MONTCLAIR, NJ – This Friday evening two best-selling authors from Montclair, kicked off a six part series at the Montclair Public Library, called Open Book / Open Mind. The free events are designed to be conversations among authors and audience. Approximately 130 people were in attendance.
Susan Dunn, Vice Chair of the foundation was excited about the launch of this series. Dunn said, “This is the first of six. The next event is scheduled for March 22nd”
Christina Baker Kline is a novelist, nonfiction writer and editor. Her New York Times best-selling Orphan Train was one of the many books for sale this evening at the library. Her novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lanes, and Sweet Water.
Matthew Thomas has a BA from the University of Chicago, an MA from the Writing Seminar at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. This evening he discussed his New York Times best-selling novel, We Are Not Ourselves.
Alison Bauer, President of the Montclair Public Library Foundation Board, said a few words, and thanked the authors and the audience. David Hinkley, director of the Montclair Public Library System recognized Jennifer Dorr, Co-chair of MPL Open Book, Open Mind Committee for her efforts in organizing the event.
The award-winning authors interviewed each other, after which they took questions from the audience.
Thomas praised Montclair saying, "Montclair is a town in which it's easy to scare up conversation about things that matter." Thomas then read a poignant passage from his book set in Queens and in Westchester New York. The main character, Eileen, was raised in an alcoholic home with the dream of improving her life.
When he was done reading, Kline asked him about the scene he read. She said he uses showing but also telling and asked whether he saw this particular scene as being a part of larger themes in the book. Thomas said he intended to encapsulate the relationship between Eileen and her husband, taking Ed to the edge of unlikability and bringing him back.
While Kline’s book, Orphan Trains, was discussed; Kline decided to read the prologue of her new novel. This was a first glimpse of her coming book, never before read in public. It is called Christina's World and was inspired by a 1948 painting by American painter Andrew Wyeth.
Thomas praised Kline for the tantalizing revelations in her book and asked her how she manages to suggest without being portentous. Kline replied that it is all in the editing. She said she is now able to write quickly because she has learned that editing makes that possible, and she trusts herself to ruthlessly return to the writing.
Conversely Kline asked, "What gives you the confidence to stay in a scene for 20 pages?" Thomas’s answer had the audience laughing. He said, "Pigheadedness!" He added, "Being willing to let the character dictate what comes next."
The authors discussed writing about people in states of peril without excessive sentimentality. When asked how she managed to not be too sentimental in her writing, the audience laughed again as Kline replied, "I have a Grinchy little heart." She said the secret is in cutting, paring back, using less adjectives and adverbs, and presenting without overlay.
Audience member, Toby Stein asked the question, "Writers always thank their agents. I would like to know how much input you want from your agent. Early on, is your agent one of your readers?" While Kline did not have the experience of her agent contributing in an editorial capacity, Thomas did, and praised his agent's writing and reading skills. Bill Clegg, his agent, is also a memoirist.
A young lady from the audience asked, "How do you think your novel would have turned out if you did not remove the sentimentality from it?"
Thomas said that sentiment is there, and is genuine, but cannot be kitschy or distasteful.
Kline said, "You can go toward sentimentality and then pull back."
After the event, several audience members commented on their experience. Eileen Lundberg, an audience member, said, “ It was as an intimate evening for booklovers at the Library. We got to enjoy rare access to two talented local authors discussing their work and asking thoughtful questions about their creative processes and inspiration. It was a very enlightening and thought provoking session and I cannot wait until the next event in the series. We have a treasure trove of great writers living amongst us in Montclair to celebrate!"
A book signing followed the event. Authors greeted a line of people purchasing their books.
When the doors closed, Dorr said, "The intellectual chemistry between Matthew Thomas and Christina Baker Kline was amazing. It gave me the experience of sitting in on an intimate conversation between brilliant people who love what they do. And I loved the spontaneity of the exchange with the audience, so many of whom were writers and passionate readers. It could not have gone better. I am so pleased and grateful to the authors and volunteers who made this vision for a new author series in Montclair a reality."