Red Fern Book Review

The Music of Bees

September 17, 2021 Amy Mair Season 2 Episode 2
Red Fern Book Review
The Music of Bees
Show Notes Transcript

Bestselling author Eileen Garvin drops by the podcast to discuss her debut novel The Music of Bees. The book explores how three lost people unexpectedly come together through their love of honey bees.  We discuss the natural world, character development and how Eileen's love of beekeeping  and the small town of Hood River, Oregon, served as an inspiration. Eileen also shares a slew of books and podcasts, old and new.

Books and resources discussed:

The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin
Brood: a Novel by Jackie Polzin
Where Angel Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
The Bedside Book of Birds by Graeme Gibson
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Writer's Library by Nancy Pearl
Sugar Calling, Cheryl Strayed, The New York Times,  podcast
Poetry Unbound, podcast

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Follow Eileen Garvin:
Instagram: @eileengarvin


Amy Mair:

This is Amy Mair, and welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. I am your host, and today I am joined by best selling author Eileen Garvin. I'm so excited that she's here. And I'm gonna start by giving a little introduction about her. Eileen was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She's the youngest of five children. And she's always been close to her sister, Margaret, who in fact, she's also written a book about called How To Be a Sister and I'm going to ask her about that at the very end. She's completed her BA in English at Seattle University, and her MA in English at the University of New Mexico. She writes for newspapers, magazines and websites from Hood River, Oregon, where she lives with her husband. And her debut novel The Music of Bees, which is also set and Hood River was published in April 2021 and immediately selected as a Good Morning America Buzz pick, no pun intended, A Good Housekeeping Book Club pick and an Indie Next pick and a Library Reads pack and some people. reviewers have compared her to Anne Tyler and Sue Miller. And comparisons have also been made to the novel. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. So with that I wanted to welcome Eileen and say hello.

Eileen Garvin:

Hello, thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here.

Amy Mair:

Thanks for coming. Now tell everybody because we're just on audio here when you logged and it looks like you're in a very rustic space. You write about Hood River, which is a more laid back community, but where are you right now?

Eileen Garvin:

I'm at the family cabin in Coeur d'Alene in Idaho. I set up my computer right before I called you in the best spot to reach the outlet not realizing that behind me would be an array of of Garvin family paraphernalia including egg shells and, and jaw bones of animals and old photos and wonderful collection of of relics from the family Lake cabin.

Amy Mair:

Yeah, it looks like it definitely looks like the west for sure. Okay, could you give people a summary of this book. What's it about?

Eileen Garvin:

Sure. The Music of Bees is is the story of three lonely strangers who meet by chance on a beekeeping farm in in Hood River, Oregon, which as you mentioned is where also where I live. So we have three main characters. Alice Holtzman is 44. She's an overworked, underappreciated county employee. And she's recently lost her husband and she's just absolutely devastated. Alice is kind of a loner. And this particular grief is just really difficult for her to process on her own. And then she meets by chance, Jacob Stevenson, who has the tallest Mohawk in the history of Hunter Valley High School. He's 18 years old and was on his way, graduating from school, he was going to go to Seattle, to music school to get out of this little, you know, podunk town, but following an accident at a high school party, Jacob is now in a wheelchair, and really grappling with a change circumstances in his own life. And the third of this unlikely trio was Harry Stokes is 24. He's kind of a bumbler. And he made some poor choices that landed him in jail, and have left him trying to find his way and and make a new life for himself. And the way the three of them come together is around the bees at Alice's farm and become friends through this common interest, if unlikely friends. I won't say any more than that, but that's essentially the plot. The setting, as you mentioned, is Hood River, Oregon, which is where I live. It's a town of about 7,500 people on the Columbia River in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which is in North Central Oregon, and is my fictionalized version of of Hood River. So I've taken some some flack from locals about some some poetic license that I took about things, but it's a lovely place, and I love to write about it. So that was a real pleasure. And the last element that I mentioned is that there's quite a lot about honeybees in this story. Not only because Alice is a backyard beekeeper, but it becomes this theme for kind of moving the story along and, and you're uniting the three of them as friends and it springs out of my own interest as a backyard beekeeper. So those are the people and the place and kind of a main trope that I think is enough to give you a sense of what the book is about.

Amy Mair:

I have a lot of questions, I just want to jump in with the beekeeping part. The book is quite light and inviting, and the bees on the cover a little bit cartoonlike. But, but you get pretty detailed into beekeeping. And you made it interesting like I before I read the book I was, I can't say I thought much about it. How, where did this interest come from? And how did you learn? Learn about this? Or I don't you call it a craft? Or what? how did how did this happen for you?

Eileen Garvin:

I got my first time in 2014. And it's pretty easy to get into really, with with books and buying, but you essentially the easiest way to begin beekeeping as you you buy a package of bees, from a beekeeper, which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a box of bees. Yeah, it's all buzzing and stressful. And you, you know, one of the first things you learn how to do is install it in your hive. So I became interested in 2014. Partly because I was just looking for a new hobby I had, I had a really wonderful old dog who was dying. And you know, she was 16. And I, I really was trying to do things where I could stay around the house and be available for her and had friends getting into. And so I thought okay, I'll do this. And it's something I can do kind of tend to the bees and tend to the dog. So I got started in 2014. And with some successes and some failures and a number of adventures. But in a during the course of revising this book, I actually started taking the Oregon State University master beekeeper extension program. I signed on for that right before COVID. And so while I was revising, I was also studying for more formally. Bees are, they're fascinating. And they're such an easy way for us to look at the the wild creatures that we live among, because everybody has them around. And whether you live in an apartment or house, you know, you've seen them and we all like honey. So I found it really fun to investigate their behavior.

Amy Mair:

I was really drawn to the guard bees or these bees, when you open up the hive that come to greet you and check you out and just how it seems like it seems when you look at a beehive it looks chaotic, but it sounds like there's a lot of order to it and natural order, which I thought maybe that I found that really interesting. Okay, I wanted to ask another question I wanted to ask, you have a very unusual, it's a trio of people that help each other. And it's a middle aged woman and two younger men, that you don't see that a lot in fiction and how did you come up with that? And why did you believe these three characters they can work the way they did?

Eileen Garvin:

I'm not sure if I know the answer to that. But really at the base, I followed them as they appeared. Okay. And Jacob came first. And, you know, people have asked, Are any of these characters based on my real life? I don't use a wheelchair. I'm not a man. Maybe I'm more like Alice than anybody else. But I'm also not a widow. I'm not really answering your question. I just followed them as they came to me. So Jacob came first. He is based on the experience of someone I saw when I was driving through town to go pick up a package of bees. I saw this young man very fit looking in a mohawk in a wheelchair in the area that I described, which is near my house. Hood River is pretty sporty and there are a lot of Olympians who train there and Paralympians and who train there. I remember seeing him and thinking he looked at very fit and that he must be some an athlete, I but I didn't know him. And I got the idea. The first sentence for the book just jumped into my head at that moment, and I scribbled it down and then I followed Jacob like who is this person? Where is he coming from? And then Alice came next. And I just thought it was a circumstance of saying, Okay, well what would happen if you put these two people together? Each one of them has a particular problem that they have to work out, and how can they help each other. How could that unfold? So, I don't know if that answers your question. I

Amy Mair:

It does. I thought okay, so what you're also talking about a bit about the writing process. Do you create backstories for your characters that we don't know about? Like, I've heard a little bit about sometimes people do that. Do we know everything that you know about the characters?

Eileen Garvin:

I love that idea. I've read about authors doing that to where they will create a whole backstory before they begin drafting a book. I don't do that, but I think about them all the time. What would their hobbies have been? What was she like in high school? What was she like, in those college Ag classes? Who was she sitting next to? And did she sit in the front row? And how did she interact with people because she's a little bit awkward and kind of a loner. So that's always in my mind, but it's not something that I've formally drafted.

Amy Mair:

Okay. I think one of the I'm guessing one of the things that people really love about the book, or what I loved is that it, it didn't seem like any of these three characters were inherently trying to be good or trying to help each other. But then they grew to do that.

Eileen Garvin:

Sure. Yeah, I like the way you put it like that it's unintentional. And no one I haven't heard it described that way before. But I like that. And I think, you know, this is often the way life goes that you you end up with problems that you never anticipated. And you find solutions in a way that you never anticipated. And it made me think of the ways that we help each other the way you you can have an influence on somebody without without even knowing that you're going to our choice that leads leads to a friendship that that maybe you didn't foresee. So Alice, for example, we start out and she tells us in the beginning that she doesn't, she doesn't like she doesn't want anyone at her place. She likes living alone. arbitary she doesn't want one of these volunteer farm workers to come stay with her and work. And in exchange for room and board. She says that right out of the gate, and then, but here she is, she finds herself in a situation after she meets Jake, where she has an opportunity to do something. And it's just sort of in her. It's like the way we see ourselves, but the way we really are. She's telling us that she doesn't want anything to do with people. And yet she's got this inborn generosity that she can't help but respond to when she sees the chance to help.

Amy Mair:

There's another storyline weaving through about the environment. Can you touch on that a little bit? Or? Or is that? We can't tell too much about that, I guess.

Eileen Garvin:

Yeah, well, but I guess I'll just say honey bees are, again, an easy way for us to understand human impact on the wild world, because it's something that we can engage with every day. And we can have a negative impact with simply by spraying weeds in your garden. It's an easy way, I think, for people to understand that they can make choices that can be for good or ill with wild creatures.

Amy Mair:

I want to move back a little bit to the publishing process. So you sold this novel in February 2020. And that's interesting to learn about the beekeeping program. But I'm wondering, you sold a very specific time in our lives in history. And then you're sitting down to revise that, how did what was going on in the greater world impact the revision.

Eileen Garvin:

I think it was the most wonderful distraction for 2020 because, like everybody else, it was very overwhelming time. And and my, the work that I was doing at the time sort of dried up, I was at that time doing quite a bit of writing and travel and tourism. So you know, so it was very easy to take a break and put off put my heart and soul into revising this this story. So it really, because for writing and rewriting and editing and thinking about a story, you need that solitary time and so I sure have a lot of that that's the I feel like it was a wonderful it was kind of a gift to be able to spend 2020 working on this book.

Amy Mair:

And did you change anything because of the pandemic meaning did anything? I don't know it could either just be the way you were feeling or did the person people working with you did anything change storyline wise because of that? Or just you just saying you had the time to work? I just Yeah, I just had the time nothing. Nothing changed with the storyline. And you had such a really cool break. You were selected by Good Morning America as their Buzz pick of the month. And where were you when you heard about that?

Eileen Garvin:

I got an email from my wonderful publicity team about a week prior saying, hey, this, they've chosen you. Congratulations. By the way, this section often gets bumped for breaking news. So so. So congratulations, but don't get don't get too excited. Yeah, and which is a complicated set of emotions to have. But we are, we all have become accustomed to complicated emotions this year. And so they asked me to make this video a minute long explaining what the books about. And that was very difficult. Because, because it's hard, it was just really, the pressure was hard. And I, my husband was helping me and we'd go outside, and it would start to rain. And then we go outside, and I wait, and then and then I forget what I was saying. And then the neighbor's dog would start barking. And so it really was funny. By the time Friday morning rolled around, I just hadn't I thought I'm not even gonna, I'm not even gonna check because I was I was, the whole process was being excited. And it was just too much. And then my in laws sought first because they're ahead of our head of us, and they called so that was pretty, pretty darn exciting. And I'm, of course, so appreciate the support and the exposure that that gave to the book. Um, okay,

Amy Mair:

So I've got some other questions for you. Let's talk about can you tell me a little bit about your your first book you wrote, this is the first book you wrote How to Be a Sister. It's nonfiction. Yes. And what? When did you write that and tell us tell us a little bit about that.

Eileen Garvin:

How to be a sister I wrote, in 2007., I'd recently moved back to the northwest from New Mexico where I was doing my graduate work. And the book is really about, I found myself trying to reconnect with my sister who has severe autism. She's the second of the five of us, and I'm the youngest. And so living far away, I really didn't, I was really able to, you know, kind of forget all the family challenges. And but now being back in the northwest, I found myself faced with this, this relationship, which was always was always a difficult one, my sister's autism is, is pretty severe. And so communication was, it remains a hard, hard thing for her. So I wrote how to be a sister partly in I kind of writing is very much is very therapeutic for me. And so sort of figuring out how to approach this relationship as an adult, was part of the reason I wrote it. But also because I had all these stories that I'd grown up with Margaret was such a major, she's the major figure in our family, she's really the nucleus around which everybody else operates. And so these stories that were some of which were heartbreaking, but many of which were really funny, that I just weed out we've been telling for years and I wanted to find a place for them. And so how to be sister is sort of a marriage of those two things, our family story, but then my own journey to connect, reconnect with Margaret as an adult.

Amy Mair:

Okay, now, what are you reading right now wants to know,

Eileen Garvin:

What am I reading right now I read a real mix of things. I love that you asked me this, because I always want to know what other people are reading as well. And I tried to read, I try to read a mix of fiction and nonfiction. Right now I just finished this book by Jackie Polzin. It's called

Brood:

A Novel. And I'm actually so lucky I get to do an event with her next month. And she's a she's from Minnesota. And this book is a brood is extensively about a woman's obsession with her chickens. But at the core of the story is a I'm not going to give it away but there's a loss there. And it's just beautifully written and it's unlike anything else I've read in quite some time. So new fiction. I'm also I just finished, E.M. Forster Where Angels Fear to Tread. It was written in 1905. And it's so spare and so well done. What he can convey in a sentence is incredible that the depth of story and any so funny and, and it's written in 1905. So right before world war one and I think it just there's a different sensibility to to that to modern life. I hope this this one's gonna give me some some points with Canadians. This is a The Bedside Book of Birds by Graeme Gibson, who is married to Margaret Atwood. Oh, and it's this amazing collection of stories and art that he put together. From his travels all over the world about birds, I haven't read anything like it. It's really wonderful. And the last one I mentioned, I'm reading a book of Nancy Pearl is a famous Seattle librarian. And I know I forgotten the title of the book, but she interviews writers about what they read growing up. And I'm reading that kind of it's taken me months, but it's one of those you read a chapter at night when you go to bed. But so many people have mentioned Watership Down by Richard Adams. It's a children's book, and I thought, okay, now I have to read I have had it on my shelf. And I saw the movie when I was little, but I'd never read the book. And so I'm now I'm about halfway through it. And boy, it's pretty long. It's about I want to say it's like five or 600 pages, but it's the you know, the story of the rabbits that leave the war.

Amy Mair:

I remember reading that as a kid and really wanting to read it, because I thought it was so cool, because they were rabid. Like, but it Yeah, it's got all this symbolism. It's got lots of symbolism for beauty and family. And yeah, and it was it was like the book. Yeah, yeah, it was published. I'm gonna guess it was like 81 or two, I don't know.

Eileen Garvin:

it apparently continues to speak to people, all these famous writers, including Michael Chabon. So give it a read.

Amy Mair:

Okay, the name of the book by Nancy Pearl is The Writer's library. Do you watch TV or listen to other podcasts? Are there any shows that you are enjoying?

Eileen Garvin:

Um, I don't listen to a lot of podcasts. Because I don't. I was saying when I knew we were going to chat about that. And I thought, Gosh, I wish I had some great recommendations. But I'm, I'm home a lot. I feel like but podcasts are a thing you listen to in the car, but I love there's one that I love to listen to when I'm cooking called Poetry Unbound by Padraig O Tuama. It's part of the On Being Project. He's an Irish poet. And he introduces a poem, he he reads it and tells you a little bit about the the poet and then he explains what he does an analysis of what he thinks the poet poet poem means. And then he reads it again. And I just love that. It's like a little little lesson right there. And maybe they're 10 or 15 minutes long. So I love that one. And last year during the pandemic, one of my favorite podcasts was Sugar Calling by Cheryl Strayed. And I really hope she was going to make it an ongoing thing, but it hasn't resurfaced again, what she did is she called some of her favorite authors on the phone and chatted with them rather than emic started. So she she talks to Margaret Atwood and Judy Blume, George Saunders and Joy Harjo, and it was just so it was exactly what I needed at the time. So I really loved loved that. That's great.

Amy Mair:

I found when the pandemic started, I first started out listening to I'd actually, believe it or not, even though I'm doing this podcast, I hadn't listened to podcasts until the pandemic started. And then I was doing them non stop. And I started doing like stuff that Brene Brown and all that. I did, yes, I did. I didn't want that. Because I was like, You know what, I don't want to deal with my stuff I want to actually enjoy. I actually want to don't want to think about how to a be a better person or work through issues. I actually just want to like, be happy, or just yeah, under teams. So that i think i the sugar calling sounds good. I'm so excited because you've a lot of these things you mentioned I've never heard of. So I will. I will type all these names up in the show notes so people can find them. But to conclude, what are you working on right now? I think you're writing something new. What are you doing?

Eileen Garvin:

I am I'm working on a new novel, which is why I'm at the family cabin. I my siblings gave me a week to come out and be on my own just so generous of them. So and I don't want to say too much about it, because it's really just in the early stages, but I'm having a lot of fun with it. It's set in the Pacific Northwest It also includes more people with problems. Well, they have to have problems or what their problems otherwise there'd be no reason to, you know, follow the story. We have to find out what happens.

Amy Mair:

So wildlife included.

Eileen Garvin:

Yeah, I think there will be some wildlife Yes. Okay, well,

Amy Mair:

I really enjoyed chatting with you. And I just wanted to thank you for stopping by. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Okay, thank you. Thanks to Eileen Garvin for stopping by the podcast, I really enjoyed how she talked about character development and how a character would just appear to her. And then we get her thinking and then another one might appear, and how she doesn't do a formal backstory on the characters, but she thinks through very much the preferences, and what they like and love and dislike. She mentioned a slew of titles. So I'm going to include that in the show notes. Definitely checking out Cheryl Strayed Sugar Calling podcast with other authors. And I wanted to remind you, she mentioned something interesting. She mentioned E.M. Forster, don't forget books, older books. We get caught up in all the new books. And I'm always going to try and talk about those but we can still go back and review classics. And I actually have a friend coming on later this fall to do just that. So until next time, thank you so much for joining in. I'll talk to you soon.