Friday, January 08, 2010

Freebie Friday with Irene Latham

I'm going to try something a little different this year.

There are so many fabulous authors and books making a spash with their debut novels, I thought it would be cool to highlight some of them on the blog this year. So, in the Freebie Friday mix, you'll have a chance to meet many of this year's debut MG and YA authors (and win stuff from them!) You can check out some of the upcoming books and authors at The Tenners - 2010: A Book Odyssey, Authors Now, and Class of 2K10. While you're at it, sign up for the Story Siren's 2010 Debut Author Challenge.

Today, I'm pleased to introduce you to Irene Latham, whose MG novel, LEAVING GEE'S BEND made it's bookshelf debut yesterday. (Happy release, Irene!!!)

Irene is a poet, novelist, traveler, dreamer, mom and quilter who lives in Birmingham, Alabama. I could easily identify with Irene as a kindred spirit because she has also traveled the world with her family and likes to use "research" as an excuse to see more places. Irene's experiences have inspired over 120 published poems and her new book, as you'll see.

Here's the official backcover blurb for LEAVING GEE'S BEND:

Ludelphia Bennett may be blind in one eye, but she can still put in a good stitch. Ludelphia sews all the time, especially when things go wrong.

But when Mama goes into labor early and gets deathly ill, it seems like even quilting won’t help. That’s when Ludelphia decides to do something drastic—leave Gee’s Bend for the very first time. Mama needs medicine that can only be found miles away in Camden. But that doesn’t stop Ludelphia. She just puts one foot in front of the other.

What ensues is a wonderful, riveting and sometimes dangerous adventure. Ludelphia weathers each challenge in a way that would make her mother proud, and ends up saving the day for her entire town.

One of my all-time favorite authors, Richard Peck, calls LEAVING GEE'S BEND "a beautifully stitched quilt of a novel." First Draft Magazine says it's a "stunning debut." I think we all need to read it and find out what we're missing!

The interview:

What inspired you to write Leaving Gee's Bend?
I was inspired to write this book in 2003 when my husband and I traveled to New York City and viewed the Quilts of Gee's Bend art exhibit at the Whitney Museum. Although I live only 120 miles from Gee's Bend, it wasn't until then that I became aware of the art and history of Gee's Bend. Something happened to me as I walked through those rooms... I was moved by the quilts and by the voices of the quilt makers. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know: What if your community was so remote and isolated that it didn't have a doctor, and your mother was seriously ill? What if you were black and you saw a white person for the very first time? What if you thought the whole world was just like what you saw from your front porch and found out it wasn't? What if you wanted to make a quilt but didn't have anything but scraps of cloth to work with?

Are any of your characters based on real people that you know?
They all have pieces of me in them... even the villain, Mrs. Cobb. But they weren't particularly modeled after any one person.

What excites you?
Wasp nests and sea shells and sweet gum balls... I love looking at things in nature through a jeweler's loupe (basically a magification device). Looking at the world from a different perspective opens the mind and heart to WONDER. I make time to this as often as possible, and it always makes me feel like I'm an ocean tide or wind brewing in the west.

If you could invite anyone you wanted - living or dead - to hang out with you at a weekend retreat, who would you invite and why?
Shel Silverstein. He's got the guitar, the drawing skills, the funny bone... sounds like fun to me!

Do you quilt?
My 2010 quilting project is a charm quilt, which means collecting 300 + squares of fabric, as in a charm quilt none of the fabrics repeat. So far I have about 30 square cut. Must get busy!!

Do you have any special writing rituals or totems to connect with your muse?
Nope. I just WRITE. I was given a book called BECOMING A WRITER by Dorothea Brande, and it changed my life. It taught me how to keep the writing present, so that whenever I sit down, it's there, ready for me to access. It was a huge thing in my life, because at the time, my kids were small, and it seemed all I had was fifteen minute snatches of time here and there. And it's easy to let that be an excuse. Not anymore...

What's your favorite quote?
“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” - Ray Bradbury

What is an interesting writing quirk of yours?
Despite what we're told, I don't believe in writing every day. To me, that would be like those people you see on vacation, the ones with the video camera capturing every single moment, so they can remember? Which means they aren't fully engaging in the vacation, which, ironically, would make it much more memorable. I think the most important part of the process takes place during the quiet times, the still times. It's really important to let a story marinate for a while - then it will pour out, tenderly, without the tough spots. I guess that's a quirk...

If Leaving Gee's Bend were made into a movie, who would you like to see in the role of Ludelphia?
I think Ludelphia should be one of those unknown kids, maybe like the kids they picked up from the slums for Slumdog Millionaire? But Mrs. Cobb -- I'm thinking Glenn Close would be just about perfect.

The freebie: Irene has generously offered a signed copy of LEAVING GEE'S BEND for this week's winner. To enter to win, leave a comment below, describing your favorite quilt. Maybe it's a beautiful work of art like the quilts Irene saw in the Gee's Bend exhibit. Maybe it's just a simple well-worn quilt you like to snuggle up in. Tell me about it and you're entered.

This drawing will remain open until Wednesday, January 13.