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https://www.dallasnews.com/arts/books/2017/09/02/ken-follett-column-fire-interview-dallas

Joyce Sáenz Harris, Special Contributor

The Dallas Morning News

For the first decade of his career as a writer, British novelist Ken Follett was widely known as a master of the thriller genre, with best-selling novels of the late 1970s and early ’80s such as Eye of the Needle and The Key to Rebecca. Then he surprised everyone in 1989 with The Pillars of the Earth, an ambitious and wildly popular historical epic set in the Middle Ages in the fictional English town of Kingsbridge.

Pillars, which focused on the building of a cathedral in the mid-1100s, was followed 18 years later by World Without End, which picks up the Kingsbridge saga 157 years later, in the early 1300s.

The third Kingsbridge entry, A Column of Fire (Viking, $36), is set in the Elizabethan era and will be published Sept. 12. This time, religious intolerance is barely held in check as great empires clash, naval underdogs triumph, and the art of spying flourishes along with romance, adventure and betrayal.

Follett, who has sold about 160 million copies of his books over his 68 years, will discuss and sign his latest Sept. 14 under the auspices of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts & Letters Live series; he’ll do a signing-only event the next day at Interabang Books. Dallas is one of only three U.S. cities where he’ll do events for the book, which he discussed by email.

A Column of Fire is set during the late Tudor and early Stuart monarchies, with a hero, Ned Willard, who becomes one of Queen Elizabeth’s top spies. It’s the third of your Kingsbridge novels, on which you’ve worked for more than 30 years. Does this complete the story of Kingsbridge?

I’m not sure the story of Kingsbridge will ever be complete. The city has come to stand for England in my novels. And readers love it. So Kingsbridge will probably go on as long as I do.

Ned takes part in many government intrigues provoked by religious strife, including the execution of Mary Stuart, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. How did men like Ned act as the forerunners of today’s MI6 and MI5 —the foreign- and domestic-intelligence arms of Her Majesty’s Secret Service?

Researching A Column of Fire I was surprised and amused by how much of the paraphernalia of modern espionage was invented by the Elizabethans. They had invisible ink, secret codes, expert codebreakers, and master forgers. They used surveillance and disinformation. And, like modern security services, they often got things wrong.

You were brought up in a very conservative Protestant family. How did your personal experience give you emotional insight into the Puritans, who were the most conservative Anglicans of the 16th and 17th centuries?

As I child I imbibed fundamentalist Christian dogma with mother’s milk. I can write a Puritan preacher’s rant without pausing for breath. But A Column of Fire is not really about religion. Like most of my books, it’s about freedom — in this case, the freedom to worship whichever god you believe in — or none at all.

In A Column of Fire, the words “tolerance” and “compromise” are offensive to both ultra-Protestants and ultra-Catholics. After four centuries, how much progress do you think mankind has made in the matter of religious freedom and forbearance?

Not enough. But let’s not be gloomy. Throughout the civilization of Europe and North America today, most people believe in religious tolerance. In the 16th century hardly anyone did — which is why the few who fought for freedom stand out as heroes.

You are well known for your Labourite political views. But are you a republican, or is there a bit of the traditional monarchist in you?

British people are subjects of the monarch, and when they talk about the past they use words like loyalty, tradition, heritage. Americans are citizens, not subjects, and I notice that their idea of the past is all about throwing off oppression and winning civil rights. So I’m not a great believer in monarchy.

Aside from your best-selling historical sagas, you’re best known as a writer of thrillers, including a 1983 nonfiction book with a connection to Dallas: On Wings of Eagles. Do you try to visit with Ross Perot whenever you happen to be in town?

While writing On Wings of Eagles I became a great admirer of Ross Perot. Watching him operate, I learned a lot about leadership and inspiration. He’s also a fun guy to have as a friend. I’m looking forward to having lunch with him and Margot, his wife, during my visit to Dallas.

You’re a writer who spends a lot of time immersed in history, both ancient and modern. What do you like best about the 21st century — and what do you like least?

I love the internet. I used to use the Encyclopaedia Britannica at least once a day, but nowadays I hardly ever look at it. It’s so easy to check stuff on screen.

But I hate the way the internet can be used for anonymous hate messages. Sometimes it shows human beings at their absolute worst.

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http://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/books/20160102-memoir-dear-mr.-you-by-mary-louise-parker.ece

MARY-LOUISE PARKER - Bebeto Matthews - AP

I have seen Mary-Louise Parker act in three very different Broadway plays: Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss (1990), Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors (1998) and David Auburn’s Proof (2000), for which Parker won a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play.

Witnessing those performances probably influenced my perception of Parker as a fiercely private person, a reluctant celebrity who is as elusive as a shapeshifter. She admits that she is strongly opinionated, and some who have worked with her might not call her particularly collegial. But her acting talent is undeniable — and so, it would appear, is her talent as a writer.

DEAR MR. YOU

Dear Mr. You is billed as a memoir, but it is different from virtually any other memoir I have read. Most are fairly straight-ahead narratives, moving from Point A to Point B and onward in chronological order, including or excluding juicy details as the teller prefers. Generally speaking, you will get names, dates, places and specific happenings in various degrees of candor.

Parker, 51, does not do any of this. Instead, Dear Mr. You is written as a series of letters or thank-you notes addressed to the various men who have influenced her life. She starts with Grandpa and Daddy and includes lovers, friends, acquaintances and strangers, but not her brothers.

Almost no names are given. Dates and places aren’t often specified. There’s a fair amount of mystery here, at least if you thought you were really going to get the skinny on Parker’s past. But this memoirist isn’t giving up the goods that easily.

“People are consistently curious about other people’s business,” Parker recently toldThe Washington Post. “They always have been. They probably always will be. … No one’s entitled to anyone’s information about anyone else.”

Nevertheless, Parker reveals a fair amount of herself, or at least of the self she wants us to see, and it feels real enough that one can believe she sincerely means it. Each chapter in Dear Mr. You is a prose poem of sorts, filled with emotional memories — though Parker says in her prologue that she loathes the word memories “for both its icky tone and wistful graveyard implications.”

She fondly recalls men who “can fix my screen door, my attitude, and open most jars … slam a puck, build a decent cabinet or the perfect sandwich.” This book, it seems, is her chance to say “thank you for the tour of the elevator cage, the sound booth, the alley; thank you for the kaleidoscope, the get-well tequila, the painting, the truth.”

Among them was “Man Out of Time,” an elegant guy she met at a party, with whom she struck up a necessarily short but lovely friendship because “I just liked you so much.” It’s an elegiac story that rings true for all of us who have lost special friends much too soon.

Then there was “Mr. Cabdriver,” whose egregiously wrong turns on a bad day threw a hugely pregnant Parker into an f-bomb-fueled panic (in her defense, she had just been dumped by her longtime beau, actor Billy Crudup) and prompted the cabdriver to make an abrupt stop for her unscheduled departure. When the cabbie shouted, “Go! I am not taking you to anywhere, you are very awful! I don’t want you anymore,” Parker replied, “No one does.” Then she wailed: “I am alone. Look, see? I am pregnant and alone.”

Her misery at that moment is palpable. But so is her later joy, in “Dear Orderly,” when she writes about her son, the one perfect thing that came out of that bad time: “Look at him there, would you? I mean, have you ever? I almost can’t believe it. He’s my only and my one. He’s my ever and after. … He is my job now, the best one I’ve ever had, by a zillion, and I will be doing this one until I drop.”

In a way, Parker’s writing reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott’s, even to its offbeat, unconventionally spiritual aspects. Her most affecting chapter is her last one, “Dear Oyster Picker,” which is about her beloved father’s death. Upon finishing it, not only did I understand the meaning of the oyster shell pictured on the book’s dust cover, but I also understood exactly why Parker felt compelled to become a writer.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a freelance writer in Dallas.

Plan your life

Mary-Louise Parker will appear with Mary Karr at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Dallas Museum of Art as part of Arts & Letters Live. VIP tickets, which include priority seating and access to the signing line as well as a book, $75; general admission $35, with discounts for students and DMA members, at dma.org/tickets or 214-922-1818.

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Photo: Robert Trachtenberg            

The average American woman probably has more than she thinks in common with five-time Emmy Award winner Candice Bergen.

Love, marriage, motherhood. Widowhood, grieving, remarriage. Midlife illnesses, aging parents, terrible losses. Career hiccups. Extra pounds and the realization that, after age 45, even famous beauties become mostly invisible in a society fixated on youth.

Bergen turns 69 next month, but retirement is not on her to-do list. Her second memoir, A Fine Romance (Simon & Schuster, $28), was published Tuesday, and on Wednesday evening she will appear as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts & Letters Live series to talk about her life in and out of the limelight.

Bergen, a one-time model turned actress, grew up in Beverly Hills, the child of Hollywood royalty. Her father, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, was a huge star of radio, film, stage and early TV screens; his most famous dummy, Charlie McCarthy, is in the Smithsonian Institution. Candice Bergen’s first memoir, Knock Wood, covering the initial decades of her life and career, was published in 1984 to critical and popular acclaim.

In A Fine Romance, Bergen writes that when Knock Wood was a success, she had “trouble enjoying it.” The next year, she had her daughter, Chloe, with her first husband, French film director Louis Malle. With the birth of her child, “my writing fuse shorted out,” Bergen said in a recent telephone interview. “I didn’t write again for 30 years.” Thus, tackling a second memoir required her to retrain what she calls her “writing muscle.” She blew three deadlines for A Fine Romance, “managed to drag it out over four years … and wrote the book, stupidly, on my iPad.”

A Fine Romance is, like its predecessor, an engaging read: smart, funny, highly personal and surprisingly candid. It covers her unconventional marriage to Malle, who died of cancer at age 63 in 1995, when Chloe was just 10; her delayed introduction to motherhood at 39; her rocket ride to TV stardom in 1988 with the hit CBS comedyMurphy Brown; the perks and perils of her subsequent fame; the difficult days of Malle’s illness, his death and her widowhood; and the happiness she has found in her second marriage, to New York businessman Marshall Rose.

Daughter Chloe is the constant of A Fine Romance’s narrative, the centerpiece around which Bergen, in motherhood, constructed her life.

“She’s probably much more like her father than like me; she has his dynamism and his intellect,” Bergen says. “Like him, she can never do less than two or three things at a time. She was born a multitasker. But she gets her sense of humor from me, and also partly from my brother,” Kris Bergen.

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Photo: Mia McDonald

Now 29 and the social editor of Vogue, Chloe is engaged to financial analyst Graham Albert, and her mother is busy planning a summer wedding — “very small, only 50 people” — at Louis Malle’s cherished French country home, Le Coual. Right now, Mom is still trying to figure out where all the guests will stay for this destination wedding deep in southwest France, a half-day’s journey from Paris. “I’m just turning it over to the Fates,” Bergen says. “I can do no more.”

Malle and Bergen adored each other, but they were from very different worlds. For the first five years of their marriage, she concentrated on being with him wherever he worked, which mostly was in Paris; even after Chloe’s birth, they managed to be together more often than not. “Up until Murphy Brown, we were rarely apart,” Bergen says.

In Los Angeles, Bergen’s mother and brother lived only a few minutes away, and Murphy Brown’s schedule was flexible enough to accommodate Chloe’s schooling and a normal family life. But the show’s success and its long run on TV meant that Bergen’s life with Malle became a trans-Atlantic commuter marriage, with her husband bearing the brunt of the travel.

It might be the world capital of film, but Malle didn’t like living or working in Hollywood. “He was convinced they put something in the water in LA,” Bergen says with a laugh. “It never would have been home for him. I certainly understood that. Anyone who does what we do has to deal with this.”

Though she enjoys visiting Paris and loves Le Coual, Europe could never quite be home for Bergen, either. While she does speak French, “I’m an American girl … and culturally, France is very different.”

Having the Bergen family in LA “was great for Chloe,” Bergen says. “But it was not great for her not to have her father always there.” Malle and his daughter had to work harder to maintain a close relationship, and “it was anguishing,” despite the fact that Chloe was mature beyond her years. Later, she had surrogate father figures, such as her Uncle Kris and her adored godfather, the late film director Mike Nichols, whose presence in their lives was, Bergen says, “a great gift.”

Bergen married Marshall Rose in 2000, and they make their principal home in New York City, not far from Chloe. He was a widower with grown children, and he proposed to Bergen after only three months of dating. She still has a pied-à-terre in LA, as well as Le Coual in France, but she concedes that “travel seems less appealing” at this more settled stage of her life.

“It’s been a very traditional marriage,” she says, “and I am still getting used to that.” He is “the most attentive and loving” husband, and she treasures his companionship all the more because she didn’t always have it before. At this age, she says, it feels good to have that.

“I probably enjoy my time alone a little less,” Bergen says. Being married “is like having radiant heat next to you in bed, and I get used to that.”

Candice Bergen will discuss A Fine Romance at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church, 1835 Young St., Dallas, as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts & Letters Live. Tickets are $15-$65.  dma.org/tickets or 214-922-1818.

Roz Chast, 60, is a Brooklyn native who has been drawing her famously subversive, angst-ridden cartoons for The New Yorker since 1978.

Because she was an only child, Chast found herself solely responsible for making huge decisions — including finally moving her parents to “the Place,” an assisted-living facility near her own home in Connecticut. As first her father and then her mother faded away with senile dementia, Chast struggled with conflicting emotions of love, guilt, fear and sorrow.

She turned her experiences into a best-selling graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury, $28), perhaps the most affecting cartoonist’s tale of a parent-child relationship since Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking Maus.  The memoir was a finalist for a National Book Award, won a $50,000 Kirkus Prize for nonfiction and was just named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for autobiography.

She’ll be discussing the book Wednesday night at the Dallas Museum of Art. Ahead of that, she answered questions by email.

Your fans know there is personal anxiety in almost everything you do. But this book, being a memoir, is quite different. How surprised have you been by its positive critical and popular reception? Did you suspect, when you began the project, that no one would be even remotely interested in such a personal story?

I think I expected something in between those two. That some people would be interested in the topic, only because I had friends who were going through similar things — taking care of a parent or an in-law that was starting to become more dependent.

Did you have it in mind eventually to write something, even as all of this was happening over the eight-year period that you documented? Or did the thought of publishing only come later as you reviewed your journals, drawings, photographs and the poems and memorabilia that you had saved?

I didn’t have it in mind during the entire time at all. A lot of the very specific details came from emails I’d written to friends. When I decided to write this book, I would type certain words into my email search boxes, like “the Place,” or “my mother,” or the name of my mother’s aide, or “Ensure,” etc. And emails detailing a specific conversation I’d had on that topic would come up.

In addition to emails, I had my weekly batches of cartoons I did for The New Yorker. The batch is a group of rough sketches, and then they select one (or none, on a bad week) from that group of seven or so cartoons.

So some of the cartoons in the book (the one about the olives, the Ouija board one, the one about the oven mitt, the cheese danish, several others) were ones I had submitted to, and were rejected by, The New Yorker. And I had the journal — the yellow notebook I refer to in the book — that had all the conversations about logistics: Meals on Wheels, care agencies, visits to Maimonides [a hospital in Brooklyn], and so forth.

Your affection for your father, George, was made clear, and I got a little teary reading your account of his death. Your relationship with your mother, Elizabeth, was more complicated and ambivalent. It wasn’t her death scene that made me ache for her; it was your description of when you brought her to spend the night at your home after your father’s death, and “she suffered one of the worst, if not the worst, indignities of old age: loss of bowel control. … My poor, poor mother!” That’s the scene that choked me up. How hard was that to write?

That was kind of hard, because it was so awful, so humiliating for her. But I hate how the topic of getting really old is not really talked about — the loss of body control, etc. It’s totally glossed over.

If I believed TV commercials, we’re all going to be playing tennis and eating tasty, healthy gourmet meals until we’re 115. Then we’ll die quietly and non-messily in our sleep, at exactly the same moment as our partner, if we have one.

A new children’s book that you wrote and drew, Around the Clock, was just published on Jan. 13. Have you ever been inspired by special things you drew or wrote for your own two kids, or by things your kids have said to you?

I do get inspired by things my kids have done or said. Usually it’s tangential, but occasionally it’s very direct.

When my daughter was around 16, she was doing homework in the living room while listening to some hip-hop music. I came into the room and did a little lame Mom dance, just to tease her. You know, when you sort of shuffle and wave your arms a little, and slightly move your hips in a Mom way? She looked up and said quite seriously: “Mom. Stop. You’re hurting me.” Which cracked me up. I used that line as-is.

How often are you able to rework a rejected cartoon and get it accepted? And: Is cartoon editor Bob Mankoff an easier or a tougher sell than his predecessor, Lee Lorenz?

I rework maybe one out of 10 cartoons. Sometimes I have to rework them three or four times, which I don’t mind if I really love the idea. After that point, I give up. As to who’s a tougher sell: both about the same.

What is your favorite Charles Addams cartoon?

There are SO MANY great Addams cartoons. The one where the Addams family is on the roof, dumping a cauldron of boiling oil on the carolers below, is pretty sweet.

Your dad is quoted in Can’t We Talk as saying: “No one could deny that religion caused a lot of problems in the world. Fanatics want to kill people who aren’t on their team!” How do you feel about the fact that cartoonists have taken center stage in the conversation on global terrorism?

My dad was right.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.


Plan your life

Roz Chast will appear at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 28, at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St., as part of Arts & Letters Live. Reception at 6:30 with the author for Annual Series Supporters. Tickets $35 for public, $30 for DMA Partners and $15 for students. DMA.org/tickets or 214-922-1818.