Saturday, February 24 , 2018, 10:11 pm | Fair 50º


Susan Miles Gulbransen: Sue Grafton, Meg Waite Clayton, Peggy Orchowski Weigh In with Summer Books

Summer reading. It’s right up there with apple pie, the swimming hole and the porch swing. The good news is that there are plenty of fine summer reads available. Better news? Many are books by Santa Barbara authors with release dates during the summer months.

In June I asked nine authors with books coming out in the spring and summer about highs and lows of publishing their next books and what obstacles they had to overcome.

The answers were more detailed than expected, so the July “Beyond Books” column gave feedback from the five authors whose books were published in the spring: Lee Wardlaw (Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku), T. C. Boyle (The Harder They Come: A Novel), Ross Macdonald (Four Novels of the 1950s), Meg Gardiner (Phantom Instinct) and Gayle Lynds (The Assassins).

This month four authors with books coming out this summer give their thoughts: Meg Waite ClaytonThe Race for Paris: A Novel Aug. 11; Sue Grafton, X (Kinsey Millhone Mystery) Aug. 25; Alex SheshunoffA Beginner's Guide to Paradise: 9 Steps to Giving Up Everything Sep. 1 and Margaret (Peggy) Sands Orchowski, The Law that Changed the Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 Sep. 15.

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Meg Waite Clayton lives part time in Santa Barbara, where she and her husband have become part of the writing community.

When we met several years ago, she talked about her wish to tell the story of women journalists who raced across France after D-Day in 1944 to report on the liberation of Paris. In The Race for Paris: A Novel, the two women along with a male soldier and friend must make the drive from Normandy illegally.

Success has followed each of her four previous novels starting with The Wednesday Sisters in 2009, a book club favorite. Now The Race for Paris: A Novel (Harper) has come out, a dream come true.

When asked what has gotten easier about writing, she answered without hesitation.

“Absolutely nothing," she said. "I love writing and am so delighted to be having a new book come out. I keep thinking it will get easier. But I'm as daunted facing the blank page and the publication process as I ever have been!”

She talked about a particular change that made the story work.

“The Race for Paris was 15 years in the making so the list of obstacles is probably as long as the novel itself. I will say that a watershed moment came when I changed the point of view from third person to first. The first person narrator I chose is a character who had a very small role in the earlier drafts. Looking at this world and these characters through her eyes opened up the story for me.”

Clayton will sign her book at Chaucer’s Bookstore Tuesday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m.

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What can I add about Sue Grafton? Her “alphabet” mysteries have consistently followed since A Is for Alibi came out in 1982. They make the top best seller lists if not the top nearly every time.

These internationally known novels are printed in 26 languages and published in 28 countries. Her awards and honors could fill a warehouse.

Yet each book in the series is different from the one before. In these novels we meet up with the down-to-earth Kinsey Millhone, private investigator, the one with a kicky sense of humor and a keen eye for picking up on what others miss. In X, Kinsey tracks down a serial killer who commits his crimes without remorse and is looking for another victim. Could that be Kinsey herself?

The latest, X (Kinsey Millhone Mystery) (Marian Wood Books/Putnam), comes out Aug. 25, 2015. You would think that writing the 24th book would be a large slice of easy-as-pie. Not so according to Grafton.

“One of my readers, in passing, in the most casual manner imaginable, suggested that I write another novel strictly from Kinsey’s point of view. Having done that for the first eighteen books, I thought, ‘Hey sure. Why not?’ I imagined it would be fun to go back to the original first person narrative. No shifting points of view. No jumps back and forth through time. There is one section at the opening of the novel told from the perspective of another character. The rest is Kinsey’s," she begins.

“Thought I would die. Thought I would go insane. I felt like I was writing in a straight jacket. What was I thinking?! The obstacle was trying not to throw myself out of a second story window before I reached The End.”   

I then asked if anything in X had become a breeze.

“Nothing about the writing process has gotten easier. I’m better at handling the publicity. I feel more comfortable touring 10 to 15 cities as each new book comes out," she said. "I’m clear about what I will do and what I won’t do and I usually know that instantly. Once I know, I open my mouth and say so as graciously as I can in the moment. Reducing that kind of stress frees up energy to write, but the writing is more challenging, which is why my hair is getting grayer. Fortunately I have only two books to go.”

Grafton will sign her book at Chaucer’s Bookstore Wednesday, Aug. 26, 5 p.m.

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When I was putting together a nonfiction panel for this year’s Santa Barbara Writers Conference, someone recommended a writer named Alex Sheshunoff from Ojai. While always looking for new faces, I admitted that his name was not familiar but asked him on the strong recommendation.

After finishing at Yale, he went to New York and managed an internet company. Soon he felt caught in one of life’s tightest wringer and left the company, gathered 100 books he wanted to read and headed to the Pacific Island of Yap. He refers to this act not as a mid-life crisis, but “a quarter-life crisis.”

Does it sound like a fiction plot? Turn that around.

This is his life that eventually led to writing magazine articles, several that morphed into his first book A Beginner's Guide to Paradise: 9 Steps to Giving Up Everything (NAL) coming out Sep. 1.

Within minutes after the panel started in June, Sheshunoff had the audience laughing yet listening to his sound advice. His answers were brief but on target about the writing process.

“There are so many more outlets for writing than there used to be. About half of what I read online comes from sites I’ve never heard of or visited before. This is great for writers and — probably — for readers as well.”

The second question hit home about difficulties he has encountered.

“Obstacles? No obstacles. Easy breezy, though I did need two years of writing graduate school, three agents, 10 years and an embarrassing amount of good luck to get this thing published.”

Sheshunoff added a key secret to his writing, not something many authors are willing to reveal.

“Dude goes to beach with a stack of books isn’t, on the surface, a compelling plot. My only solution? Add enough jokes and punctuation errors to distract the reader from noticing that, technically speaking, nothing much is happening.”

Please do not believe this author. Check out his book or, better yet, attend his book signing at Chaucer’s on Tuesday, Sep. 22, 7 p.m.

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Margaret (Peggy) Sands Orchoski grew up here, attended Santa Barbara High and later returned for several years while raising her children. 

Her background includes living and working in South America and Geneva before settling in Washington, D.C., where she writes feature and investigative articles. Her current post is congressional correspondent for Hispanic Outlook Magazine, which has deepened her expertise on immigration.

Her second book, The Law That Changed the Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 (Rowman & Littlefield) comes out Sep. 15 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Act.

Signed by President Lyndon Johnson, the law has changed our immigration status by opening it to greater diversity and creating problems along the way.

According to Orchoski, the tough part writing this book was an incredibly short deadline.

“By the time I confirmed the contract on Dec. 23, 2014, my publisher agreed that we should have the book launched by Oc. 3, the signing’s anniversary date. That meant I had two months to write it – 90,000 words (about 220 pages) with endnotes and a full bibliography.”

She accomplished the task but admits that writing was easier in Washington, D.C. than Santa Barbara.

“My biggest obstacle whenever I write in Santa Barbara is the beautiful weather. The weather this past January and February in D.C. was so bad that there was no temptation whatsoever to lounge around outside, so I stayed inside and finished the manuscript.”

In some ways, writing this book was easier as Orchowski points out.

“Over time many writing and journalism skills have gotten easier. My first drafts are better: tighter sentences, more diverse vocabulary and phrasing and quotation placement. I’m no longer hesitant to cut paragraphs in the edit," she said. “My reporting is more organized, more focused, and I can see the shape of the story evolving. I can also outline an article and organize the facts much quicker and easier now. Often I see immediately where the manuscript needs follow-up information and fact-checking with contacts or confirming information from primary sources.” 

On a final note, Orchowski writes without an obvious political agenda. She is capable of looking at and reporting on both sides of an issue, a refreshing read with today's media polarization on many topics.

What’s your choice? Historical fiction, mystery, comedic memoir or in-depth look at social issues? Santa Barbara connected writers provide it all this summer.

Admittedly I may have missed other good local authors publishing a book this summer. If you wish, add them in the comments below. 

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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