Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Susan DiPlacido. I am thrilled that Susan an award-winning Pennsylvania author, agreed to write a guest post as part of the LRT project. I have her novel 24/7, a romantic suspense that takes place in Las Vegas, on my reading list for this fall. I feel more than a little bit of kinship with Susan because, as you will see, she is a fellow Sookie Stackhouse fan.
Let's take a look at what was on Susan's reading list this summer.
Summer is the time for reading. There's nothing quite as quintessentially a happy summer cliché as lounging by a pool or at the beach with a good paperback. Some people prefer to use the time to catch up on meaningful literature, and some use the lazy days to indulge the pleasures of page-turners. I am, admittedly, a reader who gravitates toward the page-turners. Luckily, since writing is also my job, and since I tend to balance my writings very light on the literary scale and extremely heavy on the pulp side, I can greedily gobble down as much genre as I like and still feel like I'm being productive, i.e., keeping up with trends and all.
However, I do try to throw some more enlightening things into my pile, too. And this summer, I made a deal with myself that on the brightest and hottest days when things were at their most relaxed, I would atone for my lounge-chair ways by reading more in the literary spectrum. However, as things turned out for us Pennsylvanians, the calendar said that summer started on June 21, but the weather wasn't the least bit cooperative. We did eventually shake off winter, but after a slight, anticipation-building heatwave in early June, the rest of that month and the entire month of July fell into unseasonably cool weather with seemingly endless amounts of thunderstorms.
In the first week of June, when it was still cool, I figured I'd use the (supposedly) waning crappy weather to quench my thirst for genre. So I delved into the first book of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Dead Until Dark. I'm a big fan of the HBO series True Blood, which is based on these books, so I wanted to catch up and get a peek at what season 2 may hold. Since these books have the addictive power of crack cocaine, I had zipped through the first two in just that first week and was salivating to dive into the third. The first one is set in the small, fictional town of Bon Temps, LA, and centers around young barmaid Sookie Stackhouse, a human with the "disability" of being a telepath. But when vampires finally "come out of the coffin" and make themselves known to the general public, Sookie is immediately attracted to Bon Temps newest resident, Vampire Bill, because he brings her so much peace with her inability to hear vampire thoughts. The rural setting and southern twang of the first book is bolstered by a solid mystery and scorching romance, while also mixing plenty of standard horror touches. In other words, it's a genre-lovers feast. The second moves action to the city of Dallas, but continues along with all the other ingredients that make it nearly impossible to put down.
But then the first heat came, and I decided to stay true to my resolution. My first pick was a book by a fellow Pennsylvanian, Philadelphia writer Robin Slick's Daddy Left Me Alone with God.
Within the first five pages of this book, I wasn't regretting my decision to flip lit categories one bit. Daddy tells the story of Annie, an aging rocker who's accompanying her children, who are gifted musicians, while they play gigs across the U.S. Here's the hook: In her youth, Annie had a torrid affair with rock god, and he's the headliner on the tour, while her children are the opening act. Part travelogue, part road story, part romance, and definitely a coming-of-age story, this book was witty and wildly entertaining while straddling the literary line. Annie is a conflicted woman with a difficult past. Her kids are her heaven, but her everyday home life is lacking and she struggles with her advancing age while being tempted to recapture a piece of her past. We generally think of coming-of-age stories as youths getting a taste of adulthood, being forced to make choices or sacrifices or having their eyes opened to indignities of the world. But life isn't a one-and-done experience when it comes to growing up, and we face major transitions into different stages of life. The male experience of mid-life crisis is well documented in literary fiction, but the female's perspective is generally ignored or trivialized. Annie does suffer indignities, but they're hilarious, and she gets tested on her adult status, and ultimately has to make a choice. Throw in the will-they-or-won't-they tension, and this book certainly kept the pages turning.
After that one week of beautiful weather, things rapidly devolved to cool and rain again, and I didn't mind one bit going back to the Louisiana setting for more of Sookie and Bon Temps. The sultry southern setting was at least a placebo for real summer weather. I shot through books 3 through 8 in rapid order, though, and the weather still wasn't giving. So I decided to do another literary/genre work related meld. Since I also sometimes write in the erotic genre, it is actually a necessity for me to keep abreast of that particular genre. (It's so hard to be me, right?) So I picked up Where the Girls Are, Urban Lesbian Erotica, edited by D. L. King.
As you can guess, there's plenty of steamy sex, but what a lot of non-erotic readers probably don't realize is that is a select core of erotica writers out there who easily vault over the line of genre and are bona-fide literary writers. In this collection, King wisely taps the talents of these writers, and she ends up with an eclectic and electric mix. With new twists and exciting locations, this mixed kink with class and was a pleasure to read, not just for professional reasons.
Finally, when the second week of August rolled around, a major heatwave started here in PA. So I decided to again stay close to my own location and picked up Michael Chabon's first novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
Chabon is a bona-fide heavyweight, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier & Clay, among other things. Pittsburgh was his debut novel, and though I loved both Wonder Boys and Kavalier & Clay, I had never gotten around to reading it yet. It isn't quite as polished as later Chabon, but it's damn good. It features Pittsburgh prominently and revolves around a love triangle between two young men and a woman, while all sorts of mob play comes into it. Though, at its heart, it is a coming-of-age story. But what's most striking is that it is most definitely already Chabon. His ability to use humor to bond us to characters and to give them hope and dignity while balancing that against seemingly encompassing darkness. It's truly enlightening and it's why he deserves his praise as a contemporary literary giant.
Then, just a week and half after the heatwave began, rolling thunderstorms came through and brought with it a cooling trend, so once again I turned my attention to the vampire clique of LA with the most recent installment of Harris's Sookie series.
It went fast. Too fast, in fact. I filled the September void with "Amazon recommends" picks of Tony Vigorito novels. They were listed for me presumably because I buy Tom Robbins, and people link him with them. There are similarities, but also major differences, but it also filled some necessary "literary" slot to get me to October. Because now, on the 6th, Harris releases A Touch of Dead, which is just the southern charm I need before I switch over to a winter reading schedule.
Thanks so much, Susan. Your post has definitely put me in the mood for another Sookie Stackhouse book. And I haven't read Where the Girls Are or Mysteries of Pittsburgh, so there are two more books to check out.
Don't miss Susan's book 24/7. Here's the summary from Barnes & Nobel:
Marina Martino is a bright, young woman who has a talent for counting cards. Miguel Rodriguez is a charming Las Vegas casino dealer. Sparks fly when they meet during a serendipitous game of blackjack. But as they become entangled in a dizzying romance through Sin City, details about Miguel's dark past surface and Marina begins to doubt his intentions as the stakes rise and danger unfolds. In the city of illusion, the normally calculating Marina has to make a decision to trust her brains or her heart--to bet on her skill or push her luck.
Susan DiPlacido is the author of four novels and one collection of short stories: 24/7, Trattoria, Mutual Holdings, House Money (forthcoming), and American Cool. Trattoria was nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Small Press Romance 2005, and her short story, "I, Candy," won the Spirit Award at the 2005 Moondance International Film Festival. American Cool won the bronze medal in the 2008 IPPY awards (short story collection category) and was a finalist in the 2008 Indie Book Awards. Her fiction has appeared in Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica 2007, Maxim Jakubowski’s Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica vols. 6 and 7, Zane’s Caramel Flava, and Rebellion: New Voices of Fiction.
For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project.