Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Meet Ivy Pochoda

One of the highlights of ThrillerFest for me was getting to spend a little time with Ivy Pochoda, author of this year's summer sensation, VISITATION STREET.

VISITATION STREET by Ivy Pochoda: If you're the type that only reads one book each summer, look no further. This latest from the Dennis Lehane imprint at HarperCollins is a tour de force, an unputdownable, powerful read, garnering starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist, as well as being the pick of the week at People magazine and Entertainment Weekly and An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013. Not to mention all the glowing newspaper reviews! The praise goes on and on, with nary a negative word in sight.

Usually when there is this much hype about a book, it is almost impossible to live up to, but Pochoda manages to pull it off. Set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an area divided into the "projects" and the "neighborhood" - with some crossover bound to happen, especially with school age kids. This waterfront community takes a hit one hot summer night. 

June and Val are best friends, fifteen years old and in that gray area between childhood and adulthood, looking for some fun. The girls have a pink inflatable raft and decide to take it out on the bay, but that decision has devastating consequences.

Jonathan, their music teacher, finds Val unconscious, washed up on the shore, but June has disappeared. Jonathan is a Julliard drop out, drinking too much and spending all his free time in the neighborhood bar. 

Chief suspect is Cree, a young black man from the projects that was seen in the area that night. Cree has a guardian angel, of sorts - a young, homeless graffiti artist has decided to befriend him, and protect him.  

Fadi is a Lebanese shop owner trying to assimilate into the community, and wants his store to become the center for information on the missing girl. All of these characters are fully brought to life, and Red Hook itself becomes yet another character in this tightly written and moving story. 

This is ostensibly a mystery, but the story revolves around the characters, and they are wondrous. This is a memorable read, beautifully written and imaginatively conceived. Don't miss it.

I loved the book, and when I heard Ivy was going to be at ThrillerFest, I arranged to meet her. She was on a panel, which unfortunately I missed; timing is everything, and mine was off. Afterwards, we chatted about Brooklyn, Dennis Lehane and more.

I found it very amusing that Ivy didn't even realize she was writing crime fiction. She wrote about this great place, Red Hook, which she originally was going to call something else to disguise it. But her editor convinced her to keep the real name, which to me adds something to the story when you know it is a real place. In fact, the day we met, Ivy was very nervous about going home to Red Hook and doing a reading at the bar where much of the book is set. I wasn't there but I'd bet it went really well.

Visitation Street is her second novel. Her first, The Art of Disappearing, came out in 2009 to some nice reviews, but didn't do much sales-wise. I asked her what she was doing between then and now, and was surprised to learn that Ivy is a celebrity ghostwriter. She's written a couple of NY Times bestsellers for celebrities and lives in the Los Angeles area. That said, it took her two years to write Visitation Street.

Ivy is a big fan of HarperCollins editor Lee Boudreaux, at the Ecco imprint. Lee edits literary fiction that Ivy loves, including such notable authors as David Wroblewski, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Arthur Phillips. Ivy told me she asked her agent to submit Visitation Street to Lee, and if she rejected it, then to try other publishers, but Lee snapped it up. 

I asked how Dennis Lehane came to be involved with the project. A lot of the publicity this book has received is because it is the second book from his eponymous imprint. Turns out Lee Boudreaux sent it to him blind, looking for a blurb. Instead, he asked to publish it, so it is co-published by two very esteemed editors. 

Ivy comes from a publishing family - her father was a vice president at Random House while she was growing up. He then moved to a university press, and is now retired. She learned about the business of publishing from her dad.

Ivy told me that she never thought of Visitation Street as crime fiction, but rather a story that answers a question. As a crime fiction reader and reviewer, I had to disagree and apparently I'm in good company. This is a memorable book that revolves around a crime, but it is the characters that bring it to life. 

I had a lot of fun chatting with Ivy. She's smart, funny and energetic. I am already looking forward to her next book!

Stacy Alesi & Ivy Pochoda
ThrillerFest 2013

1 comment:

Titus said...

This is fantastic!

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