Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite mama readers out there. I hope you are having a fantastic day today! I have such a special interview for you today as I got the chance to spend some time with Molly Ringwald last weekend. Yup, THE Molly Ringwald!  Molly served as the keynote speaker at Mom 2.0 this year on behalf of Dove and they asked if I would like to spend some time interviewing her for my site. I am, of course, a huge fan of her movies, but did you know that she is also a very accomplished writer? Well, she is, and I got the chance to interview her about Dove and they asked if I would like to spend some time interviewing her for my site. I am, of course, a huge fan of her movies, but did you know that she is also a very accomplished writer? Well, she is, and I got the chance to interview her about When It Happens to You and what she has in store for us next.

When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

Tales of love, loss, and betrayal are at the heart of When It Happens to You. A Hollywood icon, Ringwald brings the compelling candour she displayed in her film roles to the unforgettable characters she has created in this series of intertwined and linked stories about the particular challenges, joys and disappointments of adult relationships. Her characters grapple with infertility and infidelity, fame and familial discord in this fantastic debut novel.

when-it-happens-to-you

I started this beautiful book this week and am absolutely enjoying it and plan to spend this rainy day with it today. Short story books are not something I typically gravitate towards, but if you are looking for one to try, I really recommend this one as a great launching pad into short story format. Although each chapter is a story, the stories are intertwined in some way that the reader can discover as she reads from chapter to chapter, building upon the initial themes in the previous chapters.

One thing I hear a lot from moms is their struggles to dive into books because their time is so limited that they struggle with finishing books. Short stories are a magnificent way to get in your reading time and feel accomplished. As Molly states in this interview, it is also a great way to trick your brain into writing a novel. By approaching it in a short story format, she was able to break up the writing in a way that felt more manageable as a busy mom.

For those that have asked, Molly was as warm and personable as a girl could hope. She was complimentary and went way over my allotted interview time talking about great authors. I wish I could have chatted with her all day about writing and great books.  She also wasn’t just chatting about herself, her genuine enthusiasm for other writers and her own writing was contagious.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Molly Ringwald about When It Happens to You

When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

You decided to segue from acting into writing. Is this something you have always wanted to do?

I have always been interested in writing, it’s always been something I have done in my spare time and then it was just something I decided to put out there professionally once I turned forty. I think when you are younger, or at least when I was younger, I always felt like I had to focus on one thing and I think that multi-hyphenates were not really honored in the same way and celebrated as much. I felt like, in a way, that no one would take me seriously as a writer when I was younger, but then you get older and you don’t care as much about what other people think.

Were you surprised by how well your books were received?

Yes, I wrote two books,  (Getting the Pretty Back and When It Happens to You) and they were both on the national bestsellers list. I am particularly proud of my fiction collection though!

When tackling When It Happens to You, why did you decide to write in short story format? Is it because you like the smaller story explorations?

I have always just loved short stories and I was a really a big fan of Raymond Carver’s short story collections, although he is certainly more minimalist and starker than I am..and maybe a little more depressing. I think, really, it was just a format that I understood since most of the fiction that I had done was short. I think that may have been because I was busy doing a lot of other stuff too. Also for me, it was tricking my brain into writing a novel because, as it says, it’s really a novel in stories. And it really is. They all resonate off of each other and it is all structured in that way. I just think writing a novel was a little too daunting for me so this was a way to kind of do that through short stories. That said, they are pretty long stories and the only really truly short story in there is the title story.

Are you thinking about adapting this one into film?

Yes, I have been thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it, but I’d also really like to write another book too.

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

Oh, that’s a hard one! Um…what do you think that would be? (she asks her husband, Panio Gianopoulos, author of A Familiar Beast).

Panio: Light Years?

Molly: Yes, that probably would be true. Light Years by James Salter. Yeah..I think that might be it.

Panio: I mean, when you finished it, you immediately started to reread it.

Molly: It’s true.

Okay, if you are rereading it then it has to be a favorite. If you reread,  you know that it is special!

It’s just one of those books that I keep picking up again and again. There is not a lot of fiction that I read while writing because I don’t want to be overly influenced. His writing is somebody, of course I write differently, but I just feel like he is a master. I also love, and we were recently talking about Desperate Characters by Paula Fox is a really wonderful book and Jonathan Franzen wrote the forward on it!

A huge thank you to Dove for the incredible opportunity to interview Molly about her stories as well as their sponsorship for me to attend Mom 2.0 this year. It was an experience that I will never forget.  Dove is encouraging everyone to share their #BeautyStory and shared this beautiful story of 4 generations of women in one family that all share the same beauty secret in this beautifully shot campaign. Do you have a beauty story to share? Head to the

Dove is encouraging everyone to share their #BeautyStory and shared this beautiful story of 4 generations of women in one family that all share the same beauty secret in this beautifully shot campaign. Do you have a beauty story to share? Head to the Dove Beauty Bar and share your secrets! Thank you, Dove!!

You can connect with Molly Ringwald 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!

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Sundays With Writers: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

I’m so excited to have another author this week in our Sundays With Writers series. Jandy Nelson is my new favorite young adult author and I think once you read her words, you will understand why this author has found such a special place in my heart. I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun and I just couldn’t put it down.  Spoiler alert: this one is making the top ten for 2015 so add this to your must-read list!

In some ways,  it reminded me of Eleanor & Park because the characters were just quirky, endearing, and it captured that angst and heartache of youth so well. In other ways, this book was unlike any I have ever read where the authors words are so incredibly visual that it felt like you were reading a painting and the words were living and breathing off the pages. It’s hard to capture into words, that’s why you must read it and why I am BEYOND thrilled to have Jandy join us today.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You the Sun is achingly beautiful in so many ways exploring the beauty and anguish of first loves. This story is uniquely told by a twin sister & brother, alternating chapters, yet one is telling the story three years later while the other is telling the story as it happens. It creates a journey experience for the reader when characters begin to overlap together in these stories.

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Nelson’s words read like watching a painting unravel on a page, as though it all is coming to life, especially when told through artistic Noah’s eyes as his words are the most visually vivid. Nelson beautifully paints the portrait of the typical teenage angst of Jude & Noah, while focusing strongly on the difficulties of being a gay teen and the hostility of classmates that force Noah to try to fit in with his peers.

I laughed and cried through the pages of this one especially because I have never read a writer like this, making me Nelson’s latest fan. It really surprised me in so many ways. I would recommend it for fans of Rainbow Rowell or John Green.

Grab a cup of coffee and let’s settle in with the fantastic Jandy Nelson.

Jandy Nelson

One thing that makes this book incredibly unique is the chapter set-up. With one twin telling the story as it is happening and the other telling it three years down the road, the reader can begin piecing these two stories together in such a unique way. Why do you think it was important to tell your story this way and how difficult was this to execute as an author?

It definitely took a while for me to figure it all out. I knew from the beginning I wanted the story to be told in both Noah’s and Jude’s POVs and in different timeframes, wanted their narratives to be interwoven and the structure of the novel to mimic the mirroring/braided way it can feel to be a twin. Also, it was important to me that each twin’s voice be distinct and each of their stories have its own propulsion and tension. In a lightning strike moment, I decided what I needed to do was write Noah’s story start to finish, then Jude’s start to finish, and intertwine them after. When I was working on one twin’s narrative I’d lock the file of the other’s so I wouldn’t cheat and would stay in the heart/mind/body/time period of the twin I was working on. Once I had both stories finished—this took about two years—I began weaving the stories together which was like writing a whole new novel. I think I lost 50K words in that process, which took another year and a half and involved a lot of praying! In general, my thinking was that the interweaving structure both in different POVs and in different time periods would allow the mystery elements of the novel to unfold and be revealed in the best possible way. Like you say, I wanted the reader to slowly piece the story together. I hoped this structure would create more suspense and momentum, that feeling of “Wait, what actually happened in those intervening years?”

 As a reader we are taken on the journey of Noah feeling like, “a broken umbrella,” because of his sexuality and the acceptance of who he is. Have you heard from any gay young adults who have identified with Noah’s journey? How has your story impacted kids (or even parents) that are going through this?

In many ways, I think Noah feels like “a broken umbrella” when he’s younger less because of his sexuality, which both thrills and frightens him, and more because of his (misguided) perception of his father’s disdain for him, which in Noah’s mind includes his sexuality, yes, but also his artistic and solitary nature. I have heard from many lgbtq teens and it just means the world to me. Unbelievably, some have told me that Noah changed their lives, others that reading his story inspired them to come out or be more true to themselves. And others still, lots of adults as well, just happy to read a love story between two teenage guys. I’ve also heard from a few parents who said they were grateful that their son or daughter now has Noah and his story and that it’s helped their child not feel so alone. There’s really no way to express how happy this kind of feedback makes me. It’s everything!

I’ll Give You the Sun has been optioned for screenplay which I couldn’t be more excited about. Do you have any information on what readers can expect with the film and how involved are you in the process of adapting this book into film?

Yes, Warner Brothers optioned the novel this summer before it came out and Denise Di Novi and Allison Greenspan are attached to produce. The screenwriter Natalie Krinsky is writing the screenplay this very minute. So honestly, not so much to report yet, but hopefully soon. It’s funny, the twins became so real to me that one time in the middle of writing the novel, I went to a Diebenkorn exhibit at the museum and my first thought on entering the gallery was, “It’s such a shame Noah and Jude couldn’t come with me today.” I’d absolutely forgotten that they weren’t real in that moment! So it’ll be wild to truly see them as flesh and blood. I’m also very excited to see all the artwork: Noah’s mind-paintings, Guillermo’s granite giants, Jude’s sand women. The art in the story is incredibly vivid in my head so it will be something to see different artists take on the work. So far I’ve been very involved in the process and everyone’s been wonderful and incredibly respectful of the novel. Fingers crossed!

 One thing I really appreciate about you, as an author, is the extensive research you really did to form these characters…even diving into a sculpting classes yourself! Did you find any special talents or hobbies that surprised you in this journey of creating these voices?

Oh how I wish that I’d found some latent artistic talent when writing this novel! What I actually found out in that sculpture class was I’m the worst stone carver on earth. Alas, I think the closest I’ll ever get to painting is making Noah’s mind-paintings. That was such a blast for someone like me who can’t even do a stick figure justice. But yes, I definitely do a lot of research. My natural inclination is to constantly want to go back to school and so doing research for a novel satisfies this impulse and is much less life-disrupting. I recently decided I’m kind of a method writer, like there are method actors. I love to get completely immersed in my characters and this includes their passions and interests. For instance, there’s a character in my new book who loves to cook and so I’ve been reading cookbooks in the bathtub and generally cooking up a storm for everyone who’ll let me. It’s one of the best parts of writing fiction for me, getting to live all these other lives in addition to my own. It’s the best kind of sorcery.

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

Two books: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. My all time favorite novels.

 

You can connect with Jandy Nelson 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!

Sundays With Writers: The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Happy Easter Sunday! I hope that you are all enjoying celebrating this season with your family! Today I am excited be interviewing Amanda Eyre Ward, in this week’s Sundays With Writers, about her beautiful and haunting book, The Same Sky. It made my must-read list for last month’s round-up of great reads and today I am learning a little bit more about the story behind the story.

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

 

Ward alternates two stories in The Same Sky- one of a typical middle-class woman who is struggling with infertility and becomes a mentor to a struggling teen and the other story of a young girl and her brother who face the harshest kind of poverty and are trying to get to America where they can finally be reunited with their mother and safe. The story of her journey to America is harrowing and devastating to read. Ward doesn’t hold back on setting the scene, giving you an eye-opening look at the real struggles of coming to America. Their lives intertwine and provide a satisfying conclusion to this sad story.

I found this book disturbing in some parts and I have been carrying some of the scenes around with me this month. There is poverty and then there is POVERTY. We are talking, eating flour and water for dinner (if you are lucky), addictions to glue to feel full by small children, parents abandoning a child to take care of another child and head to America. It was really heartbreaking. I knew after reading it that I had to reach out to Amanda and see if she could share why this story was so important to tell and what we, as readers, can learn from this book.

Ward does a great job of contrasting the struggles of a typical middle-class white suburban mother against the struggles of a child in poverty effectively without being mean about it. It made me think about how my struggles are so minor compared to the struggles of others.

Grab your morning coffee and let’s settle in with Amanda about her hauntingly beautiful book!

Amanda-Eyre-Ward-Headshot

Can you share a little bit about the research you had to do on immigrant children and children at the Mexico/US border to start shaping this book and the story of Carla?

Yes. When I first became obsessed with the children who ride the Beast to find their parents in the US, I had no idea how on Earth I would research the topic. (I actually have an almost magical belief that the right topics come to me at the right time…as do the people/books/travels I need to understand the topics…but that’s another question entirely!)

It turns out that another mom at my children’s school runs many of the shelters at the US border for unaccompanied minors was apprehended trying to enter the US. She was kind enough to bring me to Brownsville and San Diego to talk to the kids about being a writer. I was also able to ask the children about their journeys to the US. To a one, their stories were harrowing and amazing and brave and sad…their voices all combined to create Carla’s voice.

I hope it is okay to say that I have been carrying the story of Carla and her brother around for the last few weeks and I can’t stop thinking about the horrific poverty they faced. First, how hard was it for you hearing these stories and then shaping this story into a book and, secondly, how do you think your readers could help change the real story of immigrant children?

Of course it is OK! It’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, in fact. It was incredibly hard to hear these kids’ stories…especially being a mom myself. I had a hard time turning off the kids’ voices. I still struggle with holding the knowledge that every night, as I tuck my children into bed, there are children sleeping on cardboard boxes by train tracks…and there are kids clinging to the tops of trains, or trying to sleep after another day with no food and no hope, or unable to sleep because they are terrified that the local gang will come for them. The list goes on. But crafting the novel helped me make sense of one girl’s story…I was able to bring Carla to safety.

There are many practical ways to help these children–some on my website. But I tell readers (and friends) that the most important thing is to remember that these are children–like our children, like we were children. It is a humanitarian crisis, and these kids need and deserve asylum, kindness, care, and the ability to dream of a safe life. It is all too easy to turn away from the “surge” or “waves” of kids (as they are portrayed in the media). But you must try to remember that these are sweet, individual children. Then it’s harder to turn away.

There is a really effective use of contrast in creating Alice, a relatable middle class white woman, in this story. Why do you think this contrast is so necessary in the telling of this story?

Father Alejandro Solalinde

Source: CUSLAR

In the course of my research, I watched talks given by Father Alejandro Solalinde, who runs a shelter for migrants in Ixtapec, Mexico. He said that these kids have the spiritual capital the US is lacking. This struck me, and became one of the major themes of the book: though Carla has no material goods, her faith and spiritual capital is something Alice (who quite literally has achieved The American Dream) is lacking. I wanted to show that these kids have so much to teach us about the power of faith and courage.

Whose voice was harder for you to craft- Carla’s or Alice’s? Why?

I am currently working on a book with two voices (though 3rd, unlike Alice and Carla’s 1st) and it’s funny: some days I want to write one character, and some days, another.

I wrote Carla’s section very fast…I couldn’t bear to have her linger along her journey, and was obsessed with getting her to safety. Then I inserted Alice’s sections later.

Almost every morning on NPR, I hear stories about immigration from both points of views, regarding immigrants in the US and immigration laws. Although this book is not political, do you hope people might walk away with a different viewpoint by crafting Carla’s story?

Yes–I want readers to open their minds and hearts and listen to one child…then they might find they have different views on many issues. (I did.)

In this novel you paint so many heartbreaking scenes that pulled at my heartstrings. I am wondering, as a mother, what was the hardest scene for you to write?

The scene after Carla leaves the hospital, when her mother is bathing her in their tub in the Ace Motel. I still cry thinking about that scene.

I have read so many great books this year about the struggles of immigrants like Americanah, The Book of Unknown Americans, and your beautiful book. Do you have any other book or film recommendations (fiction or non-fiction) for people interested in learning a new viewpoint on this topic?

Enrique’s Journey and The Beast are two amazing nonfiction books…I also adored the movie Sin Nombre.

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

My favorite book last year was Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson. It’s dark, riveting, gorgeous, important.

You can connect with Amanda Eyre Ward 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: 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!

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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!

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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!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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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!

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