David Ebershoff at Watermark Books, and a Giveaway

I had the pleasure of going to an author signing (my first! I should get out more…) at Watermark books featuring The 19th Wife author David Ebershofff.

First off, I have to back Natasha up on this (she’s mentioned it in comments on my review as well as elsewhere): he’s an incredibly personable, interesting, and, yes, nice person. He’s also thorough, respectful and fair. If I had met him before reading the book, I would have been less suspicious of his motivations and more open to what he was trying to do when telling the story. (And to answer my own question: yeah, I’m probably reading too much into the novel.)

I won’t go through his whole hour-long interview/talk (though he didn’t do any actual reading from the book, which mildly disappointed me; I was curious as to what he would have chosen), but I’ll give you a few of what I thought were the highlights. (And I’m just winging this since I’ve never done it before!)

Sarah Bagby, the managing director of Watermark ran the discussion, and started him talking about how he decided to write The 19th Wife, especially since he said that he wanted to write on a subject that he, as a reader, would find interesting. Something that stood out in his explanation — he talked a bit about Ann Eliza Young and her history, as well as his contact with polygamous communities — was a little side comment that he gave as a response to our laughter about him visiting polygamous communities: “To write a book you have to be bold but a little bit naive; you have to be open to things.”

As part of the research for the story, he talked to many women who have left polygamous families, and discovered that the more he got into the story, the more stories there were. He said that their stories, while unique, were all variations on the same story, on Ann Eliza’s story. It always begins with them being devout in their faith, a certainty in their belief. But then something happens to crack the faith, and then something else to shatter it, and then they leave. He also interviewed women in the compounds he visited, but was always wondering how they were viewing him, wondering if they were holding things back. But his conversations with them informed the character of Jordan’s mom. In the end, he realized that while the historical part of the book was about the woman’s story, the modern section needed to be about the children, because both were affected by polygamy.

One of the more interesting things, to me at least, was his mention that on the surface, polygamy is titillating, something sexual, but if you dig down, there’s a lot of complex issues beneath the surface: faith, religious freedom, right to privacy — core American values. “Polygamy pushes these values and asks if we really believe in them, are there limits? And if so, who sets them?” He said he doesn’t think that there’s any one way to look at the issue, his goal was to raise up a set of questions for the reader but not necessarily provide answers for them.

He mentioned the raid on the Texas polygamous compound last year, and noted that the reaction of the media to that was very similar to the media reaction to Ann Eliza. I thought that was an interesting comparison.

Something I, as a Mormon, appreciated was his repeated statements that current polygamists don’t have anything to do with the LDS church. (He wasn’t out to compare the church to a cult; that was just me!) And that he had positive experiences while researching Ann Eliza. I asked about the character of Kelly Dee. He said that it kind of came from what he was trying to do: taking all of the disjointed parts of history and pulling them together. He said that while working on the book, he met young, intelligent, curious Latter-day Saints pursuing this part of their (and my) history. They were devout and faithful, yet open and curious. He felt like he needed a character like that to tie these stories together.

I could go on — he talked about the research he did and how he worked on capturing Brigham Young’s voice (and that it was intimidating and challenging, but that as a writer, he likes a challenge); and how his experiences having three older sisters informed his writing, among other things — but I’ll just end by saying that it was an enjoyable evening, and I’m glad to have had this opportunity to go out. I ought to do this more often! (And keep a better eye on who comes to this part of Kansas. Ally Carter is coming on Saturday, and M would love to go, but we have a previous commitment, and can’t make it.)

Finally, if any of this has piqued your curiosity: I’m giving away TWO signed copies of 19th Wife! Just leave a comment saying that you’re interested. Make sure there’s an email address where I can contact you. Only open to U.S. and Canada residents, sorry. 🙂 I’ll draw the winner on Sunday, June 14th.

19 thoughts on “David Ebershoff at Watermark Books, and a Giveaway

  1. Interested? Well, yeah! I've only read about a half-million reviews of this book. Wow, this is your first signing? Where've ya been, lady? It's the nicest thing you can do for an author — just show up at the signing.

    bookfoolery at yahoo dot com


  2. Like you mentioned I met David before reading the book and it definitely colored how I read it. I was much more forgiving then maybe if I had read it first. He's just so darn nice! Sounds like you had a great time!


  3. I am certainly interested as my maternal grandfather's side of the family several generation before him was polygamous.

    Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

    espressogurl at hotmail dot com


  4. I met David Ebershoff last year and also found him to be a very pleasant guy. I read the book and enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed the details about the lifestyles of the polygamists, and I felt the author did a great job of combining fact and fiction. The story was compelling, and the reader is also given understanding of the real world of the cult as well as some history. If you go to Ebershoff's website, you can read the entire original text of Ann Eliza's book. The writing style goes a long way in explaining how she got into the marital situation!


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