two french bulldogs in front of a fireplace

A Dream Come True: An Interview with Erin Morgenstern

I got to do something that was a chance of a lifetime this summer. As we were moving from Santa Cruz to Pittsburgh, I was contacted by my former coworkers at Bookshop Santa Cruz. They had achieved the only West Coast appearance of Erin Morgenstern for her latest book The Starless Sea and would I be interested in interviewing her for their Winter Newsletter. The answer is obviously absolutely. Without further ado, I give you my interview with the amazing Erin Morgenstern. I also want to give credit to Jessica Harwick and Jax Dunn for helping me cultivate questions and just being generally awesome.

THE LITERARY MAGIC OF ERIN MORGENSTERN

by Karena Fagan

The cover of the book The Night Circus
The cover of the book The Starless Sea

The publication of The Night Circus in 2011 arrived without warning and with it came Erin Morgenstern and a story of illusion, love, and friendship. Eight years later, Morgenstern brings us The Starless Sea, which follows a fortuneteller’s son into subterranean libraries with mysterious people with dangerous secrets, and the kind of adventure that you can only find in stories. Morgenstern has a gift for creating worlds where every word is placed with purpose and every sentence is a feast for the senses. I reread The Night Circus every year, have a tattoo of Marco and Celia, and have two sibling French bulldogs named Widget and Poppet. I was lucky enough to be asked to interview Erin in preparation for her offsite event with Bookshop Santa Cruz on November 12th.

Erin Morgenstern

Karena Fagan: You use keys, bees, and swords as your principal symbols of the story. At what point did you decide to use allegory as a part of the fabric of the library?

Erin Morgenstern: Very early on I knew I wanted to use symbols of some sort because I wanted this book to have a strong visual language similarly but different to the way The Night Circus has its color scheme. Keys fit well with all the doors, and swords managed to feel both classic fairy tale and video game appropriate at the same time. I also really liked playing with the ideas of what all of these symbols meant or used to mean or didn’t mean and all the layers of possibilities in between. I knew I wanted an animal symbol, preferably something that felt a bit ancient, and when I was first working I kept encountering bees everywhere. A friend of mine sent me a “mystery” Squishable stuffed animal that turned out to be a bee. A honeybee flew through an open window in my Manhattan apartment. They made it clear that they wanted to be in the book.

KF: Video games are a huge part of the novel. How did you decide to make Zachary a game theory major?

EM: I always wanted it to be a story that felt old and new at the same time and at first I’d assumed that Zachary was an English major spending his January reading, but it never felt right. I remember it hit me in the middle of playing something (probably Dragon Age) that one could probably get advanced degrees in video game study now, something that hadn’t occurred to me because I was in college 20 years ago. It felt like the perfect story-related field to put him in.

KF: What is your favorite cocktail, and why did you choose the Sidecar for Zachary?

EM: I have several favorite cocktails, though I am quite partial to a Last Word or a Bee’s Knees because I tend to be a gin baby. Slightly dressed-up gin and tonics are my go-to when I’m feeling too lazy for mixing. For Zachary, though, I wanted something a little more fall/winter appropriate and in that time of year I tend to move in a bourbon/cognac direction. I wanted him to have that drink he orders when there’s nothing else to order, something classic that most if not all bars could manage. A comfort cocktail that tastes familiar no matter where you’re drinking it. (Side note: The only sugared rim I’ve had on a Sidecar that didn’t completely annoy me was once when the bartender only sugared half the rim so you could control the amount of sugar per sip.)

KF: You mention a lot of real life titles (e.g., The Catcher in the Rye) in The Starless Sea, which makes sense since it’s a book about books. Is there any significance to the specific titles or were they chosen at random?

EM: Most of the references are to particular favorites of mine or things that felt suitable. Some of Zachary’s choices are books I thought he might pick up in the winter for catching up on things he’d been meaning to read or somehow never read before, like The Catcher in the Rye. Dorian got my complicated feelings about Donna Tartt novels.

KF: There’s been a lot of talk about fantasy as a genre breaking into mainstream culture. Why do you think that is, and why are we hungry for the fantastical?

EM: I think people have probably always been hungry for the fantastical but there’s greater access to it now. I think a lot of it probably has to do with the advent of the internet, where even niche interests can find wider communities. I also think there seems to be less of a stigma around carrying childhood interests over into adulthood and I think that can range from video games and toy collecting to fairy tales and cosplay and beyond.I dislike using the word “escapism,” which gets thrown around so much about the fantastical, but I do think the world is going through a lot of horrible things right now and it can be refreshing and comforting to imagine other worlds and other stories and even other problems beyond the ones we’re faced with day to day.

KF: You’ve said that you thought you were writing a book about books, but that you actually wrote a book about stories. What’s the difference to you, and why is it an important distinction?

EM: Early on I started to expand the scope beyond books. Part of it was pulling in the video game element, but also so much is fairy tale/myth inspired that I started thinking more about retellings and different versions of stories, which I think is my primary distinction: A book is a fixed story, but a story itself is a malleable thing. ¶

Former Bookshop Santa Cruz bookseller Karena Fagan lives in Pittsburgh with her family and is in a non-monogamous relationship with Speculative Fiction, Romance, and Feminist manifestos. Snarky heroines are her weakness. You can find her at theunread.net.

You can find the interview also here on Bookshop Santa Cruz’s website.

stack of books in front of a fireplace with the text Nonfiction November

NonFiction November: Feminism

Hey folks! So last week I focused in on memoirs. This week are the feminist titles I’ve picked up. If you know me at all, you know this is something near and dear to my heart that I’m always looking to improve. If you think the work’s all done, you’ve already failed. We should always work at improving our feminism, especially us white ladies. We as a group have a habit of leaving people out of the movement (as Mikki Kendall points out in Hood Feminism featured below) and we need to knock that shit off.

Today’s Topic: Feminism

F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me by Chloe Hilliard

For this title and the next, I totally consider books about body image a topic of feminism. Mostly because we spend so much time as a society telling non cis straight white men what they should do what their bodies.

Pub date: January 7, 2020

Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and the Back) by Mara Altman

The cover of this one is what drew me in, but also like I said about the previous title, body image something that is commodified so reading something that helps me accept my body, I’m all in for.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by MIkki Kendall

I follow Kendall on Twitter and was thrilled to see she had a book coming out. I really like what she has to say and I hope more people will take it to heart that there is still work to be done. There isn’t a lot of room for nuance on Twitter so I’m looking forward to a more in-depth look at her thoughts.

Pub date: February 25, 2020

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

Shrill (the book and the show) was an important addition to my feminism. I like West’s approach and I really want to see how she’s evolved since the publication of Shrill. Let me tell you, she does not disappoint. She spends an essay on how Adam Sandler is a terrible actor as well as how Trump is a “short in an 8 foot tie.” I highly recommend the audio as Lindy narrates it herself.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

This title has been getting all the rage. I mean, when Roxane Gay recs a book about feminism, you go and get it. I always am looking to improve and I am looking forward to Cooper’s collection of essays.

What are you reading for Nonfiction November? How are you improving yourself?

stack of books in front of a fireplace with the text Nonfiction November

NonFiction November: Memoirs

Hey folks! It’s that time of year again. Because I have a habit of hiding in swoony romance, pew pew romance, and historical fiction, i like to spend the month of November catching up on all the nonfiction I’ve accumulated. So each week I’m going to pick a topic and go from there. This week is going to be featuring memoirs. I love a good memoir. Julia Child’s My Life in France, Eddie Izzard’s Believe Me, Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy are a few of my favorites.

Today’s Topic: Memoirs

Horror Stories by Liz Phair

There was a very specific time in my twenties when I lived in Okinawa that I listened to Liz Phair obsessively (I was also involved with a pagan coven and lived on an Air Force base so there was a mood). This pick is mostly a nostalgic one. I don’t know much about her so this will either be amazing or terrible. But the trip down memory lane will be worth it. I hope.

Dear Girls: Intimiate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong.

I adore Ali Wong. A collection of essays written to her daughters is exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve already read the introduction and it’s a damn delight. I’m still bitter I missed her stand up because of the big move this summer so maybe reading this will make up for it. I doubt it, but it’s still gonna be a fun read.

Something that May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Ortberg

I read Texts from Jane Eyre years ago and while some went over my head (I still haven’t read Jane Eyre, but it’s going on my 2020 resolutions list), I throughly enjoyed Ortberg’s sense of humor. I’m definitely here for a more intimate collection of his thoughts.

Pub date: January 28, 2020

Recollections of my Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit

I can’t believe this is the first memoir we’ve gotten from Solnit, but I’m so here for it. I haven’t read everything that she’s written, but what I have read has inspired and given food for thought.

Pub date: March 10, 2020

Save Yourself by Cameron Esposito

I really like Esposito’s standup and am intrigued to hear about her life and stories. Just from her routine, you know there is a wealth of background to be explored and she’s made an impact on comedy and society.

March 24, 2020

Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird

I met Jackson Bird once in New York where he hosted a Pictionary tournament between Sarah Andersen and Valentine De Landro which was everything I ever wanted. He is a smart, passionate person who I admire. I had somehow missed he was writing a memoir, but now that I have it, I can’t wait to read it and pass it down to my oldest who has been exploring their identity.

Are you doing Nonfiction November? What are your favorite memoirs?

*Edited to add publishing dates.

New Releases for the week of October 7th

No one knows why Tuesday is new release day, but are we really going to look a gift horse in the mouth? Every week I’ll post books that I’m excited about.

Horror Stories by Liz Phair

I have to admit on this one, I have only one Liz Phair album that I’ve listened to (I’m actually really bad at music in general), but it holds a lot of memories for me and also I do dig musician memoirs so I definitely can’t wait to jump into this one. I’m participating in Nonfiction November (basically just read a bunch of nonfic) and this is totally in the stack to enjoy.

The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

I am pretty sure I’ve mentioned I don’t do horror, but recently I talked to Nicole from Quirk Books and she was totally raving about this one so I’m going to give it a shot. Seems like a good month to scare the crap out of myself. Here’s the thing…all I have is a digital ARC so I can’t hide it in the freezer when I’m terrified. Send me suggestions!

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I love Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom so much (remember magic heists are my jam), so I knew Bardugo had it in her to write a book for adults. I didn’t get my hands on an ARC this time around, but have already preordered my copy. I can hardly wait. There’s a lot of good buzz going around so I doubt we’re going to be disappointed. (Speaking of 6ofC did you all see this?

That’s it for me. Let me know what you’re planning on picking up this week.

New Releases for the week of September 30th Part 2

I knew my list was too short yesterday! I had been using the wrong filter on my book document. Here are the rest of this week’s new releases that I am excited for you to pick up!

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

This is actually the first of Guillory’s books that I haven’t read before the pub date and I’m sorry for it. Her books are a bit more on the tamer side so if you’re looking for steam, this isn’t your book (but I may have something later on for you), but they are fun books and if you want to save this one for the holidays, who’s gonna stop you?

Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik

This is the spicy I promised. Not burn your mouth hot, but enough to make it interesting. I really am digging this sci-fi romance series, and it is most definitely a romance which is so much fun. Adventure, kissing, a princess who is not here to play? What’s more do you need? Maybe a dude who gets in her way at every turn? Mihalik’s got you covered. Strap into your bunk for this good time.

The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

A debut novel about witches who help make wine? Um, yes please? I didn’t get an ARC of this one in time so I’m just as much in the dark if the premise is executed well, but wow, the concept it ringing all my bells. It may not be a spooky book (and tbh, I’m not here for the bumps in the night), but this feels like the perfect book for the season. I also am really digging that cover. So pretty.

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

I’m in the middle of reading this one now (along with at least 4 other books) and it was one I started before the move, but man what a premise. A library in Hell? Muses? Demons? Books that gain sentience? Damn you move for making me put this one aside. Another great cover. I’ll let you all know when I’ve finished if it is a keeper, but from what I’ve read, I’m definitely into it.

Again, Sorry about the missed books, but really it gave your credit card a bit of a break, right? Let me know in the comments which ones you have picked up or are planning on reading!

New Releases for the week of September 30th

No one knows why Tuesday is new release day, but are we really going to look a gift horse in the mouth? Every week I’ll post books that I’m excited about.

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

I picked the third book of the Athena series up in August and haven’t quite gotten to it yet, but what I’ve read of the first two books I have thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe October is just going to be me finishing all the books I have s started and forgot to go back to.

Crier’s War by Nina Varela

Queer SFF YA for the win. This debut novel promises to be something we can curl up with and lose ourselves in. From the reviews I’ve read it’s got lots of positive queer and lady rep which gives me all the hope. I have my ARC somewhere…moving is the worst, y’all. As soon as I find my copy, I’ll report back if it was everything we hoped for.

Looks like the first week of October is a light one for me. Next week has a few more. In the next month or so we’ll start seeing our Fall releases so don’t lose hope!

Acquired ARCs for the week of September 23rd

Every week I share which ARCs I’ve picked up from Edelweiss or Netgalley.

Edelweiss

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

I have a soft spot for historical fiction featuring witchy women: women with healing talents, midwifery, or just straight up magical powers. I’m really interested because this is a story that looks into the history of the mysticism of the people of the Caribbean and frankly we need these stories to remind us, there’s a wide world out there with stories to share.

Pub date: March 17, 2020

The Beast of Beswick by Amalie Howard

Howard is a new-to-me author and this is the start of a brand new series so it seemed like a good time to try her out. We have a marriage of convenience trope which as you know is my fave. I’m curious to see how she’s going to handle the obvious Beauty and the Beast retelling. It takes a clever hand to make it something new.

Pub date: November 26, 2019

The Worst Best Man By Mia Sosa

Mia Sosa has been writing for Avon’s Impulse line which is ebook only and now they’re bringing her over for their main line. I’m thrilled because that means not only do we get another AoC getting the recognition she deserves, but we get more awesome stories. I see another of the illustrated covers which makes me sigh, but the enemies to lovers trope is a fun one to explore.

Pub date: February 4, 2020

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

I will take all the queer fantasy writers. Add in an Orc MC and I’m *chin hands*. Why am I not surprised it’s a Tor title? This year we had necromancer nuns, next year? Orc priestesses. The acquiring agent Lindsey Hall is a freaking genius who also was the one to acquire Kings of the Wyld which is also a fave of mine.

Pub date: Feb 11, 2020

New Releases for the Week of September 23rd

No one knows why Tuesday is new release day, but are we really going to look a gift horse in the mouth? Every week I’ll post books that I’m excited about. This week is going to be all about the romance.

The Orchid Throne by Jaffe Kennedy

I enjoyed this fantasy romance, it was an interesting blend of both genres. I think it’s gonna be more on the fantasy side for romance readers tbh. The main love interests spend too much time apart and then once they meet, hating each other. The court intrigue is solid. As a fantasy series I found the world building pretty decent and the characters had promise. Hopefully book 2 will address the romance side of the house.

When the Marquess Was Mine by Caroline Linden

I have few tropes that annoy the crap out of me, but the amnesia trope is a very complicated one and it never seems to be done right (let me know if you want a whole post on why this is a thing). Linden does a pretty credible job here. The ending felt a bit rushed, but on the whole, she handled Rob’s amnesia with skill.

The Merry Viscount by Sally MacKenzie

This is the second book in MacKenzie’s Widow’s Brew series and I have a soft spot for it because I ended up having this great buddy read of the first book with a bunch of my friends. Romance and beer? Hey-o. This was a fun, hey-we-kind-of-knew-each-other-as-kids-now-you’re-a-degenerate-rake. I wish there had been more about the beer making aspect, but I think with the drama of the orgy turned house party (see now you have to read it), there was too much to do.

Heiress Gone Wild by Laura Lee Guhrke

Fourth in the Lady Truelove series, Heiress Gone Wild is the “I was just made ward of a grown ass lady” trope. Usually this trope makes me eh, but Marjorie amused the hell out of me with her threats of frivolous spending and troublemaking. Jonathan is the typical high-handed type so he could use a shaking up. I can’t remember if this was the end of the series, but if so, it was a great way to cap it off.

Acquired ARCs for the week of September 16th

Every week I share which ARCs I’ve picked up from Edelweiss or Netgalley.

Netgalley

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass

I enjoyed the first of this series about an exiled courtesan who’s forced to babysit her troublemaker brother. It turned into a heist plot and man, do I love a magic heist(see my love of the movie Now You See Me. I’m excited to see what’s next for the group. It isn’t complicated world building so it’s great for those nights where I just want to lose myself in the adventure of it.

Pub date: February 4, 2020

Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

This is me telling you that Subterranean Press is putting out a collection of short stories by Seanan McGuire and you need to go pre-order it. Seanan has a gift for the short story where she packs a punch in just a short amount of words. Or she’ll send you hiding under your bed in terror. It’s obviously a gift. This also releases on Halloween so it’s an omen.

Pub date: October 31, 2019

Edelweiss

Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha

There’s no cover announced for this one yet. I love Kit Rocha’s romance series, and this is the first in their SFF series pubbed by Tor. I admit, I’m a little over halfway into it and…it feels more on the romance side of it still. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. It’s still a fun book and I’m excited to see what it means to be a Mercenary Librarian.

Pub date: May 20, 2020

The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

I have a confession. I’ll read all the books about the Borgias or the Tudors. They are the tabloid trash fires of their time, just with more poisonings. It’s always interesting to see what lore or suppositions the author is going to play with. Was there incest afoot in the Borgia household? Did Cesar kill his older brother?

Pub date: February 11, 2020

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Another cover not announced because this is another Tor publication and we’re a bit of the game. This is a new to me author although he’s been around and has won the LAMBDA for best Gay Romance. I am interested to see his foray into SFF. The premise sounds fascinating. Magical creature children on an island. I’m listening.

Pub date: March 17, 2020