Monday, October 15, 2012

Chris Cleave at the DMA

by Joan

Last week, Chris Cleave spoke about his new book, Gold, to an intimate crowd of a hundred at the Dallas Museum of Art. As usually happens when authors we love come to town, an email trail buzzed through the What Women Write wire when his Dallas date was announced. As it happened, Julie and I were the only two available and so we enlisted our husbands to join us.

Susan introduced me to Cleave when Little Bee came out. “He’s brilliant!” she said. I was blown away. Reading just the first paragraph or two was enough to make me question my chutzpah in dreaming my book might one day share shelf space with his exquisite writing.

"Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead—but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other’s names.

A pound coin can go wherever it thinks it will be the safest. It can cross deserts and oceans and leave the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind."

Cleave is as enchanting in person as he is in his writing. He’s engaging, clever, funny and wholly appreciative of his readers. He amused us with previous book tour questions (what does the queen keep in her purse?) and generously shared the inspiration for his novels and his emotional connection to his characters. For all his awards and bestselling books, he was humble and soft-spoken. A regular guy, a dad, a husband, a lover of literature and a former journalist on the hunt for a good story.

He refers to his writing as “investigative reporting crossed with fiction.” Meeting women refugees in London compelled him to share their plight with the rest of the world and the novel Little Bee was born. Charlie, the Batman costume wearing boy was based on his own son, who wanted to fight crime. Cleave’s novel, Incendiary, is a raw look at one woman’s search for answers after suffering horrendous tragedy. She is flawed and broken and has nothing more to lose, yet manages to keep living. The book is unputdownable.

To research Gold, he took up competitive cycling and trained for months, learning to press so hard during a race, he thought his heart would stop beating if he pedaled one more rotation. In the book he examines endurance and rivalry, which he says is close to hate, but also close to love.

After the talk, we bought copies of Gold and queued up to meet the author. Our husbands waited patiently on the sidelines and even managed to snap a few photos.

When we finally made it to the table, I was star-struck, stammering and rambling about his genius writing. We told him about What Women Write, about Julie’s book coming out in February, about our annual retreat where we write all day and critique all night (with a few breaks for photos and wine). He graciously chatted with us and afterward, Julie and I agreed we’d met a rock star. A brilliant rock star.

Here's what NPR wrote about Gold“If Olympic medals were awarded for dramatic stories about what drives athletes to compete and succeed, Cleave would easily ascend the podium. Gold does for sport racing what Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild did for high-risk adventure: It demystifies its allure, giving readers an inside track on a certain type of compulsive mindset. But Gold is also about time, ambition and love, three life forces continuously jockeying for supremacy. Novels, like racing, depend on careful pacing, and Cleave calibrates his performance with the skill of a real pro, carefully ratcheting up the intensity as he finesses curves and heads into his final laps. . . .”

If you have not read his work, I encourage you to get yourself to a bookstore.


  1. Hands down, one of the best author events I've attended. Chris is really fascinating, and a gentle, humble, gracious soul. A rare combination.

  2. I agree, too! That was such an inspirational talk. Loved his ideas about exploring hidden worlds. (Wish I'd seen you two there as well!)

  3. I am still kicking myself for missing this. As you know, I am a huge Cleave fan. I'm so glad you and Julie had such a great time and were able to take your husbands! Sounds like it was a wonderful night!

  4. Karen--we need to coordinate next time!

    Susan--we missed you, too! Your copy of Gold is waiting for you... :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...