REVIEW and GIVEAWAY
Love Literary Style
by Karin Gillespie
Love Literary Style is currently on tour with Great Escapes Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
They say opposites attract, and what could be more opposite than a stuffy literary writer falling in love with a self-published romance writer?
Meet novelist Aaron Mite. He lives in a flea-infested rented alcove, and his girlfriend Emma, a combative bookstore owner, has just dumped him. He meets Laurie Lee at a writers’ colony and mistakenly believes her to be a renowned writer of important fiction. When he discovers she’s a self-published romance author, he’s already fallen in love with her.
Aaron thinks genre fiction is an affront to the fiction-writing craft. He likes to quotes the essayist, Arthur Krystal who claims literary fiction "melts the frozen sea inside of us." Ironically Aaron doesn’t seem to realize that, despite his lofty literary aspirations, he’s emotionally frozen, due, in part, to a childhood tragedy. The vivacious Laurie, lover of flamingo-patterned attire and all things hot pink, is the one person who might be capable of melting him. In the tradition of The Rosie Project, Love Literary Style is a sparkling romantic comedy which pokes fun at the divide between so-called low and high brow fiction.
It was too bad that, as a college professor, Aaron Mite was expected to be approachable. Approachability was contrary to his nature. Thus, when a swingy-haired, tanned blonde female barreled toward his podium, he steeled himself against the encounter. Students rarely lingered after composition class to say, “What an enthralling lecture.” Particularly since the day’s presentation covered misplaced and dangling modifiers.
The blonde was one of hundreds who prowled the grounds of Metro Atlanta University, usually in perfumed packs of four or five. Her name was Megan or Chelsea or perhaps Payton. Aaron could tell by the determined set of her jaw that she wanted something from him, and it was probably a grade change. If so, she was wasting her time. Aaron’s grades were as permanent as the polar ice caps. Well, as permanent as polar ice caps were before the dawn of global warming.
“So,” she began.
This was a new habit of students, starting sentences with the word “so.” It wasn’t as distressing as misusing the word “literally,” as in “I’m literally starving to death.” It did, however, grate on Aaron every time he heard it.
“What does this say?” She rattled a paper in front of his nose and pointed her finger at a comment he’d written in red ink. Some of his colleagues had switched to less threatening ink colors—blue, purple and even hard-to-read orange—but Aaron still preferred the authoritative power of red.
He squinted at the scrawl. He often had trouble reading his own writing, but not in this case. Aaron recognized the phrase as one he frequently wrote in the margins of student composition papers: “This essay is not worth the papyrus it was penned on.”
He read the comment aloud and the girl—Leslie, Brittany or Taylor—wrinkled her nose. “I don’t get it.”
“It’s simply another way of saying, ‘this essay isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,’ but that would be cliché. As I’ve said several times in this class, clichés are the enemies of good writing.”
Her previously benign features turned cross. “You think I wasted paper writing my essay?”
“Yes. But, happily for you, paper is plentiful.”
She stared at him. Aaron stared back. For a moment they were engaged in a standoff, but the girl looked away first. “Whatever,” she said.
She wandered off, eyes fastened to her phone, poor grade seemingly forgotten. Not a surprise. Young people’s minds flitted about like gnats.
Another student remained in the classroom, Sabrina, a woman in her early thirties, who’d recently gone back to school. She worked part-time as an administrative assistant in the English and Foreign Language department at Metro Atlanta University .
Sabrina’s appearance in Aaron’s class at the beginning of the semester worried him. What if she was a terrible writer and he had to give her poor marks? Would she ever make photocopies for him again?
But she proved to be a competent writer and would likely receive an A for the semester. In fact, he was so impressed with her narrative essay, he urged her to take a creative writing class as an elective.
Sabrina was still gathering her things. Unlike the younger students, she didn’t start packing up her belongings ten minutes before dismissal time in anticipation of a hasty getaway.
She glanced up at him and said, “Professor Mite, I wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying your class.”
Aaron was slightly taken aback. It was unusual for him to receive praise from students. In his teaching evaluations, he usually got comments like: “If Professor Mite ruled the world, a comma splice would be punishable by fifty lashes,” or “Dude hates the word ‘very.’ Use in essays at your own risk.”
Sometimes the comments were more personal: “Kind of cute, but needs a major wardrobe rehab. Wears the same jacket every day. Also, what’s with the limp?”
“Thank you very much, Sabrina. I’ve enjoyed having you as well.”
“I admire your fervent love for our language and excellent writing. You’ve inspired me to write a novel of my own.”
“That’s ambitious, and I wish you the best of luck. Do you have any idea what themes you want to explore? I can recommend some novels as inspiration.”
She thought for a moment and said, “Death, I guess.”
Her answer surprised Aaron. Sabrina was a chipper soul, continually smiling, always greeting everyone who came into the English department office suite and offering them candy from a seemingly bottomless dish on her desk. (Aaron was partial to the butterscotch disks.) Her desk was also littered with photographs of twin toddlers smashing their chubby faces into birthday cakes or cavorting in a kiddie pool. Death was the last thing he’d guessed she’d want to write about.
“Bravo to you for tackling such a challenging theme. You may want to consider reading Death of Ivan Ilyich, Slaughterhouse Five or maybe even White Noise.”
“Are those mysteries?”
“I want to write a cozy.”
Cozy? A cozy, when used as a noun, referred to a padded covering for a teapot.
“I don’t follow.”
“You’ve never heard of cozies?” Suddenly Sabrina was very animated. Her curls bounced on her shoulders, and her cheeks flushed. “They’re a category of mystery novels set in a small village, and the amateur sleuth is usually a female. There’s always a murder, but it’s never gruesome, and the victim tends to be a mean person who deserves to die.”
Aaron was momentarily taken aback. “Are you saying you want to write genre fiction?”
“Yes. I love to read cozies.”
“I see.” Aaron noisily cleared his throat. “What was the last…cozy you read?”
“It was called Dread and Breakfast. The sleuth is Abigail Appleworth, the owner of a bed and breakfast called the Pleasant Dreams Inn. One of her guests—a developer who wants to cut down the hundred-year-old oak tree in the town square and put up a parking lot—is bludgeoned to death with an overcooked crumpet.”
Aaron took a moment to absorb the highly improbable particulars. Then he said, “I’d like to know how you felt after you read the book. Did it change you?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Were you affected by the themes? Did it prompt you to think critically? Did you spend time considering the underlying issues?”
“Well, no, but—”
“Or did it pass through you like cheap fast food?”
Her expression was quizzical. “I hadn’t really thought about it like that.”
Aaron smiled, preparing himself for a lengthy discourse on the superiority of literary fiction over genre—a pet subject of his—but an unexpected male visitor interrupted him. The man fixed his steely gaze on Aaron. “Stop by my office when you’re finished here. I’d like a word.”
“Yes, Father,” he said without thinking.
Once he was gone, Sabrina stared at him, her mouth open so wide he could have chipped a golf ball into it.
“Your father’s Dr. Horace Flowers?”
Aaron nodded. He rarely mentioned the relationship to anyone, especially to the people who worked in the English department.
“You’ve had dealings with him, I’m sure,” Aaron said.
“Yes. I have. He’s so…”
Churlish? Stern? Ill-mannered? Pompous? Demanding? There were dozens of negative adjectives that could describe Dr. Horace Flowers.
“Accomplished,” Sabrina said. She was being kind.
Aaron’s father was extremely accomplished, which allowed him to get away with all of his other less pleasant traits. He was the author of a definitive book on fiction writing called Craft as well as seventeen books on literary criticism. His favorite subject was the renowned author Nicholas Windust, and he wrote extensively about him.
“My husband gave me the latest Nicholas Windust novel for my birthday,” Sabrina said. “And I stayed up all night reading it. Are you as big a Nicholas Windust fan as your father?”
“I think he’s a genius at the sentence level. My only quibble with his work is that his endings tend to be too upbeat.”
“Are you saying you don’t care for happily-ever-afters?”
“I don’t believe in them. To me, the most important quality in fiction is authenticity. One only has to watch a few minutes of a twenty-four-hour news channel to know real life is a series of child abductions, school shootings and tsunamis. You’d do well to remember that when you begin writing your own novel.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. By the way, I never would’ve guessed you and Dr. Flowers were related. You don’t have the same last name.”
Aaron heard her comment but he was distracted. He touched his tie as if to remind himself it was still there. His fingers raked through his hair; they came back a shade too oily. When was the last time he had a haircut?
“I’m sorry,” Sabrina said. “That was too personal. I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine.” He didn’t like to discuss his history with Horace Flowers.. “Please excuse me. I don’t want to keep my father waiting. He can be prickly.”
“I know.” Sabrina blushed as she caught herself. “I mean…Rather—”
“No worries. I know exactly how my father comes across. Good luck with your writing. I do hope you reconsider your plans to write genre fiction. You’re quite talented, and perfectly capable of tackling something more challenging. I’d be glad to look at your work even after the semester is over.”
“That’s so generous of you. I’d be happy to do something in exchange…Do you have any decorating needs? Everyone says I have a flair.”
“Not necessary.” Aaron rented a 150-square foot room in a boarding house with a hot plate and a communal bathroom. His decorating needs were nonexistent.
He left the classroom. The elevator was being repaired, so he climbed the stairs to Horace Flowers’ corner office, his bad leg dragging slightly behind. His loafers were loud against the tile flooring. The closer he got, the more gingerly he walked. By the time he arrived at his destination his stride was nearly soundless. He and his father worked at the same university but it’d been over a month since Aaron saw him last. Usually the only time Horace Flowers summoned him to his office was when he was miffed about something.
Aaron followed the strains of Mendelssohn and paused at a slightly ajar door. He knocked, but the knock was too timid to be heard over the music. He tried again, this time harder. A voice invited him to enter.
Horace Flower’s office was probably six times as large as his own. Framed photographs adorned the wall—images of his father posing with several notable authors, although none of them were Nicholas Windust. Windust was so reclusive he refused to pose for an author photo.
There was a sitting area where tea and tinned butter cookies were sometimes served, but Aaron had never been offered either.
He nodded a greeting and sat across from his father who was hunched behind his massive, dark-wood pedestal desk, holding his head as if he had a severe migraine. People who didn’t know Horace Flowers well were always asking him if his head hurt, but Aaron knew it was just a mannerism.
Aaron set his briefcase on his lap as a protective shield and meekly waited for his father to speak. Meetings between them usually had the formality and warmth of a parole hearing.
Horace Flowers had wispy gray hair, long teeth, and a permanently wrinkled forehead. Disappointment had settled so deeply into the muscles of his face that, on the rare occasion he tried to smile, it got swallowed in the sagging folds of his skin. His father switched off the music.
“How are you, Aaron? Doing well, I trust?”
“Fine.” Aaron was surprised by his father’s conviviality. Horace Flowers usually dispensed with social preambles and got straight to the point.
“Would you care for a cup of tea? I had one of the girls in the office make a fresh pot.”
His father’s uncharacteristic hospitality unnerved Aaron. Why was he being so nice? Had someone died? If so, he couldn’t imagine who. He had a great aunt Priscilla in Iowa City whom he’d only met once or twice. She was their only living relative as far as he knew.
“No tea for me, thank you,” Aaron said.
“You’re probably wondering why I asked you here today.”
“I had a little extra time this weekend…” His father paused to take a long slurp of tea; all of his motions were deliberate and exacting. Whenever Aaron was in his company, time seemed to sputter to a stop.
“Would you care for a cookie?”
“No.” Aaron was feeling more agitated with every second. Please come out with it, he thought.
“As I was saying, I had some spare time this weekend…”
Aaron scooted his chair a bit closer to his father’s desk in anticipation.
“And I read your novel.”
The tendons in the back of Aaron’s neck went taut, and his briefcase slipped from his lap to the floor. Six months ago his father had asked for a copy of his manuscript and promised he’d peruse it when he had time. It was the second novel Aaron had given his father to read. His previous novel, Klieg, was written during the first semester of his MFA program, five years ago. Aaron had been ridiculously proud of that novel, and his fellow workshop members had praised it, but his father said it was amateurish.
Deeply embarrassed, Aaron immediately deleted the offensive document from his computer. His second novel, Chiaroscuro, took him five years to write, and he felt as if he’d made enormous strides in Craft during that time. In fact, nine months ago, he managed to sign with a literary agent. Aaron had no notion how to find an agent—the skill wasn’t taught in school. Thankfully his MFA mentor had recommended Aaron to his own agent. Unfortunately, seven editors had already rejected his novel.
There was a long silence, so long Aaron felt compelled to prod his father along. “And…?”
His father stared beyond Aaron’s shoulder as if his next thought was written on the far wall of his office. Then he said “This is exceedingly painful for me.”
Aaron’s chest hitched. His father wasn’t reticent about speaking his mind. What he had to say must be very, very bad. Aaron splayed his palms across the ridges of his corduroy slacks; his hands seemed oversized and cumbersome like gloves stuffed with gravel. What did he normally do with them? He couldn’t recall.
“Your work’s competent.”
He waited, armpits sweaty with dread, knowing his father had far more to say.
“But it falls far short of greatness on a number of levels. I’m sad to say that I suspect you were offered literary representation because of our relationship.”
The tips of Aaron’s ears heated up. When he was distressed they looked severely inflamed.
“I, uh…didn’t mention our relationship to my agent,” Aaron said. He was determined not to be published as Horace Flowers’ son.
“Someone at the agency obviously found out. It hardly takes any research to discover our relationship.”
“My agent’s very complimentary about my work.” His voice sounded squeaky, much younger than his twenty-nine years.
“Son, I think you should withdraw your submission. It’ll never attract the attention of an editor.”
“You can’t be sure about that.” Aaron decided not to mention the seven rejections.
“Here’s what I suggest: Apply for the PhD program. I know the deadline’s passed, but one word from me and it’ll be extended.”
His father had been pushing a PhD on Aaron for over two years. He’d like to see his son follow his lead and become a literary critic. The best compliment his father ever gave him was that Aaron’s sense of literary aesthetics rivaled his own. Growing up, Aaron usually bowed to his father’s wishes, but not when it came to writing.
“I want to be a novelist,” Aaron said. The sentence came out as a near whisper, which sounded wimpy even to him. He cleared his throat and spoke louder. “I am a novelist.”
His father shook his head; his eyes were filled with pity, which was more distressing than the usual arrogance. “Do you honestly want to be an adjunct the rest of your life, making less than the towel boy at my club?”
“It’s temporary.” Supposedly seven rejections was a modest number in the publishing world. He once read that Nabokov, author of Lolita, received numerous rejection letters, one which said, “I recommend that [the manuscript] be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” No one had yet to be that scathing about Aaron’s work.
“I’m trying to save you years of disappointment.”
“Maybe this novel will sell. Maybe it’ll—”
“You’re not a terrible writer. And with practice and study you may very well improve. I’ve seen poor writers become mediocre writers, and mediocre writers become serviceable writers. But to elevate a serviceable writer to a brilliant writer, one who deserves a place in the pantheons…” He threw out his hands. “I’m so sorry.”
Horace Flowers believed there were only four living American novelists writing worthwhile fiction: Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, and Nicholas Windust.
“Maybe I don’t want to be in pantheons. Maybe I could simply be—”
“A genre writer?”
“Of course not! I was thinking of a midlist literary writer.”
“Not with this novel and most likely not with the next one either. I’m sorry. There’s something essential lacking in your work. ”
Aaron wanted to ask his father to clarify, but he was afraid to hear the answer, afraid it was something he couldn’t rectify. Being a published novelist was Aaron’s one and only ambition. Writing was all he cared about.
“You’re absolutely certain about this?”
The skin around his father’s eyes was wrinkled and pillowed; his irises were so faded they were almost colorless. Yet, weary as his eyes appeared, Aaron knew they could easily discern excellent fiction after reading a paragraph or even a sentence or two.
“I’m a literary critic,” he said gently. “Novels are my reason for existence. If I thought my own flesh and blood had the potential for greatness, don’t you think I’d nurture that gift?”
Aaron sat still in his chair. The office seemed unnaturally quiet, as if it was somehow suspended in outer space instead of being on the floor of a bustling university.
Horace Flowers said, “Please check your box before you leave campus today.”
Aaron exited the office and headed to the English department suite. A cluster of students chatted in the halls, obstacles on the way to his destination. “Did you see Comedy Central last night? That guy…what’s his name? He’s hysterical.”
Aaron limped ahead, pretending he didn’t hear a student misusing the word “hysterical.” Normally he’d stop and say, “Hysterical is not a synonym for hilarious.” But who cared about proper word usage when his reason for existence was falling apart?
He nearly sideswiped an Asian female custodian emptying a trash bin. She mumbled something in Mandarin, but Aaron forged onward without a second glance. Once in the office suite, the secretary greeted him. Aaron couldn’t even manage his usual head nod. He checked his box. Inside was a manila envelope that contained the admission materials for the PhD program. Aaron held the envelope in his hands for several seconds and then tossed it into the garbage can.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"Gillespie charms with a lively tale of opposites attracting ... Buoyed by sympathetic characters, a well-executed ... theme, and a strong cast of supporting characters." ~ Publishers Weekly
"Mistaken identities lead a literary snob and a romance writer to fall into bed and in love. Readers ... will enjoy Gillespie’s humor, some heartfelt moments, and a journey into the convoluted world of 21st-century publishing." ~ Kirkus
"What seems at first to be a frothy rom-com of mistaken identity set in the world of publishing is actually a multilayered character study of opposites finding common ground and overcoming long-held regrets. VERDICT Gillespie leads readers on a merry chase in this deceptively thought-provoking and addictive tale that will be a hit with romance fans. The lit fic crowd? One never can tell." ~ Library Journal
"[P]roof positive that light and breezy can couple with smart, startling and sharp." ~ Steve Uhles, Augusta Chronicle
"Witty and smart, entertaining and lyrical, in Love Literary Style author Karin Gillespie explores all facets of love and language through her evocative characters and charmingly delicious plot. Aaron and Laurie’s story is the intellectual’s romantic comedy, an uproariously winning tale that is sure to delight a wide range of readers, but particularly those who desire a book with heart." ~ Laura Spinella, bestselling author of Ghost Gifts
"Love Literary Style is an intelligently written novel packed with Southern wit. This is a story book clubs will devour. It’s warmly humorous, thought-provoking and shines with emotional depth." ~ Amy Avanzino, author of Wake-Up Call and From the Sideline
"Cheeky and charming, Gillespie’s sweet, outlandish fable is as much a sendup of books, authors, and the publishing industry as it is a love letter to it all. Like the Pink Lady cocktails stodgy Aaron can’t help but adore, Love Literary Style is a frothy and irresistible concoction - that packs a surprising punch." ~ Phoebe Fox, Breakup Doctor series
By Lynda Dickson
Laurie Lee is a library assistant and self-published romance writer. Even though her co-worker and proofreader Ramona is less than complimentary of her writing, Laurie wins a scholarship to a writers' colony. But is it a case of mistaken identity? College professor and wanna-be author Aaron Mite believes in "the superiority of literary fiction over genre". He has written two literary novels, but his father and literary critic Dr. Horace Flowers is very critical of his manuscripts. When Aaron meets Laurie at the writers' colony, he initially believes she's his literary superior. He's a bit thrown when he finds out she isn't who he thought she was, but their chemistry is undeniable, so they continue to see each other. Hilarity ensues as we get to see situations from both points of view and see how wildly differing they are. Will these two be able to find any common ground? Will their relationship survive once they leave the idyllic confines of the colony?
This book provides an interesting look at the self-publishing industry, the discrimination of self-published authors by traditionally published authors, and the prejudices literary writers have against genre writers - to the extent that Aaron would actually prefer Laurie to be a nail technician than a romance writer. While Laurie compares life situations to her favorite romantic comedies, Aaron provides some wonderful analogies to literature.
Love Literary Style is delightfully humorous, with Laurie's writing exercises in the style of classics being particularly amusing. It's a sweet but wholesomely satisfying book. Dare I call it a blend of romantic comedy and literary fiction?
Make sure you download and read "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, the story featured in this book and available in a FREE anthology of Kate Chopin's works.
About the Author
Karin Gillespie is the national-bestselling novelist and has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Writer Magazine. She has an MFA from Converse College and lives in Augusta, Georgia and was recently awarded a Georgia Author of the Year award.
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of three signed print copies of Love Literary Style by Karin Gillespie (US only).