Monthly Archives: February 2013

Karen Bender, author of A Town of Empty Rooms talks about her novel and the flying carpet of the web

When Thaisa Frank asked me to contribute to her blog,, for The Next Big Thing, project, I was happy; I’m excited to read her latest book, Enchantment, which was one of the SF Chronicle Best Books of 2012 and which reviewer Skip Horak described in the SF Chronicle, as having a “marvelous, dreamlike quality–the sort of book that is not read as much as it is experienced, a spellbinding blend of flash fiction, short stories and novellas that also move seamlessly and pleasingly from the concrete and the surreal, the historical and the fantastic (often within the same narrative.” So the next big thing I’d advise you to read it is Thaisa’s book!

It’s also great to be part of an online network to help get the word out about literature coming out this year, and offer up a little info on my own. My second novel, A Town of Empty Rooms, is first book I’ve published since social media really became a presence in book publishing. My first novel was a 600-page brick that I dumped on my agent’s desk and that he sent by messenger to editors around New York. My last book was sent in as an attachment to an email, and travelled through the world this way until it found its home at Counterpoint. Now I love seeing the way news about books can travel, freely, from my computer into yours, via facebook, blogs, twitter, etc. Here’s some information on my new novel, A Town of Empty Rooms and its evolution, and some books to look out for in 2013:

What is your new novel called My new novel is called A Town of Empty Rooms; it was published January 15

What kind of book is it?I’d call it a work of literary fiction, which means that I hope it illuminates a reader’s own unique, perhaps unthinkable thoughts.

What  inspired you to start this book?

I stared thinking about this book when I wanted to figure out why people liked  accusing one another. I think an image that stayed with me was watching enormous tanks roll down Oleander Drive in Wilmington, on the way to Iraq. This was happening when people were protesting this war around the globe. I wondered–how was this war starting? It seemed that no one was listening to each other, that the government was just barging ahead doing its own thing, and I started noticing how failure to communicate was happening on a massive scale–in our nation, in communities, within families. I wanted to write to find out how this happened and maybe how people could learn to connect with each other more.  It’s also about a couple who have trouble talking to each other, a troubled Jewish congregation in the Bible Belt, the Boy Scouts, and an unfortunate neighbor.

How long did it take to write?

It took about two years to write a first draft, and a couple years to revise. It was about five years in the making.

What stars should play your characters in a movie?

I’d like Jeremy  Piven to play Rabbi Golden; watching his volatile Ari Gold in Entourage helped me, in some ways, create this character. Julianne Margulies for Serena; Tom Cruise, the master of the suppressed cheerful guy, to play Dan, and Gene Hackman to play the upbeat but sinister neighbor, Forrest.

What books would you compare this to?  

I’m not sure what books I’d compare this to, but ones that nourished me while I wrote it: The Widow’s Children by Paula Fox, Little Children by Tom Perotta, Intuition by Allegra Goodman, The Collected Stories of John Cheever, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick, anything by Philip Roth. I was drawn to books that explored all the interesting flaws in their characters, all the wonderful mistakes that make us human.

What books should we look for in 2013?

First, Dana Sachs’ new novel, The Secret of the Nightingale Palace, which comes out in February, and features what I know will be the most memorable grandmother/granddaughter road trip ever; I know it will be beautiful and moving and full of radiant compassion, as Dana’s books always are.

In June, Rebecca Lee’s story collection Bobcat, which introduces one of the best voices in contemporary short fiction.  Ben Fountain compares her to Chekhov and Munro, and I’d like to throw Nabokov in there; a gorgeous, funny, brilliant voice.

Second, in June, Rockaway by Tara Ison, one of my favorite writers, whose new novel is a love letter to the town of Rockaway, New York, and whose new novel promises to be a unique and beautiful exploration of love and art.

And also, in June (a big month!) look for Craig Nova’s All The Dead Yale Men,a sequel to his novel The Good Son, which is a modern classic.

In October, Nina de Gramont’s new YA novel Meet Me at the River; I can’t wait to follow de Gramont’s luminous, singular prose as she leads us through this story of love and ghosts.

Definitely pick up these books this year! Let the relay of literature continue on.



Anne-E Wood: People at Night


What is the working title of the book?

The title of the chapter is Celia the working title of the book is The Warblers.

Where did the idea come from the book?

The idea of the book came with insomnia. When I was in my mid-twenties, I had a hard time sleeping. So did my sister, so we would call each other up sometimes in the middle of the night. I thought about how odd it was: we had taken very different paths in life, but we shared this frustrating sleeplessness. We were up for separate reasons, but for those hours, we felt exactly the same way. So this idea of a novel about a family that can’t sleep came to me.  Night is a setting that reveals something about character that daylight hides. I didn’t invent this.

For this chapter…

I came across some photographs of my mother from the 70’s, when my siblings and I were small children. In all of them she’s engaged in a loving motherly action: you can see her silhouette pushing a child on a swing, her hands buttoning an infant’s coat. In many of them, her face is hidden, completely cut out of the picture or half-veiled with her long blond hair. So I wondered about her emotional state. What did the pictures show and what did they hide? What truths and lies were they telling? She had given up her career as a journalist to raise five children in the suburbs. Was she happy with how things turned out? Had she ever been happy?  So this character, Celia, started speaking to me. Celia isn’t my mother at all, but she might be some restless shadow of my mother. She’s also some aspect of me and a lot of other women and men I know. She’s in love with someone from the past, but maybe that memory is just something that sustains her in the present. I wanted her voice to capture a particular kind of loneliness. It’s not angst. It’s more terrifying. It’s the loneliness of missing something you never had and wanting something that might not exist. All the members of the family in my book suffer from that kind of desire, and besides blood and insomnia, this is what connects them.


It’s Contemporary Literary Fiction

Which Actors Would You Choose:

Walter: Tracy Letts

Celia:  Jennifer Connely, but she would have to gain some weight

Benjamin: Heath Ledger type

Dahlia: Scarlett Johansson

Noah: Patrick Wilson

One Sentence Synopsis of the Book 

The story of a father whose family abandons him, told through the family members’ voices at different nights of their lives.


An excerpt, “Celia,” will be published in the debut issue of No Tokens, a new Brooklyn magazine that will come out in the fall.

How Long Did it Take to Write the First Draft?


What might peak the reader’s interest?

The story  involves murder, betrayal, sex, drugs, and a dog, but I’m hoping the characters’ voices and conflicts with each other will pull the readers into the narrative.