Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander

I reviewed The Weight of a Piano: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf) by Houston's Chris Cander for Lone Star Literary Life. "Cander’s The Weight of a Piano showcases her development as a powerful storyteller, reminding me of Accordion Crimes (Scribner, 1997) by the great Annie Proulx. Steadily, warily, the two halves of this story move toward each other, and what follows is a tale of the paradoxical power of art — the duality that transfigures, enslaving some and setting others free." 

Chris Cander
The Weight of a Piano: A Novel
Hardcover, 978-0-5256-5467-4 (also available as an e-book), 336 pgs., $26.95
January 22, 2019

Julius Blüthner, a German piano maker in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was a legend in his time. He would take the train from Leipzig to the mountains of Romania to personally choose the spruce trees which would become, after a process involving many steps and many years, a piano. One of the Blüthner factory’s rare instruments, which would “open up and gather into itself a unique history,” is a main character in Chris Cander’s latest novel, The Weight of a Piano.

The story begins with the birth of the piano and then leaps across time and space, first to Bakersfield, California, in 2012, where auto mechanic Clara Lundy is a twenty-six-year-old orphan, trying not to want anything because life has taught her that if she wants it too badly, she cannot keep it; then to Zagorsk, USSR, in 1962, where eight-year-old Ekaterina “Katya” Dmitrievna is kept awake at night by a piano-playing neighbor, an old German man who’d been blinded “by either shrapnel or guilt.”

Katya inherits an antique, shining ebony Blüthner upright piano from her neighbor; Clara’s father, he of the loud silences (“Hush, they said. I’m busy or Maybe later or I forgot.”), gifts her a Blüthner for her twelfth birthday. Katya’s piano is lost in the complicated immigration to America; Clara’s piano is a “paperweight, keeping what was left of her childhood memories from floating away.” Having never learned to play, and breaking her hand maneuvering the 564-pound paperweight up a flight of stairs during her latest move, Clara posts the Blüthner for sale. Needled by second and third thoughts, Clara tries to remove the sale notice but too late: a photographer in New York has bought it.

The Weight of a Piano is Chris Cander’s third novel. A work of literary fiction that spans decades and continents, Cander’s latest offering is an original, creative tackling of the essentially solitary human condition; the effort required of women to claim full personhood (I love you now change); and the frightening vulnerability necessary to connect with another, defiant in the face of the transitory nature of all things.

The story is told in three third-person accounts: that of Clara, Katya, and the piano. “I want to say that there’s a reason this piano exists in the world. This specific piano. That there’s something important about it, to the people who made it, to the people who played it and lost and found it and lost it again.”

Cander’s women are each quite different from one another. While I appreciated the younger Katya, bemused and curious to see what she’d do next, I grew impatient with Clara’s (altogether understandable) pre-emptive strikes (“self-sufficient and self-contained, reliable instead of reliant”) and skittishness, shying like a wild thing from perceived threats to her jealously guarded independence. The two women’s paths cross in myriad ways, diverging in apposition; as Katya ages, she seems to diminish; as Clara ages she becomes bolder, more decisive.

There are a handful of slips in The Weight of a Piano. “His eyes glazed with animal desire” is unworthy of Cander. Granted, sex is hard to write well and it’s where the clichés reliably appear—not surprising but a touch disappointing. And why print an entire letter in Cyrillic?

Imagery such as this makes up for the slips: “This amplified tension between [Clara’s] parents so dense and sticky, always came and went, and now it was there again, like a spider web that had been spun in the night.” The stark extremity of Death Valley serves as inspired metaphor, providing a backdrop supremely indifferent to the human dramas playing out — all sorts of things are dying out there.

The piano tries to please — it has abandonment issues, too. “Oh, how hard it had tried to produce the right sounds, grateful as it was to finally have been asked to once again.” The denouement unexpectedly features the Blüthner’s point of view — compelling and, oddly, more affecting than the people. “It felt as though it were twice its actual size, a burden to itself and others … 564 pounds plus the invisible emotional and musical heft.” The piano is burdened by the hopes, dreams, disappointments, and griefs of its humans. “That’s not music. Let me go.”

Cander’s The Weight of a Piano showcases her development as a powerful storyteller, reminding me of Accordion Crimes (Scribner, 1997) by the great Annie Proulx. Steadily, warily, the two halves of this story move toward each other, and what follows is a tale of the paradoxical power of art — the duality that transfigures, enslaving some and setting others free.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday Roundup: Texas Literary Calendar January 14-20, 2019

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of January 14-20, 2019: 

Special Events:
"Say it Loud" The John Silverstein Collection of African American Social History Sale, Dallas, January 15

2019 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, Jefferson, January 17-19

Ongoing Exhibits:
Finding Sophie Blackall Exhibition, Abilene, October 11-February 1, 2019

30 Poems for the Tricentennial: A Poetic Legacy, San Antonio, December 3-April 25, 2019

Women of Flatbed: A Retrospective, Austin, January 17-April 28

Monday, January 14:

Murder By the Book, Lyndsay Faye will sign and discuss The Paragon Hotel, 6:30PM

Stude Concert Hall, Inprint's Margarett Root Brown Reading Series: Claudia Rankine will read from her work and actors from The Ensemble Theatre will perform an excerpt of her play, The White Card, followed by an interview conducted by Houston-based artist and community organizer/MacArthur Fellow/Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe, plus a book sale and signing, 7:30PM

Tuesday, January 15:

Fort Worth
The Dock Bookshop, Poetry and Open Mic, 8PM

Brazos Bookstore, William Dylan Powell & ER Bills discussing and signing 100 THINGS TO DO IN HOUSTON / TEXAS BEFORE YOU DIE, 7PM

Deep Vellum Books, All That Is Evident Is Suspect: Readings From The Oulipo with Daniel Levin Becker, in conversation with Deep Vellum founder and publisher, Will Evans, 7PM


San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, Everyday Millionaires: How Ordinary People Built Extraordinary Wealth-and How You Can Too book signing with Chris Hogan, 6PM

The Twig Book Shop, Camaron Brooks discussing and signing Studio Baby, 5PM

Thursday, January 17:
Half Price Books Mother Ship, New York Times bestselling author Diane Sanfilippo will discuss and sign copies of her newest book, Keto Quick Start, 7PM

Interabang Books, Robert W. Turner II discussing and signing NOT FOR LONG: THE LIFE AND CAREER OF A NFL ATHLETE, 7PM

The Wild Detectives, Make Art with Purpose (MAP) and editor Janeil Engelstad launch a new zine, Let’s Talk, 7PM

B&N - Stonebriar, Slayer (B&N Exclusive Edition) (Slayer Series #1) book signing with Kiersten White, 7PM

The Woodlands

Heroes Lounge, Dallas Poetry Slam, 7:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, Daniel Levin Becker discussing and signing ALL THAT IS EVIDENT IS SUSPECT, 7PM

Lawndale Art Center, Gulf Coast Reading Series featuring Josh Wheeler, Sonia Hamer, Nicholas Rattner, and Kristjan Meikop, 7PM

Murder By the Book, Nicholas Petrie will sign and discuss his new Peter Ash thriller, Tear It Down, 6:30PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Poetry at The Twig: Natalia Trevino and Steven Kellman, 5:30PM

The Woodlands
B&N - Woodlands Mall, Keto Quick Start book signing with Diane Sanfilippo, 7PM

Saturday, January 19:
ACC - Riverside, "The Craft + Business of Writing" with Writers' League of Texas, 2:15PM

B&N - Arboretum, E.B. Staples signing What Is the Truth?, 2PM
BookPeople, Austin SCBWI Monthly Meeting: Author Tara Dairman on Banishing Anxiety From The Writing Process: Teach yourself to write faster (or slower!), but with more joy, 10AM

BookPeople, Author Guest Story Time: Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright present Too Much Today!, 10:30AM

St. Edward's University, Writers' League of Texas workshop: "Whose Story Is It? Playing with Point of View" with Stephanie Noll, 10AM

Windsor Park Library, Austin Poetry Society meeting featuring Tony Burnett, 12PM


B&N - River Oaks, Crystal Duffy signing Twin to Twin, 11:30AM
B&N, Summoned to Thirteenth Grave book signing with Darynda Jones, 2PM

Port Neches
Fleur Fine Books, Author Larry Farmer Meet & Greet, 3PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Dale Walsh signing Wesley's Adventures, 11AM
The Storybook Garden, Art & Story Workshop: Aztec Warrior with David Bowles, 12PM, followed  by an Author Meet & Greet, 2PM
Brazos Bookstore, Weasel reading and signing WE LIVE FOR HALF-MOONS, 5PM

Writespace, Workshop: "Copywriting 101: Supplement Your Income through Writing for Businesses" with Andreana Binder, 3PM

The Drawing Board, Writing Workshops Dallas seminar: "Survive Rejection & Forge a Path to Publication" with Blake Kimzey, 3PM

Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts, Theatreworks USA presents their newest musical revue of beloved contemporary children’s books, Dragons Love Tacos and Other Stories, 2:30PM

San Antonio
Landa Library, Meet the Author: Gil Dominguez, 3PM

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Interview: Matt Minor, author of THE WATER LORD

Genre: Political Suspense
Publisher: Dead Tree Publishing
Publication Date: April 2, 2018
Number of Pages: 249 pages


A town has gone dry, and the general manager of a water district is found dead, presumably a suicide. His crazed widow is in denial and recklessly loose-lipped. Texas House District 100 is again in turmoil, and the interests of the landed class against urban sprawl are at odds.
Enter John David Dothan (The Representative). The world’s hippest legislator is back, but he is a changed man. Post-stroke Dothan dons an eccentric cane and is married to his former chief of staff, Tryphena Taylor. The two lovers reside peacefully tucked away in a country cottage with their rescued cat. But they are swimming against the tide.
Caught between the past and the future, the rural and the urban, the representative is trapped in a no-win situation both politically and emotionally. When a constituent brings to his attention a mysterious ‘retention pond’ things grow increasingly murky. The waters turn completely dark when Dothan learns his forbidden first love, former State Senator Rachael Logan has been hospitalized.
Armed with only his cane and sidekick, Mason Dixon (The District Manager), who serves as his new chief of staff, Dothan sets aside the ambiguities of politics and love in search of clarity and righteousness. But the cost of doing the right thing might not just be his young marriage … but Tryphena’s life.


"Great pacing and a well-written storyline. I look forward to reading more from Matt Minor!" - My Reading Addiction

"Matt Minor has great attention to detail and makes everything from the setting to the characters feel very real. It makes for a wonderfully written and very suspenseful novel." - Momma and Her Stories

"A well-crafted suspense! The plot kept me turning the pages and I finished this novel very fast. Matt Minor's voice is a breath of fresh air, smart, witty and full of twists... I will read more books by this author!" - Indie Express

"Matt Minor has created a novel in which the main character shows growth...I like flawed characters and if they can overcome things, it really speaks to me." - A Life Through Books

What did you enjoy most about writing The Water Lord?
Writing it. I love writing.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Working out the mystery details.

The Water Lord has a recurring character from The District Manager. Any unexpected hurdles in doing this?
It is the third book in what I term the ‘The House District 100 saga.’ I mean ‘saga’ somewhat sardonically. There were no hurdles. It just falls into place. It helps that I have much to draw on in both my personal and professional life.

Do you now or have you ever considered writing under a pen-name?
Haha … I should. I could lose my job doing what I do because it is so closely related to what I do (state legislature). People don’t take chances anymore with art. I do.

So… that begs the question: are any of your book’s characters based on real people?
That’s a secret, known only by me and the wild God of the world. 

How does The Water Lord relate to your faith, spiritual practice, or life path?
None. I throw characters into a Petri dish and they act according to their nature until they don’t. I am an observer.

Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured if your book?
The whole thing. I write Texas political fiction, with elements of mystery and suspense associated with that. I’m the only person doing what I do. 

Who would you cast to play your characters in a movie version of your book?
Not many actors today that could hang with my characters. I’d have to think about that.

Did you first experience rejections when submitting this manuscript for publication?
I never submitted this book for publication. I did, however, submit The Representative for publication, and interviewed with agents. I was told there was no market for what I am doing, that originality has no currency. I self-published because I was told by an agent I respect that because I was doing something out of the box, it was best to abscond with conformity and go it alone.

Do you have a mantra for writing and/or for life?
I’ll quote the poet Gary Snyder: I feel ancient, as though I had lived many lives. And may never now know if I am a fool…or have done what my karma demands.

Matt Minor presently serves as a chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives. In the Texas House he has served under the Pensions Committee, Government Efficiency and Reform, Investments and Financial Services, Bond Indebtedness, and Way and Means. He has worked as a political campaign manager and is a public speaker. Matt has authored official state publications, oversees syndicated editorials, (both political and cultural) and is a speech writer and district radio legislative commentator. Prior to his life in state politics, Matt was a professional musician and entertainer. Matt’s hobbies are centered on the arts, including the craft of poetry, an interest that has brought academic recognition and numerous awards.

His first novel, The Representative, was an Amazon Political Fiction Bestseller the summer of 2015, and was accepted and archived into the Texas State Legislative Library. In April of 2016, The Representative won an IPPY Gold medal for Southern Fiction. In the summer of 2016 he released his second novel, The District Manager.

Matt Minor resides on his ranch property in Wharton County, Texas. He lives in Austin during legislative session. 

║ Website ║ Facebook ║ Goodreads ║ Twitter Blog ║ Amazon Author Page 
JANUARY 8-17, 2019

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Monday Roundup: Texas Literary Calendar January 7-13, 2019

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of January 7-13, 2019: 

Ongoing Exhibits:
Finding Sophie Blackall Exhibition, Abilene, October 11-February 1

30 Poems for the Tricentennial: A Poetic Legacy, San Antonio, December 3-April 25, 2019

Monday, January 7:

Home Slice Pizza, Austin Bat Cave's Story Department: Resolutions Kept, 7:30PM

The North Door, Owen Egerton hosts One Page Salon, 7:30PM
Spiderhouse Ballroom, Austin Poetry Slam Hosted by Tova Charles, 7:15PM

Avant Garden, Write About Now Poetry Open Mic featuring Lyd Havens, 7:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, Pete Gershon discussing and signing COLLISION, 7PM

Thursday, January 10:
Interabang Books, Neil White reading and signing TURN A BLIND EYE, 7PM

BookPeople, CONOR RICHARDSON speaking & signing Millennial Money Makeover: Escape Debt, Save for Your Future, and Live the Rich Life Now, 5PM

Half Price Books - S. Lamar, Austin author Lilly Lewis will sell and sign copies of her new book, The Last Mermaid Princess, 12PM

Patrick Heath Public Library, Second Saturday Author Signing: Patsy Swendson will be signing copies of her brand new book, Gracie - Love is Blind: Tales of Life, Love & Healing, 11AM


El Paso
Memorial Park Public Library, Tumblewords Project workshop: "The Masquerade Ball" with Sandra Torrez, 12:45PM