APRIL & OLIVER Find their Way into Hallie Shepherd’s Heart

Grateful to writer, actress, producer, and book-lover Hallie Shepherd for drinking deeply from APRIL & OLIVER and sharing. Find more book, music and movie reviews on Hallie’s blog.

HOW THE CHARACTERS APRIL AND OLIVER FOUND THEIR WAY INTO MY LIFEHallie Shepherd April & Oliver Tess Callahan

April and Oliver is one of those truly special reads. It’s the debut novel of author Tess Callahan (and to date, her only novel). Four years ago, I happened upon this book by chance, and it was a memorable read that landed itself on my keeper shelf. If you are looking for a moving novel about love, grief, growing up, messing up, moving on, and letting go, this subtle yet effective character piece may be one of the best books you’ve probably never heard of.

First, how did I even end up reading this gem of a novel? Well, here’s the story: It was 2011 and as my fellow booklovers out there might recall, Borders Bookstore was going out of business. I wasn’t even aware that was happening until one day when I drove past the Borders store near my house while running other errands and I saw huge signs advertising up to 90% off. Um, hello? NINETY PERCENT off books? All other errands were quickly abandoned as I pulled my car into the Borders parking lot. I entered the store and grabbed a basket and proceeded to wander the store in shock, because the shelves were still quite full, yet almost everything was 90% off. That meant books were ranging mostly from 70 cents to $2.00. Let’s just say I was in heaven.April & Oliver quote Tess Callahan

Because of that impossible-to-beat price and because my fellow shoppers were plucking books off the shelves and putting them into their own baskets (meaning now I couldn’t buy them!), I decided that I could not be as discerning as I usually am about my book choices. I was going to pick books based on cover art, the back of the book description, and the first several sentences of page one. If I liked it well enough, it would go into the basket.

About thirty minutes later, the basket was getting heavy, so I called my husband. The conversation went something like this:

Me – “Ohmygod, you won’t believe this. Borders is going out of business -”

Him – “The bookstore?”

Me – “Yes, the bookstore. I’m here now.”

Him – (upset) “They’re closing it?”

Me – “Yes, I know. That part sucks. But just listen. The books are NINETY percent off. Nine zero.  That’s like a dollar a book. So I have a basket of, like, fifty books. I’m going to buy these now and we’ll come back again tonight to get more.”

Him – (excited) “Totally.”

We did go back to Borders get more that night, and we also drove to other nearby cities to check out their sales. No other bookstore dropped their prices to ninety percent off until the shelves were almost empty, so it turned out that we were very lucky that our Borders happened to slash prices while so many books were still available. We bought well over one hundred books, many of which are still on my bookshelves waiting to be read. April & Oliver Tess Callahan

On one of these book-buying excursions, April and Oliver ended up in my shopping basket. I loved the dreamy blue cover art and the opening lines:

“Buddy had been lost for some time, his wipers whisking in the thick Maine snow, when he spots a missed turn in his rearview and brakes. The car fishtails, rocketing into a spin. The faster it pivots, the slower time moves. Buddy is the fixed point, the world careening around him.”

I thought to myself, Uh, oh, things aren’t looking so good for Buddy. But I think I’m hooked.

Here’s what the story is about: The book’s main characters – April and Oliver – have been best friends since childhood, but they’ve always had an undeniable chemistry. At one point they were completely inseparable, but they have now become practically strangers as adults, leading very different lives. Oliver is the responsible law student and April is the reckless one.  Their paths cross once again though when April’s brother Buddy dies in a snowy car crash. As Oliver is drawn back to the mysterious April, it poses a threat to both his own carefully constructed life and his recent engagement to a woman who is much more sensible and responsible than April.April & Oliver Tess Callahan Hallie Shepherd

This might sound like a classic love triangle story, except it’s not. Romantic love and sexual attraction and tension certainly does factor into the story but it’s ultimately a story about how our past and present connections and obligations collide. At times, it’s sweet. At times, it’s dark. And at times, it’s heart-wrenching. Callahan’s beautiful prose creates such imagery and mood, and the characters are well-drawn in their strengths and their flaws.

I was lucky to find this book at the Book Sale of the Decade (or perhaps the Book Sale of My Lifetime), but I’ve since purchased it full price to give as a gift. If you’re looking for a novel that is poignant, bittersweet, and well-written, I highly recommend April and Oliver.

Happy reading!

Drop me a line and let me know what some of your favorite lesser-known novels are. And let me know what you think of April and Oliver.

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Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.

Inner Work for the Outer Storm

Tess Callahan Sebastien Gabriel

This article was originally published in SwaayMedia on March 16, 2017.               

Keeping Focused & Calm in a Turbulent World by Tess Callahan

If you wake up these days feeling the tone and outlook of the world around you has taken a surreal shift, you’re not alone. Like many of us, I have enlisted my feet and hands in fuller engagement in our democracy. It feels good. But as much as that outer expression helps, I’ve felt a parallel need to process these changes inwardly.

SIX FRIENDS AND I TOOK TWO HOURS ON A RECENT FRIDAY NIGHT TO GROUND OURSELVES IN THE NEW REALITY THROUGH A SERIES OF SHORT WRITING EXERCISES FOLLOWED BY HONEST CONVERSATION. WE EXPLORED QUESTIONS ABOUT OURSELVES AND SHARED WHAT WE CAME UP WITH IN THE HOPE OF FINDING A PATH FORWARD. Read More »

Using Night Dreams to Navigate Life Dreams

This article originally appeared in Chicago-Woman on March 11, 2017.

What Jung Taught Me about Using Dreams for Personal Growth

In his book, Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson offers a blueprint for using dreams to achieve personal goals. I’ve used this method for more than 15 years and it has never failed me. The nightmares we prefer to ignore are often the ones with the most potential to help us. The key is to become attuned to our own unique dream symbols and to learn to interpret them as we would a new language. Once versed in that language, the meaning of dreams becomes apparent with little effort.

Step 1: Making Associations

Begin by writing the dream down and noting the images that stand out. These may be people, objects, situations, colors, etc. Write down every association you have with each dream image. For example, an empty blue vase may remind you of a time when you felt “empty and blue.” Be sensitive to colloquialisms. The subconscious likes word play. Every symbol in your dream has a connotation that belongs to you alone. Read More »

Interview with The Writer’s Bone

In this interview with Daniel Ford of the Writer’s Bone podcast, we explore writing process, craft, and advice for aspiring writers. I also describe how my new novel came to me like a fly ball.

3 Ways to Leverage Your Creativity

creativityIn this article written for PROJECT EVE I offer ideas to ignite your workplace spark.

Our brains automatically put things into categories. When a new project at work resembles an old one, we have the advantage of experience, but the disadvantage of routine—creativity’s kryptonite. If we always approach tasks by way of the usual entrance, they begin to all look alike. When the front door to a project is wide open, it may seem like lunacy to climb a trellis to a third floor window, but your stained knees and scraped hands will have been worth it. It’s counter-intuitive, but true: self-imposed challenges are creativity’s kindling. Imagination loves a dare.

1. Emulate with a Twist: Painters traditionally learn their craft by copying master works. As a novelist and teacher, I sometimes challenge my students to do writing exercises in the style of the writers they most admire. In your workplace, try noticing the style and strategy of colleagues you’d like to emulate. How do they open a meeting? What is their manner of listening and speaking? What makes their emails distinct? What is it about their work that stands out? When you sit down to begin your next project, pretend you are that person. Inhabit her mind for a moment. Would she climb the trellis? Snake in through a basement window? Learn from as many different tactics as you can and select the best from each. Borrow from people with divergent approaches and combine them to create your own. The more styles you draw from, the richer the personal palette you’ll create. Read More »

Looking for Inspiration? Let IT Find YOU.

My guest post on MsCareerGirl.com offers thoughts on how to fling open the doors of your imagination. In addition to Elon Musk, Marie Curie, Steph Curry and Malcolm Gladwell, my advice takes inspiration from the fabulous TED Talk below by EAT, PRAY, LOVE author Elizabeth Gilbert. Enjoy!

 

 

The Love Affair Between Creativity & Constraint

Can we boost our creative goals by constraining them? Here is a counter-intuitive method of unleashing creativity by putting chains on it. Like Houdini, the imagination likes to use its wits to unshackle itself. This talk explores artists and writers who sought out constraints to leverage inspiration. Innovation needs a boundary to push against. Shakespeare did it. Countless artists and innovators have done it. Discover how to give your own creativity a wild dare.

Enjoy!

Writing Prompt: The Things You Carry

JoaoSilasHere’s a writing prompt for personal journal writing, poetry or fiction:
1. For inspiration, read or listen to the phenomenal work “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. Notice what each character chooses to carry and what that tells you about him.
2. Make a list of the things you carry on your body, in your purse or backpack, in your wallet, etc.
3. Think of each item as a metaphor, a signpost pointing to something else. Maybe your reading glasses point to your feelings about aging. Maybe your keys symbolize the different compartments of your life, the places you inhabit. Maybe your driver’s license represents the face you show to the world. Draw a line from each object to the thing it stands for.
4. Now add to the list the things you carry that are not reflected by physical objects, your preoccupations, worries, hopes, etc. Include any thought patterns that routinely circulate in your mind.
5. Read over your list and circle the things that jump out at you, the ones that hold the most energy. Free write about them for five minutes. As much as possible, include details of time and place. Incorporate smells, sounds, tastes, textures, temperatures, colors and patterns–all of the senses.
Allow your musings to arrange themselves into lines of poetry or a character sketch for fiction.

Unleash Creativity Part 5: Enter Windows Instead of Doors

Buzac Marius window and doorThis post originally appeared on the Best American Poetry Blog on 12/11/15. As he explains in his TEDx talk, “Embrace the Shake,” when artist Phil Hansen could no longer do his pointillist drawings due to nerve damage in his hand, he learned countless other ways to create art. But why wait for a disability to open your mind to new possibilities? Whether you are a poet, artist, teacher, novelist or musician, here are five unconventional ways to climb into your creative projects from a fresh entry point.

Use your non-dominant hand. This is a practice I learned at the Art Students League in New York, where I realized that drawing a model with my left instead of right hand made me see the subject differently. Sure, the drawings were terrible (though they did get better over time) but when I went back to drawing with my dominant hand, it was as if a bit of the left hand perspective had joined in. If you keep a writing journal, try making every other entry with the opposite hand. Yes, it will slow you down; that’s part of the benefit.

Get up and move. In her New York Times essay, “To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet,” Joyce Carol Oates says that running allows her an expanded consciousness in which she can envision what she’s writing as a film or a dream. Back at her typewriter, she recalls that dream and transcribes it. The scenes in my own novels usually unfold during walks in the woods with my dog. In the classroom, I try to get my students up and moving as much as possible. Physical stagnancy can cause the creative juices to stagnate, too.

Lennon McCartneyEmploy the power of two. Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Atlantic essay, “The Power of Two,” explores how the tense creative collaboration of Lennon and McCartney produced artistic genius that far exceeded the sum of its parts. Hemingway and Fitzgerald would not have been who they were without Maxwell Perkins. I regularly have my students do brief story-generating exercises in pairs or groups of three. Sometimes it devolves into silliness, friction and occasional brilliance. All are worth it. I meet weekly with writer friends to work in silence together, a practice which strikes some as bizarre, but which helps us stay motivated and on task. Even the lonely work of novel writing can benefit from company.

Sleep In. This is a luxury I don’t often enjoy, but when I have the time and courage to lie in bed for awhile after waking in the morning, looking around at the semi-dark room and frail light slipping between blinds, entire scenes from my novel write themselves without my having to do a thing. It’s amazing. All I have to do is be present and watch the scenes unfold. The trick then is to write them down before the obligations of the day surge into motion. This is sacred time. If your day allows it, take it.

Work on more than one thing at a time. Full disclosure: I am terrible at this, but when I do manage to do so, both projects benefit. My painting teacher, Roy Kinzer, always encouraged us to have multiple canvases in motion concurrently, so that if we got stuck with one, we could move to the other. Often that shift allowed obstacles to get sorted out in the back of the brain. Upon returning to the first canvas, voila, the solution was clear. Since I tend to get completely sucked up the fictional dream of whatever novel I’m working on, it’s hard to tear myself away, even when a poem calls. But working on several projects simultaneously keeps the mind malleable.

I invite you to share your own creative insights with me on Facebook and Twitter@TessCallahan. I’m always on the lookout for new locks to crack.

Unleash Creativity Part 4: Limit your Palette