What We’re Reading Now: THE BLINDS

The Blinds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Adam Sternbergh

Published in August 2017 by Kensington Books

Reviewed by Amanda Moore

In The Blinds, Adam Sternbergh tells an intriguing story about the residents of a town called Caesura, Texas. Caesura is an extremely small community of individuals who try to live normal and relatively peaceful lives. However, Caesura is not like other towns — it is isolated and located in a remote part of Texas, where communications with the outside world are virtually non-existent.

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to residents in the town whose personalities range from friendly and sociable, to odd and reclusive. With the exception of the mysterious presence of a sheriff and two deputies, the residents of Caesura have some memories of their past lives, but they do not remember the circumstances that led them there. They do not know their real names, and they are told to choose new names and identities. All of their food and supplies are shipped to them in a delivery truck. In a community of strangers where everyone has a questionable past, the town is a refuge from the outside world. They are free to leave Caesura, but they can never return.

In this novel, the knowledge of their past actions is something that the residents both seek and fear. As one character states, “It’s hard enough to live with what you’ve done. It’s immeasurably harder to live with knowing you’ve done something, but not knowing what exactly it is you did.” The reader learns about the backgrounds of characters whose pasts are as varied and diverse as their new names. Sternbergh explores the emotional struggles of these characters, but he also allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.

As the tale unfolds, horrible incidents occur in the town. A man is found murdered in a bar. A shop is vandalized for no apparent reason. Residents of the town begin to fear the worst as the town becomes as unsafe as the world beyond it. When the reader least expects it, secrets are revealed and more crimes are committed. The story morphs into the ultimate page-turner that forces the reader to reach a shocking but familiar conclusion: people can leave the world they know, but they may never truly escape their past.


Amanda Moore is an attorney and writer living in Austin, Texas.  She won first place in the Texas Bar Journal 2015 Short Story Contest and was asked to return as a judge in the annual competition for two consecutive years. She has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2014.  Amanda is an avid reader and book aficionado.

Interested in writing reviews? Current WLT members are eligible to write reviews and can send an email to kelsey@writersleague.org.

Have a book you’d like us to review? We review books by Texas authors, as well as books that are set in or about Texas. Email kelsey@writersleague.org for instructions on sending a review copy.

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Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Dana Murphy

“I’m often asked: ‘How do I create a voice that agents want?’ But at the heart of finding your voice is authenticity. It’s not about writing what you think agents want to read but finding the one agent who gets you and your book.”

-Dana Murphy

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Dana Murphy

Dana Murphy is a literary agent with The Book Group, focusing on literary fiction and voice-driven nonfiction. After studying critical film theory and sociology at NYU, Dana began her literary career as an assistant at the Book Group in 2012 and started building her own list in 2015. She is interested in adult and YA fiction that feels surprising and immersive and smart narrative nonfiction about pop culture, social issues, and critical theory. She is always looking for a sense of humor, diverse and underrepresented perspectives, and characters that stick in your thoughts long after the story is finished.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Dana Murphy: Personalized. I purposely keep a pretty small client list and do my best to let each client inform our working relationship. Overall, I’d say I definitely lean on the personal side of professional relationships – I take my job very seriously and, because of the nature of the work, I care very deeply for each of my authors. Beyond just loving the work and the writing, I need to be an advocate for the author, and that usually works better when I like them as a person just as much as I like their words.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

DM: First and foremost, always voice. That’s not to say there is a one-size-fits-all voice that I’m interested in, but I’m always looking for life behind the words. This is intangible and can sometimes be discouraging for authors to hear. I’m often asked: “How do I create a voice that agents want?” But at the heart of finding your voice is authenticity. It’s not about writing what you think agents want to read but finding the one agent who gets you and your book. I promise, if you’re writing something that your heart isn’t invested in, any agent reading it will see that.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

DM: When querying, research agents and follow their submission rules! Every agency has different policies, which can be annoying and sometimes feel arbitrary, but they are essential for me to effectively do my job. There is nothing that turns me off quicker than an author whose behavior belies that they don’t respect our processes, whether that be calling when we explicitly state not to, or mass-emailing non-specific “Dear Agent” queries.  You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and your behavior during the querying process is usually a good indicator to how you will behave as a client. Entitlement and indigence are not a good look. Do some research about each agent you’re querying, know a little about their list, think about how your book would be a good fit for them, and include that in your query.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on? 

DM: I feel like that can describe many of my projects! I’m often found saying “Oh, I’m not interested in XYZ” and then turning around and signing something of that ilk the next week. But that is often tied up in what I mentioned earlier: voice. If I find an undeniable voice, I can find myself interested in anything.

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

DM:  The first book I sold, Danya Kukafka’s Girl in Snow, was published last summer and has continued to be a thrilling experience. The author is a close friend — we met when I hired her as my intern. Even though the book hasn’t been in the market long, I’ve been working on it with her for nearly 5 years.  It was a project close to both of our hearts, my first sale and her debut novel, and we were consistently (and still!) learning as we go. She’s now an international best seller, we’ve sold the book in over a dozen foreign territories, and the TV rights have been optioned. We couldn’t have anticipated any of this when we first decided to work together and brave the new professional world side by side.  We went into this without expectations, just hoping someone wanted to publish the book, and it’s been so rewarding to go through the good (and bad!) with her.

Thanks, Dana!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Sarah Phair

“Reading and researching the genre you want to write in is extremely important. “

-Sarah Phair

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Sarah Phair

Sarah Phair began her career in publishing at Trident Media Group four years ago after completing her M.A. in Literature. She spent two years learning from and assisting two domestic agents before being promoted to Audio Agent, and then to a sales agent in Trident’s Foreign Rights Department. In this position, Sarah contacted international editors to pitch Trident authors and negotiate deals on their behalf. Now, Sarah is building her own client list. She is interested in all women’s fiction, literary fiction, and narrative non-fiction. She is most attracted to stories that are thoughtfully plotted and explore different aspects of lesser known experiences.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Sarah Phair: I like to be hands on editorially. It is my belief that it’s important to get the manuscript to as close to perfect as possible before sending it out on submission, so it’s possible that I will do a few rounds of edits with an author. I like to brainstorm with my authors and encourage them to bounce ideas off of me. I’ve also been known to assign some reading “homework” to my clients because I think it’s important to read your peers.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

SP: I am looking for debut writers who are looking to build careers. It’s important for debut authors to stay up to date and read within the genre they want to publish. It’s also helpful if writing and language play a role in their daily life (through their day job, online writing, critique group, etc.).

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

SP: Reading and researching the genre you want to write in is extremely important. An agent/editor can always spot writers who are attempting to work in a space that they don’t have any personal experience with, and it’s very off-putting.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on? 

SP: I’m working with a client now who has a novel with a reality TV plotline. This subject isn’t something that normally interests me, but the writer has an amazing sense of humor, and she has an uncanny ability to critique pop culture. It was so fun to read that I just couldn’t pass it up!

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

SP: The first book I ever sold on my own is coming out in April. It’s called Don’t Call Me Cupcake by Tara Sheets. I loved this book because she really nails the rom-com genre, which can be so difficult to do. It will be her debut, and I’ve loved going through the whole process with her.

Thanks, Sarah!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Interview with Fran Sanders of Public Poetry + A Special Discount for WLT Members!

“For 16 years, Poetry at Round Top has been a very special gathering place to hear some of the country’s best poets in an absolutely gorgeous location.”

-Fran Sanders

We’re such big fans of Public Poetry, a Houston-based nonprofit whose mission is to expose people to good poetry and to promote this art form by taking poetry public. They host frequent collaborative programs and projects that put hundreds of poets in front of thousands of people at libraries, museums, music venues, and more.

Their upcoming event “Poetry Ride to Round Top” is a great opportunity for aspiring poets to learn while making the trip from Houston to the Round Top Poetry Festival. We talked with Public Poetry’s Executive Director Fran Sanders about the event. Details about how WLT members can get a special discount are in the interview below!

Scribe: What is the Poetry Ride to Round Top?

Fran Sanders: The Poetry Ride to Round Top includes travel on a round-trip luxury coach ride to the Round Top Poetry Festival, Saturday, April 21, 2018, as  well as admission to the Festival. During the ride to the Festival, Houston Poet Laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton will be doing a workshop exclusively for us. The coach will leave Houston at 9:15 a.m. and be back in Houston around 10:15 p.m.

Scribe: Tell us a little about the Round Top Poetry Festival.

FS: The Austin Chronicle calls this Festival a “paradise for poets!” Its unique 200-acre campus contains major performance facilities, historic houses and architectural restorations, extensive gardens, parks, and nature preserves, and a wide collection of rare books and manuscripts.

Scribe: What’s included in a ticket to the Poetry Ride?

FS: Your ticket includes:

  • Saturday-Only Festival Registration ($75 value if purchased individually), including all festival events. This year’s festival poets include Coleman Barks, Scott Brownlee, Carrie Fountain, Kurt Heinzelman, Tomás Q. Morín, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Naomi Shihab Nye, Emmy Pérez, Laura Van Prooyen, Roger Reeves, Liz Garton Scanlon, and Javier Zamora
  • Travel to and from the festival
  • Our exclusive Rolling Poetry workshop on the bus with Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton
  • Catered box lunch
  • And more!

Find the full list of what’s included here.

Scribe: Tell us a little about, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, Houston’s Poet Laureate.

FS: Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton is a poet, educator and coach. Formerly ranked the #2 Best Female Poet in the World, D.E.E.P. has established herself as a notable force in the Performance and Slam Poetry World. She has been featured on BBC, NPR, Upworthy, Blavity, Button Poetry, Write About Now, and the opening video of the 2017-2018 Houston Rockets Season. D.E.E.P. was featured at Public Poetry’s inaugural reading in 2011.

Scribe: How can WLT members take advantage of discounted pricing?   

FS: WLT members can get a special discount of $25 off the regular price when they register HERE before April 1, 2018. After April 1, 2018 the price increases by $10, with a 13% discount for WLT members on the total cost. After you register, you will be sent a confirmation letter from Public Poetry with further details.

Thanks, Fran!

Find more details about the Poetry Ride to Round Top here.

Find more details about Public Poetry here.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Jennifer Chen Tran

“Part of doing the work means being a good literary citizen, so support your fellow writers and bookstores.”

-Jennifer Chen Tran

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Jennifer Chen Tran

Jennifer Chen Tran is an agent at Bradford Literary. She represents both fiction and non-fiction. Originally from New York, Jennifer is a lifelong reader and experienced member of the publishing industry. Prior to joining Bradford Literary, she was an Associate Agent at Fuse Literary and served as Counsel at The New Press. She obtained her Juris Doctor from Northeastern School of Law in Boston, MA, and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Jennifer understands the importance of negotiation in securing rights on behalf of her authors. She counsels her clients on how to expand their platforms, improve on craft, and works collaboratively with her clients throughout the editorial and publication process. Her ultimate goal is to work in concert with authors to shape books that will have a positive social impact on the world–books that also inform and entertain. She is looking to sign authors from diverse or marginalized backgrounds.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Jennifer Chen Tran: I’m a very hands-on and editorial agent. I see myself as an author cheerleader and savvy negotiator, and I truly believe in securing the best book deal for my author but also think broadly about how else we can take advantage of subsidiary rights beyond the book. I brainstorm with my clients on creative out-of-the-box approaches to promotion and marketing. I really am a friend and business partner and pride myself on being very responsive to my clients. My role is to add value to all of my interactions with my author-clients, who I feel so gratified to work with.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

JCT: Many things, but paramount is voice and tension on the page. Characters that feel real, a story that makes me care and think more deeply about the world at large. Professionalism and realistic expectations about the publishing journey, also doesn’t hurt.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

JCT: Do the work. Work on your craft, improve your writing. If you write non-fiction, keep placing essays and shorter pieces in journals, magazines, and other literary publications. If you write fiction, keep refining your story, your characters, the setting, and get feedback from others. Part of doing the work means being a good literary citizen, so support your fellow writers and bookstores. (I think that is more than one piece of advice! I like giving advice).

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on? 

JCT: Yes. I represent Cori Salchert, a former perinatal bereavement nurse who now takes care of hospice babies and kiddos with life-limiting medical conditions. She’s been covered in national media outlets, including a recent appearance on Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda. I think it’s the most unique project I’ve worked on because it takes on so many ethical and spiritual questions in a scenario that you don’t often see. Plus, it made me cry more times than I can count.

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

JCT: I’m super excited about Spark! a three-book middle grade series that was originally based on a viral Tumblr blog called “Little Girls are Better Superheroes Than You,” where little girls sent in pictures of themselves in homemade costumes and comics artists created superheroic characters based on these pictures. It features Lucia Marquez-Miller, who loves tinkering with her Legos and can take things apart with just the power of her mind. She’s a very positive role model for little girls everywhere but she’s also a normal girl who has homework and wants to please her parents. Lucia fights crime with a motley crew of characters in modern-day San Francisco. It’s a fun story, full of adventure, and I think a lot of middle grade kids will love it. Lion Forge comics is the publisher and the first book in the series will be released next year.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Q&A with Chaitali Sen on Her Interview Series BORDERLESS (Next Event with Juli Berwald on March 9!)

“Although we might provide an escape from reality through our writing, we are still part of this world . . . I wanted to dig into the question of what role we play as writers as things are happening around us. “

–Chaitali Sen

In the interview series Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice, emerging and established writers talk with host Chaitali Sen about the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world. Chaitali is a novelist, WLT class instructor, and fantastic friend to the Texas writing community and WLT. We couldn’t be more excited or inspired by this new project from Chaitali.

The next Borderless conversation will be with author Juli Berwald and will take place at Austin indie bookstore Malvern Books on March 9, 2018 at 7 p.m.

We talked with Chaitali to learn more about this series and the upcoming event.

Scribe: Tell us about the mission of your “Borderless” interview series and what inspired you to start the series.

I started Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice, so that I could talk to other writers about “the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world.” From talking to friends in the writing world over the last year, this seemed to be a topic that kept coming up. I have been to a lot of great discussions on writing, especially on craft and process, but I felt a real lack of discussions on writing that connected writers to the world at large. Although we might provide an escape from reality through our writing, we are still part of this world, and though there are vague pronouncements on the importance of literature for developing empathy, I wanted to dig into the question of what role we play as writers as things are happening around us.

Scribe: Your first interview was with Nikki Luellen. What’s one surprising or illuminating takeaway that resulted from your interview with her?

CS: Nikki is mainly a spoken word poet, and I had seen her captivate people out on the streets at protests. It gave me a whole new appreciation to hear her poetry in the intimate space of Malvern, because I really got to appreciate how she inhabits characters and modulates the pitch and tempo of her voice, how it really is a whole performance (she’s also a playwright). Her poems have a lot of movement and a lot of substance, because they take on very big social and political topics, yet they are also very personal, about how she is struggling with these questions and overcoming her own fear. I wanted to start this series with someone who is not a part of the literary establishment, because her work illustrates to me how confining that world can be. There are so many parameters that are set within that world, either implicitly or explicitly, about what makes someone a writer, what we should be writing about, how to challenge an audience within acceptable limits, how to get published and recognized as a writer, what purpose our art should serve, and so on. Nikki doesn’t care about any of that. There is an absence of ego in her work that is so refreshing.

Scribe: Your next interview will be with Juli Berwald on March 9. Can you give us a preview of some of the topics you might discuss?

CS: Juli Berwald is the author of a great science memoir called Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises come out in this interview, but we will touch on the science of climate change, the changes in the ocean ecosystems, being a woman in science, and of course, jellyfish. 

Scribe: Malvern Books is such a special space with truly unique titles available. Can you recommend one book by an indie author that you’ve picked up from Malvern recently?

CS: I just picked up Danez Smith‘s poetry collection at Malvern, Don’t Call Us Dead. Because Malvern is dedicated to independent publishers, you can find titles and discover writers there that will not be featured or available in other bookstores. Last year, I bought a novel translated from Indonesian called HomeThis novel was published by Deep Vellum, a Dallas-based independent publisher that highlights world literature in translation. For any Writers’ League members in Austin who have not been to Malvern, I urge you to change that immediately. It’s a warm, beautiful space that will open your eyes to all kinds of literature.

Thanks, Chaitali!

Find out more about Chaitali here, Juli here, and their upcoming conversation at Malvern here.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Eric Myers

“Even if all you want to do is sit and write, these days you have to be prepared to engage with the public at large, and to take charge of your own book promotion.”

-Eric Myers

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Eric Myers

Eric Myers entered publishing as an author, with three books published by St. Martin’s Press. He has been an agent since 2002, having worked at The Spieler Agency and Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret before establishing Myers Literary Management. His clients include Chris Grabenstein (Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library), Sam Staggs (All About “All About Eve,” Closeup On “Sunset Boulevard”), Seth Rudetsky (My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan), Miriam Davis (The Axeman of New Orleans), and Patrice Banks (The Girls’ Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide), among many others. He specializes in YA, Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Thrillers, and most non-fiction, including memoir that comes with a strong platform.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Eric Myers: As an author myself, I try to be supportive as well as sensitive to an author’s needs.  I am constantly attempting to put myself in my client’s place. But a little tough love is sometimes required as well, and it’s important to know when and when not to use it.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

EM: I look for a manuscript that is already at least 95 percent perfect; one which shows me that a writer really knows what he or she is doing and is ready for Prime Time.  It helps if the author is social-media savvy, has a feeling for self-promotion, and is willing and able to go out there and do everything possible to get copies of their book sold.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

EM: Writing is no longer a solitary profession. Even if all you want to do is sit and write, these days you have to be prepared to engage with the public at large, and to take charge of your own book promotion.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on? 

EM: One of my most unusual projects is a forthcoming memoir called Girl Electric by Alisa Jones, who was diagnosed with adult-onset epilepsy at 40.  I’ll bet you don’t think an epilepsy memoir can actually be laugh-out-loud funny. Think again! You can find out this November, when it is published by Imagine/Charlesbridge.

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

EM: My client Lydia Kang, a physician based in Omaha, has already written several great YA and adult novels.  She joined forces with her journalist friend Nate Pedersen to write Quackery, which was published last year by Workman.  It’s an amazing compendium of all the horrendous quack cures that have been tried out on patients over the centuries. Darkly funny, it is peppered with great visuals, including outrageous old advertisements for every kind of snake-oil scam you can imagine.  It became one of Workman’s biggest hits of the year.

Thanks, Eric!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.