Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

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I have been a huge fan of Heather Gudenkauf since her first book,  The Weight of Silence and had been looking forward to her next book so very much.  When her publicist reached out to me about reviewing her new book, Little Mercies,  I jumped at the chance…and also begged for an interview with Heather for our Sundays With Writers feature. If you can believe it, Heather agreed and I quickly devoured her book on our family trip to Columbus.

I was expecting another suspense-filled thriller that would leave me guessing whodunit- a quick escape from my daily life. From the opening pages though, I began to realize that this book was a swift departure from that , although it was equally thrilling and gripping.

I was unprepared.

Unprepared for the waves of emotion I was to experience and unprepared to go on this journey with this mother in this book.  Yet, I had to see it through, and I felt like I could breathe again once I closed the pages. I also hugged my kids tightly that weekend and was reminded how easily these gifts can be taken from us.  It’s that kind of book.

It’s the perfect type of book for a robust book club discussion and you can print out this handy book club kit for your club that offers some great thought-starters for your group’s discussion. You can also sink your teeth into the prequel to this book, Little Liesalthough Little Mercies can be read on its own too.

Little Mercies

Little Mercies builds on a well-developed premise- what if you were suddenly put in the shoes of someone that you once judged? The difference in this plot is that it is a social worker, who once was the judge of other parents, who makes an honest and life-altering mistake, and is now the one who must be judged as a parent.

Told in alternating points of view from an abandoned child who is quite familiar with the social worker setting and the viewpoint of a mother who is about to lose it all in the system that she has worked so hard to uphold.

It is heart-wrenching and very real, illustrating some of my worst nightmares as a parent, weaving the two stories of these people together beautifully.

Heather Gudenkauf

Photo Credit: Morgan Hawthorne

Little Mercies seems to be a bit of a departure from your past books that I felt were more in the thriller genre of reading. That is not to say that I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the entire book, but just that this seemed like a situation that I could find myself in as a mother. How did you decide upon this idea of placing a social worker in a setting where she, herself, might be accused of child endangerment?

I got the idea for Little Mercies after hearing about a social worker who found herself on the other side of the legal system due to an overextended caseload. From there I began to ask what if? What if the social worker was a mother? What if the social worker mistakenly places her own child in harm’s way? I think the fact that anyone of us could find ourselves in Ellen’s shoes is one of the aspects of Little Mercies that makes it so compelling. As an author I am intrigued by exploring these difficult circumstances and the raw emotions that accompany them.

I also made sure to carefully research the novel by visiting with experts in their various fields. I spent quite a bit of time with a very dedicated social worker who shared the challenging task of separating home and work lives. I talked to doctors and EMTs regarding the medical complications that arose from the severe heat stroke that Avery endured. I met with an attorney who was able to describe the possible legal implications for Ellen and even took a tour of a local police station and learned about the booking process. This helped inform the novel.

When Ellen’s mother tries to comfort her by illustrating an example of something she did wrong as a mom, she says “I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have our moments. We all have those times when we turn our backs, close our eyes, become unguarded. I don’t know why (my situation) ended up being okay and other children don’t….”

As a mom it made me reflect on a time when my son was small, had just learned to roll, and managed to roll right down the basement steps. He was fine, but I was completely a wreck, and I worried what the doctor thought of me when I took him in. Did you have any moments when you let down your guard like this as a mom, that you were able to reflect on while writing and shaping this story?

Most definitely! When my oldest child was a year old I buckled him into his high chair and gave him a handful of Cheerios to munch on. I thought I’d just dash out to grab the newspaper and ended up locking myself out the house. I could see my son chomping away happily on his breakfast through the large kitchen window but had visions of him choking on a Cheerio or slipping from the safety strap and falling to the ground. I stood there helplessly for a few minutes and then broke a window so I could let myself into the house. I felt like a horrible mother. I think as parents we all have had those close calls that make us question our own parenting abilities and agonize over what others will think of us. Fortunately, most often, when these accidents occur, all ends well.

There were many times that I had to step away from the book because the situation with Avery being left in the hot car is one of my worst nightmares as a mom. Did you struggle writing these scenes? Is there a detachment process when you write or do you dive in and experience it all?

These scenes were incredibly difficult for me to write. I’m first and foremost a mother and there is nothing worse than seeing your child in pain and suffering. As I wrote, I experienced every single excruciating moment right along with Ellen. I think that in order to write such dramatic events in an authentic, genuine manner, it was important to become fully immersed in what Ellen was going through. I often had to take breaks while writing these scenes. I would step away from the computer, go check on my own three teenagers, count my blessings and then return to work.

 Little Mercies refers to the “small kindnesses and good that comes from terrible.” Have there been any “little mercies” in your own life that have been good in spite of the terrible that they came from?

More than I can count. Just over five years ago my son was diagnosed with bone cancer. So many emotions flood over you when the doctor utters that small six-letter word. We were shocked, terrified, devastated. Never have I felt so helpless. But something amazing began to emerge from all the heartbreak—our family, friends, community and complete strangers inundated us with simple, loving gestures that carried us through a very difficult, dark time.

It was the phone calls, the emails and the handwritten notes of support that let us know we weren’t alone during a very lonely time. It was the homemade meals delivered to our home when we didn’t have the energy to cook for ourselves. It was those individuals who took my daughters under their wings and paid extra attention to them when so much focus was on their brother. It was the group of seventh-grade boys and their teachers who shaved their heads in solidarity with one young boy facing an uncertain future. All of this allowed us to witness firsthand the selflessness of others.

So often we look for the big miracles, and we don’t always realize that the small ones are just as life changing. I’m thankful that my son is healthy, happy, doing great and looking forward to everything that life has to offer him. We carry all the kindnesses people have shown with us and try to do the same for others.

Can you describe your writing process? Where do you write and how do you begin shaping your books?

I don’t have a specific place in my home where I write. I tend to take my laptop and move to a room in the house where I can be alone. Not that I need complete silence to work; I actually like background noise. I’ll listen to music, a podcast, or even a TV show as I write.

I think through a writing idea for a very long time before putting pen to paper. I always begin my writing projects by buying a brand new journal or notebook and writing the first fifty pages or so in longhand. By beginning my novels this way I find that I’m able to find the unique voices of each of my characters. I will jot down my characters’ physical descriptions, histories, likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. I live with the characters for so long that sometimes my hands hover over the keyboard and I have to decide which direction to take them—and it’s not necessarily the journey I envisioned for them. Though I must say, it’s always an adventure!

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

My favorite book of all time is My Antonia by Willa Cather. My parents always had hundreds of books on shelves and in neat stacks around the house and for a long time I passed right over the thick novel with the illustration of a woman standing in a field of tall yellow grass and holding freshly picked wildflowers. I finally pulled it from the shelf when I was eighteen and immediately fell in love with Cather’s beautiful description of turn-of-the-century Nebraska and the lifelong friendship between a farm boy and a young Czech immigrant. I reread My Antonia every single year, each time with new eyes, always finding something new within the pages. Whenever I visit a bookstore I’m always on the search for a different edition of My Antonia to add to my collection.

You can connect with Heather Gudenkauf  on Facebook or on her website or even on GoodReads!  I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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Sundays With Writers: A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I am always looking for a sweet escape in the summer and this month I read a beautiful book called,  “A Paris Apartment,” by Michelle Gable.  I call books that send me hours afterward looking up images and more information on the “true” stories,  my narnia-books.  This is one of those books because after I finished the last pages, I was dying to look up what was real and what had been fictionalized for this book.  I spent hours flipping through photos and reading the backstory on these characters which made my bookworm heart oh-so-happy.

When I finished it and shared the story with my husband, he remarked that we had heard this same story of this apartment in the car one day while listening to NPR.  Of course, I immediately ran to my computer to look up the images of the real Paris apartment and it brought even more depth and life to the story that I had read.
A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

A Paris Apartment is a  fun summer historical fiction escape to Paris alternating between present day and the past.  It centers around, April, a furniture specialist with Sothebys,  & diary entries from the late 1800′s & 1900′s of Marthe de Florian. It weaves a beautiful story around a Paris apartment that had been shuttered for 70 years and the what lies behind the treasures in her apartment, including the relationship between her & the famous painter Giovanni Boldini, told through these diary entries.

As April becomes more & more fascinated with this woman through her diary, she increasingly becomes unsure if she wants to return to her own life back in the states or to continue living her own life in Paris, caught in the beauty of Paris and the escape from her own difficult marriage.

I would say that it is just enough fluff to pack in your beach bag and enough meat to enjoy reading the backstory on Marthe after closing those final pages.  I believe it to be a solid debut novel and I could not wait to talk with Michelle about this book and share it with you all!

I sent off a message to Michelle to see if she might like to join me for Sundays With Writers. She sweetly said that she knew my website and been on it before. I messaged her back and told her that if she was trying to sweet talk me, she succeeded and I was now her number one fan. She honestly replied that she had read my interview with Maggie Shipstead and would be honored to be featured on MomAdvice too.

And then I died and and fainted from the happiness..

I knew though that I must come back to life to share this interview.

I mean, really?!

How can we not love Michelle and race out to get her book right now?

Let’s chat with Michelle about her exciting first novel!

Michelle Gable

Wow, after reading your book I truly felt like I got to visit Paris, which has been a dream of mine! Since this is the setting for your book, did you spend a lot of time there before or while you wrote this novel?

I’m so glad the book felt like an escape! That’s fantastic to hear…thank you!

I’ve been to Paris several times and am headed there this summer, but I did not go specifically to research this book. However, I was in Paris when my agent called to say my editor was interested in acquiring it!

The most impressive part of this book is, what I imagine, the extensive research that went into both April’s profession (as a furniture expert) as well as the intricately woven story of Marthe de Florian & Giovanni Boldini that you have created for your reader. How did you gather this information and how much time does this take as a writer working in the historical fiction genre?

I spent a good four to six months researching, almost as much time as the actual writing of the novel. The shuttered-for-seventy-years apartment in the book really existed, however not much is known about the home or its former residents. So researching the apartment itself was not very time-consuming but I spent months researching the time period, the people who might’ve known the courtesan who once lived there, and the events and issues they would’ve been concerned with.

As you point out, April’s profession also required a ton of research. “Sotheby’s Continental Furniture Expert” is just about as far away from my daily life as you can get! I spent a lot of time looking through Sotheby’s catalogues (an area I became totally lost in) and interviewing people who worked there. It was very gratifying to read a review from an industry insider who said the book “felt like a memoir.”

For the historical sections, I used pretty much everything! The internet, interviews, old newspaper articles, books, including several that were over fifty years out of print. I had great fun reading the gossip columns of the day—most of the performers and incidents in the historical parts of the book really existed. Yes, there was a famous farter!

I’ve always loved research and often have force myself to get started on the book already. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of information because you can always uncover one more fact, learn the history of one more person. Probably only about five percent of what I learn makes it into a book, but I have fun with one hundred percent of it. And often little tidbits I pick up are stored in my “future novel” file.

Marthe is a character that I think people would either love or hate, especially as you learn more and more about her through the book. Could you relate to Marthe in any way especially as she struggles to climb up the social ladder?

Funnily enough, people have responded well to Marthe. It’s Sotheby’s expert April who seems to draw the strongest love/hate reactions! She is a controversial character by design.
As for Marthe, she certainly makes questionable decisions and though I can’t relate to most of her struggles I did find her sections the easiest to write…by far! Her pages almost came out of me fully-formed so I joke that perhaps I was a courtesan in a past life.

I do think her feelings of wanting love and belonging are universal. And as someone approaching 40, I can understand her fear of getting older, even if I don’t need to trade on my looks for my job!

Preserved Paris Apartment

Preserved Paris Apartment

Preserved Paris Apartment

Source: Getty Images

When leafing through the actual photos of the apartment, was there anything that you wish that you could take home with you, like the fictional April (who was gifted the Mickey Mouse) did? I know for me, I would want that stuffed ostrich for a statement piece in our home!

I love this question and have to agree…the ostrich for sure! I adore the Mickey Mouse doll too because he makes for such an interesting juxtaposition against the rest of it. This was the home of someone with considerable wealth. It was filled with antiques that, although quite valuable, are not recognizable to most people. But the Mickey Mouse is identifiable to all, no matter your background.

One of my biggest struggles as a blogger is coming up with an idea before all my friends begin pinning it from someone else on Pinterest. I understand that you had actually come up with the concept of this book before the photos of the real Paris apartment went viral. Were you worried that this might affect sales (positively or negatively) since people were starting to discover the story on their own?

It was so crazy how that happened! My sister emailed me on New Year’s Day with a link to some of the photos. She said “this reminds me of the apartment from your book.” And of course it was the apartment from my book!

By then A Paris Apartment was mostly done, the cover finalized, and the Advanced Reader Copies had already gone to print. I have no idea why it suddenly went viral this year in a way it did not in 2010, which is when I first read about it. Maybe because social media is so much bigger now? Amy Poehler was tweeting about it!

It felt very fortuitous. The only thing that would’ve been better was if it happened closer to my publication date! The news definitely increased attention for my book. I went from getting ones of hits on my website per day to thousands. It also resulted in a flurry of blog posts and stories and self-published books, all a positive for A Paris Apartment. People seem fascinated by the topic, just as I was, and generally when you’re really into something you’re going to read more than one piece on the subject.

So, if anything, the widespread interest helps. In my opinion, a debut author’s biggest threat is obscurity, not other people writing about the same topic!

As a first time novelist, what has surprised you most about the process of publishing your first book? Any words of advice for someone who is on this path towards publishing?

The time requirement for the marketing has been the most unexpected. Blog tours, physical tours…it all chews up so much more time than I ever contemplated. The touring (online and physical) is my favorite because I love connecting real-time with readers, but—wow—I really underestimated that piece of it. It’s been two months since my book came out and I only recently started writing again.

In terms of advice, it’s all about persistence, patience, and faith. You have to be willing to finish this novel, then write the next one, and then the one after that. I swore to myself I’d keep writing and writing until one finally took. The waiting and rejection can be brutal, but it is worth it.

Since your first novel is a historical fiction novel, do you plan to stay within this genre for your next book?

The novel I’m working on is similar in that it has a modern storyline as well as several historical ones. The current book was actually inspired by research I did on the Boldini paintings while writing A Paris Apartment. I’m very excited about it.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

I recommend Father of the Rain by Lily King to everyone. It is the perfect book. She has a historical novel that came out recently called Euophoria and I can’t wait to read it. That’s another thing that’s fallen to the wayside lately… I’ve gone from reading 2-3 books per week to reading one if I’m lucky!

You can connect with Michelle Gable  on Facebook or on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Some interviews are extra, extra special. This is one of them. Everything I have ever read by Chris Bohjalian  has moved me and I was thrilled when I got an advance reader of his new book, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, from NetGalley. When I closed the final pages, I sent Chris a message and asked if he might consider doing an interview here. His email back was one of the most sincere, genuine, and kindest responses to an interview request ever.  Not only is he genuinely in love with his characters and getting to share his stories, but it is quite evident that he is just as passionate about the people who read his words.  Getting to share about this book, in his release week,  is an honor and I feel privileged to say that I got to have this conversation with him.  I count myself lucky to get to share this interview with you and I hope that you will race right out and buy this book.

 

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

 

I truly cannot imagine the amount of research and time it would take to take on a book like this.  In Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian proves himself as a seasoned writer, taking on the story of a troubled teenage girl whose town experiences a nuclear meltdown. What makes it doubly heartwrenching is due to her father’s alcoholic past, he is the chief administrator of the plant and her mother, Mira, also works there as a communications specialist.  He is the one that the town blames for the disaster and the death of 19 people. Now orphaned and unwanted, Emily feels like she is not safe in her town and this leads her down a path of destruction that will pull at your heartstrings as a parent and put her in many situations that are brutal in nature.

Not only does Bohjalian capture the voice of this teenage girl so perfectly, but the depth of research on the repercussions of this disaster on a town, and an unlikely blending of Emily Dickinson poems woven throughout (the fictional Emily’s favorite poet) tie this novel up beautifully. Although heartbreakingly tragic, it is one that I could not put down in the final pages.

My only regret was that the epilogue was not expanded more and we could see more of what happened after Emily received treatment.

This book does contain language, violence, & sexual situations.

Grab your morning coffee and let’s chat with Chris about this amazing book!

Chris Bohjalian

With seventeen bodies of work under your belt, I would think that it would be hard to come up with a fresh new plot, yet you did that with Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, and it is phenomenal. How did you come up with the idea to tackle a story based around a nuclear meltdown? Is this something that has always fascinated you?

First of all, thank you so much. I appreciate that immensely.

The truth is, some of my novels demand considerably more research than others. For “Midwives,” for example, I must have interviewed easily sixty or sixty-fives midwives, ob-gyns, lawyers, EMTs, and moms and dads who had their babies at home.

But Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands? Not nearly as much. Emily Shepard’s voice came to me a few days after Christmas 2012, and it came to me fully formed.

Part of the reason why I found the voice so easily, I think, is that I’ve written about teens in trouble often over the years as a newspaper columnist. I’m a big fan of an organization in Burlington, Vermont called Spectrum Youth & Family Services, and the terrific work they do. I’ve met a lot of their kids. I’ve heard the stories and seen their faces. I’ve met the young adults who are going to be just fine, and the ones who – due to mental illness or substance abuse or bad choices or a cataclysmic home life – are heading for disaster.

I also know some of the Spectrum staff. I went to college with Annie Ramniceanu, for instance, who served for years as their associate executive director. She’s also an immensely gifted therapist and counselor. One day when I was having lunch with her, she started telling me how some of the kids – the teens who are falling through the system – would build igloos against the Vermont cold out of trash bags filled with wet leaves, and I knew instantly the novel I wanted to write.

As my 20-year-old daughter, Grace Experience, would tell me when she finished reading the first draft of this novel, “Dad, please take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way: Your sweet spot as a novelist is seriously messed up young women.” I know she’s right.

Emily Dickinson and her poems play a big part in the fictional Emily’s life and Emily really wants her life & words to be like Emily Dickinson. Was Emily a favorite poet of yours or did you develop this entirely around this story?

I’ve always loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry and the mysteries that surround her life. Moreover, as a novelist I’ve often wondered about the choices she made about whether (or not) to publish her extraordinary body of work. And, yes, I went to Amherst College, where her spirit hovers over the community. Sometimes it seems to me as if half the buildings I lived in on campus were named after someone she knew.

Emily is perfectly voiced as a teenager. Some of the lingo, I am embarrassed to say, I almost had to look up. How do you, as a male author, get a perfectly pitched teenage female voice for our narrator?

I think in some ways the voice came together because of all of those teens I interviewed over the years. I still have the columns and I can still recall vividly some of their stories – and so much of their separate ordeals.

I also need to give a big shout-out to my daughter, Grace. Often when I was writing, I would be at a loss to find the right synonym for a word or to capture the precise expression that a really smart teen girl would use, and so I would text her. I would ask, “What’s a hip synonym for ‘tattoo?’” Or “I need another expression for ‘hook-up.’ Any ideas?” And she would text me back something that would work. Trust me, you would not have found the word “bitchcakes” in the novel without her. She was wonderful.

Finally, whenever I write across gender – which I do all the time – I focus first on the things that link us as people. Then, after that, I can begin to examine the particularities of gender.

There were many, many difficult moments that I had reading about Emily’s life when she is homeless, particularly, when she takes Cameron under her wing. Were there any scenes in particular that were difficult for you to write or anything you had to step away from?

Yes. As a dad of a daughter, I found it difficult to write about Emily Shepard’s cutting and the way she is sexually exploited by Poacher.

But I loved writing about her relationship with Cameron, and the way she looks out for him. She might make a lot of bad parenting decisions, but when it comes to that boy – to paraphrase Emily Dickinson – her life really does stand a loaded gun.

Did writing this novel make you think about nuclear disasters differently? Do you have more or less fear about these situations becoming a reality?

I learned a bit about how nuclear plants work – thanks to Arnie and Maggie Gundersen at Fairewinds Energy Education. But I must confess, I still find nuclear power absolutely baffling.

But the Fairewinds website is incredibly interesting.

And, yes, nuclear power does make me nervous. The exclusion zone in my novel in Vermont is small compared to the actual exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Room,” by Emma Donoghue. What makes this novel so remarkable is not merely how authentically Donoghue captures the voice of a five-year-old boy, but the deft way she slowly conveys the horrific reality of a mother and son’s captivity.

If you want a poignant, powerful novel about a mother’s desperate love for her child, it doesn’t get better than this.

You can connect with Chris Bohjalian  on Facebook or on his website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Sundays With Writers: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I am so excited to be featuring a new-to-me author that I discovered this month.  I read her beautiful book, Whistling Past the Graveyard,  in just a couple of short days and absolutely fell in love with it. It was the kind of book that I thought about for many days after.  I would say that if you are a fan of, “The Help,” or young narrator’s with lots of spunk, you will want to get this book right away for your summer reading. If you don’t fall in love with these characters, I fear for you. It’s that endearing. As soon as I closed the pages, I did what any smart blogger would do. I emailed Susan and begged her to join me for Sundays With Writers so I could share it with you.

 

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla’s destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will change her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.

This book is so  beautiful your heart aches. A coming-of-age story about what it means to be family and how the most unlikely people can be a part of that despite all racial and societal barriers. Set in the ’60′s, the spitfire child narrator captured my heart. This story is a perfectly satisfying summer read that I highly recommend you add to your beach bag this summer.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Susan Crandall about this amazing tale of Starla Claudelle in her book, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Susan Crandall

Writing in the voice of a child is one of those elements of writing that I am always fascinated with. Two books that we have talked about before, Room & The Bear, both used a child narrator and people either loved it or they hated it.

I can’t say I have ever heard a child’s voice captured more perfectly than in this book though. One scene that made me laugh is when Starla has the sex talk with her Dad and she is absolutely traumatized by it.

Do you hang out with a lot of nine-year-old kids or were you thinking about your nine-year-old self when you wrote this?

Thank you for the lovely compliment. Youthful characters are always fun to write, but with Starla as a main narrator, it afforded me many, many hours of reminiscing and amusement. I can’t say I’ve been around more nine-year-olds than most people. I’m the mother of two grown kids. I tapped into many things to give Starla her voice, and one of them was definitely my nine-year-old-self. It was a great trip down memory lane (although let me be clear, I was a rule following child, rarely impulsive, never sassy; for that I tapped into my younger sister).

Also, I have to admit, this character had a very distinct voice from the instant she walked into my mind. Sometimes I felt like I was taking dictation.

In one scene, Starla explains what Whistling Past the Graveyard means. She says, “My daddy says that when you do somethin’ to distract you from your worstest fear, it’s like whistlin’ past the graveyard. You know, making a racket to keep the scaredness and the ghosts away. He says that’s how we get by sometimes. But it’s not weak like hidin’…it’s strong. It means you’re able to go on.”

Have you ever done any whistling past the graveyard in your life?

Who hasn’t? That’s what makes the saying so applicable to many of the characters in this book. As for my version of whistling, I tend to bury myself in projects of various natures, the more brainless and physical the better, yard work, closet cleaning, house painting and the like. (From the looks of my house, I’m going to say that it’s been a while since I’ve needed that kind of distraction.) I can’t say I’ve ever honed in on a singular thing like Eula’s baking.

Plus I think there’s a lot of “whistling” we do as a society as a whole, so we don’t have to face our collective shortcomings.

Reading the scenes of abuse and seeing how broken Eula was were both tough for me. Did you have difficulty writing these scenes, particularly the scenes when Stella is captured?

I definitely had trouble making myself write those parts. But they were necessary to tell the full story, for Starla’s journey of discovery to be complete. When I write a scene, I mentally go to that place and endure it second by second along with my characters. Of course, no scene is completely fleshed out in one pass, so I had to fortify myself to go back there day after day.

One of the most difficult for me to write was when Starla meets her momma. As a mother it went against every instinct I had…that’s how I knew it was right.

Racial tension abounds in this book and there were a few scenes where I had a lump in my throat or had to speed read through to be assured that Eula & Starla would be safe. Did you do a lot of research about the ’60′s and what was happening during this time? What type of preparation did you do to really help us understand how hard it would be for a woman like Eula in the ’60′s?

I did extensive research. I do remember the mid-sixties, but grew up in Indiana, so my experience was much different than if I’d grown up in the South. That’s not to say there weren’t incidences of racism in Indiana that helped me sharpen my view. Fortunately there are plenty of resources from old news footage, documentaries, and I read several first-hand accounts written by African-Americans who lived through segregation in the fifties and sixties.

I think the way to really connect with any era, situation, or setting is through the common thread of our humanity. What would I have felt like in those situations. Of course, Eula’s inner trials were often beyond my imagining. One of the reason’s the entire book is from Starla’s point of view is because I can only say what Eula’s life would have looked like from the outside. I can’t imagine the fear and hardship in enough depth to write it from her perspective.

What do you have in store for us with your next book?

I’m working on a story set in 1923. Three people from very different backgrounds–a teenage orphan of German immigrant farmers, a debutant whose family has lost its fortune and a WW1 veteran pilot–are displaced from their lives and join together to travel the county in a barnstorming act. For those of you unfamiliar, in the early days of aviation after the first world war, many of the pilots took advantage of war surplus trainer planes and made a scrappy living by flying from small town to small town selling rides. They used farm pastures for landing strips, thus the name barnstormer. Flying circuses were formed when several pilots banded together to do daredevil exhibitions. They were quite the rage throughout the early and mid-twenties.

All three of my characters are running from something, each carefully guarding their secrets. They’re bound together by mutual need and yet have conflicting goals. It’s a great ride as we travel throughout the country with them, crossing paths with bootleggers, tycoons, farmers and tent revivalists. But their secrets are always right behind them. When they catch up … well, things get dicey.
It’s tentatively scheduled for release in July 2015

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

When I’m asked this question, I always reach way back, looking for a book that has stuck with me so vividly that I can remember the details of the characters very clearly even after a long time. I try to pick something that isn’t a classic, those already stand out and find audiences. I’m a character writer. Suspenseful plots are enjoyable, but it’s the beauty of the character and his/her journey that touches me. So after all that rambling, I always come back to two books, very different genres: Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry and The Stand, by Stephen King. I’m also a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s, Outlander (the first book in the series is my favorite).

You can connect with Susan Crandall on Facebook or on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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Sundays With Writers: The Orphans Of Race Point by Patry Francis

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I am so excited to be interviewing our next MomAdvice Book Club author today. In case you missed my unofficial announcement on Facebook, I decided to add one more summer selection since I am assuming we will have more time to read in the summer.  The first reason is because I read this book, shut it, and immediately wanted to share it with you. The second reason is because Patry Francis is such an intriguing and inspiring woman that I know you will be just as swept away in her words and life as I was.

The Orphans Of Race Point by Patry Francis

For our July selection for the MomAdvice Book Club, we will be discussing The Orphans Of Race Point.  This book is absolutely stunning from start to finish. It was filled with words that begged to be read again because they felt like poetry to me.  It is a  beautifully woven story with big moral messages about love, forgiveness, and redemption. The plot twists? I never saw them coming, which happens rarely when you are an avid reader like I am. I will say now that you will see this book on my top ten books I read this year list and I have no doubt it will be in your top ten too! 

Set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Orphans of Race Point traces the relationship between Hallie Costa and Gus Silva, who meet as children in the wake of a terrible crime that leaves Gus parentless. Their friendship evolves into an enduring and passionate love that will ask more of them than they ever imagined.

On the night of their high school prom, a terrible tragedy devastates their relationship and profoundly alters the course of their lives. And when, a decade later, Gus—now a priest—becomes entangled with a distraught woman named Ava and her daughter Mila, troubled souls who bring back vivid memories of his own damaged past, the unthinkable happens: he is charged with murder. Can Hallie save the man she’s never stopped loving, by not only freeing him from prison but also—finally—the curse of his past?

Told in alternating voices, The Orphans of Race Point illuminates the transformative power of love and the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives.

When I finished the final pages on this book, I contacted Patry to ask if she would participate in a discussion of her book with you and if I could interview her about her life. After doing some research on her, I knew that this is the kind of writer whose backstory was just as fascinating as her book. Patry graciously agreed to talk to me and you this summer! 

Our book club discussion will be held on July 29th so be sure to order a copy of the book or put one on hold at your library. If you are anything like me, you will want this one for your bookshelf because it is a book worth rereading! Let’s dive in and learn more about the author behind this beautiful book! 

Patry Francis

Many moms put on hold their own ambitions to support and raise their families. You are a mom of four that supported them through a waitressing job and used pockets of time to write. What would you tell another mom who has put her dreams on hold to support her family?

My oldest son was born when I was just nineteen so children and the necessity of physically caring for them, learning what they needed most to develop their gifts, helping to support them financially–and just enjoying them– has always been woven into my story. However, writing was also a dream I’d nurtured since childhood, and I always believed that my commitment had to be as big as my dream. Though my priority was my family for many years, there was rarely a day when I didn’t find a stray hour, or even fifteen minutes, to devote to my goal. Since writing usually requires a a long apprenticeship, it’s not something that can be put off till “someday”–at least, not entirely. I was fortunate to have a husband who believed in me and demanded that the family take “Mom’s work” seriously.

Your words in your book, The Orphans of Race Point, read like poetry to me and you have such a beautiful way of weaving words that I found myself repeating the phrases out loud. Do these moments just flow out of you or is this something a writer has to develop and practice to achieve?

First of all, thank you for saying that! I wrote poetry in my early years, partly because I loved reading it, but also because it was easier to complete a draft in an hour, which gave me a sense of accomplishment. With fiction, I began like most writers do, by imitating writers I admired. At the time, I was reading a lot of novels about sophisticated singles living in urban settings. I emulated their style and even their subject matter, even though my own life and preoccupations couldn’t have been more different. It took practice before I trusted myself enough to write about characters who were more like people I knew, and issues that were really important to me. When my own voice finally emerged, it was like finding my wings.

I want to save our discussion of The Orphans of Race Point for this summer’s book club, but I loved the character of Gus, in all of his beauty and brokenness.  How much of your husband’s work as a minister helped to shape the role of Gus in your book? Did he also help you with what he thought Gus might think, feel, or do in those pivotal moments?

I love this question because it allowed me to ponder something I hadn’t previously considered. (My husband,Ted, appreciated it, too! ) Gus, who is the heart of the novel for me, came in the mysterious, almost inexplicable way that the characters who haunt me most appear. The only way I could get to know him was by listening to his voice as I wrote. So in that sense, the answer is no. Neither my husband, nor anyone else could really help me.

However, the subconscious is another matter! In the childhood section of the novel, there is a scene in which Gus deliberately picks the weakest player for his baseball team because he feels the other boy’s shame at always being chosen last. When my husband, who was also very athletic as a kid, came upon that passage, he asked if I knew he had done that, too. I didn’t, but I can’t say it surprised me!

Ted has also done a lot of work in hospitals, and undoubtedly many of his stories about the patients he met, his openness to hearing their stories and offering them comfort helped me to understand Gus’s gift for working with the sick and the reason he found so much satisfaction in it.

I have witnessed the power of community & friendship through online writing and I know you have too. During the publishing of your very first book, you were diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, which should have been a true time of celebration for you and that moment. Your community of writers/bloggers came together (300 of them!) to encourage you and the sale of your book since you were having surgery and recovering during its release. Did that help you gain strength during that time? How are you feeling now?

When I first received my diagnosis, I planned to keep it private. But the connection I felt with my online community was so real and vital that eventually I decided to share my experience and how I was dealing with it on my blog in a post I called “Two Ounces of Bliss”. I knew my online community would be supportive–they always were–but I never could have predicted the incredible outpouring of kindness and generosity I received.  Organized by my friends, Susan Henderson, Amy MacKinnon, Jessica Keener, and Tish Cohen, it swelled to include novelists like Khaled Hosseini and Neil Gaiman, who had never met me, but who took to the internet to promote a fellow writer who couldn’t do it for herself. Though I was pretty sick at the time, it was one of the most extraordinary days of my life, and it still lifts me up whenever I think about it.

I spent the next two years in and out of  hospitals, but I’m currently in good health. If anything positive came from the experience (aside from witnessing the goodness of my communities, both real and virtual) it was that that I no longer take anything for granted.  Whether it’s sharing a cup of tea with a friend, enjoying a family milestone, or bringing the novel I began twelve years ago to readers, I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am to be here.

What is a book other than your own which you would recommend?

It’s hard to choose only one, but Amy Greene’s, LONG MAN has everything I look for in a novel: a compelling protagonist named Annie Clyde who faces impossible odds with great courage and resilience, an engrossing plot, and a setting so vivid, you really feel as if you are there.

 I look forward to discussing The Orphans of Race Point with you in July! A huge thank you to our featured writer, Patry Francis, for sharing her heart this Sunday with us!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Sunday means it is time to soak in the words of another amazing writer and I am particularly enthusiastic about our writer today, Torre DeRoche because Love With a Chance of Drowning has been chosen as our Summer Book Club selection!  Although I am interviewing her today, we will still be doing an additional interview with her where you can ask your own questions and we will dive deeper (pun intended!) into this month’s book. Torre has graciously offered to speak to me twice, once to get you excited about her and this book, and the second time to really discuss what this experience was all about and any questions YOU have.

Here is what you need to know about our discussion and this book.

1. I am moving our MomAdvice Book Club discussion up to June so that we can hopefully squeeze in two books this summer.  Plan on this discussion happening on June 24th!  If you want to submit a question for Torre to me directly, you can email me at amy(at)momadvice(dot)com and I will add it to our list. You can also join our Facebook group and either message me through there or you can wait for the request to go up the week before to list any of your questions. I also recommend subscribing to our newsletter (see that box on the right with my mug shot!?!)

2. You will love this book and you will love the author even more after you read this discussion.

Love With a Chance of Drowning

Here is a book synopsis for what book we will be discussing!  I will reserve my own thoughts for you until our discussion next month! 

Love can make a person do crazy things…

Torre DeRoche is a city girl with a morbid fear of deep water. She is not someone you would ordinarily find adrift in the middle of the stormy Pacific Ocean aboard a leaky sailboat – total crew of two – struggling to keep an old boat, a new relationship and her floundering sanity afloat.

But when she meets Ivan, a handsome Argentinean with a humble sailboat and a dream to set off exploring the world, Torre has a hard decision to face: watch the man she loves sail away forever, or head off on the epic watery journey with him. Suddenly the choice seems simple. She gives up her sophisticated city life, faces her fear of water (and tendency towards seasickness) and joins Ivan on a year-long voyage across the Pacific.

Set against the backdrop of the world’s most beautiful and remote destinations, Love with a Chance of Drowning is a sometimes hilarious, often moving and always breathtakingly brave memoir that proves there are some risks in life worth taking.

An engaging storyteller, Torre is also author of The Fearful Adventurer, a blogsite where she posts honest accounts of her deep fears and daring adventures hoping to inspire others to follow their dreams. Film rights for Love with a Chance of Drowning have been optioned and the script adaptation is currently underway.

Torre DeRoche

Torre is daughter to American parents who moved to Australia before she was born. At age 24, Torre decided to make the most of her dual nationality and leave her safe life in Australia for a year of independent fun in San Francisco. A former Graphic Designer, Torre ran her own business in Melbourne before giving it all up to become a Fearful Adventurer.

When she’s not at home in Melbourne, Australia, DeRoche is at large in the world, exploring, writing, painting pictures, and snapping photos, as she faces her fears one terrified step at a time. Stories of her adventures can be found at the The Fearful Adventurer. You can also follow her on Facebook and her travels on Instagram!

Go ahead and grab your coffee and dive into one of the most interesting interviews I have done on here!

As a blog writer to book writer, I went about things in a roundabout kind of way for securing my book deal. You were a graphic designer, turned self-published author, turned published author through a publishing house, and have also been blogging your journey.  What did you feel that a publishing house offered you beyond what you were able to accomplish through self-publishing?

My publisher gave me an incredible marketing push, placing enormous backlit billboards of my cover in airports around Australia and giving the book prime positioning in various stores. Love with a Chance of Drowning was reviewed in a lot of major publications, and my publicist landed spots for me on primetime radio and television. You’d need to invest some serious cash if you wanted this level of publicity for a self-published book.

As you mentioned, I have a background in design and my sister is a talented editor too, so I have all the tools I need to self-publish. But when you self-publish, you need to wear 1,000 hats and it’s difficult not to burn out. A good publisher will streamline everything for the author so that she’s left with only one job: to write.

With your graphic design background, did you get a say in the final look of the cover of your book?

I have two covers: one that was designed by Penguin Australia and one designed by Hyperion in the US. The designers at Penguin were inspired by an illustration of a map that I created for the middle of the book. They did the cover artwork, but it matched beautifully with my own illustration. Hyperion came up with a different concept and I wasn’t in love with the typography, so I reworked that myself.

This past week we got to talk to John Green about the film adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars which was really interesting to hear the process from book to film. I understand that Love With a Chance of Drowning may be coming to the big screen!  Where are you at in the making of this and do you think you will find this process hard because it is, in fact, your own life story?

I’m so jealous that you got to speak with John Green! I’m a huge fan of his. Love with a Chance of Drowning is currently in script development, and yes, it’s certainly frightening to sign the characterized version of yourself over to filmmakers. It requires a leap of faith to let go and trust that they’ll be respectful of your name, your art, and all the people involved. Admittedly, when I was signing the contract for the option, I paused to question if I really wanted to give someone else the right to butcher my name and art if they so pleased. In the end I thought: You only live once, so why be precious about it.

Let’s just say that you could pick anyone, ANYONE to play you and Ivan. What is your dream casting of this film?

I think Gabriel Garcia Bernal would play Ivan perfectly because they’re both soulful Latin types. Bernal would be great in a role as a man who is fed up with society and longs to escape to wild places. I’d pick Mia Wasikowska for me because she’s an insanely talented Australian actress.

Writing a memoir really puts your life out there for scrutiny and, I would think, a very vulnerable place to be writing from.  Was anyone unhappy with how they were portrayed in the book and did you have any moments that you wished you could include, but guarded because you were protecting people in your life or were worried how they would be perceived?

Strangely, one-dimensional, perfect characters end up being more unlikable on the page than those who have flaws, because readers like real people with dilemmas they can relate to. Flaws endear a character to the reader because they offer a precious gift of insight and therefore an opportunity for learning and growth. That’s powerful.

It’s important to tell warts and all stories for this reason, and it does indeed put me in a tricky position as the writer. I run the risk of damaging a relationship every time I write about someone I know, even when it’s buried in fiction. Writing is an incredibly risky pursuit for this reason and many others, and there is no way around that.

So I write the truth and then, with sweaty hands, I seek approval from the person involved before I publish. If someone hates how I’ve portrayed them on the page, I respect that and find way to work around it. Most often, people have no issues or they want small tweaks. Like, my Grandma asked me to remove the word “affair.” I think I used “fling” instead and she was fine with that. (She told me I could say anything at all after she died, and since she has now passed away I can say: Grandma had an affair.)

One thing you have to overcome in your journey is your fear of deep water. This is truly a fear of my own and I really can’t picture having the bravery to even get on that boat to start this journey.  It seems like you overcame many, many fears though in your book. Now that you have overcome one of your biggest fears, what fears could possibly be left?

I’m still kind of scared of the dark.

I was heartbroken to read that your father recently passed away, as we can read in your book that he is such a special part of your life and offered so much encouragement to you in this journey. The fact that he flew from Australia to spend a week on a sailboat with you speaks volumes. What is one thing you wish you could share with the world about your Dad?

Thank you, I appreciate that. My dad made a career out of scriptwriting, supporting six daughters and my mother with his craft. He was the most successful scriptwriter in Australia and he was always my creative hero. When he came to visit us on the boat in Tonga, he brought along a DVD that he couldn’t wait to show us. It featured unedited footage for a documentary called Not Quite Hollywood, about Australian genre film, including my dad’s. On the DVD, there’s an interview with Quentin Tarantino during which he confesses:  “Almost everything that Everett DeRoche wrote is one of my favorite films.” That’s my dad. I’m so proud of him. I’m sad to have lost him, but he certainly lived a rich life.

Since you have traveled the world, what is one place you wish everyone could travel to in the world and what is one place that was surprisingly amazing just in the little ol’ United States?

As for my favorite place in the United States, I was really taken by Nashville. I had gone in expecting fanny packs, ill-fitting jeans and huge country hairdos, but it was so young and hip and inspiring. My parents immigrated to Australia from the US before I was born, and brought with them several cultural quirks, like country music. I grew up with bluegrass and country, which made me an anomaly in Australia. So I felt kind of at home in Nashville.

And where do I wish everyone would travel to? To the protected world heritage sites so that there can be a broad understanding of what we need to fight for. I recently went to Tasmania and stood in ancient forests that were breathtaking and humbling and throbbing with life. These areas are constantly under threat because the wood there is so valuable. But we let these places get defiled forever because a tiny newspaper headline at the bottom of page 12 that reads Tasmania’s Forests to Undergo Logging means nothing to us.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

I don’t think I can prescribe a cure-all because books are so personal to each individual, but I’ll share with you the most important book I ever read—a book that burst open my imagination and taught me that it’s possible to create an incredible alternate reality on the page.

When I was thirteen, my older sister told me I had to read this book, giving me only the title and a pinch of her fingers to demonstrate its approximate spine width. I went to my school library to look for the book and, having no idea where to start my search, I said to a friend, “I’m looking for a book that’s about this thick.” I extended my finger to poke the spine of a random book. It was Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel: the very book my sister told me I must read. It was a bizarre, serendipitous first encounter. That book rocked my world.

And here’s where it gets really weird: Jean M. Auel’s manuscript was discovered by a New York Literary agent named Jean V. Naggar, and was published in 1980 (the year I was born). Why is this amazing? Because my agent is Elizabeth Evans from the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

I told you, one of the most fascinating authors we have featured here! Let’s give Torre a warm welcome and I hope you will be reading along with us this month and picking up a copy of Love With a Chance of Drowning! I look forward to another discussion with you all!

*This post contains affiliate links! Love our Sundays With Writers series? Check out all of our past interviews 
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Sundays With Writers: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (The Movie)

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I have a confession to make about today’s interview. I was all set to be on the call with John Green and was beside myself with excitement.  I couldn’t even sleep, that was how excited I was. I also bragged A LOT to my book club which I should be ashamed about.  When the interview time got rescheduled,  I had to make the hardest decision of my life…

Well, perhaps not the hardest decision, but it felt like it at the time because I am a drama queen.

I could attend the retirement celebration dinner for our Pastor OR talk to John Green about The Fault In Our Stars movie.

If you knew my Pastor, you would understand why I begged for a transcript of the call, and soaked in my Pastor’s big day! I am so sad I missed hearing John’s voice and passion for this film, but it does not put a damper on the fact that I get to share this interview with you today and read John’s words.

If you haven’t read, “The Fault In Our Stars,” I hope you will pick it up before the movie comes out.  In full disclosure, this is a movie that you will need a big box of tissues with and a story that has stuck with me since I read it.

This is the story of an unlikely group of friends that meet through their Cancer Kid Support Group. Hazel has experienced a medical miracle and her tumor has been shrinking, buying her a few more years, but she finds that she is depressed despite the good news. Her doctors encourage her to participate in a support group which permanently alters Hazel’s path. When she meets Augustus, they quickly form a deep bond that neither could have ever anticipated.

This is the first time we have featured an author whose book is being transformed into a movie, but I definitely hope it isn’t the last time.  It’s amazing to hear the process of book adaptation into film, the casting, and what it would be like as a writer to watch your book evolve into this format.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with John Green (only one of Time’s 100 MOST Influential People this year- no biggie!) about the movie, “The Fault In Our Stars,” that hits theaters nationwide on June 6th!

John Green

I know you were nervous to give over the rights to the film because the book was just so personal to you. What was your biggest fear in doing so?

Well, I think it’s really hard to make a movie that’s serious or about serious topics without sentimentalizing it. And so, I guess my fear was that it would become a sentimental story, which is what I most didn’t want. I was trying really hard to write as unsentimental and straightforward a story as I could.

I was also worried that the characters would be defined by their disability, instead of having disability be part of their lives but not the defining feature of their lives.

But, the people who ended up getting the rights at Fox 2000 and the producers, Wyck Godfrey and Isaac Klausner, they just promised me that they wouldn’t do that. That was the first thing they said to me when we met, and I believed them. I took it seriously, and they kept every promise. They really did.

The Fault In Our Stars Movie

What ultimately changed your mind about selling the rights to the film?

Well, I didn’t have a lot of fun in some of my previous movie experiences. And there is something really magical about a book that doesn’t become a movie.

There’s something magical about the fact the Holden Caulfield is always going to belong to us, that we’re never going to–you know, for the rest of my life, when I close my eyes and think about Harry Potter, I’m going to see Daniel Radcliffe just because the power of the image is such that it overwhelms text, you know?

And I thought that would be great. I thought that would be okay. I thought I was okay with that.

I passed on some initial kind of interest in the idea of making it into a movie just because just I didn’t want to go through it. This is such a personal story for me. It felt very close to me and it just felt hard to let it go. And I didn’t know really what would be gained by letting it go.

But, these producers, Wyck Godfrey and Isaac Klausner, came to this event that I was doing with my brother in Los Angeles. And, they talked to me backstage before our event for about 10 minutes, and everything that they said was everything that I wanted to hear. They were absolutely 100 percent committed to making a movie that would honor the story and that fans of the story would care about and respond to.

And I believed them. They just made me believe them. I don’t really know why I believed them, because lots of people say lots of things in Hollywood, like I said earlier, but I really believed them. And they did–the whole time, every decision that they made, every hire that they made, they hired people who cared about the book, that cared about the story, who wanted to make sure that it was preserved, not just the story but the tone, the themes, the ideas in the novel, everything.

And I think they did a really good job, and I think that’s why, for me, at least, it’s such a special movie, because it’s so hard to do that well. It’s so hard to take a tone that’s in a novel and put it into a movie. It’s such a different format. They were just so committed to doing that that I think it worked. I think that was their priority, and it really–at least for me, it really did work.

I wish I could tell you about all the things that I’m unhappy about, but I’m really not.

Many times  when books get made into movies  really important passages don’t always make it into the script. Where there any passages that you were adamant about staying in for the movie?

No. I was so lucky. Mike Weber and Scott Neustadter, who wrote the script, have such a deep love for the book. They were really passionate about the book. They wanted to preserve not just the tone and themes of the book but as much of the actual words of the book as possible, and I think they did an amazing job.

Almost every line of dialogue is from the book. If anything, I was like, “Guys, don’t feel so married to the book.” But, they were. They were also very conscious of what lines were important to readers, thanks to the gifts of Tumblr and Twitter and everything else. They saw what people were responding to, making art about, and it was important to them to keep it in.

There were a lot of lines I wanted to preserve if we could make them sound movie-ish and, you know, normal. But I think they did an amazing job. I think everything that fans want to hear they’re going to hear.

The Fault In Our Stars Movie

Was there anything in the book, like a character or a scene, that the film adaptation made you see in a different light?

Yeah, that’s a great question. There was a lot, really.

When I was writing the book, I saw the world through Hazel’s eyes. I didn’t imagine the world through Gus’s eyes or the world through Hazel’s parents’ eyes as much. I mean, I guess I connected a lot to Hazel’s dad, so maybe there was some empathy there. But, I was trying to stay narrowly in Hazel’s mind and seeing the world as Hazel would see it.

And so, seeing the movie, I thought very differently about Augustus and about Hazel’s parents, and even about Van Houten. Each of those actors brings to their performance a realness, a sense that they are the center of their own story, just as anyone is.

It helped me to think differently and I guess more broadly about Gus, the challenges that he’s been through before the story begins, how that’s given him confidence but how also that confidence is real and it’s earned because he has integrated this disability into his life. But, it’s also a way of protecting himself. It’s also a way of protecting himself against the things that are harder for him now, or the way that his life has been changed, physically and emotionally by his disability.

How  involved were you in the casting process? And did you envision anyone playing these roles when you were writing the book at all? Did you see it as a film?

I did not see it as a film. I couldn’t imagine a world in which this movie would get made. I never–it’s not something I think about when I write, really, to be honest with you. I mean, they never made a movie out of any of my other books, so I certainly didn’t think they’ve make a movie out of this one.

I don’t really see–this sounds weird and I don’t know how to explain it, ’cause I think most of my friends do see specific faces. I’m really bad at looking at faces and understanding faces, I think. So, I don’t really see faces that clearly when I’m writing.

Almost immediately, even when she was auditioning, Shailene became Hazel for me. Hazel just looked like Shailene and talked like Shailene talks as Hazel. In terms of casting, I had a voice. You know, I’m not a casting director. I didn’t direct the movie, so it wasn’t my decision, certainly.

But, I definitely got to share my opinion, and I was lucky that, in the end, the cast that I dreamt of is the cast that we got. I think Gus was the hardest role to cast for. When Ansel was with Shailene, he just became Augustus to me.

The Fault In Our Stars Movie

Were you there through most of the filming and what your role was when you were there?

I was there for almost every day. I would say at least 80% of the time. I usually went home on Thursday night so that I could spend a few days with my family.

But, yeah, I was there most of the time.

I didn’t have a role. But, I think it’s nice to have somebody on a movie set who’s not doing anything, because everyone else is so busy and they’re working so hard and they’re talking about, “Did we get this coverage or that coverage,” and, “Did we get it this way? Did we get it that way? Did the light change?” And I could just be like, “Hey, everybody, hold on for a second. This is awesome. Let’s take a step back and realize how ridiculously awesome this is.”

And, Shailene and I would be chatting and she would be like, “I don’t know if I did this” or “I don’t know if I did that.” And I would be like, “Shai, that was amazing. This is incredible.”

So, I was professionally excited on the set. And it’s such a crazy thing, because to be honest with you I always thought of movies as a kind of dilution, that when all these collaborators come in, the thing inevitably weakens and softens. And I think that’s often the case.

But, what I found is that, when people come in and they’re passionate and they really care about the story, it can add to it. It can bring new things to it. So, every day it just felt wonderful on the set. It really did. I mean, I just felt like I was being given such a tremendous gift just to be able to be there and watch them make this movie, make it so carefully and thoughtfully.

I am so happy we got to share this interview with you and am excited for the film, produced by Twentieth Century Fox, to hit theaters at June 6th! Want to learn more about the film? Here are some fun ways you can connect!  Be sure to watch the trailer below, get your ticket, and prepare to laugh & cry along to this beautiful movie! 

Official websites – #TFIOS

Visit the official website

Like TFIOS on Facebook

Follow @TheFaultMovie on Twitter

Follow on Google+ & Instagram

*This post contains affiliate links! Love our Sundays With Writers series? Check out all of our past interviews here

Sundays With Writers: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

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Happy Mother’s Day, my amazing mom readers!  Today’s Mother’s Day gift to you is a beautiful Sundays With Writers interview with bestselling author, Maggie Shipstead, on her beautiful new book, “Astonish Me.”  I am so honored that she agreed to do an interview with my little blog because I am such a fan of this talented writer. Although Maggie is most famous for her book, “Seating Arrangements,” I have to say that I enjoyed Astonish me even more and I have a feeling that you will too.

“For the first time she can remember, she is not afraid of failing, and the relief feels like joy.”

What truly makes Shipstead’s novels such a treat is her ability to write character-driven pieces.  When you are done with her books, it is as though you know her characters inside and out. With a backdrop of the ballet and what life is truly like to be a ballerina, the novel immediately pulled me in until the final pages.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

In this book a young American dancer named Joan decides to help a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. Although they had a passionate love affair, Arslan soon moves on to other things and Joan realizes that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background.

After her relationship with Arslan ends,  Joan decides to take her life in a different direction and marry the man that had always been in love with her, raises their son, and leaves the ballet for a quiet suburban life. Joan soon comes to realize though that their son,  Harry,  is a prodigy, in more ways than one. Through this discovery, Joan finds herself being pulled back into the world of the ballet and back into Arslan’s life once again.

If you are a fan of the ballet and you love character-driven pieces, this book is a treat from start to finish.

As always, no spoilers, just love for great books and writers on our Sundays With Writers series. So grab your coffee and let’s have a chat with the talented Maggie Shipstead.

Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me is so different from your first novel, Seating Arrangements, but the one element I found to be similar was your ability to write such well-developed character driven plots. To me, it is one of those truly unique elements of your writing. Have your stories always been very character-driven and how do you shape them so well for your books?

Well, thank you! I’m glad you think so. My relationships with characters vary from project to project. Seating Arrangements exists pretty much only because I had what I’d describe as strong chemistry with the protagonist, Winn Van Meter, who is the 59-year-old father of a pregnant bride. He’s nothing like me as a person–I’m female, 30, from California, and no one would accuse me of being emotionally withholding–but I thought the idea of him was interesting and also like I understood him. The book started as a short story, but I felt I had lots more to say about Winn and also like I knew what he would do or say in almost any situation. As I expanded the story into a novel, I incorporated more characters’ perspectives, too.

Astonish Me was a little different in that I didn’t conceive of Joan as a fully-formed person in the same way as Winn, but I started out wanting to write about someone who’s very talented (enough to be in a major ballet company) but who will never be the star she wants to be. So in a way Joan evolved out of the circumstances of her life–the incredible discipline needed to be a dancer, the frustration of encountering her own limitations, the stubbornness she has about her doomed love affair with a Soviet superstar dancer. Sometimes when I’m having trouble writing, the problem is that I’m not connecting with my characters, and I’ll take some time to just stop and close my eyes and try to actually engage with these imaginary people. Being a novelist is kind of a weird job in that way.

When I was a kid I took ballet and there is something magical about it, which is why I was so captivated by this story. Did you also do ballet? How did you do your research for this setting for your book?

I did ballet very, very briefly–for a year when I was five. But my mother and I both love to watch ballet, and she took me to about four performances a year from kindergarten until I left for college. She danced more than I did and knows a ton about ballet, so I learned a lot from her over the years. I wrote Astonish Me mostly over five months while I was traveling abroad, and I dragged a hardback ballet reference book around with me but also relied heavily on the internet. I have to say that YouTube is an incredible resource for dance. I watched multiple versions of every variation I wrote about, and some companies, especially New York City Ballet and The Royal Ballet, post lots of backstage videos of rehearsal and class online, which I found incredibly helpful. I watched full-length documentaries as well and read interviews with dancers and things like that. In the end, though, it was all a bit of a leap of imagination because I’m just never ever going to know what it’s like to exist in a dancer’s body.

One book that we read for our book club was A Constellation of a Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. In his book, he jumped forward and backward through time, taking and building the plot in these different time periods. Your book also does this as we jump decades around these characters lives. How difficult is it, as a writer, to take your readers through time travel?

It can be very difficult, definitely. There are a lot of technical decisions that go into figuring out the chronology of any narrative and a boggling, infinite number of places and times you can take the story at any moment. So that can be overwhelming. The structure of Astonish Me, though, for some reason, evolved organically from the beginning. I would write along chronologically, and then, when I got to a point in the story where I felt like a piece of information was missing, I would jump back in time to fill in the gap. The book is written in the present tense, and it’s meant to feel immediate and episodic, sort of like a ballet.

In the book, Joan gives up on her dream of being a ballerina because she believes that she isn’t good enough to ever be a prima ballerina. Did you ever give up on anything because you didn’t think you would be able to be the best at it?

When I was in high school and for some years afterward, I was a really serious horseback rider. I trained most days and had two horses I was obsessed with and missed a lot of school to compete, but I wasn’t particularly talented. I really, really, really wanted to qualify for certain events that took place at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden or at another big show in D.C., but I never did. I have to say, as frustrating as that experience was, I think it was ultimately good for me to understand that the process was worthwhile even if I had absolutely no chance of ever being the best. I liked spending time with horses, and I liked the pursuit of a physical skill and the excitement of competing, especially when I won, which did happen occasionally. And, generally, the idea of being the best is tricky, right? I hope I mostly try to do the best I can.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

I just finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I loved. That’s the book I’m talking up to everyone right now.

What do you have in store for us with your next writing project?

I’m working on a third novel–about a female pilot after World War II–and I have a bunch of short stories I’d like to finish.

*This post contains affiliate links! Love our Sundays With Writers series? Check out all of our past interviews here

 

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Sundays With Writers: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

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Sundays With Writers is quickly becoming my new favorite feature on MomAdvice. Is it for you too? I really hope so!  My only dilemma is reading enough that we always have fresh new authors to feature. This week I finished a riveting book called, “The Enchanted,” by Rene Denfeld and I can’t wait to share our interview with the author.  As soon as I finished it, I knew that I needed to email her to see if she would participate in our discussion. Not only is the book itself a fascinating look at prisoners on death row, but she is, in her real life, a death penalty investigator. She uses this background well to plot out the corruption of the prison world and what an investigator does to present facts about a death row inmate before going to trial.

You know that I always disclose if a book is graphic in language or in nature. This book is graphic and, as we learn in the interview with Rene, it is altogether true that many of these things do happen in the prison system.  There were points where I had to detach myself from the book in order to press on through it. Although in many cases, it infers violence and sexual abuse, sometimes it allowed my mind to fill in those blanks and I had to step away from it.

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In, “The Enchanted,”  we are viewing a stone wall prison through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Though he is confined in a cell,  he sees visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.

We follow through the story through his eyes of two outsiders, a fallen priest and the Lady. The Lady is an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption which reveal many secrets of her own.

I promise to never post any spoilers in these interviews so please read on as we learn more about Rene and her amazing debut novel (picked as a Best Book of the Month by Amazon)!

The-Enchanted-Rene-Denfeld

As a death penalty investigator, you truly have the background to write about death row. The story that you weave is a tough one to swallow for someone who is on the outside- corruption within the prison system, constant sexual abuse of prisoners, lack of basic resources, and most of the death row inmates are products of their sad upbringing. Has this really been your experience and how did you get drawn into this type of profession?

The story is very much the narrator’s story—what he sees in this enchanted place. But much of what he sees I recognize from my work. Sadly, what happens in the book to the character called the white-haired boy is real and common. I got into the work in 2008 when I was looking for a day job. I had been a journalist, but had adopted three kids from foster care, and writing wasn’t paying the bills. Truth be told, I needed a job. I had met death penalty investigators as a journalist and was fascinated. It seemed like a chance to really learn the truth of a person and a crime. I love the work. It is often terribly sad, but I can also bring moments of profound insight.

I reread many lines and paragraphs in your book because they were filled with so much truth and made me stop and think. On page 119, It says, “She thinks about how sad it is that we remember the killers and not their victims. What if the world forgot Hitler and remembered all the names of his victims? What if we immortalized the victims?” Do you find that in your job that people are often more worried about the killers than those who were victims in your cases?

I worry that in our society we focus so much on the criminals we erase their victims. For all our focus on crime and violence—all the graphic televisions shows and movies—we don’t stop to really dig deep to understand why some people hurt each other. We devalue the gravity of what they have done, to real people.

As our narrator imagines the world he is in with majestic golden horses, that also happen to grace the cover of your book, do you believe that the narrator is just highly imaginative, mentally ill, or do you think that being locked away in a cell is causing hallucinations after being away from the outside world? Are these golden horses meant to symbolize something to the reader?

The narrator truly believes he lives in the most magical, enchanted place. And for him, he does. I spend a lot of time with people with profound mental illness, and one thing I remind myself is they could be right and I could be wrong. Perhaps they are seeing something I cannot. It is real to them, that’s what counts. I think the narrator has a lovely view of the world. The golden horses in particular—to me they symbolize his hunger to escape the confines of his bars, to feel and see wild passion and beauty in the world.

Since books are such an escape for me, I loved that the narrator’s escape was also literature. His favorite book, The White Dawn, brings him so much joy. What made you pick this particular book for your narrator?

What a lovely thing to have in common with you! Books have been my escape, too, since I was a young child. The library was my sanctuary. The White Dawn happened to be one of my favorite books as a child. I kept my tattered copy on my bed stand the entire time I was writing the novel. At night I would touch it and hope the narrator would continue to come and bless me with his story.

What is one common misconception about death row and the death penalty that you wish more people understood?

That we will never prevent crime if we don’t truly understand why it happens. And that the human capacity to find joy and beauty—no matter what our circumstance—cannot be extinguished.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Oh, that is a tough one, because there are so many wonderful books. I just read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It was stunning.

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 *This post contains affiliate links! Love our Sundays With Writers series? Check out all of our past interviews here

 

Sundays With Writers: Margot by Jillian Cantor

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

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I am always so excited when I can feature beautiful books in our Sundays With Writers series. Today’s book, Margot by Jillian Cantor, explores a fictional account of what it would be like if Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister, actually lived and had to carry the secret of her escape.

In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind.

Margot

Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history.

I was captivated by the premise of this book and it brought to light some things that I had not thought of for those that did escape the Nazis. We witness a very real reaction to the post-traumatic stress that one would suffer if they escaped and what it would be like to live day-to-day with a number from a concentration camp tattooed on your arm.

When I finished this book, I just knew that I needed to interview Jillian and learn more about what moved her to create this fictional life for Margot and how she developed an entirely fictional concept while staying true to the life of Anne Frank’s family and history.

Grab your coffee and let’s sit down this Sunday with Jillian and talk about her amazing book, “Margot.”

 

Jillian Cantor

One of my favorite writers is Melanie Benjamin because she always finds some of the most unique historical characters and builds a story around them in a fresh way.  The story of Margot Frank reminded me of a character she might pick. What made it truly exceptional though is that you created a storyline around someone who had passed away without her story really being told. Do you think it was harder to build a storyline when the character was, in fact, deceased?

The real Margot Frank died in Bergen-Belsen with her sister, Anne, in 1945. But in my novel, my fictional Margot escapes from the Nazis and moves to America to begin a new life. My novel takes place largely in 1959, the year when the movie version of Anne’s diary came out in the US — fourteen years after the real Margot Frank died. My fictional Margot has changed her name to Margie Franklin and she lives in Philadelphia where she works as a legal secretary. As a writer of fiction, I think it was somewhat easier to write about Margot Frank in this capacity because my Margie Franklin truly is a fictional character. At the same time, I wanted to make sure to stay to true to what I believed the real Margot Frank might have or could’ve become if this had actually happened, so it was a little tricky to try to strike the balance between the truth and fiction.

 The fact that Margie hides her tattoo with the number she was issued by the Nazis is a very important element to her story. We discover that Margie always keeps her arms covered, even in the stifling heat of summer, so no one will know her secret.  Did you read of others who hid this and how did this inspire you?

I didn’t read anything specific about anyone hiding a tattoo with a sweater, though, I did read about Jews who moved to the US after the war and changed their identities in one capacity or another. I also read that some people had their tattoos removed once they moved to the United States, and I thought a lot about this with my character of Margie. Even though she didn’t want anyone to see her tattoo, I also couldn’t see her having it removed. Margie’s tattoo is so visible and so permanent, and yet it is undeniably such a part of her and her history.

Margie is clearly suffering from some severe post-traumatic stress and we witness this when she visits the Rabbi, when the car backfires, and when anyone tries to get close to her. What type of research did you do to prepare for these moments for Margie?

I didn’t specifically read up on PTSD while I was writing. I’ve read a lot in the past about post-traumatic stress, especially in soldiers, so I had an idea of what PTSD was, and I’ve experienced it in small ways in my own life. Shortly before I started writing MARGOT, Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a shopping center near me, and six people were killed – I was in the shopping center at the time, though very luckily I was not involved or hurt. For weeks afterwards I was nervous and jumpy every time I left the house. For Margie, I felt that the small bit of fear and anxiety I felt would be enormously magnified, and that living through such a horrific time and losing her family is something that would stay with her forever. As I wrote, I tried to put myself in Margie’s shoes, to think about how I would’ve reacted in those situations after living through such horrors.

 As children, many of us read or watched the movie of The Diary of Anne Frank. Was this something that you remember from your own childhood and was it a story that always stuck with you?

I read the The Diary of a Young Girl in seventh grade, and it did always stick with me. I felt connected to Anne at the time – I was about her age when I read it, Jewish, and I wanted to be a writer. What I didn’t remember, years later, was that Anne had an older sister, Margot. When I picked up the book again in my 30s to reread it, I noticed Margot but I had no memory of her from my earlier reading. I tried to do some research about her, and I found very little. But I did find that Margot Frank had kept her own diary (though hers was never recovered after the war). I grew up the older of two sisters myself, and I started to think about what Margot’s story might have been and how her point of view might have been different than Anne’s. I started to think about Anne and Margot as sisters, and that was the starting point for this novel for me.

 Is this your first historical fiction piece you have written and do you plan to write more? What other historical fiction characters would you love to write about?

This is my first historical fiction novel, but I have another one coming out some time next year.  My next historical novel revolves around Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. It’s told from the point of view of a fictional neighbor who befriends Ethel and becomes caught up in everything surrounding her arrest, trial, and execution. It’s very much a book about friendship, and mothers and sons, but there’s also spy intrigue and a love story.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

That’s a tough question! I don’t know that I can pick just one book. But my favorite author is Anna Quindlen. I read Black and Blue years ago and it has always stayed with me. Every time she has a new book out, I buy it right away!

*This series may contain affiliate links!

 

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