Word Patriots – A Chat with Tawni O’Dell
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Welcome fellow word patriots. This week we have a real treat. Novelist Tawni O’Dell will be stopping in to discuss her latest book, 2010’s “Fragile Beasts.” Everyone has heard of Tawni. With the exceptions, perhaps, of the actor Jimmy Stewart and the opera singer Renee Fleming, Tawni O’Dell stands as the most famous artistic figure to emerge from my own little hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania. She is the New York Times best-selling author of four novels including her first, “Back Roads,” which was a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection and an Oprah’s Book Club pick, a dramatic and stunning turn of events, and a huge personal triumph, especially as “Back Roads” was Tawni’s debut novel. The book is currently in development as a major motion picture by Michael Ohoven, the producer of the Academy-Award-winning, “Capote” with a screenplay written by Tawni herself. Following the publication of “Back Roads” in 2000, Tawni has completed and published three more novels: “Coal Run,” “Sister Mine,” and the aforementioned “Fragile Beasts.” She is also a contributor to several anthologies including “Becoming Myself: Reflections on Growing Up Female.” Her work has been translated into ten languages and been published in over twenty countries. Tawni earned a degree in journalism at Northwestern University. She was born and raised in the coal-mining region of western PA, and she writes about this territory with striking authenticity in all of her novels. She writes every bit as incisively as John Updike and John O’Hara and, dare I say, has just as uncannily accurate an ear for dialogue as the latter. The characters in her books seem so startlingly real and authentic they could be made of flesh and blood rather than mere words on paper. The hardworking, hard boozing, sports loving, and often deeply eccentric folks who inhabit the hardscrabble towns of rural Pennsylvania are the subject of Tawni’s laser-sharp depictions. I greatly admire her most recent novel, “Fragile Beasts.” The plot reminds me a little of “Great Expectations.” Set against the bruised backdrop of Pennsylvania coal country and the flamboyant bullrings of southern Spain, the story takes place during the course of one tumultuous year. It is, in part, the story of two boys: Klint Hayes, a troubled high school baseball star burdened by the weight of an entire town’s hopes for redemption and glory. And Kyle, his younger brother, a bright, artistic boy, who has to conceal his talent and idealistic nature in order not to be ostracized by the bitter remnants of the dying blue collar world in which he lives. Faced with the trauma of their father’s violent death and the return of a long absent mother, the boys fall into the protection of the town’s eccentric matriarch, Candace Jack, an elderly woman and sister of the legendary founder of J&P Coal. A lifetime ago, she had an affair with a famous Spanish torero. His horrible death, and her subsequent obsession with the bull that killed him, the country that created him, and her inability to stop mourning him have kept her imprisoned in the past. Tawni and I speak about not only “Fragile Beasts,” but also our own high school days, her ability to write convincingly from the point of view of teenaged boys and her novel-in-progress “Company Town.” If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. Be sure also to visit Tawni’s webpage: http://tawniodell.com/.