March 17, Monday evening -- Reading Mary Doria Russell

At a Commonwealth Club author event

Reading Mary Doria Russell's newest book, Dreamers of the Day, right in front of her. They first heard about the author from their Science Fiction book club where they read her novel, The Sparrow, which is about (and, don't laugh-- it's good...and, as she put it, classy) Jesuits in Space. You really actually have to read it. It's one of my favorite books of all time. In fact, it's so good and so moving that it, and the sequel Children of God, are being made into a full scale opera.

She is not a Jesuit herself. She prefers to write about things she knows nothing about. (Which, she said, makes here either really stupid or really really smart.) She was actually an atheist until her son was born. At which point she converted to Judaism. When you have a kid, she explained, you can no longer stand outside your culture and sneer. Somewhere, while you are answering the phone and the dog is barking you have to make decisions about what parts of your culture you want to accept and, because she felt that stickers for being good were not an adequate, or lasting, incentive for moral behavior, she converted.

It didn't occur to me until later this evening that maybe I should have also gotten a photograph of the author, but I didn't. Perhaps, intuitively, I know that it's more important to read books than to autograph books....though I'm still mad at myself!

Her current book, Dreamers of the Day, is not Science Fiction. It's Historical Fiction, about the Middle East. She is a self proclaimed "genre slut." (and that's how she signed the book I'm giving to my dad- ha!) Right now she's writing a Western and has plans to ride horses in Texas this summer to do research.

She grew up a lover of horses. She said that in the 1950s there were two types of girls: girls who loved boys and girls who loved horses. She was of the later group. One of her favorite books was Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. Right now, in her research, she's learning how to throw a horse race.

If time to do research were no object, what would your book be about?


Nicole said...

Wow! What an interesting author. I will have to look into her and her books.

That is a really tricky question you pose. I have always wanted to write a book and see myself doing a novel-fiction. Although I think "Garlic And Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise" by Ruth Reichl has to be one of the best books and it would be THE most fun thing in the world to try and do!!!! I highly recommend the read! Of course I am a foodie but still... the costumes she wears... hilarious!

Veronica said...

I've always wanted to go to Australia, so if i had all the time in the world I would research the people of the outback and live the food, stay away from the scorpions, maybe catch a glimpse of the wild kangaroos before they are hunted because my friend who went to Australia for school said that the natives think they are pests.

Denise said...

No question, I would write about my life in between the spaces of bipolar.

Gretel said...

I'd write about teenage mothers, mainly because I still notice a lot of misconceptions in society.

That's the subject I know better.

Ski Bum said...

I'd love to research and write something in the area of cultural theology. Maybe something about its influence a few centuries ago, versus today. I'd be interested to see how modern discoveries have skewed it one way or another.

Love the blog too. It's addicting.

John Z. said...

Great post! As a Commonwealth Club employee, I was obviously pleased to see us on your site, but I was also pleased to see that it was for Mary Doria Russell, who I had the great pleasure in interviewing for our magazine. She's a very smart, funny, and nice person.

Sarah J Clark said...

In Kansas City we have two great little independent children's book stores ... the Reading Reptile and the Reading Rainbow.

As for if I wrote book ... well, I already have! You can read the first two chapters on my website:

Again, LOOOOOOOVE the blog!

Ms. Bassette said...

What an interesting question! My first thought? Didn't have any. How terrible to admit I have nothing I really want to research. Can I use as an excuse that I read so I learn as I go?

Continuing my thinking, I remembered that I like the turn of the century, the Victorian age. I'd research what it would be like to be a servant, a maid, in one of the great camps in the Adirondacks. What a difference it would be to how we see the well-to-do of those times.
Or, on your side of the country, Hearst Castle could work too. I bet the servants' lives were very different from Hearst's life!

There, I guess I do have a brain. It was in question for a moment.

Bill said...

For reading research, I'd pick maybe astronomy or astrophysics. That's something I would have to read a lot in order to understand.

A travelogue would be interesting too. Travel research is get to travel.

Seri said...

Probably something about ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, Mayans, or Egyptians, etc.

Wendy said...

I have loved finding your blog. What fun to see what people are reading. Bookshelves are always the first thing I check out when I enter someone's home.

As to the research question: I have two little ones at the moment, so time is minimal, but in a few years I hope to do more research about solving crimes using bones and about my local area (we just moved to the house where one of my YA novels is set, so I'm in the right locale, just need more time!

Sonya said...

Wendy, Was it a coincidence that you moved into the YA novel house? That's wild!

Bill, I would love to do travel research, too....Mary Doria Russell's plans to ride horses this summer as research sort of fits this idea. She's got it figured out. It's hard to sit in front of a computer all the time!

Veronica,When I first read your posting I was at work and, distracted, I read 'eat the scorpions'--my eyes skipped over the 'stay away from'. Nicole's food critic got my imagination going.

Ms. Bassette, I keep meaning to read about Hearst Castle, or even just's so close to us here.

Thanks for all of your comments!

Turbokittykat said...

If I knew what my book would be about, that would give me a starting place . . . and I don't have one. But it's interesting to read about Russell. Last year I read "Sparrow" and the abuse haunted me. I found "Children" slightly redeeming, but because it has remained in my psyche, I'm not sure if I benefitted from reading either. Currently I'm reading Maguire's "Son of a Witch," the follow up to "Wicked." LOVING IT!!!

Wendy said...

No. This house belonged to my husband's grandmother. For years, we have vacationed here for a week or two every year. We moved here to enable me to stay home with my two little boys (ages 3 & 1). Shortly after we married, something happened to my husband and I while here and it became the germ of this book. I don't want to give away more than that because, even my writing teacher wanted to write this novel because it holds such promise - I just have to get through the research and figure out how it ends. Thanks for your interest. Love your blog. (p.s. my sister's last name is Worthy - we always tease her about being worthy - do you get that a lot?)

Kelly Hewitt said...

Hi. I just finished doing an interview with Mary Doria Russell, it's actually the third one I have done over the years and I can say with quite a bit of certainty that she is the most interesting and sometimes shocking author to interview. We chatted just a week ago as she was packing and doing laundry to go off on her tour. Below that small interview I have attached a conversation we had right after she had finished Dreamers of the Day. It is all very interesting and I think you'll come to see that Mary is a great woman and an even greater author. Here's a link to the latest interview with Mary Doria Russell about the release of Dreamers of the Day.


Kelly Hewitt