Friday, March 25, 2016

Elizabeth Percer: Subversive Author of ALL STORIES ARE LOVE STORIES

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hello Reds and lovely readers! Today, I'm delighted to introduce you to Elizabeth Percer, the author of AN UNCOMMON EDUCATION, which I absolutely loved. She's a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and twice honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation.

Her latest novel, just out, is titled ALL STORIES ARE LOVE STORIES. Publishers Weekly calls it "gripping [and] poignant ... an unconventional love letter to San Francisco" and raves, "San Francisco’s unique architecture, diverse neighborhoods, and colorful residents are vividly brought to life. The intertwined love stories in this remarkably drawn setting will keep readers absorbed until the final, tear-jerking moments."

Here's a more detailed description of the novel:

In this thoughtful, mesmerizing tale, the author of An Uncommon Education follows a group of survivors thrown together in the aftermath of two major earthquakes that strike San Francisco within an hour of each other—an achingly beautiful and lyrical novel about the power of nature, the resilience of the human spirit, and the enduring strength of love.

On Valentine’s Day, two major earthquakes strike San Francisco within the same hour, devastating the city and its primary entry points, sparking fires throughout, and leaving its residents without power, gas, or water.

Among the disparate survivors whose fates will become intertwined are Max, a man who began the day with birthday celebrations tinged with regret; Vashti, a young woman who has already buried three of the people she loved most . . . but cannot forgot Max, the one man who got away; and Gene, a Stanford geologist who knows far too much about the terrifying earthquakes that have damaged this beautiful city and irrevocably changed the course of their lives.

As day turns to night and fires burn across the city, Max and Vashti—trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium—must confront each other and face the truth about their past, while Gene embarks on a frantic search through the realization of his worst nightmares to find his way back to his ailing lover and their home.

And by morning, nothing will be the same.

SUSAN: Welcome, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH PERCER: Hello, and thank you for having me.

I’m sorry to report that, in recent years, I’ve had more than a few older gentleman explain to me that the novel is on its way out. This is mansplaining at its worst, and I cannot defend it. Of course, sir, I want to say, in earning my B.A. and master’s and Ph.D. and raising three children and living for four decades, I have been waiting for you, a relative stranger, to set me straight on the novel’s place in popular culture.

There are so many ways that being a novelist is counterculture these days, and I’ve never been happier to be straying from the herd. It’s such a delicious thrill, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that narrative is as essential to our existence as the campfires that inspired it, that to relate to one another’s experience is at the very core of humanity itself, and that no, I do not fear the sort of virtual apocalypse some like to predict. You know the one, where machines take over minds and we all find ourselves in a world of steel and fogs of dubious origin. Blah, blah, blah, snooze, snooze, snooze.

Like most writers, I came to writing through reading, and if reading has shown me anything, it’s that a kaleidoscopic view of the world is the most rewarding one we can take. Extremes can coexist in the most contradictory and fabulous ways possible. A good, old-fashioned novel can be enjoyed just as thoroughly as the latest finely honed technology. I can still bury my nose deep in the pages of a new book and inhale that ineffable olfactory delight that is some mix of paper and ink and glue, and it does not mean that I don’t also thrill at the fact that my Kindle can deliver that novel I’ve been dying to read in less than a minute. As writers and readers, I think it’s so important that we continue to champion the beautiful paradox, the seemingly impossible coexistences that make up our glittering, mysterious world.

My second novel, All Stories Are Love Stories, comes out this week, and its title came to me almost as soon as its subject matter did. It’s about the destruction of modern day San Francisco, thanks to a series of fires that are triggered by two major earthquakes. It’s easy to see that title as Pollyannaish, but the truth is that I see love and fear as two sides of the same equation, that to care at all about something is to also court vulnerability, to be open and exposed to the unexpected. Love isn’t an easy thing in this context, but it’s pervasive, leaking in through even the hardest stories, giving paradox itself the kind of color that we can’t quite define but will happily spend our lives exploring.

So even though certain older gentleman might see a female novelist writing about love as quaint and as easily dismissed as bobby socks and pigtails, I see it as nothing short of the most rebellious act I can muster. To stay soft, and to embrace that softness, that indefinable way of moving through the world with my heart and mind open, is to pay homage to every story I’ve ever read that changed me because I was willing to be changed, to every reader I’ve met who showed me a side to a story only she see, and to every writer who’s taught me more about myself and this world through the narratives that run through it, too infinite to count, too essential to fear destruction.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Thank you, Elizabeth. 

Reds and readers, do you think the novel's on the way out? Or here to stay? Is being a novelist, in and of itself, a rebellious act? Subversive? Counter-culture? Are books "too essential to fear destruction"? Please tell us in the comments.

Elizabeth Percer is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and has twice been honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. She received a BA in English from Wellesley and a PhD in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at UC Berkeley. She lives in California with her husband and three children. All Stories Are Love Stories is her second novel.


  1. No one could ever convince me that the novel is on the way out . . . perish the thought!
    I don’t see novelists as rebellious or subversive; rather, they, with their unique gift to transform the world with their words, are an essential part of life, definitely here to stay.
    Books are far too essential --- the world would be far poorer without them.
    "All Stories are Love Stories is definitely getting added to my to-be-read pile . . . .

  2. Why would that man even say that? They are not on their way out at all! All Stories Are Love Stories is now on my t-b-r list. Thanks for writing.

  3. Our use of tools may have been a significant part of our evolutionary journey as humans, and those tools are a constant in our lives today--but it was our ability to communicate, to create culture that provided the greatest impetus to our humanity--and that need to create sense out of life through stories, I believe, will always always define us.

  4. What utter crap. The novel will cease to exist when humankind stops telling stories, as in never. A statement like this, based on absolutely nothing and being fiction in and of itself, makes me want to puke.

    In addition, as long as our Congress continues to meet and create the Congressional Record, we will never lack for pure fiction, or as I call it, fucktion.

  5. The novel is on the way out? Somebody forgot to tell me. And my girl, who recently bought a novel because, "I'm doing so much reading for school - I want to read something for fun." It was a book about a French architect who built "hidden rooms" for Jews during WWII. Not exactly fluff.

    Elizabeth, I love that you embrace both high-tech and low-tech mediums. I feel much the same way.

    And while I don't think novelists are necessarily subversive, I do think the notion of staying "soft" is a little subversive, especially in these times where to "win" it seems like people are becoming harder and more unyielding.

  6. Welcome Elizabeth - this cracks me up. I'm reminded of the line in the Mikado, the executioner singing about the Lady Novelist and how he's got her on the list and she really won't be missed.

    No I do not think the novel is dying. Though it's true that a lot of men prefer to read nonfiction. And I confess it's a little depressing when the single top selling category in books these days is coloring books.

  7. Hi Elizabeth, your book sounds amazing--congrats on publication of #2 and all those accolades!

    That's one silly man. Of course some people aren't reading novels, and we feel sad for them. And James Patterson seems to feel that readers would prefer shorter books. Maybe so. But I know I couldn't fall asleep at night without someone's magical novel-story in my hand!

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  9. Yeah..I snapped back to the beginning--the novel on the way out? Replaced or displaced by..what? Video games? (Are there still video games?)

    I mean-is that even quantitatively true? (And I wonder what his goal was in saying that to you.)

    "Once upon a time" is irresistible, and always will be.

    And don't even get me started on coloring books. I know we here at the blog are divided on that, so…be that as it may.

    But Elizabeth--I don't think the title is Pollyanna-ish. My first though was it's incredibly sad. HOw do your readers react to "tear-jerking" books? (I don't think tears get jerked, actually, it's a slow process, but that's another topic.) Are those moments difficult for you to write--or satisfying?

    Congratulations on the book!

  10. Sounds like someone was jealous.... That's my take at least. I've worked in book publishing for over 20 years and it's always been "the sky is falling!" And yet, here we all are, still reading.... And writing!

    Speaking of mansplainers (and yes, I've met more than a few) has anyone read MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME by Rebecca Schint? Here's a link:

    "In Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit takes on the conversations between men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don't. The ultimate problem, she shows in her comic, scathing essay, is female self-doubt and the silencing of women."

  11. Pretty amazing and hard to believe.

  12. By the way, Elizabeth WILL be here -- she's on SF time, so let's give her a bit....

  13. Hmm. The thing is that story will always be part of the human condition. And some of us will always prefer to get our version of story privately, on our own time, as opposed to sitting in front of a large or small (or tiny) screen to do so, either with or without others.

    Some men have unmitigated gall, assuming that they know everything. One only has to look at our current Presidential race for prime examples. Ugh.

  14. Oh pooh! We will always have novels. We will always have book lovers. I thought the title of your book is very poignant. Can't wait to read it.

  15. Elizabeth, I loved your essay. I've been doing a good bit of informal research lately on reading in all its forms and on the way reading effects not only the development of the brain but of our moral growth and sensibilities. The consequences of NOT reading are dire--and it's certainly easy to make correlations to our current political mess.

    But doom and gloom aside, the good news is that people ARE reading, and the novel shows no signs whatsoever of being dead. I think we humans have a need for stories built into our DNA. Stories enable us to relate to the world and to find our place in it; they make us MORE human.

    Oh, and now I'm off to buy your book!

  16. Someone (not a man) first explained the impending death of the novel to me in 1971. I'm not holding my breath.

  17. The novel is not on its way out, and the printed book is not on its way out. People have told stories and passed them on since forever. Stories are what keep us sane and connected and passionate about life. Even before printed copies were available, people made stories a part of their culture, and ever since the printed word has been available to the masses, sharing it has been too great a pleasure to be eradicated. I have a Kindle and use it occasionally, but it is merely an extension of story sharing, not a replacement for the book lovers.

    San Francisco seems to be a recurring setting for me lately. Elizabeth, I'm delighted to add All Stories Are Love Stories to my reading year of San Francisco. With Rhys' Time of Fog and Fire and Kristi Belcamino's Gabriella Giovanni series that I've read this month, All Stories Are Love Stories will be a perfect fit. I always say that the Jungle Reds Blog seems to read my mind and know just what book I need to read next, and so it is again. And, although my TBR pile is threatening to collapse in on me and bury me, I have to buy your book, Elizabeth. I long ago stopped arguing with the book gods.

    And, the men who have told you that the novel is dead, well, it sounds like they could use a little love and story telling in their lives. I highly suspect that they are jealous of your ability to create the magic of stories. It's like the man who never got affection as a child and grows up cold. I feel sorry for him.

  18. I'm pinning my livelihood on the novel not becoming outdated!

    What I'd like to say is that I'm fascinated by Elizabeth's mixture of literary and genre - bone-deep character studies set against an apocalyptic event. I suspect that, the tearing down of the walls between genres, is the future of the novel.

  19. You all are amazing! What an extraordinary community of writers and readers. And no, I would never believe the novel is on its way out, but it does sadden me that some people feel the need to correct me. How sad to live in a world where stories are no longer relevant!

    And yes, the title is as sad as it is joyous. I think ideas of love are so skewed by saccharine and superficial nods in its direction. It's frustrating that this is how we view deep emotion (of any kind!) in our society. If I have one mission in life, it's to expose the pervasive power of emotion. (Well, this might not be my only mission. But it's right up there!)

    Thanks, Jungle Reds! Love being here!


  20. p.s. Sorry to be so late to the party! I didn't even realize it was happening! Leave it to JRs to be doing one amazing thing on the surface, a thousand others on the down low.