January 19, 2006

3 Questions: Sheila Curran

It is my unadulterated and screaming pleasure to introduce you to Sheila Curran today. I loved her debut novel, Dinaa Lively is Falling Down. Loved. It. Unadulteratedly and screamingly. I may have even loved it with more adverbs than that. It was one of those impulse buy books. I had heard absolutely nothing about it, didn't know the author from Adam's off-ox. I was nibbling at the edges of new books at I THINK the Anniston, Alabama Books-A-Million, browsing like the little deers browse bark in winter, and I came across hers. The cover was nice, but it was the TITLE that really got me. I bought it. I stuck it in a pile, forgot it existed, then one day maybe a month later was digging through my TO READS and picked it for next. Did I mention I loved it?

When she showed up as a new member of the GCC I hopped up and down and then ran at her sideways and hurled myself at her feet. There may have been a little teeny bit of slavering. Because, did I mention, I DUG the book? I said something to her about how she and Rachel Cusk reminded me of each other, except Cusk has a blacker heart, like if Sheila decided to become a pirate, she might be Rachel Cusk. Anyway. She was quite nice about being called "Cusk if Cusk was somehow NOT a pirate" (which since Cusk to my knowledge is NOT a pirate makes about ZERO sense, but I get nervous when trying to talk to writers whose work I admire...) and simply wiped the spittle off her boot and invited me out for a drink sometime. Clearly I needed a drink.

SO, good writer AND good manners.

Also, she has a rockin' author picture that you can only see on the book. I could not find it on her site to show you, but it cracked me up.


To tell you what it's about, I am just going to quote Shelley Mosely's perfectly accurate and glowing review for Booklist: \

Diana Lively's family has lived in England forever, but now her brilliant but abusive husband, Ted, an expert on Arthurian legends, is being sent to Arizona by Oxford University. Diana doesn't want to go. She is certain that Phoenix is a place where scorpions run wild in the streets, black-widow spiders dangle from every ceiling, and rattlesnakes wait around every corner. She is devoted to the marriage, however, so she packs up the children and heads for what she believes is the primitive Arizona wilderness. Ted has been summoned to the desert by Wally Gold, the "Ammo King," who has decided to honor his late wife by building the King Arthur Theme Park and Museum. Wally allows Diana's family to stay on his property free of charge, and soon everyone has bonded, except Ted. Beautifully detailed and rich in exceptional characterization, from the Betty Crocker-esque teenage son to the four-year-old kleptomaniac, Curran's novel gently reminds readers that fantasy has a place in everyone's life, and dreams can come true. Uniquely uplifting and never didactic, this is a gem."

JJ: What's a "Comedy of Manners?" I DO know, I promise, *PREEN* but it;s fallenout of general use, so what is it, and do you like your book being labeled that way and what would you call it?

SC: Now that is a good question because if I had to define a comedy of manners, I’m not sure I could. I think of plays like The Importance of Being Earnest, but also old Doris Day movies and maybe even books like The Jane Austen Book Club or Le Divorce. I think comedy of manners are about nothing and yet everything. They poke fun at sacred social cows in a way that’s not too mean-spirited but sticks with you. Besides, I had trouble figuring out which genre I would fit in. If Diana Lively is Falling Down were a movie, it would be a romantic comedy, but that label somehow changes when it’s applied to books. Sigh.

(OKAY LOOK, I have to interrupt here. I know she's the author and all, so she gets to say what her book is. BUT! I am the reader, so I get to disagree. I think if it was movie it would STILL be a comedy of manners. I think we should call more movies that get called Romantic Comedies "Comedies of Manners" which, wow. I was all the way through that sentence before I realized I had NO idea how one might pluralize "Comedy of Manners." I think the term has fallen from use and no one knows what it MEANS anymore, which is a shame because I LOVE a good C of M and if more things were marketed as such I would buy them. Other things that are clearly COMEDIESES OF MANNERSES, would be, Everything she listed above and, oh, Much Ado ABout Nothing. Some of Saki. NOEL COWARD! That TV show, Seinfeld. you like that sort of thing, you will SURELY like this book.)

JJ: What writers influenced your work and how and why?

SC: Wow, well I’m such a slut when it comes to reading that it may be difficult to prove paternity. If I have to choose, I’d say I’ve been influenced more by the messy school of novel writing than by the sleek and taut perfectionists. Flaubert just made me yawn (okay, I can’t remember reading Madame Bovary, but I think of him as a stylist) while Balzac and Dostoyevski and Doris Lessing and Virigina Woolf would keep me up nights, getting lost in their stories. My favorite grad school course was on the Victorian Novelists, George Elliott and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte. I think that’s because they provide the reader with the illusion of a contained little universe which is comforting and predictable and yet rich and intricate too. There are modern day novelists who aren’t considered literary who I adore, including John Le Carre, John Fowles, Pat Conroy, Dennis Lehane, Ken Follett, Elizabeth George and Mary Doria Russell. If I’ve had an ax to grind, it’s with the point of view that story shouldn’t matter, that entertainment is somehow less than, and that escapism is the opposite of literary merit. I love to read for entertainment and my fondest wish as a writer has been to offer readers a brief respite from reality.

JJ: Can you talk a little about the significance of your smartipants title and how you came up with it.

SC: I wish I could say I did come up with it. Kathy Kleidermacher, who works with my editor at Penguin, suggested it during one of their first meetings. I liked it right away, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. The title alludes to the London Bridge, which is, of course, where the Ammo King wants to site his theme park, near Lake Havasu city. The rhythm of the words is from a nursery rhyme, which lends a sense of the domestic never-never land of raising small children, and also of the way in which a circle of hands holding together can support a person who is falling down. Since fantasy and fairy tales are central to the story, allowing the characters to find and lose their way, I loved that. Also, of course, the fact that London Bridge was falling down was the reason it got sold to an American entrepreneur in the first place, referring back to the wonderful contrasts between the rich history of England and the brash confidence with which we as Americans will just make ours up as we go along. Who cares if it doesn’t actually belong to us? We like it! Let’s build the damn thing and pretend! Then, in terms of the plot, there are so many ways in which the falling down image is important, including the climax which we cannot discuss further without giving away some important bits.

GO FORTH and buy this book.

Posted by joshilyn at January 19, 2006 7:31 AM

May I just say that I love this woman for the line, "Wow, well I’m such a slut when it comes to reading"?

Wow. i cannot wait for a grownup to wander into my living room so I can put THAT to use!!!

Posted by: Cornelia Read at January 19, 2006 10:33 AM

I have just added this book to my library reading list. Your last recommendation, The Rock Orchard was right on! I loved it ... and I can't wait to devour this book too.

What a great blog; There's humor, mental health numbers, talk about food, and book suggestions. I'm in BLOVE!

Posted by: Mit_Moi at January 19, 2006 10:54 AM

I'm sold, and totally have to agree with the sentiment of angst...."If I’ve had an ax to grind, it’s with the point of view that story shouldn’t matter, that entertainment is somehow less than, and that escapism is the opposite of literary merit."

I'm not sure what sold me more, Sheila Curran herself, or the synopsis.But I want to read this book.

Posted by: Cele at January 19, 2006 11:12 AM

I shouldn't read your blog, Joss. It makes me want more books. My budget cannot sustain my reading your blog.

Posted by: Heather at January 19, 2006 12:00 PM

Lalalaaa...going book shopping in the Big City tommorrow and I just added it to my list! My list wasn't nearly long enough already, after all. :-P

Posted by: DebR at January 19, 2006 1:21 PM

loved this book to...have you read Undomesticated Goddess?

Posted by: lyn at January 25, 2006 9:25 AM