QWERTY’s Interview with Tess Callahan

from the Managing Editors of Qwerty Magazine

Author Tess CQwerty Interview Tess Callahanallahan challenged herself to write three hundred pages in three months. She successfully completed a draft of a sequel to her novel April and Oliver, and plans to send it to her agent this spring. Qwerty conducted an email interview to ask her about her creative process and what she calls “The love affair between creativity and constraint.” Click here to see her TEDx Talk on the subject.

When you gave yourself the constraint of writing a 300 page draft in three months, did you ever feel discouraged, and if so, what did you do to overcome it?

Discouragement is not something I allow in the door until the second draft, when it can be a useful tool. The first draft is a time to let the thing spill out like an unformed blob of clay. It’s hard to feel discouraged about something that’s only meant to be a blob. The second draft is when the shaping begins. At that point I reread what I’ve written, see the chasm between what I’m hoping for and what’s actually there, and start sculpting. If in the first draft the clay itself is not forthcoming, I let the thing combust and germinate in my head, mostly through walks in the woods, until I see it unfold cinematically on the screen of my mind and race home to write it down. Read More »

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.