Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

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Happy Sunday, friends! I hope your day is filled with great books and good coffee today. This week I have the pleasure of interviewing debut novelist Rebecca Rotert about her first novel Last Night at the Blue Angel. I will say that this one is racier than some of the books I have featured here in the past so if that isn’t your cup of coffee, so-to-speak, I understand.  The storytelling was so good in this one though and I had so many questions for the author after I finished that I wanted to share it with you in our Sundays With Writers series. I am not shying away from this book- I think it a beautifully told coming-of-age story and the characters are rich and vivid even if I didn’t always like their choices.

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Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s Chicago jazz scene, a highly ambitious and stylish literary debut that combines the atmosphere and period detail of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility with the emotional depth and drama of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, about a talented but troubled singer, her precocious ten-year-old daughter, and their heartbreaking relationship.

It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is a city of uneasy tensions—segregation, sexual experimentation, free love, the Cold War—but it is also home to one of the country’s most vibrant jazz scenes. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. Finally, her big break arrives—the cover of Look magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive woman whose charms are irresistible and dangerous for those around her. No one knows this better than Sophia, her clever ten-year-old daughter.

For Sophia, Naomi is the center of her universe. As the only child of a single, unconventional mother, growing up in an adult world, Sophia has seen things beyond her years and her understanding. Unsettled by her uncertain home life, she harbors the terrible fear that the world could end at any moment, and compulsively keeps a running list of practical objects she will need to reinvent once nuclear catastrophe strikes. Her one constant is Jim, the photographer who is her best friend, surrogate father, and protector. But Jim is deeply in love with Naomi—a situation that adds to Sophia’s anxiety.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, their powerful and wrenching story unfolds in layers, revealing Sophia’s struggle for her mother’s love with Naomi’s desperate journey to stardom and the colorful cadre of close friends who shaped her along the way.

I loved this book so much more than I had expected. This is a coming-of-age story placed in the sixties focused on the story of a daughter who constantly lives in the shadow of her mother’s stardom and her need to be the center of attention. We are able, as readers, to read how she evolved into this self-absorbed woman, while witnessing the heartache of her daughter lurking in the shadows of her life. There are beautiful plot twists in this one and I never saw the ending coming.

After writing the author and reading her answers, my only regret is that this coffee with her is done virtually and not in person. I hope you will enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed reading and sharing it with you today!

Rebecca-Rotert-headshot

You chose the turbulent sixties era and the city of Chicago for the setting of your debut novel. What was it about this time period and city that captured your attention for the setting of your book?

I seem to be thinking about race, class, sexuality and gender all of the time.  ALL of the time.  Whatever problem or issue I’m trying to sort out in my head…I go back in time to examine turning points or cultural shifts in an attempt to identify what was at play, what happened, what changed.  In this vein, I find myself in the 50’s and 60’s a lot.  In some ways it’s very personal. I’m often asking myself, What did the territory look like before I landed on it (I was born in ’71)? I want to understand the culture that created my parents and their generation, and the boom generation, and us. What wounds did we inherit? What unfinished business? So many questions…

Richard-Nickel

Richard Nickel (Source: Out of Chicago where you can see his amazing architectural photography)

Jim, a struggling photographer, was one of my favorite characters in the book. You based him upon a photographer named Richard Nickel who captured architectural photos. How did you happen upon his story and photography?  Was he the first character you really started fleshing out or did you develop him later as you wrote it?

Jim was there from the very beginning but he was, like, Jim 2.0.  I did a lot of research in Chicago, kept running into these very interesting photographs, discovered the photographer was Nickel, researched him, fell in love with him, then came back to the drawing board and grafted him into Jim 2.0.

As a mom, I could not relate to Naomi’s choices and putting her own needs and desires before her child. Was it difficult to write some of these scenes particularly adult moments that Sophia witnesses when she is so small? How did you feel about Naomi?

Oof.  It was tough.  I swear there were scenes that were just…viscerally painful to write.  I sometimes asked myself, What would I do here? And then had Naomi do the opposite.  My feelings about her are complicated.  My reasoning behind allowing you to see some of her backstory was in order to cultivate some compassion for her. I don’t think Naomi has any idea what she’s doing.  She never learned. She sort of operates on desire and compulsion without taking into account consequences.  She doesn’t feel comfortable being a mother but she tries.  In the end, she chooses her art and her artist’s life over motherhood because she knows what she’s doing there. We all have Naomis in our lives…women we judge because WE would do it so much better.  They bring out our self-righteousness, which is of course a bar to all connection.  I wanted her to be galvanizing in this way and she is.

I understand that you are also a singer and songwriter, illustrating that you are a woman of many talents. How much of that background were you able to draw from to create Naomi? Have you also felt that hunger and struggle being a singer? Did this make Naomi more relatable to you?

In part, it was sheer laziness.  I know the vocabulary of performing well so I chose that as her art. And certainly I understand the hunger to make art; I’ve always had that in me. And I share with Naomi the feeling that art is often one of the few things that makes sense to me and that I’m good at. But in terms of fame, I just have no ambition whatsoever.  I know Box Turtles more ambitious than I.

My husband & I are obsessed with the jazz music from the ‘60’s and have quite the record collection going. What is your favorite song or artist from that era? Any in particular that you have Naomi sing that we should be hunting down for our record collection?

I love Mingus and Coltrane and Miles Davis. In terms of vocalists I’m crazy about Nina Simone and Jeanne Lee. In fact, Laura is named after the song/lyrics “Laura” from Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s album The Newest Sound Around.

A group I discovered during research, though not jazz, is The Boswell Sisters.  You’ve really got to listen to them if you’re not familiar.  Three harmonizing sisters in the 1930’s.   Go ahead and YouTube “Crazy People” to be delighted (see above!!).  Especially if you have, I don’t know, crazy people in your life.

Naomi’s love affair with Laura was brief, but ultimately shaped Naomi’s life journey. Is there any reason you didn’t have Naomi fall in love again with Laura later in the book and bring these two back together?

Ah, you are a savvy/intuitive reader, Amy. I DID bring them back together at the end but the more I worked on the end of the book, the more convinced I became that Naomi had to be alone at the end.  That she would get what she wanted but the price would be loneliness.  And Laura is strong. Naomi needs to…deserve her I feel.  And she doesn’t. Not yet.

Naomi has quite the parade of lovers and also learns her skills of being a lady from a very unlikely source. You did not seem to shy away from any topic- would you say that this book is provocative?

Um, I’ve been told it is.  It doesn’t feel at all provocative to me.  The next book, however…

You make a choice to do all dialogue in italics- why did you make this choice as a writer?

I’ve not yet described this well but today might be my lucky day….You know, when you put quotes around a line of text, you tell the reader, This is EXACTLY what was said….but so much of this book is about impression/memory/tone/perception/performance…I wanted there to be: Here’s what was said, yes, but also, Here’s what I heard/what I remember/what I tried to say…all those grey areas that color our sad efforts at human communication.  And everyone is performing in this book so a line of dialogue may represent an actual authentic feeling or thought but it may also be someone’s performance of a feeling/thought that may or may not be true.  So you see, all these sticky layers.  I guess I said to myself, Let’s put it in italics.

I will not say anything about the ending because I don’t want to spoil the book for our readers. Would you say you were pleased though with how this story wrapped up? Did you always envision this to be the ending for your book?

The exact ending, ie: last lines, came late in the process but the general ending I knew.  I would also say I could handle the end of this book because although the book ends, the story is to be continued.

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

IMPOSSIBLE. I NEED TWO AT LEAST AMY! However, a book I have to read over and over is Anthony de Mello’s Awareness.  It’s not fiction.  It might even be called self-help (choke).  It reminds me of the troublesome human pitfalls that can really muck up our short  little jaunt on earth.  I also return to Duras’ The Lover over and over because it reminds me of longing and waking up to life. These are a few of my favorite things, as the song says.

 You can connect with Rebecca Rotert on GoodReads 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 Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Happy Sunday, friends! As always, I am so excited to share about great books with you and interviews with fantastic authors. I picked up today’s featured book The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley at my local library and absolutely loved it. I am always a lover of books with big moral issues and this book is one of those books that shares a dilemma of something a mother could face and then begs the question, “Would I do that if I was in her shoes?”

It’s one of those books you want to read with your book club and then dive in a discussion about this mother’s choices. It is one where it is unclear what the right or wrong answers are.

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

In this story, Eve Lattimore’s family is like every other on their suburban street, with one exception. Her son Tyler has a rare medical condition that makes him fatally sensitive to light, which means heavy curtains and deadlocked doors protect him during the day and he can never leave the house except at night. For Eve, only constant vigilance stands between an increasingly restless teenage son and the dangers of the outside world.

Until the night the unthinkable happens. When tragedy strikes, it becomes clear that this family is not the only one on the quiet cul-de-sac that is more complicated than it appears. And as Eve is forced to shield her family from harm, there are some crises she cannot control—and some secrets that not even love can conceal.

This book is deeply moving and suspenseful. I sat down with it and I could not put it down until I shut it two days later.  I would recommend this book for fans of Defending JacobThe Husband’s Secret, or My Sister’s Keeper.

Now hurry up and grab that cup of coffee and enjoy this beautiful interview with Carla Buckley!

Carla Buckley

 Fourteen-year-old Tyler suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, a genetic condition that means he must avoid any exposure to the sun or any UV light. How did you first hear about this condition and what prompted the idea for creating a story around this condition? What type of research did you do to prepare for what it would be like to live with this condition or be a family member who lives with someone who has XP?

When my son was sixteen and had just gotten his driver’s license, I had mixed feelings as I watched him drive away that very first time. He’d worked hard and proven himself to be responsible and I was proud as I watched him carefully back the car out of our driveway. But I also felt sad. He wasn’t just driving himself to his guitar lesson. He was taking a critical first step to becoming a man and leaving home forever. I began to wonder what it would be like to mother a child who could never reach this sort of milestone. It occurred to me that this normal, turbulent, and always challenging period of a boy’s growing up would be complicated immeasurably if he had a medical condition. But which one? My sister, an ER physician, suggested Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) and as soon as she said the words, I saw my story start to unfold.

XP’s an extraordinarily rare disease passed on by both parents in which a person’s skin and eye cells cannot repair the deadly damage done by ultraviolet radiation. Most parents don’t realize they’re carriers until their child is diagnosed, usually by the time their child is two years old. But by then, the damage has already been done. The average life expectancy for someone born with XP is twenty years.

In order to understand the disease itself, I scoured online resources (there are two parent-run organizations, one in the US and the other in the UK that offer general information to caregivers), read numerous medical research papers, and interviewed dermatologists and dentists. Combined, this gave me a basic foundation upon which to build. Then I began to put myself in Eve’s place to imagine what I would do if I had to keep my child safe from sunlight.

Eve struggles with the moral decision of coming forward with information when her best friend’s child goes missing because she thinks keeping it secret can protect her family. Do you think you would have kept the deepest secret, personally, or would you have taken different actions than Eve?

If only there were a users’ manual for raising children. Failing that, we all write our own, cobbled together from experiences that range from “Okay, remember that the next time this happens” to “Boy, I wish I hadn’t done that.” If we’re lucky, our children survive our mistakes with just a few scars. Sometimes I think parenting is like throwing darts and praying they hit the wall and not a few innocent bystanders.

That’s what I wanted to show in THE DEEPEST SECRET. Most of us are just doing the best we can, and we’re not perfect. Eve’s circumstances are difficult, if not impossible, and she’s going to make mistakes. But she’s also going to do some things incredibly right. My hope is that readers will recognize something of themselves in her, whether or not they agree with her choices.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had been Eve. I hope I never face that kind of dilemma.

There are a lot of secrets throughout the book and many of them focus on the neighbors and Tyler capturing some of those secret lives through photography when they are unaware in their windows. The book also builds to a big scene were the neighbors are disagreeing and then spilling those secrets out onto the pavement to each other.  It made me think how little we know our own neighbors, especially today. What made building this neighborhood such a big part of the Lattimore’s story and was it difficult to develop so many plotlines for so many people?

I’ve always thought there was something magical about a neighborhood at night, all the house windows glowing brightly in the darkness. When I’m out walking my dogs, I sometimes catch a glimpse of a family eating dinner or watching television. From a distance, it all looks so cozy and cheerful.

My children had a piano teacher whose house we visited for lessons. Her home was tidy and filled with photographs of her smiling children. She had something delicious-smelling simmering on the stove, and she laughed easily. One sunny afternoon, her oldest son wandered down the street with a knife in his hand, headed for her house. She didn’t survive the assault and neither did another child home at the time. I had been in her kitchen just the day before and had chatted with her son, and I’d had absolutely no inkling that anything was wrong.

It’s haunted me for a long time. What do we really know about the people in our life, about the houses we visit during the day and pass at night?

Coming up with so many secrets was a challenge. I had to ask myself over and over why someone would hide a part of their life. I searched for the kinds of quiet secrets I believe every neighborhood contains.

I admit to being an overly-protective mother and I could relate so much to Eve’s desire to protect Tyler with his medical circumstance. Did you relate to Eve in this way or did you find her overprotectiveness to be extreme?

The first time I heard the term “helicopter parenting,” I thought it meant a parent who dropped in every so often as needed, like a Medevac. I think that’s the real challenge parents face today—knowing when to be present and when to step back. I don’t think the world is any more dangerous today than it was a generation ago, but the dangers are different and we’re more aware of them. A parent can become almost paralyzed by too much knowledge.

Personally, I do tend toward being an overprotective mother. I’d love to lock my children in a room until they were twenty-five but even if I could, I know it would backfire. Kids are smart—they can fool you into thinking you know what they’re up to. The trick is to give them just enough freedom so they can make a few mistakes and learn a few life lessons that will keep them safe. There’s a lot of trust involved—on both sides.

 I will not say anything about the ending because I don’t want to spoil the book for our readers. Would you say you were pleased though with how this story wrapped up? Did you always envision this to be the ending for this family?

Actually, coming up with the ending was the single greatest challenge I faced in writing this novel. The ending I initially envisioned turned out to be far too melodramatic and I was forced to pull and consider what I was really trying to say in THE DEEPEST SECRET. It’s this: I wanted to write about love in all its guises and show how love prevails, regardless of the obstacles it faces. That’s the note I decided to end this story on and I admit to getting a little teary every time I think of it.

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

Oh, I love talking about books! There are three novels that inspired me as I wrote THE DEEPEST SECRET: Emma Donaghue’s ROOM, Anna Quindlen’s EVERY LAST ONE, and Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE. Just a few days ago, I finished Laline Paull’s fabulous debut, THE BEES; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can connect with Carla Buckley  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!

Sundays With Writers: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

If there is one thing I love it is a summer thriller. There is nothing  better to tuck in a beach bag then a book that you can rapidly flip through and sit in suspenseful moments as the story unfolds. Those kinds of books that your eyes can’t read fast enough because you just HAVE to know what is going to happen.   If you have been waiting for the next-big-thing since Gone Girl, then I have the just the book for you!

The Good Girl

Today I am excited to feature a fantastic debut novelist, Mary Kubica, and share a little about her first book, The Good Girl. I snagged an advanced reader of this book from NetGalley, but it is now out on the bookshelves just begging for you to pick it up.  Debut novelists hold a special place in my heart and I’m excited to share her incredible journey into seeing her first book come to life with you.

The book opens with the following words, “I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia is unlike her parents in every way, content with her life as an inner-city school teacher. When she finds herself at a bar one night alone, after being stood up by her boyfriend,  she meets a guy. Her plans for a one-night stand turns into the worst mistake of her life.

I don’t want to say anymore because the beauty in this book is those plot twists you never see coming!

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Mary Kubica about her debut novel The Good Girl!

Mary Kubica

I am a big reader and it is so difficult to find a book that actually has plot twists I didn’t see coming, but The Good Girl absolutely surprised me. As the writer of these twists, did you always see these twists coming or were they as equally surprising to you?

This is a great question! The plot twists are often equally as surprising to me as they are to the reader. In the case of The Good Girl, I had written a significant chunk of the novel before the ending came to me. This is one of the most exciting parts of writing for me – when I get that clear picture of how the story will end. I don’t typically outline or do much note taking before starting a new manuscript, and so all I have is a starting point; the rest of the details remain obscure. I make it a point not to overthink my plot too much, and to have faith that the details, plot twists, etc. will come in due time. It’s very exciting when it all comes together in my mind, and I get to go through the manuscript and insert clues to help the reader along, or in some cases, throw them off course. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing this genre!

Mia’s mother is the character that I relate to the most in your story because she is always questioning if she did enough or if she was a good enough mother. Is this something you really identified with too?

Absolutely. Mia’s mother, Eve Dennett, is the character I relate the most to. She is a woman, for one, but more importantly a mother, and as a mother myself, I was able to put myself in her shoes and ask myself how I would respond to the situation. How would I feel, and what would I do or say if it was my child that was missing? I really felt for Eve in the pages of the book. Even the very best mother makes choices that they may second guess, and not only is Eve longing for her missing child, but she’s desperate for a chance to make things up to Mia and amend for the poor decisions she made in Mia’s childhood. I think that as mothers, no matter how hard we try there is always the fear we will fall short and not do anything and everything we can for our children. I believe many mothers out there will relate to Eve on some level.

I found myself sympathizing with Colin so much that I did not see him as the bad guy in this story at all, even though I felt very differently at the beginning. Did you sympathize with him?

Without giving anything away, I think that The Good Girl is a novel that makes you rethink much of what you know, and teaches the reader not to take things at face value. What you see if not always what you get, a fact which holds true with many of the characters in the book. I sympathize with nearly every character in The Good Girl for various reasons. They are imperfect and flawed, as most of us are, something that will hopefully make them relatable to the reader.

Your journey of becoming a debut novelist is such a good one and showcases why writers should never give up on their dreams. How long did you have to wait to see your book on bookshelves? Does it still feel surreal to you?

Yes, it feels absolutely surreal. It was 2006 when I first began working on The Good Girl, and 2014 when it was published. That’s 8 years of hard work, hopes, dreams and fears – all of it. There were many ups and downs all along the way, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. After finishing the novel, I submitted it to many literary agencies, and, as you may know by now, it was rejected by every single one of them. I thought that was it; any hope of a writing career was through. Two years later I received an out-of-the-blue email from one of the agencies that had previously declined to represent my novel. The Good Girl had stuck with them all that time and they wanted to represent it – proof that writers, or anyone for that matter, should never give up on their dreams. It still shocks me to see my name on a book at the bookstore. I wonder if this will ever feel real to me and no longer surreal? Probably not.

Your book is being compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. What do you think of the comparison? Do you think this comparison has helped in the selling of your novel?

I definitely think the comparisons to Gone Girl did nothing but help The Good Girl. There are so many Gillian Flynn fans out there (including me!), and so I’m thrilled with the comparison. That said, it can be a bit unnerving, trying to live up to such a masterpiece, but early feedback for The Good Girl has been phenomenal. I couldn’t be more pleased.

We featured Heather Gudenkauf and her book Little Mercies this past month (which was also so fabulous!) How did you end up partnering with her for your book promotion?

First, let me say that Heather Gudenkauf is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with, and her latest novel Little Mercies is by far one of my favorites of 2014. Heather and I share not only the same publisher – Harlequin MIRA – but the same editor as well, and seeing as our novels came out just a month apart, and we write in the same genre, it’s a perfect match. We’ve been able to travel together many times to promote our books, and have connected at many conferences throughout the year. Heather has been a wonderful mentor to me, and I feel so fortunate for our time together. It’s so great to be able to connect with other authors. Writing can be an isolated profession, and so the more people – authors, readers, etc. – we’re able to connect with, the better!

Can you give us a sneak peek on what you have in store for us next?

Yes, I’d love to! I just finished up my second novel Pretty Baby, which will be released by Harlequin MIRA in 2015. This is another psychological suspense set in the Midwest, about a Chicago mother who encounters a young homeless girl with a baby. She becomes quite taken with the two of them, and as she does, we learn more about these women and what effect this chance encounter will have on both of their lives. Be sure to check my website or follow me on Facebook or Twitter for updates on Pretty Baby as they arrive!

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 The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This is one that I tell everyone to read. It’s a Vietnam War memoir, but is much more than that. You don’t need to be a history guru to fall in love with this book. When it comes to my own genre though, psychological suspense, Before I Go To Sleep is one I often recommend. I just loved this S.J. Watson novel.

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: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Do you ever pick up a book completely outside of your normal genre and find yourself completely swept away in a world you never dreamed you would escape to? It happened a couple of times for me with The Hunger Games series and Twilight series, just to name two types of books that I never thought I would love.  Last week if you would have asked me if I would have fallen head over heels in love with a book with a plotline firmly planted in science fiction with a zombie apocalypse theme or even just another dystopian thriller ( a genre I had grown very tired of), I would have probably laughed at you.

No, this is not your typical recommendation on here and that is exactly why I had to feature it today. It is different and it is awesome.

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-2

 

I fell head-over-heels in love for The Girl With All the Gifts. I can tell you now that this will be on my top ten reads of 2014 because I can’t stop thinking about it and have the urge to reread it all over again. It is a true adventure of a read that grabbed me and did not let me go until the final pages.

My husband is not a big reader like me, but when I finished the book and described it to him, he picked it up one evening after my encouragement. I did not see or speak to him for two whole days. He was just as swept away in this book as I was. For this reason, I would definitely recommend this one as a great couple’s book selection and definitely not limited to our female audience.

After I finished it, I emailed Mike Carey (who is using the pen name M.R. Carey for this book) and never in a million years expected a response. You see, Mike is quite a big deal. He is an established British writer of prose fiction and comic books. He has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. He also has several previous novels and one Hollywood movie screenplay to his credit.

And he answered my message and said he would love to share his book with you all.

I have taken my fangirl status to another level entirely after this interview and can’t wait to see this book adapted into a screenplay.

All the descriptions of this book state that Melanie is simply a special girl. You don’t know what makes her special until you dive in and discover the girl and all her gifts.

This book is wildly imaginative, suspenseful, and leaves you wondering who you should be rooting for as the story develops. I really, really loved this book.  Unfortunately, it is just the kind of book that you shouldn’t talk about so that each reader can go on the journey with this child and find out just what makes her so unique. It’s a book that you will want to finish and share with friends. It reads like a movie and is just the type of literary adventure I would recommend if you have been in a reading slump this summer.

Grab your coffee and let’s have a chat with the amazing Mike Carey about his book…

mike-carey

I loved this book so very much and it is unlike anything that I have ever read before or will ever read again. Thank you for such a fantastic escape this summer. I discovered that it was based upon the Edgar-nominated short story, Iphigenia in Aulis that you had written.  Why did you decide to take this short story and expand it into The Girl With All the Gifts?

Thanks!  I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

The story had an unusual genesis – or unusual for me, at least.  I’d been invited to contribute to a themed anthology edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner.  They do these books every year, and the theme is always something deceptively innocent and everyday – home improvements, family holidays or whatever.  This particular year the  theme was schooldays.

And I said I’d do it, but then I had no ideas whatsoever.  Inspiration didn’t strike.

Until about three weeks before the deadline, when suddenly I woke up with this image in my mind of a little zombie girl writing an essay in an abandoned classroom. “What I want to Do When I Grow Up”.  The whole story grew from that – from Melanie, and her situation.  I wrote it in four straight days and sent it in, and Charlaine and Toni said it fitted the bill perfectly.

But I had the sense as soon as I hit SEND that Melanie’s story wasn’t finished yet.  It felt as though the ending, in which she and Sergeant Parks fight back-to-back against an army of Junkers in order to cover the evacuation of the base, wasn’t really earned.  And it felt like there needed to be much more a pay-off for Melanie’s relationship with Miss Justineau (who in the short is called Miss Mailer).

So I pitched it to Orbit as a novel, and they commissioned it – even though that meant amending my contract in some complicated ways.  And at the same time I pitched it as a movie concept to a producer I was already working with.  The two version of the story grew up side by side.

You make a very conscious decision to never use the word, “zombie.” Why did you not want to use this word in your book? Was this meant to lead the reader into their own conclusions when they begin the story?

It’s partly that – although the reveal comes quite early, really.  It’s also a question of trying to make the reader keep an open mind.  I was conscious that zombies for a lot of people are an overworked trope and a fairly limited one.  I was coming at it from what I thought was a new angle, and I hoped that if I held off on the Z word readers would stay with it until they were emotionally invested.

It’s rebounded against me in some ways.  I’ve read a few reviews where the reviewer has said “you know, this is reasonably realistic in some ways, but if you’ve got a zombie apocalypse going on why wouldn’t you just call it one?  That doesn’t ring true at all…”

In one scene, Dr. Caldwell says to Mrs. Justineau, “You should ask yourself why you’re so keen on thinking of me as the enemy…Which weighs the most, Helen? Which will do the most good in the end? Your compassion or my commitment to my work?” Which of these characters do you think was doing the most good? Did you relate to Dr. Caldwell or Mrs. Justineau more when writing this?

Oh, I’m with Helen Justineau all the way!  But I wanted readers to understand where Caldwell was coming from.  Nobody sees themselves as evil.  They explain away the things they do as being forced on them by circumstances, or serving a greater good, or whatever it might be.  Caldwell is trying to save humanity.  She’s also trying to earn a sort of personal immortality through her work, and to prove that she’s better than the scientists who were promoted over her, but she genuinely believes she’s doing good – and that the ends absolutely justify the means.

There’s a beat near the end of the book that really only works if you can empathise with Caldwell at least a tiny bit.  It’s when she and Melanie have their conversation about the infection, and Caldwell realises that if anything of her work is going to survive it will be through her being able to explain it to Melanie now.  The child she was going to sacrifice is the last slender reed she can grab hold of.  If you don’t care about Caldwell at all that’s just ironic.  I wanted it to have a little touch of tragedy to it.

Where are you in development of the screenplay of The Girl With All The Gifts? Do you have anyone in mind for your dream cast?

The screenplay is written and we have a deal in place.  I’ve never been this far along with a film project before – well, once a long time ago when I wrote the screenplay for an animated version of Tristan and Isolde, but I generally avoid talking about that.

This time around it’s been an amazingly rewarding and enjoyable process.  The movie and the novel grew up together and kept swapping DNA.  We went a slightly different way in the movie, especially when it came to point of view.  Where the novel moves between the five main characters and lets us see what’s going on in all of their heads, the movie sticks with Melanie all the way.  And there are no Junkers in the movie.  The base falls to a hungry attack.  But it’s a case of two different paths through the same narrative space.  The ending is absolutely faithful to the book.

I’m going to duck the question about casting if you don’t mind.  That’s where we are at the moment, and I’m crossing every finger and toe I’ve got that we get the Justineau and Caldwell who are currently reading the screenplay.

 The science in this book is quite astounding.  Can I admit that my own brain may have exploded at times from all the scientific detail that you developed in it? Was there a lot of research on your end to develop these portions of the book, particularly developing the plotline with the infection that is based upon the ants?

A fair bit, yes.  In the short story I glibly described the hungry pathogen as a virus, probably with 28 Days Later at the back of my mind.  But when it came to writing the novel I had to put my money where my mouth was and I realised very quickly that a virus wouldn’t do.  They have very simple, linear life cycles.  I wanted something more baroque and multi-staged that would provide a plausible puzzle for Caldwell and would also allow for the events of the climax.

Enter Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  To be honest, I’d already seen the David Attenborough footage of the zombie ants, so I was rediscovering this weird parasite rather than reading about it for the first time.  But it was obviously perfect for my needs.  And once I’d made the decision that the infectious organism should be a fungus, it just kept on giving.  It made for some visuals that I’d never come across in the post-apocalyptic fiction I’d read and that had the potential to be very powerful.

There were also other things I had to look into, like how you take a brain out of a skull.  That was one of the hardest scenes to write.

Without giving it away, the ending that you create was just perfection. Is this where you always knew Melanie’s journey was heading or did it develop as you developed the story?

I always knew that Melanie was going to face that choice.  She’s Pandora, after all.  She has to find the box and make the decision whether or not to open it. And the box has to be full of monsters and terrible evils, but it also has to contain at least the promise of hope.

But the details were quite vague, and they firmed up as I wrote the story.  I’m not sure that Rosie was in the original pitch.   The feral children were, but they were just a placeholder.  I had no idea how Melanie’s fight with them would play out, beyond the vague feeling that she would have to use the environment in intelligent ways that they didn’t see.

It’s always a mixture of planning and serendipity.  You know where you’re going in the broadest sense.  But you don’t know what you’re going to gather along the way and so the ending, when you get there, is both familiar and surprising.

Did you ever have a teacher like Mrs. Justineau? What teacher inspired you the most in your own career?

This is going to make me blush.  When I was seven years old, my teacher was Miss Bimpson.  I had a huge crush on her.  She was clever and funny, her lessons were great, but she was also most extraordinarily kind.  One day when I was crying my eyes out about something – a totally mundane something that seemed like the end of the world to me – she sat me  on her lap and hugged me until I stopped sobbing.  That’s probably the origin of the scene in which Miss Justineau strokes Melanie’s hair.

But probably the most inspiring teacher I ever met was George Lucy, who taught English at the comprehensive school I attended from age eleven.  George was one of those teachers who thinks the curriculum is something that happens to other people.  Boring people.  He taught whatever he was most passionate about, and I learned from him to interrogate limits and push past them if they’re not real.

He also tutored me for my Oxford entrance exam.  I come from a solid working class background and there were a lot of holes in my academic knowledge.  George lent me books – dozens of them – from his own collection and generally gave me the tools I needed to sit those papers.  He changed my life in a lot of ways.

Since you are also a comic book writer, can you picture this book being developed into a comic book or even a comic book series? Who would be your dream illustrator for this?

I would love to write a Girl With All the Gifts comic book.  The only possible artists for a project like that would be Peter Gross or Mike Perkins.  And Mike has already covered the whole post-apocalyptic genre with his epic version of Stephen King’s The Stand, so he might well say no.

Will there be a sequel for Melanie?

I don’t think so.  There are other stories to be told around her story, and I could imagine going back to tell one of those.  Perhaps a story with an entirely different cast, taking place at the exact same time as GIRL.  Or perhaps a story from a generation later.  But I don’t think Melanie would be the protagonist in either of those.

You reach a point, with most characters, where you feel that their story has been told.  I’d love to revisit the world of Lucifer, but I wouldn’t dream of bringing Lucifer himself back into it.  It’s the same with Melanie.  I’d be wary of weakening her story by adding extra beats to it.

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

So many possible answers to that!  You could ask me a couple of dozen times and get a different answer each time.  Today I’m going to say The Shadow Of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe.  It’s the first volume in a tetralogy, so if you read it and liked it you’d have to read the other three.  But they’re so worth it. It’s a story of a far future Earth where the sun is dying.  Humanity has spread to the stars but that was long ago.  Now there are other galactic empires, other non-human civilisations that call the shots.  What’s left of humankind is back on an old, old planet that hasn’t got much time left to it.  But there’s a Messianic religion that preaches that the New Sun, sometimes known as the Conciliator, will be born on Earth as a man and rekindle all our hopes.  Reborn, rather, since he’s been here once before.  And Severian of the Torturers’ Guild believes this to be true since he’s found a holy relic, the Claw of the Conciliator, that heals all wounds.

It’s a very hard book to describe, and there’s no denying that it goes to some very dark places.  But Wolfe’s imagination is vast.  He creates a world and peoples it.  And he has a very serious purpose which takes in faith, physics and the importance of storytelling.

You can connect with Mike Carey on GoodReads and on Facebook!  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: Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Sundays_With_Writers-1_Final

 

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!

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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!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

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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!

 

*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: 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!

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