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ALICE BLISS Blog Tour Kickoff – Q & A with Laura Harrington and Giveaway
Aug 15th, 2012 by Liza Wiemer

Alice Bliss is the novel for our generation. Like Tom Sawyer, Little Women, Ann Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl are classics from past centuries, Alice Bliss is destined to be a classic of the twenty-first century.

“If a novel could have a heartbeat, Alice Bliss would have one. If an author could capture a slice of America’s soul, Laura Harrington succeeded in doing so!” Liza Wiemer

For Goodreads summary: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9816578-alice-bliss

WhoRuBlog is the first of fourteen blogs sharing interviews, reviews, guest posts, and giving away ALICE BLISS. Please see the the post below this one for the list of all participating blogs & dates.

GIVEAWAY: Enter to win a copy of Alice Bliss – US only.

 So easy –

Post a comment below – 2 entries. Tweet and/or post on Facebook – 1 entry each (let me know). Twitter follower https://twitter.com/lizawiemer or Facebook follower  http://www.facebook.com/liza.wiemer – 1 extra entry each. Follow Laura Harrington on Twitter https://twitter.com/LaurHarrington or Facebook http://www.facebook.com/LauraHarringtonLH 1 extra entry each. GIVEAWAY ENDS: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 22, 8PM CST, Winner is Christie K. (MORE OPPORTUNITIES TO WIN – LOOK AT POST BELOW THIS ONE!)

ALICE BLISS is a People Magazine “People Pick” with 4 out of 4 stars.

ALICE BLISS: “The Best Books of the Summer” Entertainment Weekly.

ALICE BLISS has been selected for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program.

ALICE BLISS: School Library Journal‘s “Best Books of 2011” in the category “Adult Books for Teens.”

ALICE BLISS Listeners’ Top Book Picks for Books of Summer on NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook.

ALICE BLISS chosen “Book of the Week” by Stylist Magazine in the UK.

Massachusetts Library Association “Must Read” for 2012

Nominated for the 2012 Alex Award

ALICE BLISS is a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club Pick in the UK

 

Take Five Q & A with Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss

Q:  Alice faces some turbulent and passionate moments with two different young men. Although this IS NOT a love triangle story, there is still a question as to whether Alice might eventually choose John over Henry. What qualities in a young man do you think would suit Alice and do those fit John or Henry best?

A:  First of all, Liza, I have to compliment you on asking me some of the best questions I’ve ever been

Laura Harrington, award-winning playwright, MIT professor, and author of ALICE BLISS

asked about Alice Bliss. You’ve really made me think about and explore some of the deeper issues and ideas in the book.

You’ve asked a better question than simply “Henry or John,” but I think I need to explore each choice to answer which qualities might suit Alice best, if that’s even possible.

Alice has history with Henry. They really know each other on many levels: as children, as young adults; they have been present for many of the key moments in each other’s lives.  Henry is also an artist with many talents: he is a gifted pianist and also plays the clarinet.  He reads and thinks deeply, he has the makings of a fine student.  He has compassion, he has empathy, and he is honest about his own confusion, which is never easy. He is true to himself, even if that means being labeled negatively in high school.  And, to my mind, he has one of the absolute essential qualities: a sense of humor.

John is more of a mystery. And isn’t that part of the appeal?  John is two years older – more mystery, more appeal. He is drawn to Alice – why? What’s that initial spark? And can it be trusted? Is he drawn to her because of how she looks? Because she carries herself a bit differently? Because she’s a bit of an iconoclast?  (All external qualities.) We see that initial attraction deepen as they actually get to know each other and then bond over a missing parent.  And then he enlists, which on the one hand makes him honorable and very much like Matt; and on the other hand presents Alice with the potential of losing another loved one to the war.

Do we make our choices with our heads or our hearts? In the book, following the most wrenching, painful, impossible moment in her life, Alice chooses Henry. This is a strong choice and a true choice and a choice that will give her strength rather than add to her sense of vulnerability.  It is also a choice that reveals that she has a strong sense of herself. She risks true intimacy in this moment, which is so full of hope.

Q: Alice often has difficulty dealing with her mother Angie. Angie can be self-absorbed, careless, thoughtless, neglectful. Alice often is left to take care of her younger sister Ellie and it’s not easy. What is your best advice to young adults who might find themselves in a similar parent/child relationship?

A:  I think there are many young adults who are dealing with this situation; many young adults and children, too, who are coping with very adult problems and issues.  If one parent is missing, the remaining parent often needs to lean on the oldest child, whether the parent is missing due to illness, divorce, military deployment, or any other reason. My best advice is this – reach out to the other people around you for solace or support or help with a task or a job.  That list that Matt asks Alice to make with him before he leaves – who can you call on if you need someone – we all need a list like that.  It’s important to remember when you feel yourself hesitant to ask for help that most people like to be asked, most people want to help.

Q: What is one important life lesson you’ve learned that could be helpful for other young adults? Please explain.

A: My dad didn’t give me an actual compass, the way Matt does. But he sure gave me an internal compass.  What continues to amaze me is that he did it almost entirely without words, purely by example.  The life lesson is this: When I pay attention to that compass – you could call it your conscience or your inner voice or your deeper sense of knowing – I am never led astray.  When I ignore it, when I don’t listen to the small voice inside of me, I always regret it.  This is true in my personal and my professional life. 

Q:  You have fantastic minor characters. One in particular is Mrs. Piantowski, a woman with eight kids who bakes bread for Alice’s grandma’s café. What is it about Mrs. Piantowski that makes her have a minor, yet important role in Alice’s personal growth?

A:  I vividly remember getting a glimpse into other ways of living when I was a kid. I had one friend whose family was way outside of our small town norm. The father was a French horn player in the Symphony, which meant that he was around during the daytime, unlike every other father. And he practiced every day. Hearing that beautiful haunting horn was far beyond my usual experience.  There were six kids, I think, they all played an instrument and they dressed a little differently.  They ate food that seemed exotic to me; they seemed freer.  We had tremendous freedom to play at their house. Not so many rules. 

For Alice, Mrs. Piantowski is mysterious and different; different kind of house, family organization, rules. And she seems to be a different kind of mother. Plus, she’s a  baker! A lover of bread. The staff of life. What could be more essential, more nurturing than that? I think Alice is hungry for some of the more traditional nurturing you can get from your mom, at the same time she is pulling away from or rejecting those needs in herself that are now starting to feel childish. But it’s safe to observe those things, to experience those hungers at Mrs. Piantowski’s.  And I think holding baby Inga – both when she picks up bread – and then later in the book, when there’s a moment that is truly “full circle” – is a very special gift of comfort for Alice.

Q:  Gardening is an important part of Alice Bliss. What is it about gardening that you decided to make it an important metaphor and theme of the novel?

A:  I wrote Alice Bliss the year after my father died and my love and grief for my dad inform every page.  That’s my father’s garden in the book, his apple trees, his grape arbor. I hate to admit it, but I worked beside him grudgingly.  When I was Alice’s age, I had little patience for gardening or canning. or my father’s measured, meticulous way of going about every task. But the lessons I learned at his side – which were largely unspoken – continue to be a daily part of my life. 

Q:  Alice doesn’t seem to care what other people think about her, especially when it comes to appearance, activities, friends. But it’s not because she’s defiant. It’s because she possesses confidence in herself. She embraces her individuality. This is so contrary to a lot of young adults who want desperately to fit in. What can others learn from Alice about embracing individuality?

A:  What a brilliant question – because it is THE question most of us struggle with. Can I be my true self even if it means not fitting in?  And it’s a compelling question for all ages, I believe, as you can be faced with this issue at any point in your life.  I think I can answer your question about Alice embracing her individuality best by talking about where her sense of identity comes from.  If your sense of identity comes solely from your peers and your relationships at school, it can make you terribly vulnerable.  And it is tempting to jettison or undervalue the other relationships in your life when peers become paramount.  But it’s those other relationships and those other activities – inside and outside of the family – that allow Alice to feel free to be who she is.  In writing the book, I was trying to give Alice the tools to survive the losses that she’s faced with. Those tools are: connection to family, including extended family (Gram and Uncle Eddie), connection to her community (working at The Bird Sister’s Café, knowing Mrs. Minty, getting to know Mrs. Piantowski, the baker), connection at school (even though she’s unraveling academically and her best friend abandons her, she dares to try something new – track – and connects to a teammate and a coach).  But this question has made me realize that those tools will help Alice meet the challenges she is faced with AND help her be who she truly is. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON LAURA HARRINGTON: 

Laura Harrington is an award-winning playwright, lyricist, and MIT professor. Her debut novel, ALICE BLISS, was published by Pamela Dorman Books, Viking/Penguin.

http://www.lauraharringtonbooks.com/

https://twitter.com/LaurHarrington

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2101135.Laura_Harrington

http://www.facebook.com/LauraHarringtonLH

 

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