Bloomers At Large / Features

BLOOMERS AT LARGE: Looking Forward and Living Up

by Vicraj Gill

Akhil Sharma doesn’t qualify as a Bloomer, having begun to publish in his late 20s. But Bloom readers will likely sympathize with the way he struggled with his latest book, 2014’s Family Life. Sharma carved 224 pages from the 7,000 he wrote in over a decade of work. The novel tells the deeply personal story of Sharma’s older brother, who as a boy suffered a head injury that left him with terrible brain damage, and of the family’s disintegration in the years that followed. Sharma’s view of the book after its publication is, understandably, a bit ambivalent: “The book took twelve and a half years of my life, and I am not sure if it was the right investment of my time.”

Sonali Deraniyagala didn’t intend to be a writer, but tragedy changed that. In 2004, Deraniyagala lost her parents, husband, and sons in the tsunami that ravaged Sri Lanka. Five years later, at the urging of her therapist, she started to write about what had happened. The result is Wave (2014), now out from Virago. As she tells The Guardian’s Tim Adams in this excellent profile, writing proved “stabilizing.” It “allowed her to collect up all the dispersed traces of her family, the innumerable scattered fragments that proved they lived and loved, and hold them in one place again.”

When self-described “46-year-old chump” Rod Dreher found himself facing a midlife crisis, he turned to the classics for succor—namely, Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. As Dreher notes, Alighieri himself was middle-aged when he wrote the epic poem, and he was struggling with the bitterness of being exiled from his beloved Florence after earning the disfavor of Pope Boniface VIII. In reading the poem, Dreher finds himself carried out of his own crisis, as Dante’s speaker is, and “led . . . back to the wonder” in the world around him.

Beloved children’s author Madeleine L’Engle was a Bloomer and reported receiving over 30 rejection letters for her debut, A Wrinkle in Time. Willy Blackmore, great-grandson of legendary publisher John Farrar, notes that it came to Farrar, Straus & Giroux after the 26th rejection and was accepted there. Farrar admitted that he was “afraid” of L’Engle’s book, and apocryphal accounts claim that he made FSG’s purchase contingent on certain changes L’Engle was to make to the book. But Blackmore, a publisher himself, holds Farrar’s ultimate support of L’Engle as proof that a publisher is “not only the person who read[s] and edit[s] the books, but the person who takes chances on books too.”

L’Engle’s fellow children’s author Laura Ingalls Wilder, featured on this site last year, frequently collaborated with daughter Rose Wilder Lane while writing the Little House series. At Slate, Rebecca Onion takes a look at the pair’s strange, often volatile creative relationship. Onion’s piece includes a letter Lane sent Wilder in 1938, as By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939) was taking shape.

Bloomer Jamie Quatro recently appeared on Aspen Public Radio’s First Draft to discuss her much-praised story collection I Want to Show You More. She and host Mitzi Rapkin had a wide-ranging discussion—about the book, the way Quatro’s literary criticism both complements and differs from her fiction, and what went into certain of the stories in the collection. If the audio interview intrigues you, you can also check out the ones we’ve done at Bloom with authors Shawn Vestal (who also contributed to our “Experience Required” essay series earlier this month) and Paul Harding.

Caleb Crain’s Necessary Errors, another book that’s been talked about quite a bit these past few months, gets some praise from Ryder Kessler at Public Books. Kessler identifies Crain’s book as a largely successful attempt at transporting the realism of the 19th century to a contemporary setting—Prague after the Velvet Revolution. Kessler stops short of likening Crain to George Eliot, as a friend of his does. But he lauds Crain’s spin on 19th-century literature’s concept of an individual’s “unification”—“with the spirit of the age, with another person, [and] with the self one is meant to be.”

We’ve written before about the increasing frequency with which women over 40 have been appearing in film and TV, both in front of and behind the camera. Claudia Druckman continues the conversation in a post at The Paris Review blog, “And the Aulds Have It,” that points to actors such as Angela Lansbury and Diane Keaton as examples of the “elder stateswoman”: “active and actively aging” and “provid[ing] women younger than they are with something to look forward to—and something to live up to.”

Finally, at The Paris Review blog again, Bill Cotter talks to Scott Cheshire about his latest book, The Parallel Apartments. He also shares a funny story about sitting down in his mid-30s to write in earnest. A Google search for the phrase “how to write” led him to a page of writing advice for schoolchildren that began with the suggestion “Make it fun!”—which he goes on to describe as “good theory in general,” and “especially important when it comes to writing sex.”

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Homepage photo credit: Horia Varlan via photopin cc

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