Sophfronia Scott, Author Writing, laughing, and loving

Book Review: Living in the Weather of the World by Richard Bausch

May 19, 2017 | Book Reviews | Permalink

bauschcoverThis book made me reconsider the word “story”—not the definition of story but our experience of story in its ages-old form before it had the word “short” in front of it; before it was bound in hardcover and made eligible for awards. Before all that there was someone talking and someone, often many someones, listening. And what they heard caused them to utter the equivalent of “Oh God.”

This still happens today. We tell stories in bars, in beauty shops, on tennis courts, on buses. A hand flies to the mouth or fingers lightly touch the base of the throat and the same utterance occurs: “Oh God.”

Richard Bausch is a master storyteller—a description/phrase that gets thrown around a lot but is pin-point accurate for him. He deftly strips a narrative down to the essence of story so in reading his work, finely represented in this new collection, you want to read it fast because you’re so engaged you can’t wait to learn what happens next. The characters are enduring the shifting, unpredictable weather of emotions and drama that befalls all of us. The hook for each piece could easily be the topic of eager discussion at a backyard barbecue, a girls night out, or while waiting in line for movie tickets.

Did you hear about that poor guy who went to mug someone and his victim turned out to be an off-duty cop?

Hey, they brought Freddie into the emergency room. His wife thought he was at the movies with his brother.

That guy at the museum? Isn’t he the one who ran over that kid?

My mom tried online dating and it ended in tears—but not hers!

See her? Her fiancé dumped her and she knocked him out cold.

Forget about Bausch’s accolades and long literary history. Read these stories because they’re great stories. Read them and pretend you’re with a friend, or out with the guys or gals trading tales. Only you’re really in the privacy of your own head, listening to Bausch. How long before you utter “Oh God”?

My guess? Not long.

Enjoy the book.

 

Happy 100th Birthday Ella Fitzgerald

April 25, 2017 | Writing | Permalink

ELLAfitzgerald72dpiToday is the 100th birthday of the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. Her music and bold personality have always been an inspiration for me so it’s no wonder that one of her songs should find its way into my writing. Her “A Sunday Kind of Love” features prominently in my forthcoming novel UNFORGIVABLE LOVE, which is set in the year of the song’s release, 1947.

Have a listen and pretend you’re lounging in Aunt Rose’s parlor at her Westchester estate on a warm summer evening contemplating your next move on your desired one. Enjoy!

The book’s publication date is September 26 from William Morrow but you can pre-order it now online using these buttons or at your local bookstore.

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Inspired by Jackie Robinson

April 15, 2017 | Writing | Permalink

jackie-robinson-42Seventy years ago today, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson crossed the color line to play for Major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. In my forthcoming novel, UNFORGIVABLE LOVE, my character Valiant Jackson is present in the stadium for that historic moment. When he witnesses Robinson’s classy behavior in the face of the abusive slurs rained upon him, Val begins to glimpse the notion that there might be a reason to be a good person in the world. How that notion grows and what happens to the rakish Val and the women in his life as a result is the story of UNFORGIVABLE LOVE. Find out the rest on September 26 when the novel hits the shelves from William Morrow HarperCollins. Pre-order today online or at your local bookstore.

 

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

March 14, 2017 | Book Reviews, Writing | Permalink

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Any writer can break the rules of our craft. If he does it poorly the resulting pieces remain at our feet and the confused reader is left to kick at them unsatisfied, like viewing the aftermath of an accident. But if the writer succeeds, he breaks rules to the point where he actually plants the resulting debris and a new form grows. The reader takes in the nascent creation with either bewilderment and possible dislike or sheer wonder. From the comments I’ve consumed about Lincoln in the Bardo, readers report from both viewpoints. Here’s my take. I started on the bewilderment side and ended this book in wonder.

George Saunders’s debut novel is set in a time of upheaval, the early days of the Civil War, when the country was only beginning to realize the horrible depths it was careening toward. President Lincoln’s young son Willie, age eleven, takes ill and dies. His body is placed in a crypt in a cemetery populated by a whole community of less than restful souls. But one night Lincoln, burdened by worry and grief, feels impelled to return to the tomb to visit his lost child. What he leaves with and how he does so is a striking fulfillment of this tale.

Here’s where the rule-breaking comes in: The story is told at a distance, through the observations of the dead souls and through historical source material Saunders uses abundantly though I couldn’t tell which of these many footnotes were based on real material and what was imagined. Fiction craft lessons often teach writers to create characters who are active, not passive, and who can bring urgency to the narrative while at the same time inciting emotion, positive or negative, from the reader. When I began reading Lincoln in the Bardo, I was skeptical. I didn’t see how Saunders could conjure urgency, action, or emotion when the main character, President Lincoln, is for the most part a quiet, introspective, grieving presence and everyone else, a host of strangers without historical significance, was dead.

My curiosity kept me reading and I’m glad I did because Saunders succeeds in all this and that is the miracle of the book. I won’t say how he creates urgency, but I will speak a little on the emotional aspect.

At first I wasn’t interested in these ancillary characters. They spend a lot of time talking, stating their cases, and telling their own death stories. They rarely listen other than to appraise another person’s situation and compare whether they are better or worse off than the other. I kept wanting to get back to Lincoln: Where is he? What’s he doing? But there came a pivotal scene, which I won’t reveal here, where that situation changes and I realized or recognized something I can only describe using the lyrics from John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus”: “I am he as you are he as you are me/ And we are all together…”

They are us. These characters represent all of us.

The scene provides a kind of light for the lost souls and one character, Mr. Vollman, observes, “My God, what a thing! To find oneself thus expanded!” These souls are essentially seeking, as we who are living are also seeking, a sense of connection—a certain wholeness. How they come to it is one of the most touching parts of the narrative. Their realization opens the world for them and, for me, turned the book into a profound statement of empathy, compassion, and what it means to be human. As a reader I felt moved; as a writer I felt delight over what the author had accomplished. I wanted to read the book again, immediately, so I could better understand and appreciate how Saunders, with such expert craftsmanship and many twists and turns, had built the book.

Writers read for enjoyment, yes, but we also read to learn what art is possible to craft from our tools, which range from basic words and sentences to scintillating, airborne imagination. With Lincoln in the Bardo, an impressive demonstration of skill and imagination, Saunders, simply put, shows a new way of presenting a story. I hope he inspires many writers to let loose in mind and spirit, and see what we can share in our own ongoing quests, acknowledged or not, for wholeness.

View all my reviews

When Writing Seeds Sprout

February 2, 2017 | Publishing, Writing | Permalink

I have so much on my plate for 2017 but it’s all exciting and you will see many changes. Look for my new novel, Unforgivable Love, from William Morrow. The publication date is September 26, 2017. The cover design is underway and I’m thrilled to share it with you because I’ve been writing about the book here for a few years now. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to see this historical fiction, a retelling of Dangerous Liaisons set in 1940s Harlem, come to life!

waw-episode2-sophronia-scott-800x800To celebrate the book I’ll launch a new website featuring a new blog and of course I’ll be traveling! I’m already scheduled to teach at the Frederick Buechner Writers Workshop in Princeton and Pasadena, the Writing for Your Life Workshop in Nashville, and the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers in the Catskills. Next week I’m headed to Washington D.C. for the conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) where on February 11 I’ll speak on a panel, “Writing White Characters,” with fellow faculty members from the Regis University Mile-High MFA.

Also coming up: My essay collection Love’s Long Line Alone has been acquired by Ohio State University Press for its 21st Century Essays series to be published on its Mad River Books imprint. And I’m hard at work on a spiritual memoir about raising a child of faith in a secular world. Paraclete Press is publishing it and I’ll let you know when it and the essay collection have their publication dates. This fall you’ll be able to read more of my spiritual writing in Forward Day by Day, a publication of daily meditations produced by the Episcopal Church. I wrote the daily meditations for all of September 2017. You’ll want to get it, either online or at a church near you. I’m honored to share, hopefully in a helpful way, with the more than a half million readers worldwide who use Forward Day by Day as a resource for daily prayer and Bible study.

I’m still writing regular posts for the blog at Ruminate Magazine. In fact, one of my pieces, “The Importance of Non-Writing Writing” was Ruminate Magazine‘s most read blog post of 2016! You can read it by using this link. I’m happy to continue creating for one of my favorite literary journals.

I feel as though all of the writing seeds I’ve been planting for the past five years, starting with my work earning my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, are finally beginning to sprout. Of course there’s more work to do and I’m on it. But I believe in taking the time to express gratitude for the beautiful garden of words I see coming up around me. I hope you’ll stay with me as we see how it all grows.

In the meantime, please enjoy this fun interview I recorded recently for Word After Word: A Podcast On Writing.  Paul Matthew Carr, David Hicks, and I talk about my writing habits and the genesis of Unforgivable Love. You can listen in at this link. More soon so stay tuned. I’m glad you’re here.

Yours,

Sophfronia

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