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A Passion for Stories

And how they come to be

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Chris Cander

WRITERS READING Houston author Chris Cander finds inspiration for summer reading in local bookstores. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

All summer, we’ll be getting lost in great books. We have the authors to thank for that. The writers who make it their mission to tell a great story, be it real or fiction. In Houston, we’re lucky to be home (or former home) to many storytellers. Here, in their own words, is a little insight into their passion.

Novelist Chris Cander grew up writing in Houston. “I started playing with poetry when I was in second grade. From there, I have always written as a source of escape and pleasure.”

Chris comes from discipline. “I had been a competitive fitness athlete and was featured in magazines. When I retired, I started writing about it. When my son was 6 months old, I decided I was already sleep deprived and miserable, so I was going to start my first novel.” He’s now in sixth grade, and Chris is writing her fifth book.

“I love books because they give us the ability to try on other lives, dress rehearse other scenarios. There’s so much power in that kind of imaginative experience.”

Chris’ 11 Stories and Whisper Hollow are both award-winners garnering starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, respectively. Come January, watch for her newest novel, The Weight of a Piano.

For her own reading, Chris says, “I go talk to the booksellers at Brazos Bookstore, because they know me and know what I like. [At small bookstores], they’re humans, not algorithms, so they can recommend something based on your previous reading experiences and their own, and can therefore enlarge you beyond a reading rut.”

Katherine Center

BOOK CELEBRATION Novelist and native Houstonian Katherine Center recently launched her sixth and mostly highly anticipated book, How to Walk Away. Here she is pictured at the book launch celebration at Blue Willow Bookshop. (Photo: Two Cats Communications)

Last month, novelist and native Houstonian Katherine Center launched her sixth and most highly anticipated book, How to Walk Away, the latest in her line of beloved novels with characters who fall down, lift themselves up, find love – and feel like friends. If the book launch weren’t enough, Katherine also just gave a TEDx Talk in Oregon on the importance of encouraging boys to read books with female protagonists, fostering empathy across genders. Katherine’s earlier books include Happiness for Beginners, The Bright Side of Disaster and The Lost Husband.

When asked what she loves about books, Katherine asks back, “The objects themselves or the act of reading or the stories? I love everything about them. I love that they turn up your emotions and let you get lost in somebody else’s life for a little while. By the time you reach the end, it’s changed you a little bit, altered your perspective. Not too many other things can do that.”

Katherine admits she doesn’t read while writing. “I’m lost in somebody else’s story and it’s hard to write my own,” she says. “When you’re writing, you create this world and these characters, and you have to kind of carry these little imaginary people around to keep them alive and stay in the zone with them next to your consciousness. They can be sort of quiet and hard to hear until you’ve gotten them down on the page.”

Author and blogger Melanie Shankle, a Houston native living in San Antonio, says, “My favorite books are [the kind that] I write. I like reading about real life and real stories, especially if they’re a little bit funny.” A memoirist, Melanie has authored four funny, touching books celebrating the pitfalls and the joys of marriage, friendship, motherhood and faith, rendering her own life, in all of its messiness, wide open for us to inhabit. Her latest, released last month, is the devotional Everyday Holy: Finding a Big God in the Little Moments. Other bestsellers include The Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life and Nobody’s Cuter Than You: A Memoir about the Beauty of Friendship.

Melanie’s writing career stemmed from a blog [thebigmamablog.com] she calls “a creative outlet. I thought I’d do it for a couple of months.” Eventually, another author contacted her to ask if she’d thought of writing a novel. “I guess?” she answered. “That sounds hard.” Melanie brought her first proposal to her first agent “in an Office Depot clear folder. Here I am 12 years later.

“While I’m writing a book, I stick to reading fiction. I can’t read a memoir because I’ll start to copy that author’s style, or it’ll send me into a pit of despair because I think, ‘I’ll never be able to write my story this well, so I might as well not do it,’ and then I just sit on the couch and do nothing.”

Editor’s note: For the authors’ summer-reading recommendations, check out Andria Frankfort’s Back Porch column.

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