before he got the crazy idea that people would buy audiobooks over the Internet.)

At first glance I thought: 640 pages that chronicle four decades in the life of a Jewish family in America? No thanks; I have a Jewish family of my own. But in fact the book is riveting, and illuminated much about the decades of social and political upheaval everyone my age has lived through.

Another seductive book is The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson. The fact is, I don’t care about the soil (although I like to eat – and breathe). I come from generations of apartment dwellers, and I have never gotten the hang of gardening. But Kristin’s sparkling writing and clear, persuasive case compelled me to care – and made me understand both the promise and the stakes of what she called “our great green hope.” Full disclosure: Kristin is a friend of mine. But I read and loved her first nonfiction book, Stalking the Divine, (another seducer) long before I met her.

Why are we talking about this anyway?

I started thinking about this question of books you end up loving despite yourself because of a minor controversy I’d been hearing about on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently some guy wrote an article about how attractive 42-year-old women are. Many women writers thought the article was hilarious, and not in a good way.

If you held a contest to find a topic I would pay good money NOT to read about, the question of how middle-aged men perceive 42-year-old women would be a sure winner. The only way to make me care about it less would be to fold in something about sports or the stock market.

Yet I read an essay by a writer named Julie Checkoway that was a response to the original article, and her essay was so funny, wise and beautifully written that I’m still thinking about it, days later. Her essay may not qualify as a full-fledged literary seduction, because I still have zero interest in the original article or the kerfuffle it sparked. But I am grateful that the utterly boring controversy led me to discover her as a writer.

Guilty pleasures

Have you been seduced by a book that at first appeared totally unsuitable for you? Do tell.



News from Book World

Photo: Mr. T in DC

My idea of heaven.                 Photo: Mr. T in DC

So much has been happening in the process of turning Her Own Vietnam into a real live book! Let me catch you up.

An ARC is born

Tomorrow my book will go to the printer, who will produce Advance Reader Copies or ARCS  – the semi-final version of the book. It looks almost exactly like the finished book – it has cover art, a brief description of the novel and even a couple of blurbs – and the text is laid out as it will be in the final version.

But an ARC is not a final version; it’s an uncorrected proof. It still needs tiny tweaks and corrections. So if a brainstorm hits me with a brilliant new way to end the novel, can I still revise it? Nope. The book is essentially done. Within a few days my publisher will send out the ARC to reviewers who may appreciate the book, or savage it, or – and this is the most likely scenario – ignore it.

Blurbs to the rescue

In a previous post I described the nerve-wracking process of asking well-known writers for blurbs. Well, the writer who had been so kind to me in the past was generous once again, and provided a wonderful blurb. To do so required her to lug my printed manuscript on a family vacation. I am more than grateful, and really hope the karma of her kindness will come back to her in the end.

Another author spills her writing secrets

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my writing process. Now you can get a glimpse into the writing process of another writer, Kristin Ohlson. Her third book, The Soil Will Save Us, is sparking national conversations about a cheap, innovative and practical way to combat climate change – and it’s been under our feet the whole time. Take a look here.

Help me re-name a major character in my novel!

I started working on Her Own Vietnam more than a decade ago. The main character – the nurse who served in Vietnam – is named Della Brown. I named her sister, another major character, Rosalie Brown.

In a plot twist I could not have invented, my publisher is also named Rosalie. And she doesn’t think a major character should be named after her.

Darn it, she’s right.

Here’s where you come in

Can you help me come up with a new first name for my character? Her last name, of course, will remain Brown.

I will give you some parameters, and you can post your suggestions here. I am on a deadline, so all suggestions need to be posted by midnight (Eastern USA time) on Wednesday, April 23.

If I choose a name you suggested, I’ll thank you on the book’s acknowledgement page.

What you need to know about the character formerly known as Rosalie Brown

  • She was born in 1953 to a middle class white family in upstate New York.
  • Her other family members are older sister Della Brown; mother Ruth Brown; father Thomas (Tommy) Brown; partner Anne Isaacs.
  • The name needs to be three syllables long. (Why? Because otherwise the rhythm will be messed up in every sentence that currently includes Rosalie.)

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Ready? Re-name!

For a novelist, naming a fictional character is personal, like naming a child. It’s possible I will come up with my own new name for her – and it’s certain that my decision will be based on subjective criteria (the name is pretty, it reminds me of my second cousin, it just feels right, etc.).

I will miss Rosalie Brown terribly. But I’m looking forward to seeing the names you suggest before midnight on Wednesday the 23rd of April.

Hope springs eternal.

Hope springs eternal.