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Book Partners: Living Together, Writing Together

By Peyton Moss

The San Miguel International PEN lecture series will continue, with a presentation by local writers Gerard Helferich and Teresa Nicholas, who will read from their new books and discuss life in their literary household in a talk they are calling “Book Partners: Living Together, Writing Together.”

Literature: Gerard Helferich and Teresa Nicholas. Book Partners: Living Together, Writing Together By the San Miguel International PEN lecture series. Tue, Feb 7, 6pm. Teatro Ángela Peralta. 100 pesos

Both Helferich and Nicholas spent 25 years working for book publishers, but in 2002 they decided to leave the New York publishing scene for the writer’s life in San Miguel. Helferich’s third book, Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya was published in December to critical acclaim in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Nicholas’s memoir, Buryin’ Daddy, published last spring, has also been widely praised, and was named by Delta magazine as one of the top five books of 2011.

Though both writers work independently and have never coauthored an article or book, they do collaborate, serving as each other’s sounding board, first reader, editor, and chief sympathizer.

Helferich grew up in Troy, New York; Nicholas is from the Mississippi Delta. “He’s maple syrup and corned beef and cabbage, and I’m all about fig preserves and catfish and hush puppies,” Nicholas says. “But somehow, it works.”

“There’s a long tradition of writing families,” Helferich adds. “Think of the Brontes and the Shelleys and the Jameses. Or latter-day literary couples such as Nora Ephron and Nicholas Pileggi, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne.”

“Of course, we’re not as celebrated as they are,” Nicholas adds, “but we do deal with some of the same issues.”

Such as professional jealousy. “Writers are notoriously jealous of each other,” Helferich says, “but it’s a great advantage to have a live-in editor to bounce ideas off. It means when you submit material to an editor or agent, it’s already been through an editorial process.”

Nicholas and Helferich will touch on how some famous writing families have worked together, before they share their own habits and divulge their secrets about living and writing in harmony. They will also read from their latest books, showing how each has benefited from the other’s input.

Stone of Kings is the true-life story of the 400-year search for the Maya jade mines, which were lost within 50 years of the Spanish Conquest. It’s a tale of great rulers, renowned archaeologists, gifted scientists, unlettered prospectors, and hopeful entrepreneurs. “And there’s a local connection,” Helferich adds, “since Mary Lou Ridinger, the archeologist who rediscovered the jade sources, is a member of the Johnson family, longtime residents of San Miguel.”

In Buryin’ Daddy, Nicholas, a descendant of Lebanese Catholic immigrants on her father’s side and Baptist sharecroppers on her mother’s, recounts a Southern upbringing with an unusual inflection. Graced with a powerful sense of time and place and peopled by memorable characters, this funny, moving memoir explores the mingling of love and shame that may lie at the heart of family life.

San Miguel PEN, one of 144 PEN centers in 104 countries, was established in 1979. It works to help writers everywhere, especially those who are jailed, threatened, or called to court for what they have written. The contribution of 100 pesos to the PEN winter lecture series events makes this work possible.

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