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The Luster of Lost Things

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The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller
Paperback $15.00
Aug 08, 2017 | ISBN 9780735210783

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“[E]nchanting….A delightful trek through and under New York streets.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

 “A book of rare elegance. . . . Keller understands the magic of New York City . . . and how sometimes listening to those most people hurry past make us find something we did not know we were missing. This book is one of those things: Take the time to find it.” – Newark Star-Ledger

“[R]ewards those willing to savor the linguistic riches and quirky characters, artfully provided by the author. With its strong story line and magic realism, this will appeal to readers of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat and the works of Alice Hoffman.” —Booklist

“Insightful….This is a feel-good, message-driven story about the restorative power of human connectedness and how acts of kindness can ultimately change lives.”—ShelfAwareness

“A buoyant, surprising, deeply human novel that underscores how easy it is to become lost in this great big world, and how affecting it is to be found. It’s no small bit of irony that I completely lost myself in these pages. The Luster of Lost Things is every bit as delicious as the magical treats from the family bakery at the heart of this charming debut.”—Steven Rowley, author of Lily and the Octopus

“Keller’s style is simple and often beautiful, and she infuses the novel with flashes of subtle humor and mouthwatering descriptions of sugary confections.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The true magic of New York City shines especially bright thanks to a sprinkle of literary magic in this tender and original debut. Readers will root for the endearing young Walter along every step of his remarkable odyssey.”—Meg Donohue, USA Today bestselling author of Dog Crazy: A Novel of Love Lost and Found

“Sophie Chen Keller’s enchanting debut melts kindness and action together into a tale of wonder and magic. I savored each tasty morsel as Walter and his valiant dog, Milton, began their extraordinary quest—where the seeking became more important than the finding. Keller’s writing reminded me of Adriana Trigiani—the words are so perfectly chosen that missing even one would lessen the enjoyment.”—Amy Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake 

“The book takes its readers on a magical odyssey through New York.” —Falmouth Review

The Luster of Lost Things is about opening your heart to others and allowing yourself to believe in the wonder and magic of life. Young hero, Walter Lavender, uses his extraordinary talents to track down what he holds dearest to himself, and his family, assisted by a myriad of compelling, curious characters, usually hidden away from the public eye. In doing so, he shows us how to be brave and open-hearted, and to never give up trying. Unique and unforgettable, this is storytelling at its finest.”—Phaedra Patrick, author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Author Q&A

1. What inspired you to write The Luster of Lost Things?
In 2014, while camping on a volcano in Maui, I came across a “Lost” flyer for a camera that contained meaningful family photos. I began wondering whether that camera, with its silicon memory of lost moments, had been returned to its owner. I wondered who responded to flyers like that one. What if there were people out there who made it their mission to look for what others had lost? Why were they doing it? Was there something else people were looking for when they looked for a missing camera? That was when I had my first inkling of who Walter might be.
Aside from that, I knew I wanted my first book to be a celebration of childhood. My memories from then are some of my most vivid: humid summers that went on for ages, imaginary adventures in sandbox castles, PB&Js cut into triangles, bedtime stories that took me to magical places. Those days are lost now, but sometimes, when we start to feel suffocated by darkness, we could use a return to that time when the world was still bright and miraculous, and we could so clearly see the goodness that lived around us and in us.
Walter reminds us to see beyond the surface – the “skin of the world,” as he calls it. The tale he tells is simple and uplifting, and at the same time layered with observations on what it means to live and be human. As you’re experiencing his journey, I hope you’re also savoring the search for the layers underneath, both inside and outside the pages; I hope that what you find will fill you with wonder.
2. The title of the book is very beautiful. How did you come up with it? What does it represent to you?
In one sense, the title refers to Walter’s ability to perceive the light emitted by lost things. It also refers to the idea that there is value in being lost—in the quest to find—although we tend to think of losing as a bad thing, and of good things eventually losing their luster.
3. Do you have a dog? Is Milton based on a real golden retriever?
My family had a golden retriever named Thor, after the Norse god of thunder and lightning. (As it turned out, he was terrified of storms.) Like Milton, he was constantly tripping us, whipping us with his tail, and snapping up unsavory things. But at the right moments, he would adopt this look of Zen-like calm and wisdom, like a huggable Buddha. When I practiced the piano, he’d seize on the passionate parts, howling along with the crashing chords. Some dog!   
4. What was it like to write Walter’s voice? Was it difficult to see the world through his eyes? Is his disorder based on a real disorder?
Walter’s voice came pretty naturally. You could say that he found me, while I had to find his disorder in the course of my research; I spoke with parents, speech pathologists, professors, and doctors, who kindly shared with me their knowledge, experiences, hopes, and concerns. Walter’s condition is based on a type of motor speech disorder called childhood apraxia of speech, although the particulars of his case would be unusual. Childhood apraxia of speech is often misdiagnosed as autism, cerebral palsy, ADD or ADHD, an intellectual disability, or a developmental language disorder, among others. It’s actually a separate diagnosis—a neurological disorder where the brain has trouble coordinating the muscle movements required to produce the intended speech. The mind is a vast, complex and largely mysterious landscape, and in the case of apraxia, some wires have gotten crossed or short-circuited and signals sent by the brain aren’t getting through properly to, say, the lips or the tongue or the face. 
5. The novel celebrates the many different kinds of people who live in New York City. Why did you decide to set the story in Manhattan? What draws you to this city?
I moved to New York City at a formative time in life, right after college, and I tend to write about places I understand and connect with on an instinctual level. I haven’t been to any other place where it’s quite so obvious how different people can be, and how similar, too. You’re reminded every day, in the curious combinations of smells and the unfiltered emotions spilling out onto the sidewalk. And you just might discover The Lavenders around the next corner. In my mind, the West Village especially takes on a shade of happy wonder, because that’s where my now husband lived—on a certain street named Carmine—when we first met.
6. Do you have a favorite character in the novel, besides Walter?
Lucy. Without her, there wouldn’t be an enchanted dessert shop to write about! This is Walter’s story, but what we know of Lucy’s speaks, I think, straight to the heart.
7. The Lavenders is an unforgettable place. Why did you decide to set the novel in a bakery? Do you have a favorite bakery? Is The Lavenders based on a real bakery?
Mostly because I like eating and watching shows about food; I figured I would also like writing about food. The novel is about connecting and belonging, and food is something we associate with coming together, or with being transported home, wherever and whenever that might be.
I like discovering new places and trying different desserts, so The Lavenders is an amalgamation of various shops: the whimsical tiles from a chocolate shop in California, the classic brass finishes from a patisserie in France, the sugary sense of brightness from a bakery in downtown Manhattan, the dash of hominess from a Bäckerei in Germany, and any kind of edible treat you could imagine from everywhere—and there you are.
8. Walter has an amazing ability to find missing things. Have you ever lost something that Walter could have helped with? Why did you decide to write about lost items?
When I was eight or so, my mom gave me my first real piece of jewelry, a silver ring with a ruby flower, after my rather insistent pleading that I could be trusted—I promise!—to take care of it. She bought the ring in the morning; I lost it that afternoon. I was upset enough about breaking my promise that I still remember that lost ring today, although what my mom remembers instead is how happy I was when she gave it to me.
The idea of searching intrigues me. That feeling of incompleteness, of looking for something that we believe will make us whole, preserve our idea of self, bring us peace or joy or purpose or whatever it is, strikes me as poignant and vital to who we are and the lives we lead.
9. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read. I travel. I dwell on things. Sometimes, when there’s a piano nearby, I play it.
10. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a second novel, and that’s about all I’ll say. Since I usually figure out things as I go, I have trouble talking about what I’m writing until it’s been written.

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