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Writing As Rescue, Reading As Escape: Writers On Creativity In Quarantine

Creative Commons/Steve Mohundro

“Writers write.” “Publish or perish.” Even without a global pandemic, writers face constant pressure to produce new material. But for the first-time novelist, publishing a book when bookstores are closed for browsing, signings and readers is particularly tough. 

The process presents unique challenges for veteran authors, too, from learning new technology to battling low productivity. Host Frank Stasio discusses the impact of COVID-19 on the creative process with Martha Waters, children’s librarian and debut author of the romance novel, “To Have and to Hoax” (Atria/2020) and Lee Smith, author of the new novella, “Blue Marlin” (Blair/2020).

One way that Waters and Smith are both coping with the disruption the coronavirus crisis has caused for their book promotion plans is to read and recommend books.

Here are two titles Martha Waters recommends for young readers:

Efrén, Divided” - Ernesto Cisneros (Quill Tree Books/2020)

The story of Efrén Nava, a Mexican-American teen whose mother, an undocumented immigrant, is suddenly deported to Tijuana. “Efrén, Divided” is a middle-grade chapter book appropriate for 8-12-year-old readers. Waters says, “It sounds very heavy, but I thought it was an age-appropriate introduction to a topic that kids have probably seen in the news in the past couple years. I found it, ultimately, very hopeful and a really impressive debut."  

Prairie Lotus” -  Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books/2020)

Reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, “Prairie Lotus” introduces young readers to Hanna, a biracial Chinese-American girl who finds herself living with her father in a railroad town in Dakota Territory. Fifteen-year-old Hanna’s aspirations are modest: to get an education, to become a dressmaker and to make friends. But she pursues these dreams while confronting her new neighbors’ glaring racism against Asians. “It’s kind of a more up-to-date “Little House on the Prairie,” says Waters, “but it has all the things you love about ‘Little House’ like people sewing their own clothes and setting up a homestead on the prairie.”

For adult readers, Lee Smith recommends these titles:

Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust: My Friendship with Patsy Cline” - Loretta Lynn (Grand Central/2020)

This new memoir explores the sisterhood between two country music legends. Lynn co-authored the book with her daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, with a foreword from another country icon: Dolly Parton. “I’m having the best time,” says Smith of reading the memoir, “because I’ve always been fascinated by Patsy Cline who grew up in the mountains of Virginia herself, although farther east than me.” 

The Giver of Stars” - Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books/2019)

Based on a true story, Moyes’ latest novel follows Alice Wright, a young British woman who finds herself in homesteading Kentucky, after marrying an American. A librarian by trade, she answers the call of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to form a team of women to deliver books as part of a new traveling library initiative. She joins forces and forges close friendships with two other local women, setting off on a mission of duty and adventure. “It’s just absolutely wonderful,” says Smith.

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Stacia Brown comes to WUNC from Washington, DC, where she was a producer for WAMU’s daily news radio program, 1A. She’s the creator and host of two podcasts, The Rise of Charm City and Hope Chest. Her audio projects have been featured on Scene on Radio, a podcast of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University; BBC 4’s Short Cuts; and American Public Radio’s Terrible, Thanks for Asking.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.