Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cynthia Swanson

Cynthia Swanson is a writer and a designer of the midcentury modern style. She has published short fiction in 13th Moon, Kalliope, Sojourner, and other periodicals; her story in 13th Moon was a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her debut novel is The Bookseller.

Recently I asked Swanson about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently read - for the first time - Plainsong by Kent Haruf. As a Coloradan, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it’s taken me this long to read Plainsong; since its publication in 1999, it’s been an institution here on the High Plains. Haruf’s passing a few months ago, and an adaptation at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts of Benediction (the final book in Haruf’s trilogy that began with Plainsong), have brought a renewed interest in his work.

And that resurgence is well-deserved. Plainsong tells the story of residents of a fictional town - Holt, Colorado. The novel revolves around the aging, never-married McPheron brothers, who open their cattle ranch home - and their hearts - to a pregnant teen who has nowhere else to go. Other characters' tales unfold and wind into the story of how a family is formed - not by blood relation but by care and commitment. I look forward to reading the sequels (Eventide and Benediction).

For non-fiction, the latest I’ve read is Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I’ve been a longtime Patchett fan; I met her when she read from Bel Canto at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. We spoke after the reading; she was gracious and encouraging about my then-fledgling desire to be a novelist. I hope to someday see her again and thank her. I’d like to let her know that even if it took almost another 14 years, I’m finally - with the publication of The Bookseller on March 3 - realizing a long-held goal of publishing my debut novel.

When we met, I don’t remember if Patchett said something like this (from her essay “The Getaway Car”) but it still rings true for me: “I think that what influences us in literature comes less from what we love and more from what we happen to pick up in moments when we are especially open.”

The Bookseller tells the story of an independent bookseller - so it stands to reason that another essay in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage that I appreciated was “The Bookstore Strikes Back.” In that piece, Patchett explains how she came to be part owner of Parnassus Books in her hometown of Nashville. This didn’t happen because she’d had a particular desire to own a bookstore. It happened because Patchett felt that Nashville - which over the years had been home to various indies, all of which had closed - needed a bookstore like the one she and her partner envisioned.

I don’t see myself owning a bookstore in the future - I wrote about that lifestyle so I could live it vicariously - but who knows? Patchett didn’t plan it, either, but there she is.
Visit Cynthia Swanson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bookseller.

--Marshal Zeringue