Q&A with Jacqueline Markowitz, author of Conversations For Two

JacquiJacqueline Markowitz has roots as a producer for radio and television commercials, but now she is writing full-time and running her own company, The Jam Press, offering literary and publishing services, based in Toronto. Last October, she published Conversations For Two, her first novel — what Markowitz describes as fiction from life — based on her older brother, John, who died decades ago, when she was 17.

“Twenty-five years after John’s death, I came into possession of a box of his writings in a most incredible way. I began to discover his life, to try and make sense of his death, and a book was born; one that I feel we wrote together,” says Markowitz. She adds that her book is a conversation between her and her brother — his voice resides in the poems, songs, and the words he left behind.

Markowitz spoke with Bookclub-in-a-Box about her writing process, the years of writing and revisions, and the highs and lows of self-publishing. (Buy Conversations For Two at Toronto’s Type Books, Page and Panel, at www.thejampress.com, or in ebook format on Amazon.)

ConversationsWhich aspects of the story in Conversations for Two are taken from your own life?

There are incidences in the story that have been borrowed or interpreted from my own life, but then it becomes the life of the narrator, her journey to explore. In this book, truth and fiction merge and mingle in the intricacies of the characters. There were eight years between my brother and me. I was a kid, and he was my cool big brother. I couldn’t possibly have had a window to his life at the time. I did, however feel that I got to know him as I wrote this book, or at least gained an idea of what his life might have looked like. It’s a story set in the early ’70s in Toronto. I got to write what it felt like to be part of the generation of peace and love!

It’s not a true story, although some of the story is based on a truth, and much of it is imagined, created, inspired by my brother’s words, triggered by his thoughts. The experience is considered through the lens of the narrator, her 17-year-old, and her mature self. It’s her attempt to understand why her brother died, to find answers, and somehow, acceptance. (more…)

Buy our new discussion guide to John Williams’ Stoner

StonerToday is the official launch of the new Bookclub-in-a-Box guide to John Williams’ 1965 novel Stoner, which has seen a sudden resurgence in popularity in recent years. Buy the PDF discussion guide on our website for just $6.95 (CDN), and the digital file will be emailed to you immediately upon purchase.

The Bookclub-in-a-Box guide (50 pages) includes complete coverage of the characters, themes, symbols, writing style, quotes from the novel, and book club discussion questions. Click here to buy it now!

Read a review by Marilyn Herbert, founder of Bookclub-in-a-Box, about the novel Stoner:

The question of why a “perfect” novel (described as such by reviewers) sat under everyone’s radar for 50 years is a good one. Originally published in 1965, John Williams’ novel Stoner was overshadowed by the likes of Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, and Henry Miller. It was also pushed to the back of people’s minds by the political backdrop of the civil rights movement. Then in 2011, it was translated into French and soared to the top of the literary stage. The phenomenon of Stoner is not media promotion, but word of mouth.

John-Williams-StonerThe book opens with the information that William Stoner, a farm boy, had become a teacher, married, had a child, and then died. This is the story of the life of an ordinary man. But as we come to see it, his was not an ordinary life — it was an individual life full of success and failure in all aspects, much like our own lives are. The novel is a deeply introspective look at being human.

Two ideas dominate the novel: life and literature, with the emphasis on the love of both. The structure is unusual, in that it opens with an obituary tribute to an unremarkable and little-remembered William Stoner, and then continues to unfold Stoner’s persona and relationships. The language is quiet and yet very powerful. The descriptions of Stoner’s development as a teacher, husband, and father is filled with disappointments, which Stoner takes in stride. Then, in middle age, he falls in love. This love affair cannot be acted upon because of the times (the 1950s) and the fact that he was married, but he endures and years later comes to understand that he is still capable of love and passion:

He was not beyond it, and never would be. Beneath the numbness, the indifference, the removal, it was there, intense and steady; it had always been there … It was a passion neither of the mind nor of the flesh; rather it was a force that comprehended them both, as if they were but the matter of love, its specific substance … it said simply: Look! I am alive.

This slim novel has many layers, discussing literature and language, isolation and loneliness, expectations and disappointments, love, war, death, education, and above all, change. John Williams plays out these themes using sensual descriptions based on juxtaposition of colour, silence, light, and dark. The writing is deeply intrusive on the reader’s consciousness.

In the end we, like Stoner, are faced with the question of what our own life’s purpose is and has been. Is any life ordinary, or can we look beneath the surface to see the beating heart of living and loving? Can we put that knowledge and observation into words, when words may not be sufficiently strong?

Stoner is a small but powerful novel and the character of William Stoner will stay with you for a long time.

Book review: The Mountain Story, by Lori Lansens

Reviewed by Marilyn Herbert

Mountain StoryMountain climbing and hiking are not for the faint of heart, yet Lori Lansens (author of The Girls) has given us an amazing story to experience vicariously in her novel The Mountain Story. The book’s cover says: “Five days. Four lost hikers. Three survivors.” From the beginning, there are pressing questions.

Wolf Truly is 18 years old when he takes what he believes is his last tram ride up to the mountain located at the edge of the California desert. Once there, he intends to hike to a spot at Secret Lake to take his life. His objective is diverted by first two, then three women who hope to head to the same location, but need his help to get there.

Nola and Bridget decide that Wolf is a mountain guide and offer him money, which he refuses and he resolutely heads off into the bush. Hearing his name in the wind, he turns just in time to see the two women heading off in the wrong direction.

Poor Wolf. Soon afterwards, the third woman, Vonn, catches up to them — there is a swarm of bees, a beetle-infested log, confusion, and nervousness at having to spend a night on the mountain. In trying to clear a sleeping spot, they fell, “lost in the kaleidoscope of rocks and ochre dust and manzanita and sage, conveyed by round, rushing boulders, and silt, and brush, hitting the ground with a thud.”

In an instant, they have fallen down a steep wall at the edge of a cliff overlooking Palm Springs — so near, yet so far. Despite the California location, the weather at the top is extremely cold. Nola has a broken wrist, Bridget is dressed as a yoga instructor and Vonn is wearing green flip-flops. Wolf feels responsible for their well-being and their hopeful rescue.


Happy Pi Day! Save 25% off the guide to Yann Martel’s Life of Pi


March 14th is Pi Day (a celebration of the mathematical figure), so we’re offering 25% off the guide to Yann Martel’s classic novel Life of Pi, about a boy named Pi, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, and their adventures both real and philosophical after a shipwreck leaves them stranded on the Pacific Ocean.

Make Life of Pi your book club selection and brush up—for today only, we’re offering the Bookclub-in-a-Box PDF discussion guide to this book for 25% off. Just use the coupon code LIFEOFPI at checkout.

The Bookclub-in-a-Box PDF discussion guide includes:

  • Novel synopsis
  • Author information
  • Character analysis
  • Focus points and themes
  • Writing style and structure
  • Symbols
  • Important quotes from the novel
  • Book club discussion questions