In my experience, the only way to improve on a series featuring amazing authors is to feature two amazing authors.

How fortunate, for everyone, that the dynamic duo and husband and wife team of Karen E. Bender and Robert Anthony Siegel were kind enough to visit Winchester and represent, making the fourth installment of VCLA’s Author Series at Handley Library an embarrassment of literary riches.

A few words about these writers: Karen is the award-winning author of several books, including Refund, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her latest book, The New Order, is a collection of stories that seek to explain –or at least interrogate– why America is so angry, confused, and disconnected, among other things. It’s brilliant, and has earned inclusion for the Story Prize Longlist. (Check out a wonderful and illuminating interview with the author, courtesy of The Coachella Review.)

Here’s Karen reading “The Cell Phones,” the final story from the new collection.

Her partner in crime (and husband) Robert Anthony Siegel, is no slouch himself. In addition to the novels All the Money in the World and All Will Be Revealed, he is the author of the memoir Criminals. Having read, and adored, this new release, it was an absolute thrill to have Robert read a section, proving (yet again) that there are few things as powerful and restorative as hearing a writer read aloud, in person.

Incidentally, I met Karen last year by responding to her remarkable essay (courtesy of the great folks at Literary Hub) “If You Have These Traits You Might Be A Writer.” I’ve read my fair share of essays on creation, craft, and two things –among many– I’ve determined are that there are neither short cuts nor secrets, and even the best writers struggle (with writing, with the disparity between what they envision and what ends up on the page, finding time to create, wondering if or when one dare call oneself a writer, etc). Another thing I’ve concluded: I’ll never tire of reading writers talk about writing, because there’s always more to learn, more ways to imitate and be inspired. I particularly love this quote, from Karen: You cannot underestimate the daily terror of that nothing, and the quiet energy it takes to create something out of nothing. You have no one to give you a roadmap but yourself. Just you.

Upon first reading it made me think of another favorite, from our friend Mr. Orwell (and it’s wonderful to quote him on writing as opposed to politics, which seems a daily necessity of late..): Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Here’s another, courtesy of Karen’s essay (quoting the immortal Milan Kundera): The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented. I’d seen that one before, but not this one, from Orhan Panuk, which I’m unable to adequately praise: The writer’s secret is not inspiration—for it is never clear where it comes from—it is his stubbornness, his patience. That lovely Turkish saying—to dig the well with a needle—seems to me to have been said with writers in mind.

This is the kind of stuff writers talk about when they talk about writing. Especially over a cocktail or two.

This is how we do it, and we’d love to see you at an upcoming reading (and obligatory reception, always hosted at The Half Note, courtesy of our friends at The George Washington Grand Hotel in downtown Winchester). Check out our Events schedule here.

Special thanks, as always, to our partners at Handley Library and Winchester Book Gallery.

More on VCLA and our mission (and if you’ve not signed up for our newsletter or liked us on Facebook, do so and be fully in the loop for all-things VCLA!)

Our series continues in March with Tim Denevi, author of Freak Kingdom, and you’re welcome to join us at the Barns of Rose Hill on March 1 for a panel discussion on the state of the literary industry, featuring Bethanne Patrick, Gregg Wilhelm, and Dallas Hudgens. These are all FREE events, and we’ll remain dedicated to connecting writers and readers as often as possible. We also encourage anyone able to donate to help fund these programs, and if you’re interested in getting more involved, I’d love to hear from you!

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