The Lost Night Archives
I'm Reading at USF Tuesday
I'll be reading at the University of San Francisco's creative writing program Tuesday, September 16. I'm looking forward to it, because they've asked me to read from both my memoir, "The Lost Night," and my dance criticism. The reading will be followed by a Q and A. Here's the basic info, from the USF website:
Rachel Howard's Reading / 7:30 p.m. Xavier Hall, Fromm Hall. Memorist and dance critic Rachel Howard reads from her work. This event is sponsored by MFA in Writing Program. For more information, please call (415) 422-6066 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. This event is open to the public.
Hope to see you there.
Howard "Howdy" Cullen, 1947-2007
As his obituary in the Merced Sun-Star read, "Howdy died after a long and courageous battle with everyone he ever knew." He helped dozens and perhaps even hundreds of recovering addicts as an AA sponsor. He will be missed.
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I've been interviewed by Ira Glass for the radio show This American Life. The theme for the week is "How to Rest in Peace," and Ira talked with me about living with the fact of my father's unsolved murder, which I wrote about in my book The Lost Night. The show airs November 2--click here to hear the 30-second promo with my voice (is it really that low in real life?).
UPDATE: One of the show's gracious producers has informed me that the episode is indeed airing this weekend. To hear it tomorrow at 1 p.m. Pacific time on San Francisco's KALW 91.7 FM, click here.
I'll be reading this Thursday at "Inside Storytime" at the Rickshaw Stop in Hayes Valley, which I haven't seen yet but understand is a very cool venue. Here's the scoop:
GENERATIONS on November 16th, 7 - 9 pm. Regina Louise (Somebody's Someone), Terry Bisson (Bears Discover Fire), Rachel Howard (The Lost Night), Matthew Iribarne (Astronauts and Other Stories), and Ransom Stephens (Fade To Pink), on the power and terror of our bond with those who begat us and those who we begot...
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., $3-$10 sliding scale.
Click here, and come on out for a cozy reading on a cold winter's night.
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The San Francisco literary festival Litquake has just announced their fall 2006 lineup. I'll be reading on the "Crime and Consequences" evening on Friday October 13 alongside Joe Loya, Margo Perin, and some other great Bay Area authors. Yes, that's October 13, as in more than a month from now, but Litquake is so overstuffed with amazing readings (350 authors over 9 days) that it's never too early to start looking over the lineup. The opening night is going to feature music producer Dan the Automator introducing Bay Area musicians who will read from the literature that's inspired them. And definitely don't miss the hugely popular Literary Pub Crawl through the Mission.
For the details, click here.
The Carol Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation announced yesterday that they're offering a $5,000 reward for information that could lead to closing the unsolved murder of my father, Stan Howard. The 20th anniversary of his stabbing in Merced passed this June 22. My family and I are very grateful for the Foundation's generosity.
You can read the local news report here.
"Den Glemte Nat" is out in the Netherlands:
First Ever Grotto Works
"The Lost Night" is coming out in paperback June 26, and I'm in good company at my place of work, the SF Writers Grotto, where no fewer than eight of our members have books hitting the shelves this spring and summer. We're throwing a party to celebrate. You saw it here first:
An Invitation to "Grotto Works" on June 24th!
We invite you to our "Grotto Works" Celebration on Saturday, June 24th!
The San Francisco Writer’s Grotto invites you to a celebration of an astonishing EIGHT BOOKS being published in May-July by Grotto authors
Join us for brief readings, wine, beer, victuals, and comradery at the new Grotto offices
Saturday, June 24, 2006: 7-10 pm
MC: Oscar Villalon, SF Chronicle Book Review Editor
Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis, by Christopher D. Cook
Masterminds: Genius, DNA, and Quest to Rewrite Life, by David Ewing Duncan
House of Thieves, by Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder, by Rachel Howard
Pucker, by Melanie Gideon
The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, by Peter Orner
East Wind, Rain, by Caroline Paul
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, by Jason Roberts
490 Second Street (at Bryant)
San Francisco, California
See you on the 24th!!!
Click here for the Grotto's website.
Special note: We're limited by fire marshall constraints, but our South Park office is fairly commodious and we'll do our best to get everyone in.
An early copy of "The Lost Night's" paperback edition arrived the other night, and setting eyes on it for the first time, I was very pleased. You can see the new cover design here, but what you can't tell from a JPeg is the true shade of grey: rich and slightly blue, with a hint of deep green. It's elegant and lovely (and it coordinates handily with the website, no?). And it's in bookstores June 26.
Check this out: my memoir "The Lost Night" is a November/December issue pick in Bookmarks Magazine:
"Howard, an arts writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, delivers a stunning debut. Forgoing the true-crime treatment, Howard remains restrained, her focus on the broad emotional panorama of the story instead of lurid details and self-pity. In crisp, unadorned prose, she explores broken families, drugs, rural California, and the hard emotional work of remembering. The Washington Post notes a “flavor of journal-writing” to The Lost Night, but it’s a mere quibble overshadowed by the heady chorus of critical praise. “[N]o novel based on Ms. Howard’s life,” concludes The Wall Street Journal, “no matter how skillfully crafted, could have been as believable as The Lost Night.” "
Click here to see the whole list.
Great review of my memoir "The Lost Night" just up on one of my favorite literary sites, Bookslut:
"Late one summer evening, in the stifling heat of the central California valley, someone entered Stan Howard's home, stole a knife from the kitchen, and stabbed him to death in his bedroom, just down the hall from his sleeping 10 year-old daughter, Rachel.
Nineteen years later sees the publication of Rachel Howard's memoir The Lost Night. The added-on subtitle, A Daughter’s Search for the Truth of her Father’s Murder couldn’t be more than a marketing scam. Luckily for us, this refreshingly honest memoir isn't your run-of-the-mill true crime mystery. In fact the difference is so extreme that the subtitle seems almost to be an ironic jab at such pretensions. There is no pat ending here that tells exactly who did what in the library with the candlestick, or even any semblance of vengeance or justice. Instead the story turns out to be a penetrating journey into the nature of memory, both suppressed and imagined, and the resulting traumas that reverberate for decades after such a violent loss."
Click here to read the whole thing.
Back in San Francisco and powering through one more reading tonight, at 7 p.m., at the Borders on Union Square. Then I get a break from the readings for a bit--and you faithful blog readers get a break from hearing about the memoir. I've got great dance stuff on the horizon--I promise!--including the San Francisco Chronicle's Fall Arts Preview, which hits the stands August 28th.
Santa Barbara was a lovely whirlwind that sent me straight from a book party at my gracious in-laws' house to a reading at the downtown Borders. Thanks to the fellow College of Creative Studies alumnae who came out, and to the cafe barristas whose ears perked up during my reading and who came by afterwards to buy the book and have me sign.
Also at the reading was Mr. Henry Babcock, a very good friend to my brother Emmet during his Army deployment to Mosul, Iraq. For those who have been keeping my brother in their thoughts, my mother and I received word today that he'll be moving to Kuwait (and out of harm's way) in just ten days, and coming back to the States a few weeks after that. We're proud of him, saddened by the losses of many good soldiers, and counting down every day until we see him again.
My friend DJ Palladino--my first real editor, after my brief stint at the UCSB Daily Nexus--has written a very sweet profile of me for the Santa Barbara Independent:
"Rachel Howard’s The Lost Night is a riveting book about growing up in the wake of her father’s murder. Stabbed in the throat near or in his bed, Howard’s beloved dad, Stan, stumbled through their Fresno home, a scene she, then 10 years old, horribly witnessed. The murderer has never been found. The act and its psychological aftermath—a mix of memory and denials—are the subject of Howard’s lucid book, written almost entirely without cant or self-pity.
The book—set mostly in California’s Central Valley, an often forgotten and seedy corner of our glorified state—chronicles her attempts to fit in after the traumatic events of 1986, in a troubled home life with a druggy stepfather named Howdy and an adolescence plagued with sexual tension. Escaping south to UCSB, Howard, who is now working on a novel, took fiction-writing classes but also tried her hand at the Daily Nexus. She interned at The Independent in the late 1990s, and became a writer and dance critic (I was one of her editors, and we are still friends) before being named our calendar editor. Though her talents quickly became obvious—a clear, incisive writer blessed with an uncommon work ethic—journalism was always a kind of second career choice. She explained, “I just wanted to write books. But when you live in a place like Fresno, it’s not one of those things people tell you you can do.”
Most of us never knew that even in the midst of her impressive reporter years here, she was suffering an acute emotional breakdown replete with hallucinations. “A lot of my friends have started to get copies of the book and read it,” she told me over lunch at the Natural Café last week, “people I haven’t seen in years, who say, ‘I had no idea, I feel like I never knew you.’” Even a former boyfriend with whom she was deeply in love called to say he didn’t know her father was murdered. “That’s how much I was trying to keep it from people,” Howard said. "
Alas, the Independent's website is still a bit cumbersome; you can read the whole article here, but you will have to scroll down through all the other arts articles to find it under "Childhood Noir"--or read the other articles, especially if you live in SB!
The occasion for the piece? I'm reading at the Santa Barbara Borders tomorrow night, Tuesday Aug. 16 at 7:30 p.m. For details, click here. If you live near SB, come out and say hi.
Questionnaires, and Mild Misquotations
San Francisco Examiner film critic Jeffrey M. Anderson interviewed me for the "Why I Write" column in yesterday's paper:
"The Examiner: Why do you write?
Rachel Howard: I've kept a journal since I was 18. If three or four days pass and I haven't written in my journal I feel like my life is just this collection of random experiences going by. So I write to give my life shape and meaning.
Q: Now that you've published your book, you have to talk about the murder more than ever. Is that hard for you?
A: I wanted that to be forced upon me. I had lived for a long time with this fear that when I told someone that my father was killed, they were going to completely change their idea of who I was. And so the more I took control of that, the less I dreaded telling people."
For the full interview, click here. It's always nice to be called lean and striking, so I hope it won't appear ungrateful of me to point out that I was mildly misquoted. First, one of the books I'm currently reading is "Camus and Sartre: The story of a friendship and the quarrel that ended it." And I didn't say I was reading Isak Dinesen because "I like to read fiction." Geez, I write fiction, so you would hope I like to read it. What I said was that I was reading Dinesen short stories because I like to always be reading at least one work of fiction (to keep my mind in storytelling mode).
Ah, to be on the other side of the tape recorder.
Regarding the little factoids about my tastes at the bottom of the interview, the Examiner actually gave me a long list of questions, including "Favorite song/piece of music" and "If I could only retain one book on a desert island, it would be . . ."
"You can't answer those straight, or you'll be a total nerd!" my husband Bill said when I showed him the list. But answer them more or less straight I did, and I'm sure it's just good luck that the Ex didn't print all my replies.
So I'll just share one answer that didn't make it in. "Book I've read lately I'd recommend most?" Nicole Krauss's "The History of Love." Without a doubt.
You Can Take the Girl Out of the Strip Mall . . .
Note to self: Always use Professional Author voice when speaking to the press. From the Fresno Bee:
"Rachel Howard has a habit of raising the intonation of her voice at the end of sentences that don't contain questions. Her lilt bounces along so merrily that there are moments you might mistake her for a witless mall rat.
Don't be fooled. Howard is no lightweight. She's the author of "The Lost Night," a memoir about the summer night her father was murdered as they slept in their Merced home. She was 10 years old."
The rest of the story is actually quite complimentary, but registration is required to view. If you already have an account with the Bee or don't mind signing up for one (free), you can see the whole article here.
The readings in Merced and Fresno, incidentally, were wonderful. In Merced, where I worried people might take me to task for dredging up bad memories, we had a standing room only crowd. People who knew my father in high school came to share their rememberances--and their yearbook photos. Old neighbors of the house where my father was killed came to say they remembered when the murder happened, and that they were keeping me and Bobby in their thoughts at the time. My grandmother came, my mother, my aunt, and Nanette, my dad's second wife, with her family. Even before anyone had introduced themselves, I could feel a kind and supportive energy from the audience.
Fresno--where I lived after the murder--was less emotionally charged but just as fun. The "good girls" from my years on the Clovis High colorguard were by my side. Special thanks to Heather for playing "interim publicist," and to the good friends I hadn't seen in years who stopped by to say hi.
It was all a much richer--and overwhelming experience than I have time to relate today. I've got a wall to finish painting yellow, a Chronicle story to write, and an apartment to clean before my in-laws arrive tonight. Oh, and also a reading tonight: 7 p.m. at the SF Ferry Building's Book Passage. Come on out. I'll make sure not to talk like a "witless mall rat."
A review of "The Lost Night" with a personal twist in the Orange County Register yesterday, written by Scott Duncan, my former editor at the paper:
"I met Howard when she was 23, an aspiring arts journalist and a polished young woman. She applied for a job as an arts reporter here at the Register, where I was an editor at the time. Her writing was advanced for someone her age. Her grades were terrible in high school, she said, and writing became something of a salvation; in fact, it was only through a writing scholarship that she was accepted to college.
We took a chance with her, and Howard worked at the Register for about a year covering the arts. She was poised, talented, fast-learning, mature beyond her years. Reading her book a few years later, I would be shocked at what she lived through. She never mentioned the slaying. There was an air of reserve about her, though; her emotions were veiled by something invisible. "You can't imagine how happy this makes me feel," she said, when I phoned to offer her the job. It struck me at the time as an odd response to a first big break.
Much of "The Lost Night" is gripping reading, as Howard splendidly re-creates her middle-class childhood world of Modesto, Fresno and California's central valley in the 1980s. She assembles and weighs her narration carefully, with a journalist's calibrated sense of veracity. She describes the disjointed memories of the death night - the pools of blood, her father's death struggle, the paramedics charging through her living room - as Polaroid snapshots, "murky images captured and set aside to develop in slow motion."
It's an apt way to describe the entire book, as Howard finally allows these painful memories to develop, then tracks down the principal players in her past to find the truth of what happened.
Howard's lucid storytelling and the simple bravery of the writing make her book absorbing and moving, especially at the time of the killing and the ensuing difficult years. Each word seems honed from half a lifetime of gradual remembering, like water filtered years underground emerging pure and clear from a spring."
The review also ran with an uncanny illustrated likeness of me, which you can see by going to the paper's website here. "Gosh, my childhood was bad, but it's not like my stepfather made me go three rounds with Evander Holyfield while wearing a tutu," I said when I saw it. My husband thinks it would make a good illustration for a New Yorker-style caption contest. If you've got ideas, send 'em in. Best one wins a signed copy of the book.
And I'm grateful to Scott Duncan for his thoughts. He was a rare kind of editor, personally tutoring me, printing out my stories and marking them up to teach me structure and strong, declarative writing. I learned more in a year at the Register than I could have learned in five elsewhere.
UPDATE: A helpful reader informs me that the OC Register requires you to create a free account and sign in before you can view the review/illustration--a small wrinkle in our caption contest. Darn.
Viva la Virgins
Fresno's not necessarily the purgatory it used to be, as I discovered when I visited my high school friend Heather McLane a few weeks ago. We went out for sandwiches at the Tower District's Irene's, a forties-style cafe where vintage-clad twenty-somethings cruised past on bicycles despite the 100-degree heat.
Not only does Fresno have one pocket of the city with cute coffe shops and actual pedestrians, it also now has a cool entertainment website called Fresno Famous. (I want a t-shirt!) Heather is a freelance journalist of burgeoning talent, so when she told them of my reading in Fresno this Wednesday, they asked her to interview me. We talked, in Heather's words, "of memory, family and how great it is to be a high school virgin.":
"Speaking of high school, I'd like to take issue with you describing myself, and some of our other friends, as "determined virgins."
[Laughing] Oh, but you were virgins, though.
Yes, but putting it into print certainly doesn't help my "lady about town" reputation.
You should be proud to have been a virgin in high school!"
Heather did a great job with the interview. Read the whole thing here.
It’s been a busy week, but after doing a quick newspaper interview this morning I’m catching my breath. The book party last night was a blast. And the reading Wednesday night at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for books went “smashing,” as my friend Gee from Pets Unlimited would say. In fact, most of the crew from Pets Unlimited, where I volunteer as a dog walker, turned out to radiate good vibes my way. As if that didn’t make them angelic enough, the shelter at Pets Unlimited never puts any of their animals down—they house them and retrain them and talk to them in loving silly-dog voices as long as it takes to find a home. I can’t imagine a better shelter. If you live in San Francisco and you’re ever in search of a pet, make it your first stop: the corner of Fillmore and Washington streets.
Here’s a secret bonus about reading at A Clean Well-Lighted: The store graciously gives every visiting author one book of his or her choice. I didn’t skip a beat: I wanted Meredith Daneman’s tell-all biography of Margot Fonteyn. Only when I got it home and eagerly dove in did I realize I’d made a pricey selection, with the 654-page brick ringing up at $32.95. My husband Bill swears I planned it: “Why didn’t you just head straight for the coffee-table books?” he said.
If you were hoping to come to the Clean Well-Lighted reading and missed it, I’ve got more on the way: Next Thursday I’m at the Ferry Building’s Book Passage, and the Thursday after that you can catch me at the Borders on Union Square. In the meantime, I’m headed to Merced and Fresno, the two Central Valley towns where much of what’s recounted in the book took place. And though I’m a bit apprehensive about reading true-life stories so close to the source, I’m looking forward to seeing old family and friends.
Just a Taste
One of the great things about keeping a blog is you can see what your readers want and give it to them with minimal technical fuss. Visitors have been alighting on this site via searches for "The Lost Night excerpt." And so--curtain up--you can now find an excerpt from the first chapter here at rachelhoward dot com. Just look at the sidebar under "The Lost Night: A Memoir" and click the new button for "Excerpt."
The Reviews Roll In
In the New York Times today, a review of "The Lost Night" by William Grimes:
"As a detective, Ms. Howard fails. She never learns the identity of her father's killer. But as a memoirist, she succeeds brilliantly. "The Lost Night" is enthralling, a skillfully narrated story that begins as a tale of detection but quickly becomes something more. Sifting through her past, Ms. Howard, who writes on dance and books for The San Francisco Chronicle, opens a window onto the miseries that divorce visits upon children, and the extent to which drugs have woven their way into ordinary working-class lives.
She evokes, unsentimentally, the pleasures and funny rituals of middle-American life. Simply and movingly, she chronicles the passage from her childhood to adulthood, from uncomprehending fears, resentments and hatreds to understanding and forgiveness."
Click here to read the full review.
Perhaps I should play this cool, but I'll fess up: When I finished reading, I blasted M.I.A. on the stereo and boogied around the house in my pajamas.
Also a great review from Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. It's not available online, alas. But you can read a thumbnail of it if you scroll down the sidebar of his blog, About Last Night, until you reach the "Top Five."
I'm reading at San Francisco's A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books tonight. Come out and say hello. I won't wear my pajamas and I won't boogie, but I may be in a good mood.
Appearances this Week
I'll be doing my first reading from "The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder" this Wednesday, August 3rd at 7 p.m. at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco. Click here for details, or here for the full list of my readings and appearances.
Great review of my just-released memoir, "The Lost Night," in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday:
"In the small farming community of Merced, a little girl wakes up one night to find her father stumbling through the hallway of their home, a kitchen knife embedded in his neck. It's this scene that begins Rachel Howard's powerful memoir, "The Lost Night," and it's this scene that will visit her, again and again, for the rest of her life.
Rachel is just 10 years old when her father is murdered. Although he dabbles in cocaine, and although he's working on his third marriage at the time of his death, he has no known enemies. No drug debts. Angry ex-wives, yes, but none so menacing. The killing, it seems, is entirely random, lacking in motive or design, and from start to finish the reader is as lost for answers as the author herself.
The subtitle of this memoir, "A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder," tends to cheapen the material; it is less an apt description of its contents than a publisher's shrewd sales pitch. The book is far more intense and real than your typical true-crime story, and if you attempt to interpret the word "truth" to mean Rachel Howard's search for her father's killer, you'll be disappointed.
Instead "The Lost Night" concerns itself with the psychological fallout that accompanies the tragic, sudden loss of someone you love deeply. It is about the role the dead play in the lives of the living and how in order to move beyond our pain, we must first embrace it, as Rachel will, learning in time to "integrate the murder with [her] sense of identity."
Click here to read the full review.
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All right, folks, it's here. My memoir, "The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder," is out. In the stores. On Powell's. On Amazon.
And in the news. Last Monday I appeared on NBC 11's Bay Area Today. I would have announced it here ahead of time but it was my first TV appearance and I wanted to make sure I did a good job. It went beautifully, which takes the pressure off of another TV appearance I'll be making this weekend. I'd give you the details, but there's always the risk of postponement or cancellation, and I don't want to jinx anything. I can tell you, though, that the half-hour interview I recorded with KALW's "Book Talk" will be airing this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. You can listen at 91.7 FM in the Bay Area, or online at www dot KALW dot org if you live elsewhere.
Also hitting this Sunday are more reviews, and I'll post them here as they become available online. The reviews thus far have been great, as you can read here.
Finally, I'll be giving my first readings next week. The book party on August 4th is very nearly full; if you'd like to attend I recommend RSVPing ASAP to rsvp at thelostnight dot com. But other chances to hear me read from the book abound: On Wednesday, August 3rd, I'll be at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books; and on Thursday August 11th I'll be at the Ferry Building's Book Passage. I've got appearances elsewhere in California too; for the full schedule, click here.
Thanks for all the good wishes, and for the emails I've gotten from readers who have managed to snag early copies! I'm hearing from all kinds of people, many perfect strangers, that they stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finshing the book and were moved . . . I'm so happy to hear your response.
Elle Magazine has chosen my memoir "The Lost Night" for its online books forum for the month of August:
" [U]nfolds with the urgency of a thriller, for both obvious reasons—the central fact of Howard's life is her father's murder when she was nine—but also because of the author's clear-sighted, propulsive prose . . . What begins as a quest for justice winds up a complex, compulsively readable mediation on the nature of reconciliation, whether it is with your family, your past, or yourself."
The book is in good company with Kim Addonizio's "Little Beauties" and Aimee Bender's "Willfull Creatures." Check out the full write-up here. And look for the book to be onsale in stores by next Tuesday.
I'm back from Santa Barbara, and I'm swamped--"The Lost Night's" official pub date is next Monday, and my life has become a giant "to-do" list in anticipation of that date.
Funny that the day I arrive home from Santa Barbara I should receive a copy of Santa Barbara Magazine in my mailbox. It's the August/September issue, and it contains a long excerpt from "The Lost Night," beautifully laid out with photos of me and my father. Editor Wendy Jenson chose to reprint the chapter in which I return home after the murder and refuse to talk to the psychiatrist--or anyone--about what I've seen. Santa Barbara Mag doesn't put their content online, but if you live in Southern California (or elsewhere; I've spotted Santa Barbara Magazine in the Barnes and Noble across the street from Lincoln Center in New York), pick up a copy and check it out.
Got word today that Corte Madera's Book Passage has chosen "The Lost Night" as one of owner Elaine Petrocelli's "Elaine's Picks" for July and August. This means that the book will be reviewed in Book Passage's popular newsletter and displayed nicely at both the Corte Madera and San Francisco Ferry Building stores, and in various Bank of Marin locations. Equally gratifying, it means that Elaine liked it.
I've also been stacking up some exciting media appearances for late July, but I don't want to jinx anything, so I'll stay mum . . . Check back next month and I'll keep you posted.
I got an email from my friend Anne yesterday saying “congrats on the review in San Francisco Magazine,” so naturally I hopped over to the newsstand to read it. I was in my usual writing-at-home-alone state—wrinkled T-shirt, battered jeans, muddy tennies, frizzy hair—when I opened the pages to find myself described as “an elegant-looking young dance critic.” But hey, I’ll take the compliment. It’s a great review from the straight-shooting Pamela Feinsilber, and it ends “By the conclusion, we’ve been so immersed in her tale, it feels like a resolution for all of us.” It’s not available online, but if you’re browsing the magazine racks, pick it up and take a look.
My friend Lindsey had just arrived early for our writers group last night when the UPS man rang my door. An eight-by-ten padded envelope, from Penguin Group, solid in my hands—I knew what was inside. I went to the kitchen and cut open the packaging, then handed the contents to my husband Bill as though it were junk mail to deposit in the trash. “What’s that?” Lindsey said.
“Oh, it’s my book.”
I couldn’t stand to look at it yet. I go through the same routine when any article that I’ve worked especially hard on comes out in the newspaper. I pick up a copy, then let it sit on my desk for ten or twenty minutes, unopened. What if it has mistakes, misspellings, awkward syntax, unfortunate edits? What if, in cold hard print, it’s not nearly as good as I had hoped? Can I bear to see it? I still haven’t read the final printed version of the essay I wrote about my brother’s leave from Iraq—the story meant too much to me.
So I let Bill examine the book first, and then Lindsey, and when they had let out enough comforting oohs and ahs, I picked up the book myself.
There it was in my hand, not too heavy and not too slight, material, non-retractable, real. And beautifully printed. The page stock, the fonts, the cover colors—all lovely. No errors I could find. Beneath the jacket, an elegant ivory hardcover with classy black binding. I could bear to see it. And after my writers group left yesterday evening I kept picking it up and passing it from hand to hand, enjoying the weight of it, the slickness of the cover under my fingers.
I was so pleased that I stayed up a bit late to make minor tweaks to this site, assisted by trusty webmistress Stacy at Sekimori design. Now to your right, on the navigation bar, you’ll find not one but four pages related to “The Lost Night,” including a list of the readings I’ll be doing in August and September. The “Gallery” will have more photos related to the book soon. So explore and enjoy, and thanks for indulging my small moment of celebration
The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review listed my memoir The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder in its annual round-up of intriguing summer books, along with offerings from great San Francisco writers like Rebecca Solnit and Kim Addonizio. Click here for the full list.
I just received a fax from my editor at Dutton with a copy of the first review of my book. It's from Publishers Weekly, and it's wonderfully positive, calling The Lost Night "not an attempt at vengeance but rather a profoundly personal account of a California Central Valley childhood defined by chaotic family life" and "a poignant account of the lifelong effects violence and tragedy can have on an individual and a family."
You can see more about "The Lost Night" here, though the page is getting awfully cluttered. I hope to have a better site for the book up within a few weeks. For now, I'm happy to add a nice trio of positive "P" words--just think of the alliterative possibilities!--to the mix.
My memoir, The Lost Night, garnered some more book jacket quotes yesterday.
"Rachel Howard pulls no punches, offers no simple answers--and this is what you want in a memoir. You want someone to take you by the hand and walk you through the darkest parts life, to guide you toward a deeper understanding of the human condition. Rachel does just that. I admire Rachel Howard, not only for what she has lived through, but for the eloquence, the compassion, the beauty that she has drawn out of this tragedy. By guiding us through that lost night, and the countless losses that followed, Howard has given us a great gift—the gift of a life reclaimed."
And this came in from Anne N. Marino, author of the very sexy, very moving novel The Collapsible World:
"The Lost Night is more than a chronicle of a murder, more than a narrative of a family blown apart in the wake of a harrowing event. Rachel Howard has told a strikingly vivid story of a little girl forced to endure and ultimately survive the betrayals, abuse and misgivings of the most dangerous kind of adults – those who care for her. With her candid and fluid language, Howard’s exquisitely woven tale thrusts its reader into the zone of nightmares and takes us on a ride through the hot and arid world of California's Central Valley, revealing its ghosts and its deliverance."
I'm honored by both--and I've added them to my book page, along with the memoir's cover design and a few photos. Check it out and let me know what you think.
I sent the first-pass proofs of my memoir "The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder" back to Dutton Wednesday feeling excited. These proofs are the typset pages, which are being bound into advance galleys by next week. I thought I'd celebrate by posting another photo of my dad. This is the picture that Dutton ended up using on the book's cover.
I hope he'd approve of the portrait I tried to paint of him.
The reluctant blogger
Back home and back to work: The copy-edited manuscript of my memoir greeted my first morning at the “office” (AKA my living room). I’ve spent the day checking over blue-penciled fixes by an anonymous reader with comfortingly bubbly handwriting. It’s not such an anxiety-inducing task. The marks are light—a comma here, a sharp-eyed catch of mistaken chronology there. Six years of journalism work might not make you a great writer, but they will make you a grammatically clean one.
Still the ways in which re-reading the manuscript does worry me have got me to contemplating the nature of autobiographical writing, and this website. You might think the copyediting process would rouse concerns over what I reveal in the book, about myself and others. “The Lost Night” is after all a true story about an unsolved murder, and friends and family will learn a smidge more than they ever cared to know about, for instance, my past sex life. (Disclaimer: It’s awfully tame, in case you’re titillated). But those hesitations only flicker across my mind. Far more persistent is the fear that I will forever miss the opportunity to axe a glaring cliché or cut a deadwood description, that the book will come out less than perfect (as, inevitably, it will). Mood colors everything: Some days I think I should rewrite the entire first half; on others I say to myself, “Go figure, this is good stuff.”
So I’m not hesitant to share unflattering details about myself, at least not in hardback. Yet posting on this website—so much less exposing—still feels like such an unnatural and worrisome process. I didn’t come to blogging freely; my husband, a political blog addict, insisted I should do it and found the designer for this site. The blog has proven useful: It aggregates my freelance work and gives me an online calling card. But I’ve never truly taken to it. Not for me the casually confidential working diary of a Terry Teachout or the biting, devil-may-care running commentary of an Old Hag. Every time I type an entry I have to think “Is this interesting to anyone but me? Does it tell too much about me? Too little?” and worst of all, “Why am I doing this?” And usually the true answer is because I think I should. As for why I think I should, I’ll leave the further psychologizing to the therapist’s office.
Why the reticence online when I’m so unguarded in my memoir? I blame the conversational nature of blogging. I’m not shy, but I’m not a chatty person. I can fake outgoingness at a party for about as long as it takes to greet the hostess, and by forty-five minutes I’m trying to nudge my husband toward the door. I detest talking about myself except with known friends, or even talking about my opinions, and if pressed to make small talk at a social gathering, I usually end up interviewing others. Writing has always been different. In writing a memoir or a novel, I’m not forcing myself upon anyone; no one has to nod along with fake interest. If I work hard enough on a page, someone may want to read it. If I fail to engage them, they can put it down. It’s true with dance criticism, too. I don’t force anyone to buy the Chronicle or finish my latest dance review.
Of course I don’t force anyone to read this website, but the presumption of conversation still hangs heavy. Blogging is like holding forth at a salon. The role does not come naturally to me, and so day after day I scan the other blogs (when my insecurity can withstand it), and wonder why I can’t sally onward with such entertaining confidence, and thank God that every other kind of writing still feels safe. The irony is that in contemplating why I’m reluctant to post to this website, I’ve done so at greater candor and length than ever. Is this a breakthrough to freer self-expression? A surrender to self-indulgence? All I know today is that the printed pages of my marked-up manuscript beckon me like a warm bed in wintertime.
A title at last
It's really happening. My memoir, due out from Dutton next June, now has an official title:
The Lost Night
A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder
To celebrate I thought I'd post my favorite picture of me with my father, who was killed in 1986:
The manuscript is now off to the copy editor. I think my father would like the book. It captures him.