Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Sundays With Writers

One of the privileges of having this space has been doing our Sundays With Writers interview series. The other privilege has been getting to sneak peek books before they hit store shelves so I can share them with you. Whiskey & Charlie was provided to me by NetGalley a couple of months ago and I simply could not put it down. I even included it last month in my must-read list! This book will be hitting store shelves on April 7th, but I already read the exciting news that this one has been selected as a Target Book Club pick for April.

How exciting is that for our featured author today? 

Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Whiskey and Charlie might have come from the same family, but they would tell you two completely different stories about growing up. Whiskey is everything Charlie is not – bold, daring, carefree – and Charlie blames his twin brother for always stealing the limelight, always getting everything, always pushing Charlie back. By the time the twins reach adulthood, they are barely even speaking to each other.

When they were just boys, the secret language they whispered back and forth over their crackly walkie-talkies connected them, in a way. The two-way alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta) became their code, their lifeline. But as the brothers grew up, they grew apart.

When Charlie hears that Whiskey has been in a terrible accident and has slipped into a coma, Charlie can’t make sense of it. Who is he without Whiskey? As days and weeks slip by and the chances of Whiskey recovering grow ever more slim, Charlie is forced to consider that he may never get to say all the things he wants to say. A compelling and unforgettable novel about rivalry and redemption, Whiskey & Charlie is perfect for anyone whose family has ever been less than picture-perfect.

This story is incredibly moving and bittersweet. The author does a great job tackling the difficulties of sibling rivalry, what it would be like to be a twin, and how even when we don’t always like our family members, they are always our family and loved.

To me though, the most ambitious element of this book is that the author uses the phonetic alphabet for each chapter that perfectly weaves into the story and adds another level of charm to this book. 

Please grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this fun interview with Annabel Smith today!

Annabel Smith

The story of Whiskey & Charlie, identical twin brothers now estranged, was such a beautiful telling of the messiness and challenges of sibling rivalry. In telling their story, you adopted the phonetic alphabet, something these two were fond of using on walkie-talkies as kids, as the chapter names for your book. How did you decide to incorporate this unique element in your book and did these names actually help to drive the plotlines of your story?

I’ve always been interested in novels which have unique structuring principles, like David Nicholl’s One Day.  When I began writing the book that became Whiskey and Charlie, I had recently learnt the phonetic alphabet. I decided to explore the possibility of structuring the novel around the alphabet. Some chapters were easy: Charlie, Juliet, Oscar and Mike all became characters in the novel; Lima and Quebec became the settings for various episodes, definitely taking the novel in directions it might not otherwise have gone! Certain chapters haunted me: how was I going to build part of the story around ‘Yankee’ for example? But it all came together in the end, and for a novel that tells the story of the communication between two brothers, the two-way alphabet feels like the perfect metaphor.

Why was there a title change from Whisky & Charlie Foxtrot to just Whiskey & Charlie with the US release of your book? How did you feel about that?

David Shafer released his novel Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in August 2014 and the team at Sourcebooks were concerned people may confuse the two books. I was disappointed at first, but the title is just one small part of a book: it’s what’s inside that counts and that hasn’t changed.

Was writing your first book,  A New Map of the Universe,  easier than writing this second one?  I think as readers we think the debut must be the hardest.

I definitely found writing the second novel easier. With my first novel, A New Map of the Universe, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never written anything longer than 8,000 words and every time I contemplated the size of the whole, I became completely paralysed. By the time I came to write Whiskey and Charlie I at least had the confidence of knowing I could write a book, because I’d already proved it to myself. Of course there were different challenges to face – each book has it’s own problems that have to be worked through, but the alphabet structure gave me a starting point for each new chapter, which helped me overcome the terror of the blank page.

How much research did you do to prepare for Whiskey’s coma and writing the medical terminology and explanations that were given to the family? What did you find most surprising about comatose patients?

I did a huge amount of research on coma, because I didn’t have any knowledge about it at the outset, either theoretically or experientially. I read medical websites, hospital information pamphlets, and coma support group message boards, as well as studying the stages of death and grief. It was important to me to understand the physical side of coma as well as the psychological implications for family and friends. The two most surprising things I learned were firstly, how many additional things can go wrong when someone is in a coma, and also, how people can emerge, relatively intact, from comas that last for many months or occasionally even years.

The Small Press Network issues the MUBA’s (Most Underated Book Awards) each year and Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot was one of the 2013 selections. How did it feel to make that list and do you think this is what helped with the book being issued in the US?

I was so thrilled to be on the Most Underrated Book Awards shortlist. It was flattering to have someone acknowledge that it perhaps deserved to have more attention than it got. But I don’t think that was a factor in the US publication. That came about because my Australian publisher showed it to Shana Drehs at Sourcebooks during Frankfurt Book fair and Shana thought it would resonate with a US audience.

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

My third novel, The Ark is quite a departure from Whiskey and Charlie. It tells the story of a group of scientists and their families who retreat into a bunker during a post-peak oil crisis, exploring human nature in desperate times. It is a contemporary version of an epistolary novel, told through emails, blog posts, text messages and memos and is accompanied by an interactive website with a fan fiction hub. However, despite its more experimental nature, it is similar to Whiskey and Charlie in the sense that it explore human relationships and how extraordinary circumstances can reveal people for who they really are.

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

My all-time favourite novel is Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, the incredible story of a prolonged embassy siege and the relationships which form between the hostages and their captors. Patchett has the most incredible insight into human behaviour and her prose is simply gorgeous. I have read this book at least half a dozen times and I get something new from it every time.

You can connect with Annabel Smith on GoodReads or through 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 Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There is just nothing like a good thriller especially the kind that keeps you up at night until the wee hours of the morning because you just can’t put it down. I was lucky enough to receive THE BULLET last month to review for NetGalley and found myself reading at a record pace because I just couldn’t flip those pages fast enough. I had a book hangover for a couple of days, trying to recover from the lack of sleep I had been experiencing while reading this.

It’s that good.

THE BULLET comes out this week (March 17th) and I want you to run right out and get it so you can experience my level of exhaustion. I really doubt you will be able to put it down.

I reached out to Mary Louise Kelly to see if she might like to share a little bit about her life as both a reporter and a fictional writer.  I think this interview perfectly captures what I imagine her personality to be which seems to fill the pages in her fabulous new thriller. Please do read through to the end so you can see her publicly challenge her brother in this interview.

She is my kind of lady.

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

THE BULLET  is a beautifully written mystery that echoes some of my favorite thrillers from Chevy Stevens.  The premise of the book is when a woman discover a bullet in her body that she was never aware of it, it sends her life spiraling in a direction that she never expected. The origin of that bullet and the people around her that it has affected, cause this cold case to be reopened… reopening wounds of the family and friends around her.

Despite the gravity of the case and the circumstances surrounding it, the book is laced with great humor and a cast of endearing characters. I really enjoyed this one for a quick escape and can’t recommend it enough.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Mary Louise as she shares more about this book!

Mary Louise Kelly

The premise for your latest book THE BULLET is shaped around a woman going in for a routine scan and discovering that she has a bullet in her body that she never knew about. How did you come up with this unique idea for the storyline for your book?

It’s a true story! I was sitting on the sidelines of my son’s little league baseball game one afternoon, when another mom plopped down next to me, heaved a sigh, and said something like, “Well, I’ve had a heck of a week.” Long story short, she had just had a routine scan that revealed a bullet in her neck that she never knew about. She had no scar, no clandestine past, and she swore she’d never been shot. Driving home afterwards, I kept thinking, how is that even possible? I’m a reporter by training, so I dug into medical literature, looking for examples of people who have survived gunshots to the neck or head. And then the novelist in me took over:  I imagined all kinds of wild scenarios, from amnesia to witness-protection programs to CIA plots. My protagonist discovers the bullet in her neck by page 8. What follows are 349 pages of pure fiction, focused on her quest to find out how on earth it got there, and what on earth she’s going to do about it.

What is your process for fleshing out a thriller like this? Do you have the mystery solved before you write it so you know where you are headed or did you build the story and motive as you progressed through the writing?

I map out the whole thing, to make certain it’s a story that can sustain 350 pages. But then I end up throwing out the road map as I go. My original outline is stuffed with all kinds of plot twists that fell by the wayside, and it never mentions characters that end up playing major roles. You get to know characters as you write them, and some prove more interesting than others (the nice thing about fiction is that you can kill off the ones who get on your nerves.) One theme that runs throughout The Bullet is that we should question how well we really know the people we love, and even how well we know ourselves and what we are capable of. I kick off the book with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Robert Penn Warren. He writes that human beings are complicated contraptions, “not good or bad but… good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.” Isn’t that great? I agree with him, and tried to conceive all of my characters as complicated contraptions. That makes both the protagonist and the forces opposing her more interesting, and both of them kept surprising me as I wrote.

You have created such endearing characters in this book and Caroline’s family, in particular, are just the kind of people every girl wishes she had in her life. Which character did you find the most endearing??

Thank you. I have a soft spot for Beamer Beasley, the grizzled cop who helps Caroline unravel the secrets of her past. Writers aren’t supposed to admit to imagining which Hollywood star would play our characters, but Beamer is screaming to be played by Morgan Freeman, and really, wouldn’t we all want him on our side when investigating a gruesome crime? I also loved every scene with Madame Aubuchon. I could just picture her so clearly, in all her hauteur and brittleness, but also her intelligence and decency. As for Caroline’s family, a lot of readers have commented on how close she is to her brothers. They love and support her, even as they drive her nuts. I confess this sibling back-and-forth is completely autobiographical. My brother C.J. gets me riled up faster than anyone; you do not want to be in the room when the two of us get going on politics or feminism or the relative merits of tofu vs. steak. But as I note in the Acknowledgments, C.J. is also hands down the person I would want beside me in a bar brawl.

Mary Louise Kelly

Source: KPLU

How do you think your background as a reporter has helped you as a writer? What skills are you able to use from this profession to be build a good fictional story?

My journalism training helps enormously with dialogue, because when you write for broadcast, you strive to write conversationally. Most of us write in complete, grammatically correct sentences, because that’s the way our high school teachers and college professors taught us. But that’s not the way people talk, and it takes time to unlearn it. Writing for radio gave me a head start. It also instilled an instinct for storytelling. At NPR, we aim for the “driveway moment” – that moment when a listener has made it home, and he’s got the car in park, and he needs to get inside, but he’s listening to something so gripping he can’t turn it off. You want to spool out enough detail that the listener gets hooked, while holding enough back that he wants to keep listening. That’s key to writing a good novel, too, although I suppose the goal shifts to creating a  “nightstand moment” – when a reader sits up turning pages, well after he knows he should have chucked the novel on his nightstand and have turned out the light.

Caroline’s irritation with the reporters made me chuckle since you have worked as an NPR & BBC reporter. In one line she says, “Reporters. Honestly. What an exhausting profession, to be professionally trained to be relentless.” Is it exhausting?

Actually, no. It’s exhilarating. There was a great line in a New Yorker profile of Samantha Power, President Obama’s ambassador to the U.N. The writer describes Power, a former journalist, as retaining “a reporter’s instinct for amassing facts and deploying them to extract more.” That’s exactly right. You find out one interesting thing, and it makes you want to dig and find out more. Get a bunch of reporters together, swapping stories about that time on deadline on the Khyber Pass, or banging on voters’ doors in Iowa, or quizzing the President in a White House press conference, and at some point we all break into grins, and somebody says out loud what everyone is thinking:  I can’t believe we actually get paid to do this.

 Since this is your second book to be published, did you find this one easier or harder to write than your first? How long did it take you to create this story and what did you find most challenging with this book?

This second one took less time. Maybe I’m getting faster, but more likely it’s because the first time around I was working full-time as NPR’s Pentagon correspondent. While writing Anonymous Sources, I kept jetting off on reporting trips to war zones, and when I was home in Washington, I was filing daily news reports from the Pentagon. Writing fiction was my third priority, after my day job and after being a wife and mom.

The Bullet took me 16 months, from sitting down to write Chapter One to handing in a full draft of the manuscript. Then come months of editing and polishing and proofreading. As for Book Three… we shall see how long it takes. Right now I’m ramping up again on journalism; I have dearly (insanely?) missed the daily deadlines, and being engaged in the national dialogue on everything from race to politics to technology. My hope is I’ll end up with loads of fresh ideas for my fiction; my agent fears I’ll end up taking a decade to produce another book. But another side effect of being a reporter is that I write fast, so watch this space!

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

I would tell my brother to read Birdsong, the 1993 novel by Sebastian Faulks. It’s about a British soldier in France during World War I, and it is the most gorgeous epic of love and war and regrets. I’ve been telling my brother to read it for twenty years now, and he keeps refusing, at this point out of sheer orneriness. C.J., consider yourself publicly challenged.

You can connect with Mary Louise Kelly on GoodReads or through 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: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Sundays are just made for curling up with a great book and today I am excited to feature an interview with a new author that has created a lot of buzz with his debut novel, My Sunshine AwayI selected this book while browsing this past month’s selection for the Amazon Featured Debut Novel category.  I picked it up and immediately emailed the author to see if I could interview him about his book, the process of writing poetically,  the buzz about his debut novel, and some interesting insights on the town he lives in (Baton Rouge) that can be found within this book.  I simply love his responses to my questions and the honesty with which he writes.

Before we begin,  I know you like me to disclose this in our book reviews and interviews so the book featured today does have sex and language in it.  This doesn’t make me shy away from a book unless it is simply for shock value and that is definitely not the case in this book.  I really liked this post from Modern Mrs. Darcy that can help explain why I choose the books I do (I echo her sentiments completely).

I also loved what M.O. Walsh, our author today, says about his writing.  He says, “If a writer is concerned about the reception of their work more than the creation of it, then they are likely to mitigate this honesty in a way that makes for a weaker book.  And, if their unmitigated honesty eventually upsets people or disturbs them, then I think that’s ok.  We can only understand what we cherish by recognizing what it is that unsettles us.  I think that’s a large part of the function of art, actually, to be unsettling.”

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away is one of those books that you just swim in the words thanks to such a gifted writer. M.O. Walsh does an incredible job of setting the typical suburban neighborhood scene in the year of 1989. It’s the summer that changes everything when the town’s golden girl, Lindy Simpson, is attacked at night near her home. Told in the eyes of another neighborhood boy, who has an extreme obsession & fixation on Lindy, he tries to set the scene and name the suspects…even when his name is included among the list. Although, perhaps, not satisfying in the way that a typical whodunit mystery is solved, it is genuinely satisfying in capturing the mind of an adolescent boy, a bittersweet relationship between him and his father, and that tricky terrain of adolescent love and obsession. I really enjoyed this read and I look forward to sharing more about the author behind the story.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in for a chat with M.O. Walsh today!

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

 

Congratulations on your debut novel and I am so excited to see that it was selected as Amazon’s Featured Debut Novel for the month of February along with being a New York Times Bestseller, Entertainment Weekly’s “Must” for 2015, an Indie Next Pick, and a Library Journal Essential Debut. How long did it take you to write this incredible book and what has it been like to have it so well received once it has been released into the world?

Thanks!  I really appreciate all of your support and excitement.  I worked on this novel for about 7 years, so it has been really gratifying to see it actually make its way out into the world.  All of the really generous reviews and press have been humbling, to say the least.  I think when you write a novel, you focus so much on trying to make it as good as you possibly can that you become, undoubtedly, your own toughest critic.  So, when people say nice things about your writing, at least for me, it’s kind of surprising.  It’s not surprising in that I thought it was a bad book, it’s surprising in terms of me thinking, “Wait, you read my novel? That’s been sitting on my computer for 7 years.  How did you get a copy of it?” Ha.

Was the story of Lindy Simpson based upon any events that happened in your own life or was this just a story that you wanted to explore creatively?

Both, actually.  I grew up in a neighborhood similar to the one in the novel and can remember overhearing a story about a young girl on our street being attacked one night. I was way too young, however, to understand what this meant when I originally heard it (I was just a kid who wanted to play outside and nothing else).  So, I kind of stashed the story away in the back of mind like people do.  Then, the older I got, the more I couldn’t help thinking about how strange it was that a place that I thought of so nostalgically and wonderfully could have possibly been so horrible to another child my age.  So, instead of asking my mom about it, or doing any research into the actual event, I decided to explore it creatively through fiction.

Your story takes place in Baton Rouge, which is a town that I understand you are quite familiar with since you live and teach there.  There are sections of your book that are really devoted towards the feelings of the people of Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina strikes and the struggle with supporting the people of New Orleans through that. There is also a lot about how the town felt in the aftermath of the storm.  Were these just feelings of your character or do you feel like these are your feelings and you are echoing the sentiments of people of Baton Rouge as a whole? Do you feel like the town is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina?

I think a lot of places are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is the obvious example, and deservedly so, but there are also smaller coastal towns that have never recovered and larger cities like Baton Rouge and Shreveport and Houston who saw some real shifts in their demographics as a result of the Katrina refugees. I think many of these cities simply had to come to grips with a new reality in the wake of this population growth.  I can’t speak for them, nor can I speak for Baton Rouge as a whole. However, since I’ve spent most of my life in Baton Rouge, and since it’s where the narrator is from, and since the narrator is very aware of the differences between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and the differences between him and the main character Lindy Simpson, I felt it was a subject ripe for exploration.  The truth of the matter is that not many people have told Baton Rouge’s side of the Katrina story. And, since this narrator got an opportunity to do so, when telling his own personal story, he went for it.

The narrator of your story is also a potential suspect in the rape of Lindy Simpson.  Why do you think it was important to tell it from his perspective, a neighbor boy obsessed with Lindy himself?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I never really conceived of the novel in any other way.  I think a large part of what attracted me to the story as a whole was the narrator’s compulsion to confess to something.  I’m definitely not a crime writer or mystery writer, have never really read many books in those genres, so I was operating only under the simple premise that the narrator had something he desperately needed to tell the reader.  That, I think, drives much of the story.  Looking back at it now, I can see other reasons why the perspective is important but, again, it’s hard to quantify because the entire book would be different, I think, if the perspective changed.

Writing about rape and sexuality has to be a tough and ambitious first topic to tackle in a debut novel. Were you scared how this story would be received? Were the more graphic & messy scenes difficult for you to write as a writer or do you just go in that place and let the words go?

I never thought of myself as writing about rape.  I’m definitely not qualified to do that.  I was just trying to tell this one person’s story.  In that way, I was never really scared about what the reception might be.  The only thing that makes fiction work, I think, is honesty.  Pure, raw, you-can’t-tell-anyone-else-I-told-you-this honesty. If a writer is concerned about the reception of their work more than the creation of it, then they are likely to mitigate this honesty in a way that makes for a weaker book.  And, if their unmitigated honesty eventually upsets people or disturbs them, then I think that’s ok.  We can only understand what we cherish by recognizing what it is that unsettles us.  I think that’s a large part of the function of art, actually, to be unsettling.  That said, I did not set out to accomplish anything as grand as that.  I just wanted to tell a good story with good sentences, and I find that plenty challenging enough.

You Are My Sunshine

Why did you title your book, My Sunshine Away and what is the significance of this title in telling your story?

This is taken from the song You Are My Sunshine, made famous by two time Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis. This is also the state song of Louisiana.  So, when kids grow up here, they learn to sing this song at a very young age.  You’ll often hear classrooms of kindergarteners singing this at Grandparent’s Day or the like, and it is a great big happy sound.  However, once I got older and learned the verses to the song, I realized that they were full of sadness and, some might argue, even menace. So, the song made a lot of sense to me in the way the narrator looks back at his youth.  The overall impression of his youth and neighborhood is a happy one, like the chorus, but the details are as sad and troubling as the verses to the song itself.

It is no surprise to me that you are the Creative Writing Workshop director at the University of New Orleans because your words practically sing off the page and have a poetic nuance that reminds me of Anthony Doerr’s poetic phrasing in,  All the Lights We Cannot See. Who are your biggest influences in your writing and is this something that you are just born with or does writing poetically take a lot of practice?

I’ve actually just read Doerr’s book and so I understand what a tremendous compliment this is. I think that novel is amazing. So, thank you!  My own literary influences are really all over the place.  I learned a lot from sentence writers like Barry Hannah.  I learned about setting from people like William Faulkner and Willa Cather.  I also greatly appreciate the imagination of people like Italo Calvino. I think every writer has kind of a grab bag of people they learn from. However, my main influence is definitely a writer named Lewis Nordan. He was a guy from the Mississippi delta whose books Music of the Swamp, Wolf Whistle and Sharpshooter Blues absolutely recalibrated the way I thought that people could write about the South. In a literary tradition so full of gritty and violent men, Nordan’s main characters are often highly sensitive and whimsical boys trying to navigate the odd terrain they’ve been born into. His enormous sympathy for his characters really resonated with me and I feel I would be a different person in life, not just as a writer, if I’d never read him.

I definitely think that some people are born with sort of a writer’s eye.  They inherently see connections and potentials for stories where others don’t.  However, I think that actually learning to write fiction well takes a tremendous amount of practice and dedication. I’ve basically been doing nothing else for the last twenty years of my life and I still don’t feel like I have a full grasp on the craft.  I don’t know that anyone does. It’s an incredibly difficult and puzzling process, writing fiction. I think that’s what ultimately makes it a worthwhile pursuit.  It’s an honor for me to try and help other writers get their vision out into the world. I’m happy to do it.

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

This answer would likely be different on any day you asked me. There are so many great books out there!  Right now, however, I will say Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I’ve found myself missing that book lately, sort of yearning to go back and re-read it for maybe the 12th time.  Who knows why?  This is the great mystery of beautiful fiction; it speaks to us in fundamental ways that we ourselves don’t always understand. It’s a glorious thing.

 

You can connect with M.O. Walsh on Facebook and through 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!
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Sundays With Writers: Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Sundays With Writers

I hate to complain about winter, but it has been a pretty brutal one lately.  It has been hard to get motivated to do anything and so I have found myself on more than one occasion with a pile of laundry and chores to do, but huddled next to my little fireplace with a hot coffee and a big book.

On Friday I will be sharing my round-up of great things I read this month and one of those great books was WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES  by Frances Whiting. I thought it looked like a light escape, but what really grabbed my attention was the recommendation from Liane Moriarty who praised it  as “a tender exploration of friendship, families, and first love.”  You know I love her so I had to read it.  I decided to dig in and read it in a record two days- I just couldn’t put it down.

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

“Tallulah de Longland,” she said slowly, letting all the Ls in my name loll about lazily in her mouth before passing judgment. “That,” she announced, “is a serious glamorgeous name.”

From the day Annabelle Andrews sashays into her classroom, Tallulah ‘Lulu’ de Longland is bewitched: by Annabelle, by her family, and by their sprawling, crumbling house tumbling down to the river.

Their unlikely friendship intensifies through a secret language where they share confidences about their unusual mothers, first loves, and growing up in the small coastal town of Juniper Bay. But the euphoria of youth rarely lasts, and the implosion that destroys their friendship leaves lasting scars and a legacy of self-doubt that haunts Lulu into adulthood.

Years later, Lulu is presented with a choice: remain the perpetual good girl who misses out, or finally step out from the shadows and do something extraordinary. And possibly unforgivable…

It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce.

This is one of those books that you think will just be a quick escape, but ends up being a beautiful story with endearing characters that you think about after you close the final pages. This coming-of-age story follows the friendship between two teen girls and then the consequences of them both falling for the same guy, which destroys their friendship. Thankfully, it was just so much more than that and really built around a cast of flawed characters, the bonds & love of our family, first loves, true loves, and how friendships between unlikely people can reshape your destiny. There were some really great themes in this one and it is the kind of book that reminds you of your own coming-of-age story and the friendships that can endure those tumultuous years. The theme seems simple, but the story was not.

I asked Frances if she would share a little bit about her journey as a writer today because I think her story is the story of many of us. We have a story that we just have to tell, but our family and careers sometimes get in the way of achieving our dreams to share it! Please grab your coffee and join me for a beautiful interview with Frances Whiting today to discuss her book, WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES!

Frances Whiting

 I absolutely love the unique title of your book. Why did you title this book WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES and what do you think this title really says about your story?

Thank you! Walking on Trampolines is my first novel, and I really wanted to find a title that I loved, but also one that that would capture that feeling of the book, that time between childhood and teenage -hood, which is so exciting but also really unsettling at the same time. I remembered when I was a kid the feeling of trying to walk on a trampoline, I would take these big, loping steps, and it was fun but it also felt very unsteady beneath my feet. So, given that much of the book is rooted in that time and place for Tallulah and Annabelle, I thought it would be an apt title…it’s not just in our youth we feel like this though _ sometimes I still feel like I’m walking on trampolines!

WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES was previously published in Australia, where you live and have been a weekly columnist for the Australia’s Sunday Courier-Mail for over 20 years. What is it like to have your book coming out in the United States and what are some of the ways that you had to adapt it for your US readers?

Well, being published in America still seems a bit surreal to me…I am so excited and grateful that Simon and Schuster saw something in the book and took it on. To be truthful, I still can’t quite believe it’s happened. In terms of adapting it, there were really only a few tweaks here and there, with some really, particular Australian terms or brands that had to either be explained a little bit, or replaced with something universal. Everything else stayed the same, because one thing my column has taught me in the 20 years it’s been going, is that people are people everywhere. We have so much more in common than we do our differences, so the themes of intense friendship, love, betrayal, mental illness, family, redemption, the power of laughter, forgiveness are, I think ones that we can all share in. And I love the idea that Tallulah and Annabelle are all the way over there!

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Source: Simon & Schuster Canada

This coming-of-age story really takes on some adult themes including the struggle of Tallulah’s mother, Rose, and her mental illness. One of the most endearing things about Rose is the dresses she wore and the names she had for them. What was it like to see Rose’s dresses come to life through those illustrations and what was the inspiration for the naming of these dresses?

When I saw the illustrations, it’s hard to describe how I felt, because seeing something that’s been in your mind’s eye on paper is a strangely familiar feeling! I loved seeing them all, it brought Rose alive to me.  The inspiration behind naming the dresses was my work as a journalist, believe it or not! I have interviewed so many families in so many situations over the years for my feature writing and some of those families had members with a mental illness. What struck me was how many of those families coped with the situation, and how the person with the mental illness was both loved and loving. They may not have been the cookie-cutter type of family, but they had worked out ways to be a family and function around that person. When I reported on mental illness myself, or when I read other articles about it, more often than not it was painted as a tragedy or a great burden on families, and I felt a real need to redress that. So I wanted a character who had a mental illness but was so loved by her family and who loved them right back! Many of the people I have met over the years had some sort of manifestation of their illness _ one man I met was, for example, made pots and pots of jam when he was feeling anxious. So when it came to Rose, I thought naming  her dresses could be her way of making jam!

You create a character that really comes alive in this story in Duncan, Tallulah’s radio host boss, whose larger than life personality really seems to leap off the pages. He was definitely my favorite character and, I would say, the relationship between him and Tallulah was one of my favorites in your story.  Who was your favorite character in your book? Was there one relationship that really stood out for you?

Thank you again! You know what? I loved Duncan best too! And the strange thing is when I was first writing WOT he wasn’t even a character in it. But one night at home, I started to write about Lulu’s new adventures in the city and suddenly there he was! I’m not sure how to explain it without sounding crazy but it was like he entered the room and demanded to be written. And he was by far the easiest character to write, he just seemed to jump from my pen to the page. And my favourite relationship was between Duncan and Tallulah, I really loved playing with that whole “When Harry Met Sally’’ theme of whether men and women can truly be friends. I think they can and I loved the love between the two of them.

How much fun was it to create the unique language between Annabelle and Tallulah? Where did you get this idea?

So much fun!!!! I got the idea from my own childhood, and the childhoods of many people I know, because one of the things that kids (including me) seem to love doing is to create secret worlds for themselves. Whether it be cubby houses, or clubs, or hidey holes, there is something very appealing to children about a space and place that is just for them. So I wanted to capture that appeal of being exclusive with your friend, of knowing something that others don’t, of  being a member of a secret club that only you and the others in it understand. I liked the idea of doing it through language because as a writer one of the things I really love is playing with words. This gave me permission to have a whole lot of fun and to hell with writing conventions!

What has been your feedback on Annabelle as a character? Do your readers seem to like her or do you think she is unlikeable because of what she did to Tallulah?

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in the world who does like Annabelle, and I really do! I have a lot of sympathy for her, in that I think she had such a confusing childhood and ultimately was really just desperately looking for love and security. But most readers don’t like her at all-  and they let me know! But I think there’s a lot that’s good about her – her loyalty to Tallulah ( apart from that one BIG transgression), her strength, her sense of humour and her ability to forgive and truly forget.

In one line, Tallulah says, “I let them go, finally realizing that your first love, no matter how big it may have been, wasn’t necessarily your true one.” Did you have a big first love like Tallulah and then later find your true love or were they one and the same?

I did have a big first love! It was everything a first love should be, exciting and scary and passionate and dreamy and dramatic and blissful…  sometimes all in the one day! But it was a first love, in that it was a young love that didn’t last into adulthood. My true love came many, many, many years later, when I met my now husband. I’m lucky.

It took you seven years to write this book- that is no small feat! Many people I know dream of writing a book, but can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. What made you persevere and keep writing it? What was the biggest struggle with the execution of finishing it?

It was tough sometimes for me to believe I would finish it. I was working as a journalist full time, with two small kids (one of them, my daughter a surprise baby and 45 and mid-way through the book!) to love and care for, and all the other things that make up our lives.  I think what kept my going was the characters themselves. I came to love Tallulah and Annabelle, and I just didn’t want to leave them rootless and unfinished…if that makes any sense at all. I wanted to see them through, and every time I returned to writing them (sometimes it could be weeks before I returned to the book) it was like greeting old friends.

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

Oh My! What a hard question! I love books so much, choosing just one is almost impossible. But I’ll bite the bullet and say…no I just can’t do it! So instead I’ll say The Shadow of the Wind, The Great Gatsby, anything by P.J. Wodehouse, The Last Anniversary, anything by Mary Wesley, Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons and Clive James.

Is that cheating?

Thank you so much for your interest in my book, Amy. It meant so much for me to receive your email and warm words. Thank you for loving books.  Thank you especially for loving mine!

You can connect with Frances Whiting 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: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Happy Sunday, friends! This week I am so incredibly honored to be featuring Cristina Henríquez and her amazing book, THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS in our interview series today.  I decided to pick this one up after discovering it as an Amazon Best Book of the Month selection and read it in just a couple of short days over my winter break. It’s one of those that I couldn’t put down and I found myself reading portions of it out loud to my husband because it touched upon so many issues with what life would would be like as an immigrant coming to America. It has, in fact, made me more aware and more empathetic to others who may not be from our country. It’s that kind of book- the kind that resonates with you, long after you shut the pages.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

I featured this book in my January 2015 Must-Read round-up and had my fingers crossed that I would get to interview Cristina. This lady is so busy with promotion right now, but she graciously took the time to share about her book with you. I hope if you’ve read it, you can leave her a comment and tell her how much you enjoyed this one too- I’d love our authors to know how lovely it is to read these stories behind the stories. It’s a treat for me and I hope it is a treat for you too!

Told from alternating viewpoints all from immigrant neighbors in one apartment complex, it gives the reader the opportunity to see America through an immigrant’s eyes. From struggling to make ends to meet, to the struggle to communicate, to finding a job, to sending your child off to school, to the sacrifices that are made when leaving your own country for something you believe will be better than the life you are leading- it looks at it all through new eyes.

The story hinges around two sets of parents who have sacrificed everything for their kids and the blooming love between their children in a beautiful coming-of-age story. Honest, human, and so moving.  I am just going to say it, this is a MUST-READ this year. The New York Times even named it as one of its 100 Notable Books of 2014. This would make a fantastic book club selection because there is so much to talk about and you can even print out these handy book club questions for your group.

Now grab your coffee and settle in with this amazing writer today!

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Although this is a fictional story, you deal with the real & true issue of immigration and the hurdles that immigrants face when they come to America. Why do you feel this was such an important story to tell and why did you chose to tell it fictionally rather than as a work of nonfiction?

The story was important to me because it was personal. My father is an immigrant who came to the United States from Panama in 1971. I wanted to honor him and stories like his – ordinary people who come here for their own reasons (in my father’s case, he came as a student to study chemical engineering at the University of Delaware) and who are trying to find a place where they belong even though the country they come to and the people around them are often inhospitable. As for choosing to tell it fictionally, that was a no-brainer. I am just much happier writing fiction. I am very, very content hanging out with imaginary people all day.

As a mom, I really related to Alma’s guilt over the tragic accident that caused her daughter brain damage, and I also related to her overwhelming need to protect her after the accident happened. As a mother, could you relate to Alma’s guilt and overprotectiveness? Has a situation ever happened in your life with your own children that helped to shape that story?

Oh, absolutely! I feel guilt and overprotectiveness almost every other day! That said, there was no specific incident in my own life that gave rise to that part of the story. But as I was writing it, any time even something small happened to one of my kids – they slipped on a patch of ice or they fell off the climbing area at the park — I found myself thinking about Alma and the weight of the guilt she was carrying with her. I knew how terrible I felt even in those minor situations, like somehow I should have been able to protect them better. Magnifying that to imagine what Alma must have felt was an easy leap.

You crafted a beautiful story told through many different points of views from all of the immigrants residing in the apartment complex. It seems everyone had a voice in this story except Maribel. Did you choose not to write her voice because you felt it would be difficult to tell with her brain damage or did you want the reader to come to her own interpretations of how/what Maribel felt?

This is a question that keeps coming up, and the answer is an exceptionally boring one. Basically, I had structured the book in my mind this way: Alma, Mayor, neighbor, Alma, Mayor, neighbor, etc. I wanted that to repeat throughout. I also knew that Alma and Mayor notwithstanding, I wanted there to be only one narrator from each family/apartment unit. For reasons that become obvious when you read the book, I felt strongly that from the Riveras that person should be Arturo. Which meant that Maribel was necessarily left out. Maribel is central to everything in the book. Everything everyone does from the start to the finish is because of her. It’s true that she doesn’t get her own chapter (neither do a few of the other characters), but I think there’s something powerful about her being the core of everything without having to say much at all.

The day-to-day struggles from simply putting your child on a bus and knowing when they will come back to communicating with the grocery clerk about what you need are so beautifully told and pulled so very much at my heartstrings. Did you interview immigrants who had come to the states to find out about their struggles to help shape your book?

No. I read some nonfiction accounts about the experiences of Latino immigrants, and I relied to some degree on my own observations of my father. But anyone who has traveled to a country where you don’t speak the language or speak it only haltingly probably knows the feeling of disorientation that the Riveras experience in the book. The last time I was in Panama, I tried to return a bottle of sunscreen that my husband had mistakenly bought. My Spanish isn’t very good, and returns are not a common occurrence in Panama, so I had two things working against me from the get-go. And it was amazing to me how embarrassed and how anxious I felt, fumbling through an explanation to the clerk about how my husband didn’t realize we already had enough sunscreen. It was a simple interaction, or what would have been simple in my life in Chicago, and it was suddenly so difficult and so fraught. I felt so conspicuous, so clearly an outsider. I tried to imagine the situations that Alma would find herself in that would make her feel the same way.

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

I wish I knew! I do have an idea, but it’s still very nebulous. Slowly, slowly, it’s taking shape.

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

That’s so hard. But this one has been very much on my mind lately so I’m going to say Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

You can connect with Cristina Henríquez on GoodReads or on Facebook or through 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: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Sundays With Writers

I am so honored to be featuring another amazing writer today in our Sundays With Writers series. Today I am interviewing William Kent Krueger after finishing his beautiful book ORDINARY GRACE and discovering that this book was anything BUT ordinary. If you are looking for a fast-paced roller coaster ride of a book, this isn’t it. This is slow-telling writing and a genuine crafting of a story sat its finest. It is the kind of book that you could hand to anyone and they would see small glimpses of their own childhood in it.

William Kent Krueger is new to me, but not new to mystery lovers. He writes a series called the Cork O’Connor mysteries that I am now looking forward to checking out. ORDINARY GRACE is his second stand-alone novel (the other being THE DEVIL’S BED) and has received rave reviews, awards, and accolades. In fact, ORDINARY GRACE has won the Edgar Award for Best Novel, Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for Best Fiction, Dilys Award, Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, Left Coast Crime “Squid” Award for Best Mystery Set Within the US, Barry Award for Best Novel, Anthony Award for Best Novel, Macavity Award for Best Novel…You know, just to name a FEW! AMAZING!

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger ORDINARY GRACE is a  beautiful coming-of-age story surrounding a small town and a series of murders that happen there.  I can admit that while I was able to figure out the killer early on in the story, it did not take away from the beautiful writing that filled the pages. I really enjoyed the book and the author’s carefully crafted characters that made this story read more like a memoir than a piece of fiction.

After finishing the book, I emailed Kent and asked if he could join us today and share a little bit about why he created this stand-alone book, who inspired it, and if the pressure of putting such a beautiful book out in the world (and receiving every dang award) build upon his pressure of being a writer.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with  Kent today about his amazing book!

William Kent Krueger

You are quite famous for your Cork O’Connor mystery novels, which I am so excited to explore now. ORDINARY GRACE stands on its own, although it has an element of mystery to it like your other books. What compelled you to develop this novel for your readers?

When you delve into the Cork O’Connor series, you’ll find that many of the stories have an undercurrent that involves the spiritual journey. This is something that comes naturally out of who Cork O’Connor is, a man of mixed heritage, part Irish-American and part Native American (Ojibwe).  He comes from two different spiritual traditions and in the stories he’s often trying to find his own spiritual way.  I’ve always seen Ordinary Grace as an opportunity for me to explore more deeply the question of the spiritual journey in ordinary lives.

Also, I’d wanted for a very long time to write a story that would allow me to return to an important period in my own life—the summer I was thirteen.  For many reasons, I’ve remembered that summer vividly across these many decades.  I wanted to recall that time and the kind of place I was living and the concerns that I had and put them on the page in a way that might help readers born years later to understand what it was like to be thirteen years old in a small Midwestern town in the summer of 1961.

And finally, I wanted to write a story that, although there would be a mystery at its heart, would be stylistically and structurally different from anything I’d written for the Cork O’Connor series.  I simply wanted to stretch as a writer.

Told through the 13 year old eyes of your narrator, Frank Drum, this book reads like a beautiful memoir of adolescence. Did you channel a lot of your own boyhood stories in this book? What is one element of Frank’s life, in particular, that readers might be surprised to know comes right from your very own childhood?

I didn’t necessarily relate real occurrences, but rather a real backdrop that came from my childhood. Although based on several real towns in Minnesota, New Bremen is a reflection of the Midwest landscape of my adolescence.  The quarry the kids swim in, I swam in.  The excitement about the Fourth of July fireworks was my excitement.  I lived in a house very similar to the Drum house and played on the banks of rivers very much like the Minnesota River.

What readers might find interesting is this: The Drum family is, in fact, based on my own family.  My father wasn’t a small town Methodist minister, but he was a high school English teacher in a small town, a position elevated in the eyes of many.  My mother, like Ruth Drum, was a frustrated artist. And I had siblings I loved dearly.  A lot of the adjunct characters came out of my life, men or women I’d known along the way.  So very much of the story was from my own experience.  But thankfully I never suffered the kind of loss the Drum family suffers.

I am going to quote you from another interview where you said that the “seed of the kind of book I wanted to write,” was in your mind for 5 years. What would you say to someone who is harboring those kinds of seeds for a book and what pushed you to finally create it? Was writing it harder for you than the writing your Cork O’Connor mysteries or easier?

I think I wrote the novel when I was finally ready to write it, when I finally understood enough about storytelling to do the story justice. I didn’t have all the details in place when I launched into the work, but I had a good sense of the Drum family and of New Bremen.  Much of the story itself I discovered along the way.  Which is very different from the manner in which I’ve always approached the Cork O’Connor stories.  Because the books in my series are, generally speaking, true mysteries, I’ve almost always plotted them carefully in advance.  I know how a Cork story begins, how it ends, who did what to whom and why.  A mystery is literary slight of hand.  It’s constant misdirection, and how can you misdirect your reader if you yourself don’t know where the story’s going?

Oddly enough, the writing of Ordinary Grace was the easiest and most satisfying piece of work I’ve ever done.  I think this was because I was constantly tapping the deep roots of my own experience for the story.

ORDINARY GRACE has won just about every kind of award there is for a mystery novel (Edgar Award for Best Novel, Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for Best Fiction, Dilys Award, Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, Left Coast Crime “Squid” Award for Best Mystery Set Within the US, Barry Award for Best Novel, Anthony Award for Best Novel, Macavity Award for Best Novel). What does it feel like to have this book validated like this by critics and earn so many awards? Did it help validate your departure from your series for a bit? Do you feel pressured to create this level of storytelling in your future books?

It’s always a great risk when you depart from a well-established and popular series. That’s one of the pitfalls in our business, that if you try something different, readers may turn their noses up at it.  This happened once before in my career.  Early on, I wrote a novel that wasn’t a part of the Cork O’Connor series, a novel titled The Devil’s Bed.  It’s what, in the business, we call a stand-alone thriller.  It experienced abysmal sales.  Not because it was a bad book—it got great reviews—but because Cork O’Connor wasn’t in the story, and readers were unwilling to follow me to a place that didn’t have Cork in it.  So I was tremendously uncertain about the reception Ordinary Grace might experience.  But as you’ve pointed out, and to my great relief, critics and readers alike have opened their arms to the book.  I have more freedom now to depart from the Cork O’Connor series if I choose to do that.  And I have.  I’ve just completed the first draft of a companion novel to Ordinary Grace.  It’s titled This Tender Land.

You ask if I feel pressured now to try to maintain the level of storytelling that readers saw in Ordinary Grace.    And that’s been an issue, because I’m concerned that readers will want another Ordinary Grace, and this book is very different.  So we’ll see.

The theme of spirituality is very prevalent in this book. Why was spirituality such an important theme in this story?

The question of the spiritual journey has been an important one my whole life. I’ve never felt comfortable about religion, and I’ve always felt as if I’m on a spiritual pilgrimage to a place that hasn’t been revealed to me yet.  But what I’ve seen in life is that we experience the divine every day, in the blessings and graces that we offer one another, in our ordinary kindnesses, in our habitual forgiving.  And I wanted that outlook to be at the heart of Ordinary Grace.

I understand that you might be building upon the story of ORDINARY GRACE? Can you tell me more about that possibility? What else are you working on that we should be looking for?

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve completed a draft of a companion novel: This Tender Land. One of the themes I touched on in Ordinary Grace was the terrible wounding of spirit that my father and the fathers of so many of my friends experienced as a result of fighting in World War Two or the Korean conflict.  I wanted to explore the nature of that wounding more deeply, and also the question of how we heal.  Southern Minnesota, which is the setting I’ve used once again, is a perfect backdrop for an exploration of great wounding.  It’s an area whose history is written in great struggle and great suffering.  The Dakota Conflict of 1862, which occurred in the Minnesota River Valley, resulted in the largest mass execution in this nation’s history.  Thirty-eight Dakota men were hung on the same day at the same hour from an enormous scaffolding constructed in Mankato, Minnesota.  The Dakota were driven from Minnesota, from their homeland, and remained in exile for many years before returning to a place where they’d lost everything.

This Tender Land is a companion novel to Ordinary Grace, but not a sequel.  It doesn’t deal with the Drum family, nor does it take place in the fictional New Bremen.  I call it a companion because it’s also set in southern Minnesota in earlier time—1958.  And the theme this time around is, quite simply, the healing of the human spirit.

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

My all-time favorite novel is To Kill A Mockingbird. Anyone who hasn’t yet read this American classic absolutely must.

You can connect with William Kent Krueger on GoodReads or 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: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

It’s so good to be back to Sundays With Writers and sharing my first interview for 2015. Over my two week holiday, I read several really incredible books and one of those books happened to be,  WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler.  I read about it in this fantastic list of 6 interesting and very different novels that are worth your time on Hollywood Housewife. Laura always has some unbelievably great picks so I knew that if she said this was worth my time, it would be. I avoided all reviews of the book and dug into it.

As a reader, I love a good surprise.

And this book was SO surprising….much like that delicious twist in GONE GIRL where you flipped the page and you were like, “Wait! WHAT?!”

After I finished it, I had to track down Karen Joy Fowler to see if she could share with us a little bit more about herself and her book.  Although this was a tricky interview to do, there are no spoilers in this interview.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind. Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man. And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

This is one of those books that you want others to read just so you can talk through it. I avoided reading any reviews on this and I am so glad I did because half of the fun in this one was making sense of this unusual family and just what makes them so unusual. So beautifully executed that it reads like a memoir, it was such an enjoyable and believable read that I will spend the rest of the night trying to find all of the inspiration behind this novel and reading more about how many of these cases featured were true. Although the execution of delivering the information in a mixed up timeline can be confusing for the reader, the originality of this unique & heartbreaking story made this a book that I just couldn’t put down.

I’m not the only one who loved this book though! WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES has won the Pen/Faulkner Award for 2014 and was nominated for a 2014 Nebula Award as well.  The book was also shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize- it’s that good!

Grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat with Karen Joy Fowler this morning about this intriguing book. Remember, no spoilers, friends!

Karen Joy Fowler

You have the unbelievable gift of writing books that cover a wide range of genres beautifully, which I find quite amazing as a reader. Would you find writing in one genre to be monotonous? Do you have a favorite genre that you feel most comfortable in?

I feel most comfortable between genres.  Actually I feel most comfortable when I don’t think about genre at all, but just do whatever seems best to me for the story at hand.  My recollection of the children’s room in the library where I grew up is that books weren’t separated by genre – none of that space rocket on the spine, cowboy hat on the spine that I found in later libraries.  So it was years before I understood that genre mattered, because it never had to me.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES explores the topic of animal testing for medical purposes and tells this story of what was happening in the ‘70’s in a truly unique way. How did you decide that this was a subject you wanted to tackle and what types of research did you have to do to prepare for this book? Did your father’s work as a psychology professor who studied animal behavior contribute to you wanting to explore this topic further?

My father’s work and my childhood perceptions of it, as best I can remember them, gave me the confidence to think I maybe could write this book, even though I had no experience or knowledge of chimpanzees beyond the basic when I started it.   The idea came during a conversation I was having with my daughter about my father’s work.  I comforted myself that, if I didn’t know much about chimps, at least I knew a lot about psychologists.  That gave me the nerve needed to begin the reading and research required.

Did writing this book change any of your own views about animal rights? Were you able to relate to one of the characters, in particular, and their viewpoint about animal rights?

I was always an animal rights advocate, but writing the book really expanded my sense of that.  Before I did the research I was most sympathetic to those animals with traits I could identify as human-like, those whose intelligence seemed to echo human intelligence.  I was well into the book before I took a closer look at my own assumptions.  Doing the research widened my circle of empathy as well as my fascination and respect for the cognitive abilities of our fellow creatures.

A few centuries back, Jeremy Bentham said:  the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?… The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes… “

I wonder if things have taken a bit longer than Bentham expected.

In the book, Lowell is something of an extremist, but I am quite sympathetic to him.

It is rare for a novel to take me by surprise, but you carefully crafted the first portion of your book with a big reveal halfway through that simply shocked me. It is actually preventing me from asking you questions I would like to because half of the joy of reading your book was in the discovery of this surprising twist. Did you always know that you wanted to set this story up in this way for your readers?

Yes, before I had written a word, I’d planned to withhold this crucial bit of information until partway in.  My reasons for doing so were not just for the surprise, although I like that side effect.   My reasons were the same as the ones Rosemary offers when the reveal finally happens.

Your book reads like a memoir to me and the way you crafted the story through Rosemary’s eyes made me check the listed genre again after I was done to make sure this wasn’t a true story. Was it easy to create Rosemary’s voice for this book? How hard was it to develop the psychological angle of the loss of Rosemary’s sister?

Having never remotely gone through anything like Rosemary’s life, I was forced to simply imagine it all.  I could do the research I felt I needed for Fern (and besides, I’m never inside Fern’s head, so an outside, researched view will do.)  But creating Rosemary was the most difficult, and also the most fun, part of the book for me.  I find that most difficult and most fun often go together.

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

I’m not sure I can answer this question.  It would depend on the anyone – I don’t think books are a one-size-fits-all sort of thing.   But a current enthusiasm is Kelly Link’s new short story collection, GET IN TROUBLE.  Coming out in February.  I will be so happy if you all buy and read it.

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

My Top Ten Books of 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Best Books of 2014 from MomAdvice.com.
I still have one more month of reading to go, but I always like to deliver my top ten reads to you for holiday giving and for you to enjoy reading over your holiday break. I have read 47 books so far this year and I read so many incredible books that it is a difficult task to narrow it down to just ten. Since it is so hard, I will be sharing some honorable mentions as well as my top picks this year from what I have read. One special feature that I added to our site this year has been our Sundays With Writers. Many of the books on this list also include a discussion with the writer where I get to ask them my most pressing questions about their stories. My heart always pitter-patters like crazy when I send out an interview request, but even the most seasoned writers have been gracious and generous to share on our site. I haven’t had a single writer turn me down yet and it adds another element to these stories for me and for you.

As always, if you are looking for a little inspiration this year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, I read many more books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of year.  If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

In no particular order, here are My Top Ten Books of 2014:

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

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

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.  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 I loved it because it was so different and so awesome.

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.

After you finish this one, dive deep into our exclusive interview with M.R. Carey about his amazing book. It was one of my favorite interviews I got to do this year!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Two books slipped into my top ten of the year just this week and one of them was Station Eleven. This book was absolutely incredible and finally a new take on a pandemic world captured through the storytelling of a Hollywood actor and a band of traveling actors that risk it all to perform their art during a flu apocalypse. The storytelling jumps and weaves through time making it a treat to read from start to finish about what life was like before and after a fatal flu strikes the country.

Masterfully woven characters, particularly with the use of the three wives in Arthur’s life, the author brings these stories together in a way that makes you feel like you know each character. The ending was abrupt, but perhaps leaves it open for a sequel story.

I really enjoyed this one and can’t wait to read more from this author!

All the Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Although I hate to rank my books, I must say that this was my favorite book of the year.

I can be the first to admit that sometimes the size of a book can be intimidating to me.  All the Light We Cannot See has been in my book stack several times this year, but at over five hundred pages, I just didn’t think I had the time to sit down and really dive in deep with a heavy book.  It had been recommended to me by some of my most respected fellow readers and I knew I would love it, but it being named our local book club selection for the month was finally what pushed me to just sit down and read.

And read.

And read.

And please leave me alone, I AM READING THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD.

I could not flip the pages fast enough. What will happen to these beloved characters? How will my life go on when this book ends?

Most of all, why did I wait so long to read this?

I wish I could give this book ten stars on GoodReads. I was held captive by it and could not put it down. The storytelling is superb, the characters vividly created, and the words read like poetry. My heart was in my throat for much of it and I could not turn the pages quickly enough so I knew what would happen with Marie-Laure & Werner. I loved how their stories weaved together and how the author created such striking details that made you feel as though you were witnessing it all firsthand.

In this story, Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

I can’t recommend this one enough- it will be, perhaps, in my top ten books ever read. 

Once you finish this beautiful book, be sure to read my author interview with Anthony Doerr. I was so incredibly honored that he took time out to answer my questions when he has had such a busy year with this endeavor. The interview is just as captivating as the book!

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

I read this 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. If you don’t fall in love with these characters, I fear for you. It’s that endearing.

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 read that I believe anyone would love. 

Once you finish the book, grab a cup of coffee and settle in with my interview with Susan Crandall- it is a fun one!

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa.  Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.

Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.

I found myself completely swept away into each of these characters and what they had to overcome.  Although the book was about war and suffering, the book was also all about love and what we do for love.

This entire book was so beautiful that I found myself rereading scenes and even saying them out loud because Marra’s words read like poetry to me. The writing is just unreal and it is impossible to not get swept away into the story.

Be sure to read my interview with Anthony Marra once you finish it. I was so honored to get a chance to interview him this year and to learn more about how he developed this storyline.

Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Not sure if you can get on board with a non-fiction pick? Just picture me laughing until tears are rolling down my cheeks ever since I picked this book up. Then picture me reading aloud almost the entire book to my husband, while trying to read it to him, still laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks and trying to catch my breath so I can read every word to him. It is that funny and that awesome.

City girl, Torre DeRoche,  isn’t looking for love, but a chance encounter in a San Francisco bar sparks an instant connection with a soulful Argentinean man who unexpectedly sweeps her off her feet. The problem? He’s just about to cast the dock lines and voyage around the world on his small sailboat, and Torre is terrified of deep water. However, lovesick Torre determines that to keep the man of her dreams, she must embark on the voyage of her nightmares, so she waves good-bye to dry land and braces for a life-changing journey that’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying.

It is hilarious, harrowing, and a true story of what it would be like to sail around the world.  I could not put this book down and loved every moment of it. I really think you would love this one too!

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

If there is one thing I love it is a well-written thriller. There is nothing  better  than 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 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! If you have been looking for something to capture your thriller-lovin’ heart, this is the book for you. Be sure to read my author interview after you are done. It is a particularly moving story of a writer who didn’t give up on her dreams of being published- super inspiring!

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

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. 

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.

The author is just as fabulous as this book so be sure to read my interview with her after you finish it- her story of becoming an author is REALLY inspiring and made me appreciate this beautiful book even more!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This book slipped in at the tail end of the year when I thought that I had chosen my list of ten. It was charming and a book for a true book lover.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that changes his life forever…

This story is enchanting from start to finish. This book is a must-read for book lovers as it references so many of my favorite books and centers around a little bookshop in a seaside town. I could not put this one down and, truly, did not want the story of these beautiful characters to end. If you need a little winter escape, check this book out. I may just read it again, it was that simply that perfect.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

If you haven’t read The Girl You Left Behind or Me Before You, you must reserve them at your library because they are amazing. I don’t know how she does it, but this book made me laugh, cry, and connect with every character in this book. Moyes weaves an endearing story of a mother who is down on her luck and can barely make ends meet when her daughter is offered the chance of a lifetime to receive a scholarship for her excellence in mathematics that will cover 90% of her daughter’s education. Coming up with the other ten percent seems impossible, but she is determined to make this happen for her daughter. When she hears of a math contest happening in Scotland that offers a cash prize, she must do everything she can to get her there… including hitching a ride with the most unlikely man who could ultimately change their entire world. 

Anyone who has ever struggled financially or who would sacrifice it all to give their kids everything they need will appreciate this extraordinary book that, I hope, will be adapted to movie one day. It is that good! It’s one of those that just reminds me of a really great Hugh Grant romantic comedy film. It’s just perfect.  Amy Allen Clark- Best Books of 2014

If that isn’t enough books for you, here is my lengthy list of Honorable Mentions that you should check out this year!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (get ideas for a book club around this one here)

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The Martian by Andy Weir (read my interview here)

Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert (read my interview here)

Life Drawing by Robin Black

We Were Liars  by E. Lockhart

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf (read my interview here)

Close Your Eyes Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian (read my interview here)

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable (read my interview here)

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (read my interview here)

Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn (read my interview here)

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (read my interview here)

A White Wind Blew by James Markert (read my interview here)

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

The Bear by Claire Cameron (read my interview here)

Best Reads of 2013

Need More Book Ideas? Here are my top ten lists from the past four years!

My Top Ten Books of 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

My Top Ten Books in 2011

The Top Ten of 2010

For more great suggestions, check out the NPR Book Concierge- swoon! It is heavenly stuff!   Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2014 or share your links to your own round-ups! Anything I should be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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Sundays With Writers: The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Debut novelists hold a special place in my heart. I particularly love novelists that never give up and those that spend years crafting the most perfect book. When I finished the final pages of The Art of Falling, I knew that I needed to reach out to the author. What sealed the deal though was Kathryn’s Q&A at the end of her book that really gave me pause. She is talking about one of those scary topics that we often dance around. She talks about suicide and how it impacted her personally and how it was reflected in the character of her book.

Robin Williams certainly brought the topic of mental illness to the forefront this year. I can honestly say that reading through my Facebook feed that sad day, I was disturbed by the reactions of people and the things they said about it- I think mental illness is still something so few of us understand.  For me, I just hoped that in these sad moments, people would find courage to seek help and that it might bring to light the struggles of the mentally ill.  I keep my heart pretty guarded on here, but I am no stranger to mental illness or depression. I think that is why this book touched me very deeply.

The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft

In Craft’s novel, we get to take a glimpse behind the world of dance with new eyes. All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

 I am completely enraptured with the dance world and this really brought to life the struggle of a dancer and body image. What unfolds is a beautiful story of the unlikely friendships that pull her from her depths of despair, a mother who refuses to let her give up on her dreams, and finding movement again when confidence has been lost. Beautifully told and rich characters make this novel a fast page-turner that I just could not put down. I can’t wait to read more from Kathryn Craft! 

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this beautiful and heartfelt interview today with this week’s featured author.

Kathryn Craft

It is such an honor to feature your debut novel, The Art of Falling, on our site. I understand that this novel was eight years in the making. So very few people could dedicate themselves to one project this long- what an incredible feat.  Why did you think it was important to see this work through and did you have any doubts during this process that you would finish it?

Thanks so much for having me, Amy! Even as a teenager I used to say that “perseverance” was my middle name, so I guess I’ve always had that kind of intense focus—and I’ll tell you, as a writer that is a very handy quality! I can think of three ways to answer your question, though, and combining them galvanized my commitment.

The first is the reason I wrote this story to begin with. After my first husband committed suicide seventeen years ago, when our sons were just eight and ten, I got caught overly long in the grief stage of anger. I knew the way to emerge from it was to forgive him, but that required empathy for him I couldn’t conjure. He was 54, depressed, alcoholic, and financially reckless, all attributes unfathomable to a 40-year-old, responsible optimist. I needed to create a female character from my world who might be pushed to the point of such despair—and Penelope Sparrow was born. Penny is a dancer who blames her body for the ruin of her dream dance career, yet who survives what should have been a deadly fall due to the miraculous strength and resilience of that same body. I could relate to her. In the backstory, had I taken away enough of what she loves for her to consider suicide? I wasn’t sure—so I wrote the novel to find out.

But healing from a horrific event takes time. Years and years of time. Early readers could tell you that Penelope, like her author, started out a much angrier character. I knew my anger would be healed when agents started telling me she was now a woman whose arc they admired. A lovely side benefit was that my storytelling skills improved along the way.

Second, once the characters started coming alive to me, I knew I would hang in there with them for the long haul because I loved them. They never stopped sharing their secrets when I pushed them for more. They were troubled and brave—and honestly, I miss them since publication! I wanted to do right by them, and make sure their story was told.

The last reason was ridiculously pragmatic—I wanted something to go in my author’s bio! I was a dancer, choreographer, and dance critic. I was a biology major and I have a master’s in health and phys ed. The world of this book both surrounded me and lived in my body. I was the person to write it, and had credentials to back that up. I really felt this needed to be my debut title.

Penelope’s suicide attempt and your own life had some parallels. Why did you feel suicide was an important topic to explore? Has this process changed your own feelings about suicide and those who struggle with depression? Have you found writing this story to be therapeutic in your own journey towards understanding?

Therapeutic, yes, but I’m not done writing about suicide yet. My second novel, The Far End of Happy, due out in May 2015, is based on the true story of my husband’s day-long standoff against a massive police presence, novelized to feature the points of view of the three women closest to him as they await word and try to sustain hope. Our decision to choose life, every day, is just so elemental that calling it into question presents a fascinating array of story problems. Real world problems with no easy answers, as my next novel will show.

Case in point: I just happened to reveal my cover for this second novel on the day beloved comedian Robin Williams was found dead by his own hand. The outcry on social media was immediate: we need to offer a more sympathetic ear to those who are depressed! Wouldn’t that be nice if mental illness could be so easily solved, and people were that willing to be transparent? What I know now, from life experience and writing two novels, is that neither of these things are true. Like most subjects, once you delve into them deeply, you become more painfully aware of their complexity.

Yet still I strive to write novels that resolve on a note of hope, what I consider to be the most critical component for a joyful life. This is the great calling of the storyteller: to rearrange the chaos of real-seeming events in order to create order, understanding, and change.

Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft dancing- source Barnes & Noble

You are a former dancer, choreographer, and critic so I know you know firsthand how harshly critical and taxing being a dancer can be on the body and mind. Penelope’s struggle with her own body image issues are a big focus in this book. Did you ever struggle with these issues yourself as a dancer? As a critic, did you struggle with reviewing other dancers knowing what it is like to be on the receiving end of criticism?

Despite my academic exploration of its inner workings and movement, our bodies ultimately are a mystery that can be influenced but not controlled. I think all dancers struggle with this to some extent but since I hadn’t experienced Penny’s specific issues I drew on other ways my body disappointed me to find that emotional connection: fair skin back when tan was “it,” fertility struggles and miscarriages when I desperately wanted children; inducement and flagging contractions when I wanted to deliver naturally; graying hair and wrinkles when I still struggled with acne (I mean come on, is that fair?). Yet despite the human body’s betrayals, there is no creation more magnificent. I wanted to write about that conflict.

Early on, as a critic, I had to own the fact that I was not criticizing other dancers; I was expressing one woman’s informed opinion about a work of choreography and its execution in a way that would be evocative for the reader. Otherwise, how could I have had the hubris to set fingers to keyboard for publication? I’m also a developmental editor, so I continue to use my critical mind, sharing my informed yet very personal assessments. This sensibility helps me as an author to establish an even keel as I read what others say about my work.

When Penelope decides that she can’t do dance anymore she takes a job as an aerobics instructor and then later a short-lived position in their family’s candy factory. What is one job you have had in your life that could not have been a worse fit?

Fun question! Had to be secretary. Imagine a dancer, confined to a chair all day. I used to fill in at my neighbor’s manufacturer’s rep firm, taking orders, filing, typing letters, and making coffee. Okay the talking on the phone part I could do (hello, I’m a woman). But I was a creative filer, my lack of touch typing and the resulting syncopation constantly had my boss shutting the door between our offices for his sanity, and since I didn’t drink coffee at the time—let’s just say it typically sat there all day until it burned. I resigned with a misspelled letter typed halfway upside down. My ex-boss has it to this day and will whip it out for another round of laughter when I visit.

The relationship I loved the most was the one you created between Penelope and her mother. There was such a good balance of the real love and strain of mother and daughter relationships. Were the scenes between them difficult to write especially when it comes to Evelyn’s own weight issues and Penelope’s growing insecurity that she is like her mother?

Heck no! The great fun of being a novelist is letting rip confrontations that you would never dare allow in real life. It was fun to let them butt heads, especially surrounding the turning point that many mothers and daughters struggle with: seeing each other as adult women. That said, it wasn’t all giggles, of course. I too find some of their scenes deeply moving.

Since you have been a dancer, choreographer, and critic, which of these characters, in the book, do you relate to the most?

Each of them carries a spark from me, for sure. To reduce inner conflict, can I plead the fifth?

I think it has to be the critic—any creative with a critical bone in her body knows how hard it is to turn off the critic! Plus, she’s the most misunderstood. She is a creative too—her art form is derivative, of course, but it is an art form (something we forget in this world of “everyone who can bestow a star rating is now a critic”). She is an advocate for dance excellence, and this one has a personal cause as well that is as worthy as my reasons for writing the novel.

Plus who am I kidding? I have to say the critic. If I don’t, I’m afraid of what she’ll write about me…

I’m obsessed with dancing and all things dance so I must ask, what is your favorite song to dance to and where is your favorite place to dance?

While on your basic wedding event dance floor, my absolute fave is “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls. That song tickles the hell out of me and it’s such a great beat, with all the building swirl of a storm on top. My favorite non-traditional place to dance? Grocery store aisles! (Yes, you’ll now recognize me…)

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

Ah, the dreaded one book question, asked of a multiple-book lover! Since I know nothing about the reader, including why he or she reads—and given my answers to the question about critical subjectivity—I’ll assume your real question is “What book could someone read that would reveal the most about you?” You said “book,” not “novel,” for which I am grateful, since novels are such delicious slices of life it would be like asking if you could only taste one food what would it be. So I am going to go the nonfiction route and say The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. A brilliant life guide that I’ve read many times, my sensibilities are all over its pages.

You can connect with Kathryn Craft on GoodReads or 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!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

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Sundays With Writers: The Martian by Andy Weir

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

This year one of my reading goals was to branch out into different genres than I typically reach for.

I blame you.

I want our Sundays With Writers to be a well-rounded selection of great books and authors and I want to challenge you to read something you might not normally pick up.  My first leap into science fiction this year was The Girl With All the Gifts and I wasn’t going to stop there. After reading about The Martian, I knew that this would be my next science fiction book for the year.  Can I be honest and say that after starting it, I started to wonder if my tiny brain could process all of this science?  This book, my friends, is heavy on the science in the science fiction. And it was geekily good. So geekily good, in fact, that this is the next book my husband wants to read.

Did I mention it is being adapted into a film starring Matt Damon?

I finished this amazing book and emailed Andy Weir to see if he might like to do an interview. He graciously agreed.

And then I wondered what in the world I could ask this genius that wouldn’t sound completely stupid?

Hello, anxiety attack.

I hope this interview does this great mind justice and I hope you will want to snag his book too. Let me tell you a little about it!

The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

This is a suspenseful survival story of an astronaut who finds himself stranded on Mars and what he must do to survive. Science geeks will love this story of survival from the astronaut, Mark, from his ingenious ideas of how to grow food for himself to how he keeps his limited equipment running to stay alive until he can be rescued. Loads of unexpected humor in his logs, even in the most challenging situations, and a character you want to root for. I really enjoyed this one immensely and can’t wait to see it on the big screen!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in for a chat with Andy Weir about his debut novel The Martian!

Andy Weir

When your short story The Egg hit the front page of Reddit, you said that you were a little sad that The Martian wasn’t as popular as the short story you wrote in an evening. Now that The Martian is finally getting the attention it deserves are you finding this project to be more rewarding than you expected?

Oh definitely. That was before The Martian really took off. Since then, it’s become more well-known than The Egg. It’s been a very exciting ride.

Some of my favorite scenes in your book are when Watney discovers what fills his crewmates USB drives. I love that they brought disco music and fabulous shows like Three’s Company. What would you put on your USB drive to take with you to Mars?

Probably a bunch of 1980’s music. And I’d bring the entire archive of Doctor Who. You may not have noticed, but I’m a nerd.

 Any thoughts on commercial space flight? Any plans to purchase a ticket?

It feels like it’s just around the corner. The trick is getting the price down. Most people can’t pay $200,000 for a trip to space. But if that were brought down to $10,000 it would probably have millions of customers. As for myself, I’m afraid to fly in ordinary planes; I certainly wouldn’t be able to go to space.

Do you see us putting a man on Mars in your lifetime?

That’s a tough one to predict. With our modern technology, we can make extremely effective rovers. It makes people ask why we should risk human life. There are lots of solid reasons to send people instead of robots, but that fundamental concern, and the tremendous cost increases associated with manned spaceflight, will always be a factor. Considering we haven’t gone back to the moon yet, I’m honestly not sure if we’ll see anyone on Mars soon.

Which do you think is a more technical challenge- the first time we put a man on the moon or putting a man on Mars?

Putting a man on Mars is definitely the larger challenge. Even when you account for the technology level of the Apollo era compared to now. The Moon is just so much closer and easier to work with.

I know that not many of our readers have explored as much science fiction and that is why I wanted to share about your book. Do you have any other great suggestions for readers just jumping into the science fiction genre?

Yes, I recommend “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. It’s my favorite book of the decade so far, and it has excellent crossover appeal. You don’t have to be a “sci-fi person” to enjoy it.

Do you think you would survive if you were stranded on Mars?

I doubt it. It would require great bravery and fortitude, and exceptional strength of character. I’m just a normal guy.

John Young

If you could dine with one astronaut, living or dead, who would you invite to dinner?

John Young. He’s the consummate astronaut. He was on numerous spaceflights including Apollo 16, when he walked on the Moon. Fun fact: Apollo astronauts wore bio-monitoring equipment, so their heart rate was recorded throughout their missions. As you can imagine, during launch, their heart rates tended to spike. Usually to around 140 or 150 beats per minute. John Young’s heart rate never got above 70 during the Apollo 16 launch. Nerves of steel.

I understand that you started your computer programming career at the age of 15. What came first, your love of computers or your love for space?

Definitely my love of space. I grew up with it. I can’t remember any time when I wasn’t interested in space travel.

I am trying to build a passion for science in my children. Do you have any suggestions for how to foster that passion in them whether it’s books, places to visit, or shows/movie recommendations?

First, find their passion. Whatever it is. Art? Music? Fast Cars? Doesn’t matter. Then show them how science makes those things possible. Because in the modern era, everything is a science. If they like art, show them the science of computer modeling. If they like Music, show them how musical instruments are made with modern machinery and precision. If they like cars, well you get the idea.

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

I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest sci-fi books of all time.

You can connect with Andy Weir on GoodReads or 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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