Home town

I flew into Detroit today to meet some writer friends on Lake Michigan, and see some people in Ann Arbor, plus my father who is in Kalamazoo. It's a quick trip and I'm staying one night in Ann Arbor which is the actual home of my heart. 

 

I went to a small liberal arts college in Michigan after graduating high school. I had won a small voice scholarship and was recruited to swim there. It was very, very, very tiny. And really pretty shocking. It was kind of a last chance college because besides my obvious talents (ha.) I was a terrible, terrible student. The school was filled with farm kids, who still thought that colored was acceptable word to use when talking about someone was African American. I'd come from the Detroit area and was horrified. To make matters worse, as my mother told me, this college was the only school to actually go into Detroit and recruit from inner city schools. It was a lethal combination. There was a race riot. The NAACP showed up and so did CNN. The words I heard out of white mouths I will never forget so long as I live. A friend was stabbed in the neck by a man, enraged that his white ex girl friend was dating a black man. It was...terrible. Sad because the school was trying to do the right thing, offering big scholarships and work study programs, but naive in that they didn't know how to address issues of race until everything had boiled over. The school only had seven hundred students.

I picked up stakes, after two years, and found my way to Ann Arbor. 

Ann Arbor was the place I was reborn. I could not believe I was lucky enough to be there. I worked in the YMCA, I worked at the University of Michigan Press. Still a terrible student, I found myself at Eastern Michigan which was the next town over. There, I worked in the Women's Center as the communications director, and in the Women's Studies Department, the Philosophy department and I even filled in in the Physics department. I worked all the time. Many weeks I worked forty hours. 

I rode my bike everywhere, and took the bus to Ypsilanti for classes. I lived in shared houses and made some lifelong friends. I was still a terrible student. I was put off by the creative writing department because a "friend" told me it was only for the "really good writers" and I took a Shakespeare class with the head of the English Department who was deeply annoyed by my many many absences but once told me I'd written the best paper he'd read in years. I struggled with mental health issues. Mostly depression, and anxiety. But I dated all the time.

My last year of school I moved into a big five bedroom Victorian with basically six other roommates. All were gay except me and another guy who I promptly fell in love with. He wanted to be a painter, wanted to run away from his auto executive father and wealthy roots. AFter graduating, a semester before me, he took off for Santa Fe. I graduated the next semester and followed him.

In retrospect maybe it was a terrible mistake. I was offered a chance to do graduate work at Eastern, but I gave it up. I'd won the Detroit Metro Times summer fiction contest and I felt pretty sure that what I wanted was to write novels and short stories. Staying in bucolic, utterly amazing in every way, Ann Arbor seemed antithetical to that. 

Every time I come to Ann Arbor I start concocting plans to get back here. Alas. I love New York. I love my house and I love having a little stowaway place in New York City. I know Ann Arbor is not the same place it was twenty five years ago. I'm not the same person, but it will tear my heart a little to leave tomorrow, though there are fun things in store for the weekend.

And I'll be back around here in early December! Shady Ladies LIt Society has invited me to Detroit! And I'm working out going to Eastern Michigan around that same time to do a reading there. 

Maybe one day my dreams will come true and I'll get back here on a permanent or semi permanent basis. Until then. I'll keep dreaming, drowning in this nostalgia.

Working title for book number two.  

Working title for book number two.

 

National Book Awards

I love, love, love, love the National Book Awards. Every year I feel like NBA has its finger on my pulse in terms of fiction I'm going to love. I have not read all the nominees but I'm looking forward to reading several of them. Jennifer Egan, of course, whose Views from the Goon Squad was a huge influence on my own book, Jesmyn Ward, Lisa Ko, and Charmaine Craig's book Miss Burma which is another Grove title. 

Super congrats to all! 

Read more, and find out the rest of the nominees here

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"Talk about salacious!" Jewish Book Council Book Club

Excited to be chosen for the Jewish Book Council's book club this week!  

"In her debut novel, What to Do About the Solomons, Bethany Ball leaves no stone unturned as she gradually divulges the inner psyches, darkest secrets, and most problematic idiosyncrasies of her kibbutznik characters. Lust, drugs, money, and other excesses are no strangers to the Solomon family. Lovers of classic Jewish literature and gossip rags unite: this one’s got something for everyone."

As a lover of both celebrity gossip websites AND Anna Karenina, I fully love the line about gossip rags and I admit that is exactly what I was going for. 

There is a kind of voice in fiction and non fiction that I call gossipy but i'm sure there's a better more literary term for it. When I think of that voice I think of some of my favorite writers like Mary Gaitskill (to me, no less than a queen), Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInernay, the diaries of Anais Nin, Tama Janowitz. They provided details on characters that were often shocking, illuminating, funny, and human. A lot of Eighties writers and a lot of them published by Vintage Contemporaries which back then had the coolest book designs. I had a wise friend in college who would tell me the most salacious stories. They were wonderful. They might have been embellished, which made them even better. In the Solomons book the aside about someone having sex with their veterinarian on the examining table came from an anecdote they once told me. Reading those writers that I loved was like sitting next to that wise often hilarious and self deprecating friend giving dispatches from the world.

Read the rest of the Jewish Book Council review here

 

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Younger

I started watching the show Younger after I found out my friend Miriam Shor was on it. Miriam and I went to high school together but I didn't really meet her until some years after we graduated. We were both in New York City and she'd just starred in the show Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a few other things. She is dead cool and completely down to earth. We run into each other often in the same downtown coffee shop.

On the show, she plays the marketing manager for a publishing house. When my book came out, she took it with her on set and voila! SOLOMONS became a TV star! 

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Center for Fiction Short List

So excited to be on the Center for Fiction Short List! What a thrill and an honor. I'd just taken my seat on an airplane at LAX when my wonderful editor at Grove, Katie Raissian, called to give me the news. Everything in publishing is done, as you can imagine, over email so when your editor calls you it's either really terrible news, or fantastic news. So happy it was the latter! 

I'm also exited to announce I've been invited to attend the Miami Book November 12th through the 19th. Miami holds a very special place in my heart. My son was born there on Miami Beach (with a midwife who is in the Guiness Book of World Records for the most live births outside of a hospital!) and for a while we lived in Coral Gables just a block away from Books and Books. I didn't realize at the time what an institution Books and Books is, or Mitchell Kaplan, but that place was my home away from home. Many afternoons, I walked down to the cafe to peruse books and magazines and work on my own book. Mitchell and his wife were generous and warm and were totally nonplussed while my son tore away at the free newspapers and periodicals kept at the bottom of the news stands. 

I also met what would become my son's god mother, Dafne in Miami. She was born in Cuba and came over to the United States when she was fourteen. Of all the people who say, "You need to write my story," Daf is the only person who I will one day take her up on it. She is in every way an extraordinary person. Can't wait to get back to Books and Books and have some Cuban chicken soup, which is what I lived off of for the majority of my pregnancy.

 

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Interview

A couple weeks I did an interview with my old friend Jackie Cangro. We worked together a million years ago at Simon and Schuster Children's. She was very kind and patient with me and by far the best part of that job were the wonderful people I met there. 

You can find the interview (and lots of other great writerly content!) here

The Graduate

I've been studying this book for a while. I read it years ago but didn't really understand why I was so intrigued. It's the familiar story and the movie is just as fantastic as the book. What I love about it is we are never privy to Benjamin's thoughts. Ever. We follow him closely. We see what he sees and hear what he hears. I love it because we lie to ourselves all the time. The stream of consciousness is often mindless, unhelpful chatter full of disinformation. We are often mechanical in our thoughts and even in our action. Charles Webb and by extension Benjamin seem also to distrust thought, distrust motivation and so it's cut out. I love it. It's brilliant. The ways we are isolated not just from other people but from ourselves. Socrates said know yourself because we almost never do.

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Center for Fiction

Truly it has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. Publishing a book is a lovely grind and in some ways I've loved, and hated, every minute of it. Slowly, I'm turning my attention back to my second book and a completely different cast of characters. My so-called Detroit book is calling me, and I'm more than happy to sink back into it.

Last week I found out The Solomons has been long listed for the Center of Fiction first novel prize. It's an honor and a thrill! There are several books on that list that I have in my house and are next on my list. Notably, fellow Michigander Julie Buntin's book and Matthew Klam. I'll get to that George Saunders one of these days too.  I've taken several classes at The Center of Fiction. One with my good friend Daniel Long, another with Gordon Lish, and a third with Myla Goldberg. I love the space and the vibe, especially the elevator!