A Lifeline in Reading, and My First Real Copy

Sometimes a review comes in that makes the approximately 4 million years that you spent writing a book feel worth it. Here is an excerpt:

“Kissing in America is about love and grief and friendship; about mothers and daughters, about blood relatives and kindred spirits; about the journey from childhood to adulthood, girlhood to womanhood. It’s about the different paths people take to America, and how those disparate paths and histories affect their children. It’s about fantasy and real life, and how you can embrace both; about feminism and romance, and how you can embrace both; about living in books and living in the world, and how you can embrace both. It’s about going somewhere for someone, versus going somewhere for yourself; looking forward to beginning Real Life, versus beginning Real Life right now, at this very moment.The poetry Eva reads and Rabb quotes is impeccably picked—it’s predominantly by female poets, and it enhances and supports the story without overwhelming it, it highlights the timeless aspects of Eva’s journey and awakening without being too on-the-nose. The characters are three-dimensional—none of them are perfect, and none of them are evil—and their relationships are real and complicated and true. It’s beautifully written, smart and warm and sensitive—I dog-eared so many pages, marked so many phrases and passages that I loved for their rhythm or humor or vision or grace, that my dog-ears and markings became useless. It made me laugh until I choked, and it made me cry at the circulation desk—it’s a book that made my heart feel full.

I loved everything—EVERYTHING—about it, about Eva and her story and THE UTTER JOY of her habit of fantasizing about her life.” –Leila Roy

The full review is here.

I also just received a copy of the final hardcover book! I burst into tears when it arrived, thinking of those 4 million years of writing and 1 billion drafts that it took to finish it, and the many times I thought it would never see the light of day. I can’t believe it’s REAL. I love the embossing on the cover–that was a complete surprise!

photo-138 photo-139

Three starred reviews, and a BookPeople contest

Calling all writers in need of some manuscript advice! BookPeople in Austin, TX is offering signed pre-orders of Kissing in America, and everyone who pre-orders will be entered into a raffle to win a free half-hour manuscript consultation for yourself or a friend, for up to 20 pages of fiction or nonfiction. I can’t wait to read the work of the winner! You can pre-order a copy and enter the contest here. I love BookPeople–I actually wrote parts of Kissing in America in their cafe, in little Japanese notebooks I purchased in their store:


In review news, I’m thrilled that Kissing in America has its third starred review, from Publishers Weekly:

★”In this indelible coming-of-age story, Rabb seamlessly weaves together multiple narratives: families coping with death, immigrants determined to make it in America, the power of education to transform lives, reality TV offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, first love, first heartbreak, and the conflicted, ardent passion of a mother/daughter relationship. After Eva’s father dies in a plane crash, she lives with an awareness that ‘the very worst thing you imagine, your biggest fear, does happen,’ a fear she mitigates by avidly reading romance fiction. Eva’s mother, a women’s studies professor, disparages the books, but for 16-year-old Eva, ‘those feelings felt as real and true as any other feelings I’d ever felt. As real and true as grief.’ A cross-country bus trip expands Eva’s world as she and her best friend Annie encounter people who ‘never met a Jewish person before’ and discover that ‘real-life cowboys were better than fictional ones.’ Sprinkled with the poetry Eva reads and writes, this story makes for a hilarious, thought-provoking, wrenching, and joyful quest.”

Starred Booklist review and Goodreads giveaway

I’m excited to share that Kissing in America has its second starred review, from Booklist! Here’s an excerpt–the full review will be posted April 1st:

★ “[A] rollicking, eye-opening cross-country bus adventure. This is a smart teen’s novel…all Rabb’s characters are authentic and complex, including the adults who are trying desperately to do the right thing for themselves and the young people around them. Rabb knows the perfect point to interject humor to diffuse a potentially devastating situation—and there are many!—a leavening of sorts to the reality that death and love inexplicitly alter the landscape of a person’s life.” — Frances Bradburn, Booklist 


Also Goodreads is giving away 5 advance copies–you can enter here. 


All winners also receive a free box of kittens.


Welcome, weary internet wanderer! Thank you for visiting my new website, featuring a self-portrait with cat fur, links to my essays and short stories, and ways to get in touch.

My new novel, Kissing in America, will be published on May 26th, and it just got its first review! I’m currently working on another new novel and several new essays. We just moved back to the east coast after seven years in Austin, TX, so I’m also adjusting to a new city and to winter again. It reached a low of -7 degrees the other day, so I’m wearing not only my Lucky Writing Pants as I type this, but a scarf and microwaveable heated slippers. I think I may stay inside until spring.

If your web travels have brought you here because you happen to be looking for a quick read about a dead cat, you’re in luck! I published a new essay recently, titled “In My Cat’s Death, a Human Comfort” (much better than my working title of “Dead Cat Essay”).

Thanks for visiting!

New novel and new website coming soon

My new novel, Kissing in America, will be published by HarperCollins on May 26th, 2015! Here’s the bound galley alongside the handwritten first draft.


The official description:

“In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who understand Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head-over-heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the west coast to see Will again. As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.

In this honest and emotional journey, readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all of its forms.”

Advance praise:

“Kissing in America is a wonderful novel about friendship, love, travel, life, hope, poetry, intelligence, and the inner lives of girls — all the things, to put it simply, that I like best in a book. I loved it.” –Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

“That Margo Rabb can write a story so gorgeous, funny, and joyous that is also unsentimental and honest is a testament to her skill and to her heart. I loved everything about Eva and the supporting cast in this beautiful novel.” –Sara Zarr, author of The Lucy Variations

“Wonderful…Margo Rabb has created nothing less than a women’s map of American mythologies.”
E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars

I hope you enjoy the new book! I’ll be launching a new website in February–in the meantime, you can find me on Twitter: @margorabb.

George Saunders interview outtakes

I have a new essay in The New York Times Book Review this Sunday. I really enjoyed writing this one. Thank you to Justin Torres, Jennifer Haigh, Laurie Halse Anderson, Justin Cronin, Elizabeth Gilbert, Allison Amend, Kate Christensen, Mary Karr, Margot Livesey, Tobias Wolff, and George Saunders for speaking with me for the piece. They are all lovely, lovely people. Even if they refused to sit on my lap.

George Saunders kindly agreed to let me post the outtakes from our interview, which was conducted via email (the other interviews were by phone). Here they are:

How has learning more about favorite authors’ lives affected the way you read their work?
GS: Not so much, really. I think there’s that temptation – to say, you know, “Oh Writer Z was a great person, and I can feel that in her books,” or “Writer Q was such an asshole, and his books are thereby disgraced by association” – but I think this is a false position.

I understand a work of fiction as distillation or rarefication of the writer’s personality – the writer at his or her best – at his or her purest, most intense, most iconic. Or at any rate – let’s say we have to, as sophisticated readers, disconnect the producer and the product. So a writer who might be (insert negative or positive quality) in real life, has the chance to either winnow that quality out of the piece of writing – or exaggerate it in such a way as to make it a virtue. The work of art is a way of distorting/reshaping the writer’s personality, then. The writer consents to this and longs for it.

We’d also want to take into account the fact that even a given writer is a vast number of people in her life. There’s not one stable individual producing all that work – instead we might see a book as just a manifestation of who she was at that particular artistic moment. So the real thing is not, who “was” this person and what is the relation of this fixed thing called “her art” – but rather, how did that flickering personality happen to produce, at that particular time, this particular distortion/utilization of itself?

Another way of saying this: we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the temporary manifestation we call “a person” is any more real or stable than the temporary manifestation we call “a book.” Both are temporary constructions, accidents of conditions and circumstances and so on. Was Hemingway the same guy all of his life? No, and each book could be seen as the intersection of two ornery trajectories: the personal (who was he as a person at that moment?) and the artistic (what was his subconscious doing, how fine were his skills at that moment?)

Having said that, I do think that personality figures into the process in an interesting way, expecially in a writer’s best work. What you see at that high elevation is something like: embodiments of various sorts of human greatness. So I feel, for example, that Chekhov was kinder, less bombastic and cocksure, more pragmatic, than Tolstoy. Which is a form of greatness. But Tolstoy had a personal strictness and confidence, and a wide scope of aspiration, and a desire for large spiritual truths, that Chekov didn’t – and this is also a form of greatness.

Or we might feel certain writers (when they are at their best) to be embodiments of certain virtue-sets: I feel Flannery O’Connor as the perfect embodiment of, say, ultra-honest crankiness; Nabakov as the perfect embodiment of style-as-ethos; Hemingway as embodiment of courage in the midst of disaster; Gogol as the perfect embodiment of jester-wisdom, and so on.

In this it’s like singing, maybe: when Billie Holiday sings, what’s the relation of that voice to her “real” self? I think we’d have to say: it’s a distilled and edited version that is somehow both completely her – and better than her. Or: is her most purely.

I think we also feel personality in a writer’s weakest works – when he or she has let some personality quirk or “belief” dominate the mix in a sort of monotonic way – some of Hemingway’s more swagger-heavy novels come to mind, for example.

Another writer I interviewed said, “When you see the man behind the curtain you no longer believe in the puppet show.” Do you think that’s true? Should the man behind the curtain stay behind the curtain?

GS: I used to feel that way, when I was younger, but now I’m not sure. It’s a lot to ask of a person, to stay behind the curtain, you know? Now when I see the writer come out, I just think: Oh, there’s the guy who made that puppet show. And am able to ask: How did I like that show, apart from the fact that the guy who made it was drunk and abusive and is dragging a piece of toilet paper around on one of his special “puppet show” shoes? Or apart from the fact that he was SO nice, and gave me fifty dollars while praising me, and has absolutely no toilet paper on his (beautifully shined) shoe?

We could see a work of art as the artist trying to use the advantage of time and process to get beyond his negative qualities…

Why do you think readers have this desire to know more about our favorite authors’ lives?

GS: I think it’s totally natural. We have a powerful experience at the puppet show and wonder: who’s back there, and how did he DO that? But at that point, we’ve already had the show. We’ve seen him at his best. I don’t think it hurts or helps much, to see him come out – if the show was great, the show was great. His appearance or behavior doesn’t change that, I don’t think. Or shouldn’t. But we maybe idealize artists and think: if she did that great thing, she must be the (constant, unerring) embodiment of that form of greatness – which, when you think about it, discounts the difficulty and intensity of the making.

Who are your literary heroes? Have you read a biography of any of them, or met them in person? What was the experience like? Did learning more about who they were enhance their work or detract from it?

GS: I think learning something about the “real” person can be helpful for a writer, especially a young writer, when he is trying to understand the alchemy between “person” and “work.” Reading Vonnegut’s letters, you can see the warmth and wit and also the very real way in which his experiences in the war made him impatient with unkindness. He wasn’t faking or contriving that. That was authentic. I also like the fact that Gogol was apparently sort of a nutjob – once fell asleep during a lecture he was delivering, had a nose-obsession (and an insanely long nose), was terrified of leeches, his mother routinely claimed that he had invented the locomotive, he became a complete and hectoring and arrogant religious fanatic at the end of his life, etc., etc. – and yet, my God, those stories! So – he’s a great reminder that the relation between talent and personality is mysterious and not linear, and that, at the highest level, the writer’s job is to exploit his personality, in whatever way is most interesting – and that this may be, and probably should be, beyond the control of his will.

Is it strange to meet readers who have some impression of you from your work? Is it ever a false impression?

GS: I think they mostly think I’m a better person than I am. Which gives me something to try and live up to.


I’ve joined Twitter! I’m at @MargoRabb.

I’m aiming to tweet regularly, which is hopefully easier than keeping up a blog. (My friend Mark pointed out that tweeting once a year is really not quite enough. Advice heeded.)


Also, I apologize about the comments still not working here. If anyone knows how to fix this problem with WordPress, please email me! Thanks!

Journal Writing Workshop

I’m excited to be teaching a new workshop about journal writing at the Writer’s League of Texas on Saturday. This subject is very close to my heart—I’ve been keeping a journal since I was ten years old, and almost daily since I was seventeen (I have nearly a hundred of them now). Keeping a journal has been an essential resource for me both as a writer and as a person, and I’m excited to share tricks and tools to inspire others to make it a part of their lives.

Here is a q&a I did with the Writer’s League about the workshop. There are just a few spots left, and you can register by calling or emailing Jenny at the WLT.

(Apologies that the comments feature on this blog hasn’t been working—I’m trying to fix it. In the meantime please feel free to email me through the contact page of my website.)

Intensive Care

I have a new essay in The New York Times today about my son’s experience in the NICU. I wrote the essay after I’d seen a pregnant friend and had found myself telling her what a “great experience” my family had in the NICU. I realized how strange that sounded, and went home and wrote the first draft quickly, stopping only to re-read the journal that I kept during that time. Though the writing came fast, I’d been thinking about those days and trying to make sense of them in the back of my mind for the last three years.

I’m filled with gratitude for the care and love we received from Wanda, Theresa, Belinda, and Patty, and all the wonderful nurses and doctors we met during that time. I’ll never forget them.

Thank you also to my friend Dika Lam, who came up with the title “Intensive Care.”

Happy New Year, With Chocolate

I hope the year is off to a great start for everyone!

One of my favorite discoveries of 2012 was a new kind of chocolate:

My husband brought these back from a business trip to London. The packaging was so pretty I almost didn’t want to open them (but somehow managed to).

They’re from Rococo Chocolates, and they’re amazing. My daughter, who is six now and (maybe, possibly) loves chocolate even more than I do, sensed the enormity of this gift – chocolates from thousands of miles away – and together we ate a piece every night.

A writer friend also recently sent a box of these salted caramels from Montana, which I’m addicted to now:

The other day, my daughter ate a chocolate, a caramel, and took a bath with chocolate-scented soap and said, “This is the best day ever in the whole world!”

It doesn’t get much better than a day with a caramel and two kinds of chocolate. Happy New Year!