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When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories

When Amy Wallen learns her parents are grave robbers and her memory is out of focus, she tries to figure out what truly happened. She excavates both their sojourn overseas and how her family was one-by-one sent away from her until she was left alone at the age of seven in Lagos, Nigeria. When We Were Ghouls, A Memoir of Ghost Stories is about a search for family. In 1971, Amy’s blue-collar Southern peripatetic family was transferred from Ely, Nevada to Lagos, Nigeria. From Nevada to Nigeria, and elsewhere, When We Were Ghouls follows a family that has been dispersed around the world, a family who, like ghosts, come and go and slip through Amy’s fingers making it unclear if they were ever there. A cross between Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, with some Indiana Jones thrown in, the tale starts in the middle, around a pre-Inca grave her family uncovers. We see her family members appear and disappear in Peru and Bolivia and beyond. On one level the story is about family, but it also represents how with both innocence and denial our worldly treasures are neglected—not just our children, but the artifacts of humanity, and ultimately humanity itself.

“Amy Wallen’s beautiful memoir, replete with fantastic stories, will carry you across continents and introduce you to amazing characters. With wit and poignant honesty she recounts the details of her unlikely, unforgettable childhood, and brings to life the era that shaped our present.”

—Claire Messud, New York Times bestselling author of The Emperor’s Children and The Burning Girl

“The loneliness of childhood, fears of abandonment and early sorrows, but also its magical escapes and restorations, are captivatingly rendered in this haunting, exquisitely written memoir. Skulls, executions, bloated corpses, Siamese twins, and Godzilla movies manifest uncannily; but also; Santa Claus, an adored brother, a loving nanny, a beautiful mother, and an understanding if peripatetic father, making for a perfect balance of dark and light forces in this memory palace.”

—Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait Inside My Head and Against Joie de Vivre

“When We Were Ghouls is a worldly gazetteer of haunted family stories. There’s sadness, mortality, tragedy, love, frenzy, tremendous restlessness, grave robbing, family secrets. Really, I’ve never read a memoir as uncannily provocative as this one! It’s as if the spectral world has finally found a home in the incidents found on every page. Amy Wallen has what Virginia Woolf called ‘a Gothic memory.’”

—Howard Norman, author of My Darling Detective

“In this bold, original, and exquisitely written memoir, Wallen explores the reliability of haunting memories that include ‘play days’ when her Nigerian grade school is closed due to public executions, and a family outing that involves robbing an ancient Peruvian grave. The author’s childhood, marked by physical and emotional abandonment, is powerfully shaped by her oil executive father’s peripatetic travels. This dig into memory, pits family myths against facts as the author seeks to come to terms with her younger self’s unresolved longing for love and stability. Along the way, Wallen lays bare her family’s foibles with tender fearlessness. Although often about death, this memoir is full of life and life’s oppositions, both the light and the dark, which the author ultimately learns to embrace and celebrate.”

 —Sue William Silverman, author of The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew


Moon Pies and Movie Stars

Viking Adult/ Penguin Group ISBN 0670038172 Cover art © 2006 Ross MacDonald Paperback, June 24, 2008 Hardcover December 28, 2006

A laugh-out-loud romp across America pits a feisty Texas momma against the Hollywood machine

Ruby Kincaid is busy these days—running her late husband’s bowling alley, wrangling her pistol of a sister, and chasing after the two grandchildren her daughter abandoned. When she sees her runaway daughter Violet starring in a TV commercial, there’s only one choice and Ruby knows it—Hollywood or bust. Ruby packs a Winnebago with two friends, two unruly grandkids, and a mondosize package of MoonPies and hightails it to California to fetch her wayward daughter. In a madcap road trip from the dusty flats of Texas to the glittering aisles of The Price Is Right, Ruby survives with a little pluck and some Texas spunk. Fans of Lorna Landvik and Billie Letts will love this tender and side-splittingly funny story of indomitable spirit and unstoppable force.

"To read MoonPies and Movie Stars is to take a delightful and exhilarating journey, kind of like being on a tour bus guided by Eudora Welty on speed. And yet, Amy Wallen never allows her characters to degenerate into caricatures. She succeeds at keeping the difficult balance between humor and compassion. Her characters live and breathe—we don't want to wear their clothes or eat their food, but we sure want their company."

—Mary Gordon, author of The Stories of Mary Gordon and Pearl

“With a pitch perfect ear for comic dialogue and fine sense of the absurd, Amy Wallen writes herself a place on the porch swing of great Southern writing, as she follows the misadventures of three determined Texas ladies sworn to find a runaway daughter in Hollywood and return her to husband and children in the Lone Star State.”

—Janet Fitch, author of Paint it Black and White Oleander

Amy Wallen’s first novel mines the hilarity of the modern Southern woman with good humor and enough snappy dialogue to fill a dozen beauty parlors.”

—Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama and One Mississippi

“When Ruby sees her runaway daughter on television, she leaves Texas and sets off for Hollywood with her wild sister, her traumatized grandchildren, and her daughter’s uptight mother-in-law all together in a travel trailer. Amy Wallen has written a moving and funny story of a mother’s search for her daughter and of children longing for their mother, all wrapped up in a sassy tale as sweet as Moon Pies.

—Loraine Despres, author of The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell and The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc

“Alternately comic and poignant, Amy Wallen’s debut is a classic road-trip romp with a heart of pure gold.”

—Marsha Moyer, author of The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch and The Last of the Honky-tonk Angels

MoonPies and Movie Stars is a funny, touching and richly human story.  I’d ride in the dusty backend of a pickup with the dogs just to spend more time with these characters.  Ten-gallon hats off to Amy Wallen.  Her writing makes you want to put on your cowboy boots, stuff jalapenos in your pockets and hunt down rattlesnakes.”

—Judy Reeves, author of The Writer’s Retreat Kit and A Writers’s Book of Days