Posts Tagged ‘Mary Otis’

Bestselling Writer Conceived Story in Idyllwild

June 20, 2011

Eduardo Santiago introduces Mary Otis, an award-winning short story writer

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Pilgrim Girl,” earned Mary Otis a Pushcart Prize honorable mention (past winners include Raymond Carver and  John Irving), and today she admitted to writing it in Idyllwild.

Mary was the sixth California author to be featured in the “Idyllwild Author Series” held at B’s Mountain of Books. Like the others, Mary is a friend of Eduardo Santiago, an Idyllwild resident, who started the series in May.

To date, the series has covered the novel, the memoir, the non-fiction narrative, and the short story.

“‘Pilgrim Girl’ is the first story in the collection, and I wrote it in a week in Idyllwild many years ago,” said Mary Otis, about her collection, “Yes, Yes Cherries.” “I’d work on it all day, and one night, I remember going to watch a Gene Hackman film in someone’s garage while eating peanut M&Ms.”

Some locals in the audience tried to recall if they were there at the time.

“Pilgrim Girl” tells the story about a 14-year-old girl’s crush on a married guy next door, and her far-reaching attempts to get his attention. She puts on her mother’s frosted wig and tries to impersonate a traveling saleswoman; only that she has no products to sell.

The crowd on Father's Day was captivated by Mary Otis' humorous stories

It seemed like everyone in the audience could relate to Mary’s humorous collection, which included stories about a drunken therapist and a fistfight on a first date.

Mary said that all of the events in the stories didn’t actually happen to her, but were pieces of her life. Some of them happened to someone else and she changed the stories around a bit.

“The fist fight on the first date happened to my friend,” Mary said. “She was taken to a bar-b-que at his ex-wife’s house, and then a fight broke out.”

Eduardo mentioned that Mary Otis started out as an actress, and wondered if her characters may have come out of that experience.

She started out acting in a neighborhood playhouse in Boston that actress Diane Keaton had also attended.

“They’d make us do everything, including ballet, jazz and fencing,” Mary recalled. “But it was such an intense program, that if you weren’t cutting it, you’d get cut. It was almost like improv, and it helped me immensely.”

Mary said that her short stories focus on family, relationships and are set partially in Los Angeles.

She said that living in Los Angeles for the past 20 years, has been rewarding, and the longest she’s lived anywhere. She grew up in a small town outside of Boston.

“LA is a strange, intense town,” Mary said.

In her first novel, she treats LA as a character itself.

Mary read an excerpt from her new novel, "Flight"

“It’s tragic, desperate and gorgeous all in one,” she added.

She’s only written the first 50 pages of “Flight,” but read an excerpt anyway.

“My mother had two speeds,” Mary said. “Drunk or driven.”

She recounted a car ride in which her mother was playing “chicken” with another motorist in the passing lane on Route 3 in Cape Cod.

“Fucking hell!” her mother said in frustration, while she began hallucinating from fear. She remembered random answers to her junior high test questions and tried to breathe from her elbow.

Throughout the reading of “Flight,” the audience was laughing heartily.

“I know that I sound self-centered,” Eduardo said afterwards. “But I feel like you were talking to me. I’d like to buy that book.”

Mary said that she wasn’t sure if the manic driving excerpt would be at the beginning, middle or end of her book.

“It’s different from a short story,” Mary explained. “I don’t write in any particular order. Everything just comes in pieces.”

She admitted to writing the novel after being prompted by her agent to develop her writing beyond short stories. According to her web site, Mary Otis is an award-winning writer whose short story collection, “Yes, Yes, Cherries,” was published in 2007 by Tin House Books. She has had stories and essays published in Best New American Voices (Harcourt), the Los Angeles Times, Tin House, Berkeley Literary Journal, and the Santa Monica Review, among others.  Originally from the Boston area, Mary is a fiction professor in the UC Riverside Low-Residency MFA Program where she is part of the core faculty.

(from L) Jeffrey Taylor talks to Mary Otis afterwards. He asked if she had any interest in her stories from the film industry.

Some of the questions from the audience asked about when her novel is due out, what she’s reading now, and if she could recommend a good writing book. Yet, it was a guy in the back who asked the best question.

“Have any of your short stories been picked up by the film industry?” asked Jeffrey Taylor, Green Cafe, who has hosted a weekly film series in Idyllwild for the past 14 years.

“Not any so far,” Mary said. “But my agent said there was some interest in one, but it didn’t go anywhere.”

“I would think that ‘Next Door Girl’ about a seamstress and a Russian hair model would make a good screenplay,” Eduardo interjected.

“That’s the one they were interested in!” Mary exclaimed.

Jeffrey said later that most movies are based on short stories.

“The people in the film industry don’t have time to read novels, but a short story they can get through quickly,” he said.

His father wrote mystery novels and later worked as a PR man for Warner Bros.

(from R) Mary Otis and Eduardo Santiago pose with the owner of B's Mountain of Books, Lauren Devore

After the discussion, Mary signed copies of “Yes, Yes Cherries,” while others mingled, drank lemonade and ate Bing cherries.

Eduardo said that there wouldn’t be an Idyllwild Author Series event next Sunday because he’s graduating from UCLA. The next author, James Brown, will be featured on Thursday, June 30th, at a new venue, Cafe Aroma. He will read from his book, “This River.”

All Idyllwild Author Series events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit, or call B’s Mountain of Books at (951) 659-5018.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Series Brings California Authors to Idyllwild

June 17, 2011

Books by Janet Fitch and Hope Edelman are discussed at the Idyllwild Author Series held on select Sundays from May to July

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The Idyllwild Author Series, featuring some of California’s most celebrated writers, is more than half over, yet it is quickly gaining momentum.

It began mid-May at B’s Mountain of Books, with eight authors. Since then, they’ve added two more, plus another Idyllwild location.

These authors are either friends or close acquaintances of originator Eduardo Santiago, author of “Tomorrow They Will Kiss,”  and a part-time Idyllwild resident. He invited these best-selling authors to come visit Idyllwild during select Sundays from mid-May to early July. He sets them up at a local inn, plans and then runs the interview/discussion sessions.

The best-selling authors include: David Francis (Stray Dog Winter); Hope Edelman (Motherless Daughters); Leslie Schwartz (Angels Crest); Janet Fitch (White Oleander); Gary Phillips (Bangers); Mary Otis (Yes, Yes Cherries); Noel Alumit (Talking to the Moon); Rachael Resnick (Love Junkie); James Brown (This River) and Andrew Foster Altschul (Deus Ex Machina).

Most of them live in the greater Los Angeles area, and they make the trip up to Idyllwild willingly.

“Still I’m shocked that they make the drive,” said Santiago, after the session featuring Hope Edelman, a New York Times bestselling author of “Motherless Daughters,” and four other bestsellers.

During the discussion/interview, Hope said that she was happy to see so many people in attendance. There was about 30 locals there, including authors, writers, editors and business owners. Oftentimes, at Barnes & Noble, she said, only 10 people show up.

(from L) Eduardo Santiago interviews Hope Edelman, author of "Motherless Daughters"

Eduardo, who has no vested interest in B’s Mountain of Books, said that he has always held a romantic notion of bookstores and wants to keep them alive.

“I’ve dreamt that two people would reach for the same book, their eyes would meet, and it would be their fate,” Eduardo said to laughter from the audience. “It could only happen in a bookstore.”

Yet, most would agree that authors and bookstores go hand-in-hand, and need to support the other.

Hubert Halkin, owner of Cafe Aroma, who has attended many of the sessions, said that Eduardo has taken a professional approach to the series.

“He makes it look very informal and casual,” Hubert said. “But he has done his research on these authors, and has good questions written on three-by-five index cards.”

Eduardo conducts the interview/discussion that generally lasts an hour.

“If someone asks a question, and the discussion goes off in another direction, Eduardo goes with it,” Hubert added.

The Idyllwild Author Series is good for the originator too.

The series is casual discussion with California's most celebrated authors right here in Idyllwild

“I love it because it gives me an opportunity to renew friendships and blatantly ask questions that I would be more reluctant to ask in a social setting,” Eduardo admitted.

He said the Janet Fitch event, held on June 5, was “awesome.” There were about 50 people there, with two tents set up and every chair filled.

“Actually, so far, all the authors have been quite charming and comfortable in front of crowds,” said Eduardo. “Last Sunday, I was quite taken by Gary Phillips (Bangers), a crime novelist, who just charmed the pants off of everybody.”

During the discussions, Eduardo asks pointed questions about the featured book. Then the author reads a few excerpts, and then he opens it up to questions from the audience.

Hope Edelman, who brought her two young daughters, along with homemade cookies, was very comfortable talking before an audience, not only about “Motherless Daughters,” but her other books as well.

“Motherless Daughters” is a compilation of experiences cited by women who have lost their mothers at an early age.

Hope talked about how she started out writing the book as an assignment at the University of Iowa Writing Program. She had no idea that “Motherless Daughters” would touch so many people. Up until that time, there had only been books published about daughters who lost their mothers later in life. Hope had lost her mother when she was only 17.

Then she talked about her new book, “The Possibility of Everything,” and writing about relatives.

Many in the Idyllwild audience are writers, editors, authors and business owners

“The Possibility of Everything” is about her young daughter’s experience  with an “imaginary friend.” When the “friend” began to alter her daughter’s personality, she took the advice of her housekeeper and visited a Mayan healer in Belitze. The book covers the entire emotional experience.

“Why did you write a book about me?” Hope said that her daughter asked.

Her 13-year-old didn’t like the book idea at all.

“I explained that it was really a book about me,” Hope told her Idyllwild audience. ”

During that experience, she was able to accept things beyond her imagination, she said.

Still, Hope suggests that writers continue to write about their relatives, if the story is compelling.

“In my experience, they never object to things you’ll think they’ll object to,” Hope said.

Many in the audience were big fans of Hope’s, having read many of her books.

“This series is a great way to meet your favorite authors in person, and ask them any question you want to about their books,” one woman said.

Eduardo said that many attendees ask private questions as the authors are signing their books afterwards.

“I’m very proud of the way the series is going,” Eduardo added. “We just added two more events – June 30th at Cafe Aroma for memoirist James Brown (This River) and July 3rd for Andrew Foster Altschul (Deus Ex Machina).”

The next session of the Idyllwild Author Series will be held this Sunday, June 19, at 2 p.m. featuring Mary Otis, an award-winning author, whose short story collection, “Yes, Yes Cherries,” was published in 2007. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held in the tent outside B’s Mountain of Books at 54385 North Circle Drive in Idyllwild. B’s carries all of the Idyllwild Author Series books. For more information, contact Eduardo Santiago at, or call the bookstore at (951) 659-5018.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved. All Hope Edelman photos courtesy of Mark Davis.

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