Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

Happy Sunday, my friends! What a joy it is to share another debut author with you today. As I’ve said before, debut authors are among a favorite of mine because I love the joy of discovery of finding someone new to add to my favorites.  Today Sejal Badani is joining me for a virtual coffee to share more about her beautiful book, Trail of Broken Wings. I discovered this book through her GoodReads Choice Award Nomination for Best Fiction and dove into it over our holiday break. After reading more on Sejal’s backstory, I just knew she would be such an incredible author to feature here for our interview series.

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani


In Trail of Broken Wings, domestic abuse is fully brought to light in this account of one family and the man who abused them. As he lays in a coma, each of the sisters and the wife replay the events that happened through their traumatic years and the reader uncovers the dark secrets that they each have carried. 

This one delved a lot into the Indian culture and the traditional roles of women in their culture, many of which I was not aware of! It would make for a compelling book club discussion and did not shy away from some of the demons people battle when they have been abused.

The book had a great twist at the end that really added some depth to one of the character’s storylines. Raw and honest, it would be impossible to read and not feel a new awareness and sadness for those abused.

Editor’s Note: At this time as I write this, the Kindle version is listed for a mere $2.00

I included this book in our November/December Must-Reads list!

Now grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Sejal about her incredible debut novel!

Sejal Badani

I have read in past interviews that you have said that you felt compelled to write Trail of Broken Wings after witnessing and surviving your own childhood abuse. What was that process like writing this story and how hard was it to put such a deeply personal journey out in the world?

This story was one I searched for as a young adult and never found. I mentioned it to my good friend and editor Benee who really got behind the story. The characters’ individual stories were challenging to tell but important. They were three very strong women who had to discover themselves outside the framework of their childhood. Though the events in the story are fictional, the emotions and struggles of the characters felt very familiar to me either because of my research or own experience. When the story was finished, I was relieved but also really pleased that the characters’ stories were honest and inspiring.

Trail of Broken Wings

I’d love to quote a passage from your story… “Everyone must a reach a point in their life when they stop running. When it is easier to stand still than to keep being chased, even if the person chasing you is only in your head.” At what point did you stop running and change the story of your own life?

Though my mom didn’t have a lot of choices when we were growing up, she made it make very clear to us that we should carve out a very different path for our future. Because of her, my sisters and I were very fortunate to believe in ourselves and love. Law school was pivotal in my life because it gave me a better understanding of options available to people in similar situations. Later, in my research for the book, I learned about so many incredible individuals who had to make the decision to stop running. The journeys they took are truly inspiring. This quote is really a testament to their strength and perseverance.

The issues that each of the daughters struggle with in the aftershock of abuse were all written in such a raw and beautiful way, unflinching from many things that most books shy away from. Have you heard from any of your readers who may have suffered these same traumatic moments and how much they could relate to this family’s story and the raw honesty that you wrote it?

I have and every single time I am so touched and amazed by the human spirit. Countless number of readers have reached out to tell me that the book resonated with their own childhoods or those of someone they love. Their honesty and willingness to share their story is incredibly humbling and I’m very grateful. I’ve also had a number of readers tell me this book encouraged them to start their own healing process – that it gave them hope for their future. When I hear that I can’t even describe what it means to me. To know that it has helped even one person is really an extraordinary feeling.

Trail of Broken Wings

I know this may seem a silly question, but was there a reason you chose Brent as the name of the father, which feels so different than the other Indian character names in the book? Do you think that readers sympathize with him since he too suffered as a victim of racism? Do you sympathize with him?

It’s actually a question I get quite a bit so not silly at all.  I consciously chose Brent because I wanted readers to know that there are no racial or socio-economic limitations on abuse. Though the story is set in an Indian-American home, it was very important to me that the characters be seen as universal. Brent is really a composite character from my research. I think his character chose to take the actions he did without thought to the consequences or effects. As an author, I wanted to give background as to why he made those choices but I’m not sure it can excuse them.

Trail of Broken Wings has garnered so many wonderful reviews and has been so well-received, even scoring a GoodReads Choice Award Nomination this year! What has that experience been like with a debut novel and what has surprised you most about this process?

I’ve been so honored and humbled. It’s really been an amazing journey. I’m incredibly grateful that readers have connected with the story and the messages in the book. I’ve been a writer for a number of years and have been on the other end of the spectrum with more rejections than I care to count. So the success of Trail of Broken Wings has been very welcome. From my editor, agent, publishing house and publicist, Trail of Broken Wings has been supported and championed. My biggest surprise is how smooth it has all been. I credit that to the people mentioned above and all the amazing readers and bloggers like yourself who have featured the book. Trail of Broken Wings wouldn’t be where it is without all of you and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

You carved out an excellent twist at the end (which I do not want to give away). Did you always see this as the surprise you wanted to reveal to your readers or was it something that developed once you started writing it?

It was something I had planned for the story from the beginning. Without giving too much away I knew the mother had to discover her own strength. She had endured so much but when her daughter left I think that really made her see what her life had become. She was foremost a mother and just wanted her daughter to come home. To me, the truly heroic moment was when she admitted what she had done. She chanced her own freedom for that of her daughter’s and I think that’s when Sonya finally understood how much her mother really loved her. It finally allowed Sonya to love herself and open her heart to a normal life.

Are you working on your next book? Can you tell us anything about what you might have in store for us next?

I’m actually working on two novels simultaneously right now. One is a novel of a young attorney who journeys to India to discover the tragic story of her grandmother’s love and loss with a member of the British Raj during the 1940’s. The other is a young adult dystopian novel that tackles the issues of choice, freedom and finding your true self in an unrecognizable world.

 Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

It’s so hard to pick one! I’m a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell and just finished his book David and Goliath so I’m going to go with that. It’s very insightful and made me think differently about the obstacles we face in life and how overcoming them often helps us develop our greatest strengths. I’m also a huge admirer of J.K. Rowling so I have to throw that in there.

You can connect with Sejal Badani on her website or through 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: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

It has been awhile since we have featured a YA pick on Sundays With Writers so I am excited to share with you a book that I think offers the same charm that I have appreciated so much, like in Rainbow Rowell’s, Eleanor & Park. I am big on quirky characters and I’m also big on coming-of-age adventures and Mosquitoland now tops my list of incredible YA debuts with this heartfelt story of an oddly charming girl, named Mim,  who runs away from home and takes a Greyhound bus to be reunited with her mother.

I am so excited to be sharing a little behind David Arnold’s journey as he brings the story of Mim to life for us. I really appreciate hearing how he figured out a way to balance his dream of writing with being a new father and his conscious effort to develop a real and true partnership with his literary agent. It’s really inspiring to hear about!

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

I really began to fall in love with all of these well-crafted characters that Arnold created in this charming book. Each character that she encounters comes with his own set of quirky oddities as Mim’s bus ends up making an unexpected detour and she ends up on a road trip with two unlikely friends in search of her mom. I really loved this one!

Can we also talk about that cover? SWOON!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with David Arnold and hear more about his incredible novel, Mosquitoland!

David Arnold

I am always so thrilled to feature debut novelists and Mim and the other characters you created for Mosquitoland completely captured my heart in such a beautiful way in this debut. I understand that you never had intended to go the YA fiction route, but found yourself down that path with this book. How did Mosquitoland end up falling in this genre and do you think you have found your niche moving forward as a writer?

Thank you so much for having me! And yeah, it’s true I never really set out to write “young adult”—but it’s not like I set out to write “adult,” either. As an author, I feel it’s my job to tell whatever story I have in me at the time, and to do so as honestly as possible. As this was my first real serious go at writing a novel, I didn’t focus on what kind of book it would be or where it would be shelved, because I honestly didn’t think it would ever get to that point. I wrote Mosquitoland because I had to, because this voice wasn’t going to leave me alone, but only in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would get published. So yeah, I didn’t necessarily intend to write young adult, but I absolutely could not be happier about it.

The last couple of YA books that I have read have shared about the struggles with mental illness in those teenage years. All the Bright Places & Every Last Word are just two books we have featured on the site recently that speak to this struggle with mental illness. You said in a past interview that there are some very brave writers out there in the YA genre and I also find your own writing to be quite brave too in talking about this topic. Why do you think so many YA writers are sharing about this and did you do any research in order to prepare for writing these scenes with Mim?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but (much like my answer above) I didn’t set out to write a book about mental illness. However, once I realized this would be part of Mim’s story, I did feel a certain burden of responsibility, a duty to get it right. In addition to extensive reading on the front end, I ran the manuscript by a number of mental health professionals. Mental illness looks so different for so many different people, it was important Mim’s experience, her responses and reactions, be plausible. It’s a tough thing writing outside your own experiences—I did everything I could to get this one right, and I can only hope it was enough.

  Greyhound Bus source: wikipedia

Fleshing out a whole Greyhound bus of characters seems like a challenge as a writer and this book overflows with both passengers and new friends that Mim meets along the way. First of all, do you diagram out the bus and all the people on it with a seating chart or do you just dive in and create them as you are writing out the story? Secondly, have you ever taken a Greyhound bus anywhere and did you use any of that experience to help create Mim’s crazy adventures (I’m hoping there is a funny backed-up toilet story for us!)

To answer the first part of your question: no, I never did a seating chart, though I should have! That would have been helpful. I do pretty extensive timelines for my characters, so I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this. But yes, I did take a Greyhound from Nashville to Newark, though this mostly shaped the descriptive language of traveling by bus (sorry to disappoint! All toilets functioned properly. :/), rather than provide any actual fodder for Mim’s experiences.

You are the second musician that also happens to be a book writer to be featured on our Sundays With Writers series this month (we just got to chat with Josh Malerman from The High Strung who also wrote Bird Box this past week.) He spoke very honestly about the difficulties to do both and that now that his book has garnered attention and praise that he is struggling to make the time for writing music. Do you face the same balance struggle now that Mosquitoland has gotten such incredible reviews?

It’s sad, but I haven’t written any new music in probably two years or so. I used to have a home studio where I wrote and recorded music for indie films, commercials, and youth camp videos. That all fell by the wayside when my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby (surprise!). I said goodbye to music (though at the time I would have sworn this would be a temporary goodbye) and became a stay-at-home dad. You can’t really record music with a newborn, but whatever down time I got became writing time. I wrote most of Mosquitoland while he napped or, when he got a little older, watched Sesame Street. Any stay-at-homes out there who are looking for time to write, but also happen to be on a budget, I have a helpful tip: child care at the YMCA is free (with membership), and while they don’t allow you to leave the premises, they say nothing of setting up your laptop in the lobby. A huge portion of Mosquitoland was written at the YMCA. Writers write, under any circumstances. But I digress. Yeah, music has definitely taken a backseat to writing novels. But I’m okay with it, because I want to take every advantage of the opportunities I’m given, and right now, that means pouring everything I have into my books.

Why did you decide to put that age gap between Mim & Beck when you know we wanted them to be together so bad? Darn you, David! Although my mom heart would be pleased if my daughter was reading it…so maybe that is why?

Ha, yeah. There may be something to the parent thing, but the real reason I wrote it that way—and man, I’m going to take some flack for this—is because generally speaking (NOT in every case, you understand) I am fairly indifferent toward love interests in books. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. Plenty, actually. But I never wanted a love interest for Mim. I mean—it just didn’t feel like part of her story. But when I toyed around with the age gap between Beck and Mim, I found myself intrigued in a way I hadn’t been before. Here’s this guy who is just old enough to make a romantic relationship morally questionable, but just young enough that it almost wouldn’t be. It was a challenging in-between, but also opened up a whole new arena of writing for me.

As a writer, I know as soon as that book hits the world (and often before that), you are already working on the next book project which can be so challenging to push forward. What do you have in store for us next and was it hard to move into something else after spending two years on Mosquitoland?

Book two is the worst. I don’t mean, you know, as a book (at least, I hope not). I mean its execution. In my case, I had a two-book deal, so when Penguin bought Mosquitoland they also bought a second novel based on a one-paragraph synopsis. When the time came to actually write the thing I was paralyzed. As I mentioned before, I wrote Mosquitoland for myself, on my own time, with zero expectations. I was now being asked to write a book, which had already been paid for, on someone else’s time, with many expectations. I’m not complaining by any means—I know how lucky I am to have gotten the opportunity. But I think there’s a romanticized notion that once you get a book deal, you’ve got it made in the shade. Aside from parenting, writing a novel is the most challenging thing I’ve done. This was exponentially true of book two. That said, I absolutely struck gold with my professional writing team—my editor and publisher, my agent, everyone has been incredibly patient and smart and kind. I’ve only written two novels (the second comes out in September), but they are both a product of teamwork.

One thing that really stands out to me about you is that in other interviews you have shared about taking your time to find the right literary agent that gets you and not just going with the first one who gets back with you. I had the same experience as a writer and find that there is something magical when you find someone who just gets you and gets what you write about. Can you speak to that for just a moment about why you really took your time selecting your agent and do you think the time you spent on selecting this partnership really helped with the success of your book?

Absolutely! As professional relationships go, your editor is buying your book; your agent is buying you. If things go well, the writer/agent relationship could last years, even decades. I think there’s this common misconception that just getting an agent is enough. But just like all manuscripts and authors are different, so too are agents. This is part of why form queries are a horrible idea. Each agent has their own personality, and each agent looks for something different on the page, which is why you hear now famous authors talk about their stacks of rejection letters. I spent about two months getting a query letter into shape, then another 4-6 weeks researching agents—who they represented, what they were looking for, even their tones during interviews. Agents can tell when an author has done their homework.

Your cover is just perfection and one of my favorite covers probably ever. How did your team come up with such a great concept and is there anywhere we can purchase a print of it? It’s just fantastic!

THANK YOU. I love it too, and would love to say I had even an ounce of its conception/execution, but alas… I have very limited artistic skills. The cover was designed by the very talented Theresa Evangelista at Penguin, and illustrated by Andrew Fairclough at Kindred Studios. I had some small input toward the end, but they’d already done such a fantastic job there was little for me to say or do.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger

Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

I have “Raise High the Roof Beam” tattooed on my forearm. I am unapologetic in my love of J.D. Salinger, specifically the Glass family novellas. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters really struck a chord in me, and of course, the original poem by Sappho is outstanding.

You can connect with David Arnold on his website or through 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!

Sundays With Writers: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

I am so excited to be sharing our first Sundays With Writers of 2016 with such a special writer today. You know I am all about embracing all the book genres so I am VERY excited to share an interview with Josh Malerman who penned Bird Box, our first horror novel featured on the site.  This book is building so much buzz for a lot of reasons you will discover through this interview, but it also has received incredible reviews from readers too. Just look at those reviews and tell me it doesn’t make you want to snag a copy for yourself!

If you are good friends with me you know that I love a good scare. Horror flicks (scary not gory) are my jam! I only recently discovered that I get this from my Dad and now anytime a good one comes out, we go and get the heck scared out of ourselves together. I don’t have to to worry though because MY DAD is there to protect me.

Horror books though just haven’t captivated my attention as much until I read this gem of a book and the more I read about the story behind his success, the more I wanted him to pull up a virtual chair at my kitchen table and share about his book with you.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Malerman succeeds in writing a perfectly gripping and creepy psychological page-turner. With the creatures lurking, a woman and her two children try to flee to safety blindfolded along a river. If they see what is lurking, they die a horrific death inflicting pain upon themselves to stop seeing the horrors of what they have seen. Interweaving past (pre-creatures) and present (a post-creature world), you go along on a horrific ride as Malorie tries to save herself and her children blindfolded, never knowing what is lurking around every turn.

I am recommending you dig into this one, particularly if you are a Hitchcock fan like me- I just know it is a book he would have loved and would have wanted to create into a film. You will also really love it if you love classic Stephen King or if you enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts as much as I did. Do yourself a favor and read this one so we can talk about it!

I included this book in our November/December Must-Reads list last month and I am still thinking about it since I shut it. That’s the power of a great book, I tell you!

Now grab your coffee and let’s chat with Josh about his delightfully creepy book, Bird Box.


You are our first author joining us who has written in the Horror genre so I am particularly thrilled to introduce Bird Box to our readers and a completely different genre that I love. How did you come up with this terrifying concept of Infinity and what about it do you think terrifies your readers the most?

Strange germination; long ago (back before I had a personality of my own), an elementary school teacher mentioned that (ahem) “a man might go mad if he were to contemplate infinity.” Every word of this admonition worried me and I have a very strong memory of sitting in the carpeted hall as Mom and Dad got ready to go out… worrying that I might accidentally “contemplate” infinity. Many years late I found myself with an exciting image; a mother and two children are rowing down a river blindfolded… why? What are they fleeing? I didn’t think about it long, the words of said teacher returned, and I had myself a book.

Hitchcock's, The Birds

One of my greatest fears is birds. It’s a deep fear because my mother terrified me of diseases if I picked up feathers and then the fear was solidified after I watched Hitchcock’s, The Birds. I understand you let your pet finches fly around freely around you while writing this book in a pretty unique location. Can you tell us about that so I can have more nightmares?

I’d love to give you more nightmares. Yes, I had five finches and I felt very bad about keeping them locked up, so I left the door to their cage open. It’s not as messy as you might imagine; you get to know their haunts and you lay newspaper below. I was renting the third floor of a magnificent home in Detroit’s Boston-Edison (this is where Motown singers once lived; Berry Gordy had a place; Mark Twain built one of the homes for his daughter), so there was all kinds of ballroom space for the birds to fly. With Bird Box I woke up at 7AM each day, got to work by about 8AM, and wrapped it up by noon. The birds were really active in those hours, constant fly bys, until they eventually landed in the story itself.

You wrote 15 novels before Bird Box was picked up by a publishing house. Do you think that the success of this novel will allow some of your other pieces of work to finally be published? Had you pursued getting these published before or was this your first time trying to get your book out in the world?

I didn’t shop the other books for no reason other than I was completely satisfied with writing one, then moving on to the next. Partly I didn’t know what to do with a manuscript and partly I was touring with the band, writing novels in the passenger seat, and just didn’t see the rising stack of novels with desperation in my eyes. This is not to say it was/is a hobby, it most certainly is not, but for who-knows-why I was content with knowing they existed and nothing more. Now that Bird Box is out I plan to release all 24 of the other books I’ve written. Every last word. To me, they’re all episodes of the same show; Bird Box just felt like a good debut after I’d met the people who could bring her to a publishing house.

This book has been compared to some of Stephen King’s classic novels and I would dare say it feels a little like some of Hitchcock’s creepier works. Do you have any authors or filmmakers that have inspired you as a writer and has this genre always intrigued you?

Oh yeah… I’ve been a horror fan all my life. And because of that, this question is very hard to answer. I love so many of them for so many reasons, but since you asked I’ll tell you that I did go on a real Hitchcock tear after I wrote Bird Box, watched twenty or so of his movies and really started to sink into his world. I loved him. I love Stephen King, too. Charles Beaumont. Richard Matheson. Dan Simmons. Robert McCammon. Kathe Koja. John Skipp. This list gets big fast with me, as it does with most horror lovers. I think we’re all very open minded and will read just about anything that passes through the genre… because you just don’t know. And we’re all looking for that thrill, constantly, and are willing to read things that fall short of that on the way and/or are able to find exciting peaks in books that other people might think are flat.

Are you a horror movie lover as well or just a reader of horror fiction? Can you share some of your favorite films for us to check out after we read Bird Box?

Yeah sure. The first scary movie I saw was Twilight Zone: the Movie. Blew my mind straight up the middle. The Anthony skit, where the boy can do anything with his imagination; so good. The Invisible Man, the original, is crazy and features a Heath Ledger-Joker-esque villain in the title role. It’s one of my favorites. Hitchcock’s Rope is magic.

The ending made the story feel open to a sequel. Do you think we will be able to continue along on this journey with the survivors? Oh, and you can only say yes….

Yes. Or… no. You know what… there are too many ideas right now to spend another year in this world. But that doesn’t mean I’m against returning. Just… not yet.

Andy Muschietti

I read the exciting news that we can expect a movie and that the film was optioned by Universal for six figures back in 2013 when it was only in the manuscript stage! As a writer, can you explain how that happened so early and what will your involvement be in the film?

Universal Studios optioned it, yeah. And you know, I changed some of that manuscript before publication but it’s made its way into the script! So, that’s pretty wild because the book will be different than the movie but I may be responsible for some of those differences despite not writing the script myself. Crazy. The whole thing is nuts, really, and exciting, but I don’t wanna think about it too much. You know what I mean? I wanna keep my mind on the books and if the movie gains traction, is green-lit, starts to roll, then I’ll have the biggest smile in the room.

The High Strungs

source: paste magazine

I also understand that you have quite the juggle with being a musician (in The High Strung) and a writer. As a creative, how do you make time for both of these in your life particularly when you are on tour? How excited were the others in the band about this book being published?

Well we haven’t done much touring since the book deal and I understand that’s mostly my fault. I haven’t written any new songs! And this is something I used to ponder all the time; take a band like the Beatles. People adored them from the get-go, heralded as geniuses long before they actually imagined their genius works of art, they’re middle and later albums. So what happened there? Was the world right? Did the world predict this greatness? Surely they didn’t suspect Sergeant Peppers after hearing “Love Me Do,” right? So maybe they’re achievements have something to do with the encouragement the whole world gave them. You see? In other words; would they have written the White Album without this zany global support? I’m not sure. And I’m experiencing that phenomenon in a different way, but by the same rules: I’m focusing so much of my attention on the books and it’s probably because many people are encouraging me to do so whether they really mean to or not. And the songs have suffered as a result. I’m okay with that, but I need to check my soul (in a manner of speaking) and make sure I’m addressing both and if I’m not addressing both it better be for good, noble reasons.

Since you are a fast producer of words, how many books have you written since Bird Box and any expectations on what you might be publishing next?

The next book is coming out early 2017. Sounds like a long time and it is. I’m working hard on fixing that scenario and I’ll have it righted by then. Regarding how many books: the total is something close to 25 books now and like I said earlier, I see them all as episodes of the same television show, my own Outer Limits, and so the way I see it I’ve probably written the first two seasons by now.

Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

The Howling Man(TOR 1988) Charles Beaumont. It’s got about 30 of his short stories and for those who don’t know him… hang on tight; you’re about to feel a tidal wave of wonder wash over you.

You can connect with Josh Malerman 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 Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Hello, my friends! The holidays have certainly slowed down my reading pace, but I have picked up my speed again this week and am trying to secure some new authors here for our Sundays With Writers feature. I mentioned that I was completely enchanted by, The Royal We this week and as soon as I shut that incredible book, I emailed the authors to see if they would share more about their fictional story of an American getting swept off her feet by a real Prince.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Perhaps, that sounds a little cheesy, but it is anything BUT cheesy. Instead of focusing on the fairy tale romance aspect of the story, Heather & Jessica really dive into what it would take for someone to transition from college student into a Princess and the very real dilemma of losing her privacy, what strains that might put on her friendships, and what her family might go through as she takes on a celebrity status that she had never desired.

It’s funny, heartwarming, and really beautifully executed from a really smart family lineage (we will dive into that in our interview below) to what training might be involved to be a part of the Royal family.

It read like a guilty pleasure read that still had lots of depth and soul. I laughed, cried, and was disappointed that I had to close the final pages when I was done. I just didn’t want it to end and I am convinced there is more of a story to tell.

On that note, go grab that coffee and settle in for a REALLY incredible interview with Heather & Jessica about their incredible novel, The Royal We.

Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

You are only the second set of authors that have joined me on Sundays With Writers that write as a duo instead of solo.  How do you build the story in tandem and what do you think the benefits have been with writing together instead of tackling a book like this on your own?

JESSICA: Basically, we work from a super detailed outline. Once we’ve gotten together and hammered out our plot, one of us will start writing and go at it until she wears out, more or less — at which point she ships the manuscript over to the other, who edits and reworks the first chunk, then writes the next chunk until she taps out.  So we go back and forth, essentially, until we’re done. I love working this way. I think most writers have a crew of creative people they can go to for feedback, or help with a plot issue, and we have that built in, automatically, which for me is invaluable.

HEATHER: It also incorporates automatic breaks. When a writer needs to, say, deal with their kids, or their day job if they have another one, or even just take a break because they feel stuck, the project doesn’t move along without them. The beauty of being in a duo is, when one of us passes it off to the other — for any reason — we get a brain rest AND the project keeps moving along. There isn’t that sense of, “Ohh, every time I walk away from my computer, I am going to have to make up for it later.” As for building the story, hammering out that initial outline requires a lot of back and forth — we both work better via e-mail or IM rather than in the same room, in part because when we start to digress we can scroll back and be like, “OKAY, no, this is where we were, let’s pick up again.” So that’s just easier for us.

But once we start writing, we also communicate with each other closely because invariably we realize the outline was too ambitious, or made a logic misstep, or just needed some compressing, and so we’ll leave notes for each other throughout the draft referencing those issues and being like, “Here is my pitch to fix that; here is where I was going with this,” or whatever. You just really need to communicate. And you have to be able to do it without taking any of it personally. The goal is the same: a great book.

Some of our readers might not know that this is actually your third book that you have written together.  The Royal We has been so well-received, even garnering you a nomination for Best Fiction on GoodReads!  As authors and as bloggers, do you think the success in this third book is because of our new ways to share about books on social media, is it just the story itself that is really resonating with readers, or is the secret sauce having a strong story and having those ties to social media because of your online writing?

JESSICA: Gosh, I wish I could explain why some books do well and some don’t — I think that’s the question that writers and publishers ask themselves every day! I certainly think that, for us, having a strong social media following was absolutely helpful, and I am quite sure the book would not have done as well as it has were it not for our wonderful, supportive readership from the blog.  That platform was very valuable for us. But all that said, few people are going to spend $12 to $20 on a book just because they follow the authors on Twitter. If the book isn’t any good, it’s not going to continue to sell, and having a strong social media following definitely doesn’t guarantee you good reviews, or good word of mouth. So for us, I think we also needed to be able to deliver the goods.

HEATHER: I wish there was a secret sauce. We would sell that and retire to Fiji. I think a lot of things have to come together and there’s some magic involved. For instance, would Girl on a Train have done such gangbusters business without Gone Girl being a hit at the cineplex? Maybe — it’s not a question of Girl on a Train being good, but rather how brilliantly they leveraged that timing. The movie version of Gone Girl had come out to great acclaim and awards nominations right around the time Girl on a Train came out, so being able to position it as a combo of Gone Girl” and Rear Window or whatever, was a genius piece of marketing. But all that is just a jumping off point, and if the book doesn’t deliver, it goes away; Girl on a Train delivered on the promise, and a juggernaut was born. But that first push… man, getting those stars to align is so hard.

Britain Royal Wedding


We did time our book’s release to Will and Kate’s anniversary, and frequently joked about whether she’d thoughtfully get pregnant for us as well. And then that happened, and it meant the royal couple was foremost in everyone’s minds from about January through April, and that made it a lot easier when our book crossed people’s desks, because it resonated with something current that was also captivating pop culture. Which isn’t to say that nobody can get noticed if they don’t dovetail with something else in pop culture, but it sure does help. Because for us, it’s not like we were known commodities as authors. Switching from YA to contemporary adult fiction was basically like starting from scratch — it didn’t matter that we’d written Spoiled and Messy; the wider adult audience didn’t know that, and doesn’t know who we are — and so it helped tremendously to have that hook. And then as Jessica said, because we did deliver the goods, we were able to back up the attention we got.

I’m also really proud of Spoiled and Messy, but I think what’s hard is that the audience of contemporary fiction is larger and wider than for YA, and the publications that serve it are also much bigger — People, EW, etc. Which isn’t to say that YA’s audience is insignificant, or even restricted. I’ve long said that YA is just a classification based on the age of the protagonist, and not the age you have to be in order to read it. But I do think that in terms of publicity and reach, as compared to general fiction, it’s a smaller pool with just as many bodies in it. And so it’s harder to get noticed, or break through and be invited to the next pool. There are so many wonderful books out there that don’t get the lightning strike of being on the right person’s desk at the right time. And it really is a lightning strike. 

Buckingham_Palace (source: Wikipedia)

As I dove into your book, I really thought it was just going to be a light and fun read, but it really became evident as I read that you did a lot of in-depth research on the royal family. I understand you even visited Buckingham Palace to see it all in person which is incredible! What was one of the most surprising facts you discovered when doing your research about the real royal family? Do you have any favorite recommendations for books or documentaries for those of us that would like to dive into learning about the royals more?

JESSICA: Thank you so much! We did do a lot of research — it was important to us that the book felt grounded in reality, especially because the story itself is sort of fantastical. So much of it is about the difference between the gilded fairytale exterior of falling in love with a prince, and the actual, much less glamorous reality, so we really wanted to nail the reality bit, as much as we could. In terms of books, we read a lot of biographies of the current young royals, mostly for logistical details — Katie Nicholl’s book WILLIAM AND HARRY, for instance, had a lot of bit and pieces about the way the royal family’s security detail works in their daily life, which we needed to know for the book. Although it’s not about the current royal family, I strongly recommend THE HEIR APPARENT, by Jane Ridley, which is about Edward VII and his mother, Queen Victoria (who comes across like a real piece of work). It’s a very smart, juicy read. I also used Kate Fox’s WATCHING THE ENGLISH, which is social anthropology focused on the British class system, and which is a really funny, interesting book. (There is a line in there which I often mention, because it’s so memorable, in which she notes that the British love toast racks, while we Americans prefer our toast to be “humid,” which is pretty accurate and very funny.)

HEATHER: The trick for us was that there’s a point where we can’t do research. Because there’s a point where only a select few REALLY know what’s happening. What are the private apartments at Windsor or Buck House like? No idea, and there aren’t pictures. (We found one of the Queen’s study but that’s it.) The curtain has only been pulled back so far, to the world, so our challenge was to research whatever we could, and ground the book in every place possible, so that when it came time for us to make a guess, it was educated. And if the reader felt grounded in the other realism, it increased the odds they’d take that leap with us, and trust us and not think about it.

The tidbit about the family paying for whatever clothes Bex picks is true though. Helpfully, I can’t remember where I read that about Kate, but I know I did. I also enjoyed tips on how to curtsy and get in and out of cars without exposing oneself. We invented the idea of them doing Duchess training with Bex, but honestly, once we dug into the types of things she’d be expected to know and do — without looking like she had to learn them — it didn’t seem like such a far-fetched leap.


Your blog, Go Fug Yourself, is focused on celebrity fashion so I must ask you, which real-life royal’s style have you admired the most?

JESSICA: I think the British royals have a tough row to hoe, sartorially. Kate gets a lot of flack for being too boring, but if she were NOT boring, she’d get a lot of flack for that. I personally enjoy a lot of her preppy, ladylike style, but you can’t really call it groundbreaking from a fashion standpoint, and nor should it be. On the wackier side, I must say that I always enjoy the many insane hats sported by Queen Maxima, of the Netherlands. That woman knows how to wear a turban.


HEATHER: I don’t know that I am that captivated by any of them, particularly, to be totally honest. I will give it to the Queen. She knows what she likes, or what works for her, and manages to keep it varied and cheerful in other ways without straying from the basic cuts and coverage she prefers.

I also give credit to Camilla, who I think has had the toughest road to walk, given the circumstances of her relationship with Charles and their eventual marriage. Talk about being under a microscope, because everything she did was going to be compared unfavorably to whatever Diana used to do, because she was the most beloved royal in history in her day. So I find my favorite royals are borne of sympathy rather than me being actually enamored of the clothes. But I mean, if you want someone who keeps it clean and classy, Queen Letizia in Spain is pretty solid. She even kind of makes me want to wear business slacks, which is madness.

You developed a well-blended timeline of the real royal lineage and your fictional lineage that is actually quite astounding in detail and depth. Was this one of the most complex aspects of creating your story and why did you feel getting this accurate was so important to your story?

JESSICA: It was definitely something we spent a lot of time figuring out. I will note that Heather did a great deal of the heavy lifting here, and she can probably speak to the nuts and bolts of this aspect more than I can. But we had to figure out a way to create essentially an alternate history that kept in place enough familiar touchstones that it was still recognizably the UK, but that WOULDN’T have the person who is currently Queen Elizabeth, like, wandering around in the background as a distant member of our ruling family. It was really fun, actually.

HEATHER: When we sold the book, we did it with the prologue and the first chapter written. And when that’s all you have to worry about, you can toss in random little asides about ancestors or foreign royals, and it just feels rich and fun and insidery.

But when when you sit down to write the REST of the book, suddenly it matters.

The portraits on the piano in Bex’s hotel room, for example — we didn’t put any thought into who they were when we first wrote the prologue, so we just made them as colorful-sounding as we could.

But then once you’re writing a whole and complete book, and these characters are walking around and have real anchors to history, you have to go back and do the math: “What makes sense? Could that person have existed? When do we think Bex and Nick went to a royal wedding in Europe? Not possible! DELETE.”

And it’s for the same reason that we needed to research the rest of it: Readers can tell when you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and if they have to take themselves out of the story to figure out whether that royal could have existed, or who the hell that person is, or where THEY come from, and why are they marrying someone from that country… anything that causes the reader to put down the book and frown is a risk of losing that reader. You have to keep them on the journey, keep them swept up in it.

So while Jess had the actual book, I put my mind to the basic dates and a rough ancestry.

It seemed the likeliest places to change it were either to keep Edward VIII on the throne instead of having him abdicate, or change up Queen Victoria’s succession.

Edward’s rumored Nazi ties were not ideal, to say the least, and he was a bit too close — keeping him meant we didn’t have enough time to invent our own monarchs, and Queen Elizabeth was born in his lifetime, so she’d be a real person unless we got to tinkering with his family timeline as well.

It got muddy.

Victoria, we didn’t want to eliminate — she’s too seminal to the world, for a lot of reasons — but we found a nifty loophole in her succession.

Her son, who would become Edward VII, survived an assassination attempt.

And HIS firstborn son died of pneumonia as a lad.

So by changing those two things — Edward IS assassinated while still Prince of Wales, and Albert Victor does NOT die of pneumonia but instead lives to succeed his grandmother — we had an entirely fresh line of royals, and we could make them whatever we liked.

After that, it was just pinpointing rough ages we needed the current family members to be, and working backward through the dates. There was, in fact, lots of surprise math on this exam.

My sister helped out a ton with researching defunct dukedoms we could revive for the various spouses of our royals, and which countries might offer princesses for our kings to marry that wouldn’t monkey with ancestry. She was able to point out where it was illogical for a particular heir not to have married, and help us get past that. For example, we betrothed our Arthur I to Grand Duchess Olga from Russia, a real person who died in WWI. We had him drag his feet after the betrothal because he was in love with his best friend’s wife, and by the time he was ready it was too fraught to get her there due to the war, and then she didn’t survive it. Hence, he remained an unmarried heir. My sister was crazy helpful with all that stuff. It mattered to us that we would be able to explain this. If the world isn’t real to us, then why would it be to anyone else?

You really showcase the challenges that would be placed upon the shoulders of someone who is wed into the royal family. The story sheds light on the things that Kate Middleton and her family might have experienced during that courtship and the scrutiny one might be under in this new role. Why did you want to explore this and do you hope readers will think differently about Kate through this fictional account?

JESSICA: I don’t actually care if anyone thinks differently of Kate — and that sounds so unkind, and I don’t mean it that way! I just mean that we didn’t write the book as a way to make Kate Middleton more sympathetic. We wrote it because it seemed like an interesting story to explore — how difficult it would be to go from being a basically normal civilian to being thrust into a huge spotlight, simply because of the person with whom you fell in love. You know, we write about celebrities on our blog all the time, but those people chose to be famous. Nick — the prince in our book — was born into it, and Bex, our heroine, is forced into it because she loves him. And that seemed like something that would be interesting to explore. What do you give up for love? What are the downsides of this development that we are all taught is a fairytale, because there are actually quite a lot of them —  you can never go outside in yoga pants again, and that’s the very least of it. Is it possible to love another person enough that you give up some of what makes you you? There seemed like a lot of interesting conflicts we could explore. Once we got into writing the book, I never really thought about Kate at all. Obviously, the story is based loosely on her relationship with Prince William, but I never thought of our protagonist as anyone but Bex. That being said, if people find themselves thinking more fondly of Kate because they were so fond of Bex, that’s a wonderful tribute to our book.

HEATHER: Yes, it’s definitely not a book that was borne of us liking Kate, per se, or being Kate apologists or anything. It’s just… once you start to think about it, how the hell does she DO it? She has only ever seemed totally composed. And when you consider she’s really the first person to marry into this family during the crazy paparazzi/Internet age, she’s treading new ground because nobody really knew what it would be like for her until they were in the middle of it. She’s handled this scrutiny with such calm. And Jess and I were talking about that with our agent one day, very casually, gabbing all about what the still waters must look like from underneath — are her feet paddling like crazy trying to keep her afloat — and suddenly our agent was like, “Someone should write that book.” We basically both shouted, “WE SHOULD WRITE THAT BOOK.” I think it’s a nice exercise in considering how ANY situation might feel from the other side. There always are two sides to every story, if not more, whether that person is the jerk at your office or the Hollywood starlet or the sudden princess. Look again and then think about what you’re not seeing.


(source: Variety)

You made a big announcement that the book will be adapted to the big screen. As a big Parenthood fan, I was so excited to see that Lauren Graham & Mae Whitman will be teaming up for this adaptation. How involved will you be with the film adaptation of your book and tell us about what was that moment like when you heard the news?

JESSICA: Oh, it was BEYOND exciting! We didn’t really expect that the book would be optioned — I think every writer hopes that it happens, but no one really thinks that it will — and it’s still so very surreal. Lauren and Mae are so smart and kind and really everything you could hope for; I feel incredibly grateful and really excited about the entire thing. We got really, really lucky. That said, I don’t know how creatively involved we will be — contractually, not at all, and that’s fine! We totally trust Mae and Lauren to do the book justice. As I said to them, I really just want to be in the room when they cast the hot British dudes. I don’t need to have a VOTE, I just want to get to eyeball them from the back row.

HEATHER: It is basically now their boat to drive. If they tell us there’s a seat on it for us, then great! If they tell us we can ride it for half an hour once, that’s fine too. If they never speak to us again, that’s totally their call (although it would make us sad, just because as humans Mae and Lauren are truly even smarter and cooler than we imagined). We have no expectations of anything, and are just grateful the book is in loving and intelligent hands.

Can we expect a sequel from you because I feel like there is so much more to tell in this story of Bex & Nick? Oh, and you can only answer yes to this…

JESSICA: Hah! Well, thank you so much. We don’t know what we’re going to be writing next. We’ve discussed a sequel, but I think it’s really important to us that, if we do write one, we come up with a fresh, new story to tell. We don’t want to write a sequel just for the sake of spending more time with those characters — although we’d love to do that! It also has to be a good book on its own. I think we’ve all bought sequels to books that we’ve loved and been disappointed by them, and that’s what we want to avoid, and figuring out how to do that, and if it’s even possible, is taking some time.

HEATHER: Part of me wants to let them live a while first, you know? The call for a sequel has been so flattering, and obviously tempting. For me, The Royal We has been such a perfect book experience that I don’t want to be careless with it.

I understand you are collectors of Royal swag! What is your favorite piece in your collection?

JESSICA: I collect Commemorative Royal Mugs and I LOVE THEM. It’s so hard to pick a favorite. Heather kicked the whole thing off by giving me a mug commemorating Wills and Kate’s engagement the year that happened, and that is the one that I would hate to lose the most, I think. That said, I also LOVE the mug I have wherein the mug-makers accidentally used Prince Harry’s face instead of Prince William’s. That’s a keeper, as well.

HEATHER: Jess gave me a Chuck and Di wedding jar that has the most hideous photo of Diana on it. It’s amazing. My parents also have a tin wastebasket from their engagement that I have asked for whenever my mother decides to get rid of it. We made an allusion to that in the book. Oh, my mother DID send me the book they got about the courtship and wedding, full of photos. It’s great. There’s a passage that explains that royal babies are not commercialized with souvenirs the way weddings are, which is HILARIOUS to read now, when of course nothing was more commercial than the birth of George.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

JESSICA: One book! That is really a difficult choice to make. I have a degree in English lit, and I’m sure several of my professors will strongly disapprove of this — it’s very tempting to choose a classic, or at least something “literary” —  but I am going to recommend the classic Judith Krantz book, SCRUPLES (and also SCRUPLES II; the first book ends on a real cliffhanger, so be warned).  If you are interested in/enjoy popular woman’s fiction, Krantz is truly the master of the genre. Her books always feature strong women who excel at interesting jobs, and the plots are propulsive and highly readable and deliciously soapy. I personally never feel guilty about anything I read, but if you are into so-called “guilty pleasure reading” — or even if you are a person who only reads highly literary intellectual books but who longs to UNDERSTAND the idea of guilty pleasure reading — Scruples one of the most pleasurable, and, by this point, a classic of that genre. (Her autobiography, which is titled, brilliantly, SEX AND SHOPPING, is also a favorite.)

HEATHER: Oh, wow, I can’t pick that either. I think it’s because I would never advise anyone to read only ONE book, and I don’t even know HOW to answer this without considering the context. If it’s someone who never reads, I’d say start with the Harry Potter series, because it will invite you into books and then keep you there. If it’s someone who likes stuff that’s tonally similar to The Royal We — funny, with heart — I would hand them Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham, which I promise is a recommendation I would have made before she ever even picked up our book. If you’re into literature and wordplay and quirk, I’d suggest The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (and then read the whole series; they get goofier but no less imaginative and punny). If you want striking prose, read anything by Kate Atkinson. And if you love wartime and friendship and romance, it’s a tie between The FitzOsbournes trilogy and Code Name: Verity, both of which are wonderful examples of books that are technically considered for teens, but offer so much to anyone of any age. How’s THAT for a wishy-washy answer?

You can connect with Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan on their 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: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Have you ever thought you read every book by one of your favorite authors and then discover that you missed one? It felt like Christmas when I found out After I Do was a book that I had not tackled and discovered it was available on audio through our library. Over a day of cooking, I laughed, cried, and loved this book so much that I reached out to Taylor to tell her how very special it was to me. It is, in fact, my personal favorite of all the books she had written.  I asked if she would mind sharing a little behind this incredible book with you and she graciously agreed to share with us today. What a treat!

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

After I Do  is a must-read author recommendation,  recommended by Liz Fenton in her Sundays With Writers interview. Like I said, somehow I had missed this one in between her other two incredible books Forever, Interrupted and Maybe In Another Life.

I can now say that I’ve read all of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books and this is, by far, her best work.  After I Do is a brutally honest portrayal of a failing marriage that gives us glimpses into our own marriage struggles that we deal with daily and how, what once was endearing, can be the things that we can’t stand about our spouse.

Lauren & Ryan take a year off of their marriage in a temporary split to see if they really are meant to be together. As they navigate the world without one another, they discover a lot about themselves and each other.

A hopeful book filled with a family of characters that feel like your own, Reid’s book makes you feel like part of the family as you root for Lauren & Ryan to find each other again. Highly recommending this one!

I gave this book 5 stars and included it in our October ’15 Must-Reads List!

Grab your cup of coffee and let’s settle in with Taylor to hear more behind this beautiful book and some new projects that she happens to have underway!

Taylor Jenkins Reid

You are one of the few writers that I have devoured their entire body of work and loved every single book! After I Do though has to be my favorite (so far) of yours! Why did you decide to explore a couple taking a year away from each other in their marriage as the premise for this story?

First of all, thank you for reading all three of my books! I came up with the idea for After I Do just as I was finishing Forever, Interrupted. I knew that I wanted to delve into a story of what happens after you’ve fallen out of love. I figured the most interesting way for me to do that was to create two people who used to be madly in love with each other find themselves on the edge of divorce. Then the question becomes, “Can they fall back in love?” Answering that was the fun of writing the book.

You chose to narrate the story from Lauren’s perspective, but one way that we really can delve into Ryan’s story is through the unsent emails that Lauren reads in his drafts folder. Why did you choose to tell the story in this way instead of a more “he said, she said,” narration with alternating voices?

Great question. I wrestled with this for a long time. There was even a draft – I think maybe it was draft three – where I worried that I needed to scrap half of the book and add in Ryan’s point of view. But I really wanted this to feel like a story of self-exploration and not a book where the reader was choosing sides. I wanted the audience to connect with Lauren and her family. So I decided to stick with her point of view and work hard at making Ryan’s voice come through.

There were moments that I laughed out loud at the minor irritations that seem so major when we are married. I love my husband, but those things like not putting your dishes in the sink or not putting clothes in the hamper can really escalate, you know? Did you channel some of your silly inner rages with your spouse in the email banter between Lauren & Ryan?

Ha! I tried really hard not to air my own dirty laundry in the book but I did tap into the feeling of,“I love you but I hate you so damn much,” in order to capture how frustrating it can be to live with another human being. I’m sure some of my own marriage snuck in there unbeknownst to me… Case in point: I have a dog named Rabbit and Lauren and Ryan’s dog is named Thumper (who was a rabbit). I didn’t even notice it until a reader pointed it out.  So there’s probably there’s more of me in there than I realize.

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

There are many beautiful moments in this book, but one line really stood out for me in particular that I highlighted. It was, “We are two people who used to be in love. What a beautiful thing to have been. What a sad thing to be.” Hello, heartstrings! So many moments really just cut me to the core. Were there any scenes that were particularly emotional for you to write about?

I’m thrilled you said that because that line was a particular favorite of mine as well! I always have certain ideas or sentiments that I try to write towards as I’m crafting my first draft. And I was most definitely writing toward that line. There were a few scenes that were very gratifying and deeply emotional to write but they are all at the end and I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say, the resolution of everyone’s storylines meant a lot to me.

Typically, I don’t really get wrapped up in the supporting characters in a book, but in this one, I was just as attached to the family as I was to Lauren & Ryan. Did you have a favorite family member? Do you ever envision writing a book about any of the other characters in this story?

I think every single character in this book has more story ahead of them. Which is why I’m super excited that I’ve signed a deal with ABC Family to adapt After I Do as a half-hour series. It’s very early stages and the development process is never a sure thing, but I’m very excited about the idea of seeing where Charlie, Rachel, Leslie, Mila, Lauren, and Ryan’s stories take them.

I know you did a lot of research on marriages as you were preparing for this book. Why did you want to research the history of marriage and what was the most interesting thing you discovered about the act of marriage?

The book is about Lauren and Ryan’s marriage, but it’s also about marriage in general. It’s about opting out of marriage, childless marriage, marriage equality, non-monogamous marriage, raising children, etc. So I wanted to learn about the many different ways humans have interpreted the word and how the definition is changing with every generation. I think the most interesting thing I learned is just how rare monogamous love-based marriage truly is. This type of marriage that we refer to as “traditional marriage,” is fairly new and not particularly common in human history.

Did writing about Lauren’s flaws and Ryan’s flaws make you hyper aware of you or your own husband’s issues? Did it bring out any of your own insecurities about marriage?

It definitely made me think about what I do in my own relationship that might one day lead to systemic problems. When you write a book about how a marriage has gone wrong, it makes you look at your own relationship and analyze whether you’re guilty of any of the things your characters are. I think writing the book was one of the best things I did for my marriage because it required me to truly ask myself what I thought could ruin a relationship. And once you answer a question like that, you have to start heeding your own advice.

Resident Advisors

One thing that I didn’t know about you, as I was researching for this interview, is that you are a triple threat! Not only do you write books, but you also have a Hulu series (Resident Advisors) and you write for magazines… and I thought I had a hard time describing my job! That’s a lot of balls in the air as a creative. How do you keep inspired and do you have a system for gathering and storing all of your ideas for these storylines?

I’m a big proponent of lists. I have To Do lists every day as well as project lists on the walls of my office. What projects am I currently working on? What still needs to be done for each one? What do I need to do today? And then I have a master list of every idea I’ve ever had, that I use as a well to draw from whenever an opportunity arises. I’ve been blessed with a neurotic, type-A working style, which means that everything is compartmentalized and controlled. That being said, I have a decidedly un-neurotic and non-type-A living style. So I never miss a deadline but I am always losing my keys.

Forever Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 I am so excited to hear that, Forever, Interrupted,”  (listed as one of my own personal top ten’s for 2013) is being adapted into a screenplay. Do you have any information you can share about where you are in that process or any of the casting decisions that have been made?

As announced, Dakota Johnson is attached to star as Elsie! Which is very exciting. And as I understand it, the script is being written right now. I am a big fan of the producers – and trust their vision —  so I know they are doing a great job bringing Elsie, Susan, and Ben to life.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I stumbled upon it at the used bookstore attached my library and bought a copy of it for four dollars last December. I have since recommended it to everyone that will listen to me and have bought multiple copies. It is a retelling of the story of Achilles’s life leading up to and through the Trojan War. I can’t tell you what I love most about it because I love everything about it so much. It is stunningly romantic, a pleasure to read, incredibly thought-provoking, and epically tragic, with some of the most wonderful sentences I’ve read in some time. It manages to straddle both classic literature and soap opera in one story. It’s so good (and so juicy) that I would call it a guilty pleasure except that you have nothing to feel guilty about because it’s so very beautiful and keenly smart.

You can connect with Taylor Jenkins Reid 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: This is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison

Sunday, October 25th, 2015


Hello, friends! Today I am so excited to share about a new-to-me author that I have discovered this month. Jonathan Evison’s book, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, is a book that I listened to while tackling my meal prep for the week and it was absolutely charming in every way. If you are into audiobooks, the narrator did such an incredible job on this one!  As soon as I finished it, I emailed Jonathan to see if he could share more about it with me. He graciously is joining us today and after researching more about him and his books, I am just so anxious to read another one, in particular, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, which he told me would really resonate with my mom readers!

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison

Our must-reads list for the month will be out on Friday, but I couldn’t wait until then to tell you about this incredible book.

There is so much beautiful layering in this book that I just couldn’t put it down! 78-year-old Harriet discovers that her husband had won an Alaskan cruise before his passing and, with an expiration date looming on the prize, she decides to take that cruise with her best friend. When her best friend unexpectedly bails on her, Harriet finds herself on a boat out to sea, but she isn’t alone thanks to her husband’s visits.

We grow to know Harriet in a unique way as chapters alternate with a, “This is Your Life,” game show theme and we jump along the timeline of Harriet learning more about all of the life experiences that have shaped her, the people who have betrayed her, how she was treated when she was a child, how she felt as her marriage and parenting were failing, and what it was like for her to care for a husband who mentally was no longer there.

The book twists and turns, secrets are revealed and an unexpected guest joins Harriet on the cruise. It was a beautiful story that makes you consider what your own, “This Is Your Life,” show might look like- with all the good and the bad moments in it.

I am giving this book 5 out of 5 stars and am so excited to hear that it will be coming to the big screen!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Jonathan Evison today as we chat about his incredible new book!

jonathan evison

In your interview with NPR in September, you stated that you originally had written the story with Harriet having these flashbacks looking back on her life while brewing tea or gazing out the window, but then came up with the concept to mimic, “This is Your Life,” to bring these flashback moments to life. How did the idea of making these flashbacks to resemble the show, “This is Your Life,” come to you?

Really, it just arrived out of thin air, born of necessity. The narrative was too linear. Harriet needed a counterpoint. Since this was a novel about memory, and reflection, and association, all non-linear processes, this was a perfect opportunity to jump around in Harriet’s life. I liked the idea of Harriet being presented with her life at some distance.

As a male in his forties, the way that you capture the voice of a 78 year-old Harriet is so beautifully done and never feels forced, which is a true showcase of your incredible writing talent. How did you develop that voice for Harriet? Did you channel someone you knew or was it a collective voice of women this age that shaped Harriet’s perspective?

I wanted Harriet to be an everywoman of her generation, but yes, she was informed by a number of women in my life. I was raised almost exclusively by women. As I acknowledge at the end of the book, I wanted to honor the courageous women who  nurtured me, educated me, disciplined me, sacrificed for me, suffered for me, and never forsaken me; my mom, my grandma, my sisters, my wife, and my third grade teacher, to name a few. The women who have often settled for less, the women who’ve never quite gotten their fair share, who have soldiered on in the face of inequity, frustration and despair, who have forgiven beyond reasonable measure, absorbed beyond reasonable expectation, and given, given, given with no promise of recompense. I wanted to thank them with this portrait of one woman, inspired by all of them, from the moment of her conception, to her last breath. In terms of getting inside Harriet’s head, it’s mostly a matter of getting out of my own way.

The mother and daughter dynamic that you shape between Harriet & Caroline eerily resembles so many mother & daughter relationships I know. The strain that they each feel towards one another, the competition, and that ability to just take everything the wrong way was really well developed. Why do you think this dynamic was so important to Harriet’s story?

In my first novel, All About Lulu, I explored the father/son dynamic, which in my experience dealt with the implacable distance between father and son, and trying to bridge that distance. Conversely, when I consider the mother/daughter relationships that have informed my life, there seems to be an uncomfortable proximity between both parties, as if they both understand each other all too well. Where the father/son dynamic sometimes seems awkward, the mother/daughter dynamic seems tense. Really, I have no idea what accounts for this, it’s just something I’ve observed.

There are some truly dark moments for Harriet as Bernard’s health begins to decline. You really pull back the curtains on what it would be like to care for someone with Alzheimer’s and the physical & mental drains on their caregiver especially when they haven’t been an incredible spouse before their mind fails them. There are moments where Harriet really wants to inflict pain on Bernard for the pain he is putting her through. When Harriet realizes the secrets Bernard keeps, she really is angry that she had to bear it all alone even more. Were these scenes difficult for you to write? Do you think Bernard deserved Harriet?

It’s always difficult for me to make my characters suffer, but it’s what I do. I love them dearly, and I’ll do everything within my power not to forsake them, but my job is to report on the human experience, and that means pulling the curtains back and laying them bare. I’ve been a caregiver my whole life one way or another, so I know firsthand about the burnout, along with the rewards. As to whether Harriet deserved Bernard, I’d say very few of our relationships are predicated on what we deserve. Generally, they’re more about what we’re willing to accept. That said, nobody deserves Alzheimer’s.

I have a sweet spot for the elderly and I truly mean that!  I am finding that the appreciation for them grows as I grow older and realize the beauty in their stories. You have said that your characters are usually marginalized by society in some way. You even share through this story how Harriet feels invisible as she gets older. How do you think we can work to not marginalize the elderly as people and help them feel visible?

I think it’s already happening. The Baby Boomers are getting old, and they’ve got disposable income. It’s impossible for advertisers and marketers to ignore them, like they ignored the elderly of the Greatest Generation, whom they viewed as too “brand loyal,” and set in their ways. The best way not to be marginalized in America is to be attractive to advertisers.

You have attributed a lot of your success to independent bookstores and their embrace of your talents. Why do you think their support has helped so much with the sales of your books? For other writers out there, were there any particular strategies involved to get them to back you for successful sales?

Nothing moves books like word of mouth. When you figure in the exponentials, personal recommendations go further than big newspaper reviews or advertisements. And at the end of the day, nobody connects writers to readers like an independent bookseller, who is likely not selling books in an effort to accumulate wealth.

I understand that you enjoy a little booze with your book readings which I love since many can feel so stiff and formal. What’s your favorite drink to sip while sharing your books?

Whatever you got, twice.

This Is Your Life

Although I knew of, “This is Your Life,” I have actually never seen an episode of it. Do you have a favorite episode of the show, “This is Your Life,” that you could recommend that we check out?

I generally remember the show and its concept from seeing it a few times in syndication when I was a kid. They call it the original reality show, but it was pretty schmaltzy, really. I intentionally skewed Harriet’s “host” much darker and more penetrating than Ralph Edwards, the host of This is Your Life, which was all pretty orchestrated toward a warm and fuzzy ending.


(Selena Gomez shares a photo on set on Instagram for The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving)

I understand that your novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” is coming out in 2016 starring Selena Gomez, Jennifer, Ehle, & Paul Rudd. Are you involved with writing the screenplay for this and how excited are you to see this book come to life?

I was not involved in the writing or production, though I consulted a little bit on set, and appeared in a scene, which was a lot of fun. Everybody involved was extremely gracious. And yes, I’m very excited for the story to reach a new audience. Harriet Chance is also in the early stages of development at Focus Features. I’m tickled pink that film people want to share my stories, and pay me for them.   

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

One book, seriously? This question could keep me up all night! My recommendation is that you not be afraid to read outside of your comfort zone, because you never know what’s going to change your life.


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

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Sundays With Writers: You by Caroline Kepnes

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Some interviews take longer to wait for than others and I have been pursuing poor Caroline Kepnes since July to have her be my guest on the site. I was obsessed with talking with her, kind of like her obsessive character she has created… I wasn’t going to let this one go.  Why? Well, heck, if you have read You, you know why I had to talk to her.

As a rule, I hesitate to take on any series books. I am one of those fickle people that can’t seem to follow through on a series and since I try to read such a diverse amount of books for our reviews each month, I like to offer you a plethora of choices. After reading it though, I knew that Caroline had more of a story to tell about her character Joe, and I knew I wanted to hear that story.

You by Caroline Kepens

For my friends that don’t like to read racy literature, this is one you can skip, but for my friends looking for a little excitement in their lives…well, this book is for you. Bring on the excitement (JAZZ HANDS)!! Every friend I have recommended this one to has gotten swept away in the crazy. It’s impossible not to.

This book is dark, disturbing, twisted, erotic, psychotic…just try to put it down. Fans of Chelsea Cain & Gillian Flynn will love this book.

This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark. This is an author to watch.  To read my full review, head on over to my July Must-Reads list!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Caroline to chat about this year’s new guilty pleasure book, You!


The way that Joe utilizes social media to stalk Guinevere, in an attempt to create her ideal boyfriend, was chilling for someone who uses social media so much. How did you come up with the concept of creating this cat-and-mouse game through tweets and Facebook?

Writing a book full of status updates and tweets is one way to rationalize your time on Facebook, isn’t it? Looking back to that time before I started writing, I realize that I was on Facebook a lot, in a negative sense. I had spent a lot of time in hospitals, waiting around, too anxious to read, too fried. My phone was always there, the ever-changing fake-true story of sometimes interconnecting narratives that is your Facebook feed. I was fascinated by the dissonance between how we present ourselves and how we live. I was so aware of how interactive Facebook is, emotionally, how you can use it to drag yourself down if you want, how to lift yourself up, get attention, give it, such a strange new tool in our pockets. And it’s intriguing to me, what people choose to project, why they make that choice. I’m a psychologist at heart in a lot of ways and I loved the idea of this misguided, lonely soul who uses this tool in all the worst possible ways. But you feel for him sometimes of course, because he wants love. I liked the idea of technology as a weapon for both Beck and Joe. She is using it to get attention. He’s using it to pay attention. It’s all too extreme. Also, I had been a heavy smoker and I quit cold turkey, which was traumatic, and this book was like a replacement for cigarettes in some way.

As a former journalist for Tiger Beat & Entertainment Weekly, we can really see your pop culture personality pull through with all of your references to current songs, movies, and the media during this time. Did you ever worry that this would date your book in any way by using so much pop culture within it?

I was watching The Honeydrippers video for “Sea of Love so much while writing that I put the video in the book. That’s how it worked with a lot of the references. I would write in a coffee shop, then get in my car and listen to a mix CD of Hannah and Her Sisters instrumentals and Elton John. And I would end up stopping at a coffee shop on the way home to write more. I was so full of drive and inspiration and my God, what a joyous time. I genuinely didn’t care if the book was good or bad. It felt like its own thing, a beast that I was nurturing, and as I type that I’m like, eew, pretentious, but at the same time, it’s true. So that was the fun, the flow part.

Then of course, there’s so much more to writing than the high of the first draft, with or without the musical inspiration. You snap out of it and review your work, find that you have quoted e.e. Cummings and Prince repeatedly and become self-conscious and bite your lip and question all of it. It’s extreme to point toward a moment in history in a work of fiction, like when Benji finds out about Lou Reed’s death. But I love reading books and looking at the publication date and thinking, ok, so this is what it was like at this moment. And in this case it felt right. With lyrics, it’s also extreme to quote so many songs and seek legal permissions. But similarly, the references felt right for this particular narrative. Joe’s mind was absolutely clogged with quotes and songs and images. That was endemic. His interpersonal relationships have not been rewarding. I thought of that scene in Good Will Hunting when Will says his friends are Shakespeare, et al, the guys who wrote the books and the good doctor is basically like, No, kid. They’re dead. That scene stayed with me. And it’s interesting, in Hidden Bodies, I started quoting songs again and rewrote seventy pages over and over and it felt wrong. And it was like, that’s because it is wrong. He has a relationship now and this story isn’t about him swooning, being alone, seeking. It’s about him trying to preserve what he has. He’s not in his head so much, he’s in the world, socializing more. The references are there, but they’re different.

Frank Langella

While we are on the subject of pop culture, can you share your favorite story or celebrity that you covered and why it was so special to you?

I have always been obsessed with film press junkets. I used to write the Reel Girl column for E! Online and I got to go to junkets a lot. They are trippy and interesting, with journalists who know so much about movies, tense publicists, uncomfortable celebrities, Fiji water flowing, the air of formality of The Four Seasons that I swear makes everyone awkward. I. Love. Junkets. Anyway, I was sitting at a roundtable with journalists and Frank Langella. He was in this intimate movie called Starting Out in the Evening. I asked him what it was like to slap a woman on camera. And he slapped me. Gently, but you know, it was a slap. And it was just amazing. Best junket ever. Here’s a link to the play by play!

I censor myself in my writing that I put out into the world because I’m always worried what other people might think. I really need to work on that! Your book really pushes all the envelopes. Did you ever worry about what anyone would think about any of these scenes that you wrote or do you write without worry about it? Do you have any advice about stepping out of your comfort zone when writing?

Oh, God, that’s such an important topic that I think about so much. The main thing, forget about the end result. Remember that a bomb could go off and that would be the end of that. Stop editing. Stop wincing. Stop rereading. (You get to do all that after and torture yourself for as long as you want.) Seek flow. Follow your instincts. Don’t put writing on a pedestal. I like to think of it as a combination of playing and thinking. You can’t undermine the importance of the play part, the need to create a time and space to play. The way you do when you’re a kid. Be a hedonistic child. Do what you want. A few weeks ago, my friend’s kids had me read B.J. Novak’s book to them over and over again. This is what I love about kids, they’re not like oh I should read something else, broaden my horizons, seek balance. They indulge. I think it helps to have that spirit as an adult. Worry later. And then yes, worry and think a lot about what’s wrong with what you did. But separate those two tasks, the play and the edit. And everyone is different. Some people want to breathe, regroup and edit after a chapter. Some people want to push out the whole thing and then look after. And some people change with each project. It’s just about figuring out what works for you.

I think, if you’re having this issue with what other people think, go sit in a coffee shop and write. You’re exposing yourself. Anyone who walks by can see that you’re not just futzing around on Facebook (not all the time) but that you are attempting to create something. So already, you’re facing the opponent, letting strangers know that you are trying to write. It’s a great starting point because these people don’t get to review your work. It’s more about you becoming comfortable creating something out of your imagination on your own, near other humans, rising above the din and letting the work take over.

Of course, if an hour later you are miserable and have a blank screen, that’s okay too. You learned something about yourself. You hated being in that coffee shop and trying to create something. Ask yourself why. Go home and draw the curtains and tell the computer about your day. Maybe that ranting will spark an idea and before you know it, your bad writing day rant has mutated into a scene. Let this exercise be a priority. Same way you have a skin routine, this is no different. Your imagination deserves to be treated with tenderness. And if you fall off the wagon and freeze up and go into that, oh shit I don’t think I can write ever again mode, let it rip. Indulge the anxiety. Binge on TV and let yourself slowly realize that the only cure for writing anxiety is writing. Your brain is resilient. Just like your skin.

I really, really adored that you thanked two of your former teachers in your acknowledgements.  What was it about these two teachers that made them so special and have you heard from them on their reaction to your book?

Teachers are so important. Their contribution is incalculable. Both the teachers I thanked are legends in my hometown school system. I saw one recently and it was such a joy. He’s an author as well as a teacher (Girl Singer by Mick Carlon is out November 10!). He loved the part in the book where Joe arrives in Little Compton, and that meant so much to me, particularly that’s a descriptive scene and Mick was my journalism teacher, which is to say, he helped countless students hone into their environments, notice surroundings. He’s a phenomenal person. They were both so encouraging and thoughtful and above all, my God, they both love books. That’s contagious.


Stephen King with The Thing of Evil (read all about her- so cute!)

Joe makes fun of Stephen King an awful lot in your story and the actual Stephen King happens to endorse your book on the cover. Did he love all of the references to himself and how do you get such a legend to write a blurb for the cover of your book?

I see his name on the cover and I feel overjoyed. Stephen King dazzles me. To think of him creating so many rich stories and then sharing photos of Molly, The Thing of Evil, I mean, he’s such a wholly admirable person. Joe’s take on him was so much fun to work out. There’s Joe’s basic deranged sense of authority. He’s miffed at people claiming to love Stephen King. Joe, of course, feels superior to his customers. He suspects they haven’t read the bulk of King’s work. He thinks most of the people buying the book about Danny Torrance never even read The Shining, only saw the movie version. And then, Joe is flat out mad at Stephen King because the man publishes a novel when Joe has a date?! He makes Joe late! And Joe has control issues. He resents the reliability of our culture, the guarantee that a Stephen King book will attract readers, the resultant inconvenience that this creates for Joe. Ah, narcissism!

Stephen King is just amazing. I have turned to On Writing many times in my life. He gets it. And his understanding of us, strengths and weaknesses, I am grateful for his work. I don’t know how the blurb on my book happened. I just know that last December I was roaming around Kitson in the Beverly Center with a low-grade fever in holiday shopping panic when my phone started buzzing. He was tweeting about me. It blew my mind. Always will. It means so much to me that he read my red and white book and felt compelled to tell people about it.

I understand you are preparing the sequel to You now! Where are you in the stages of development of the next book and are there any talks yet of turning your first book into a screenplay?

Hidden Bodies comes out in February! It’s the sequel and the waiting is killing me. But it’s the good kind of pain, like waiting for Christmas as a child. I finished writing it a few months ago. I knew I wanted to spend more time with this character while I was writing the first one. There was never any doubt that there are at least three books. The first one for me was primarily about being in your twenties, Joe being about thirty, feeling he missed out on having normal twenties, always a little late. Hidden Bodies has Joe in his thirties, a little weary, driven and violent as ever, but you know, he wants love, home, stability, the American dream. But it’s the same thing, nothing is quite what he wants it to be. I have plans for another one and I hope to tell his story for years to come. And yes, Showtime optioned You. Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble are working on the script. It’s all tremendously exciting. And I’m working on two new books right now.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

The Street by Anne Petry is brilliant and searing. One of my all time favorites.

You can connect with Caroline Kepnes on Facebook or through Twitter! 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: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Do you love quirky books like Eleanor & Park? I am such a fan of quirky literature and Kitchens of the Great Midwest combines good old-fashioned Midwest humor with loads of charm in this adorable fictional debut by J. Ryan Stradal. After I finished it, I immediately emailed J. Ryan to see if he might like to join me in our Sundays With Writers series and was so thrilled when he said he would. Today I am sharing a little behind his unique story and, since this story follows the culinary career of Eva, a peek at his own love affair with food.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

This book is perfectly quirky in every way. The reader gets to go on a journey chapter by chapter with different narrators who are all somehow connected to an incredible little girl named Eva, that grows into a woman of major culinary talent. As with any book with changing narrators, some chapters you are more drawn into than others, but it does not take away from the quirky hilarity written in each chapter.

Being a Midwest girl, there were many references that made me feel nostalgic about my own Midwest roots as Eva’s coming-of-age story unfolds. I had a hard time putting this one down!

FYI- There are some graphic scenes and language in this one.

I included this book in our September Must-Reads list this month and am excited to have J. Ryan join me this morning. Grab your coffee and settle in with another incredible writer!


The structure of your book is so unique because Eva and her life story are told through other characters and that is how we get to know her. Why did you think it was important to structure your book in this way?

When I decided to set a book in the Midwest at large, I knew I would never please everyone; it’s too large and varied for one book. Still, there are a range of Midwestern types I attempted that I don’t always see represented in fiction; I wanted as many points of view on the Midwesterner’s relationship to region and food as possible. I also wanted Eva’s adult career to be cloaked in mystery and hearsay, and I felt that telling the story from multiple points of view would both allow me to introduce a variety of Midwestern characters – while keeping Eva at a bit of a distance. It’s intentional that the reader will find Eva increasingly remote.

Eva even from infancy is passionate about food, but is raised by her aunt and uncle who don’t really understand her passions for the culinary world. Have you ever felt misunderstood by your parents or community for a passion you had and did you channel this in the character of Eva?

Absolutely. When I was Eva’s age, I sometimes felt alienated from the hockey and football-obsessed town I grew up in, and I didn’t share my family’s interest in hunting or motorcycles. I affirmed that there was a place for me in this world largely through books and music. While I had supportive teachers and good friends, I also attached myself to interests that were pretty far outside the realm of what was available in my corner of southern Minnesota, and that’s reflected in Eva’s passion for extremely hot peppers – which, obviously, aren’t commonly identified with Iowa.

As a foodie, I appreciated the humor and lightness you add to our obsessions with food. There is one line that I highlighted because it really gave me a moment’s pause. When your character Pat is made fun of by other foodies for a simple cookie bar instead of a vegan and locally sourced dish, the line says, “She suddenly felt sorry for these people for perverting the food of their childhood, the food of their mothers and grandmothers, and rejecting its unconditional love in favor of what?” Do you think there is some truth in Pat’s feelings when it comes to our obsessions with healthier living and misunderstanding the food of our parents & grandparents?

I think Pat would feel that way. She doesn’t see a place in the ecology of that setting for what defines her as a cook, so she views their values as not merely an abnegation of her bars or her ingredients, but of her as a person. She’s been devoted to doing one thing one way for a long time, and in her emotional reaction to these foodies, I also perceive a bit of a generation gap – a little bit of that LP enthusiast who decries CDs and MP3s as inferior. She’s not wrong, but given what she knows and what she doesn’t know, you can see why she takes rejection of her food personally.

The way you write about food and, in particular, describing dishes that Eva creates is so beautifully descriptive that it made my mouth water. “The venison, firm enough to meet your teeth, and soft enough to yield agreeably in your mouth, revealed subtle, steely new flavors with each bite, while the tomatoes were so full of richness and warm blood, it was like eating a sleeping animal.” I mean, REALLY! How do you develop this richness to your words and were there any people or books that aided in your inspiration for developing such incredible descriptiveness in these dishes?

Wow, thank you. I don’t really know if I can point to one book. I’m always reading something, and I’m also always looking for books that challenge my expectations and comfort level as a reader; seeing marvelous sentences makes me want to write them. Like most writers, I try my best to explain things in a way that I haven’t seen them explained before, but also in a way that’s visceral and descriptive, to the best of my ability, and relevant to the voice of the character. The sentence you just quoted came from a character who is a sommelier with restaurant experience. Had the character been a nurse or a President, it would’ve come out somewhat differently. This is probably a boring answer, and I feel bad because the question was so generous.

Have you ever eaten or been a part of any dining experience like Eva offers and were there any restaurants that served as inspiration for creating this pop-up dining experience you develop?

Sure, a few times. Some years ago I attended a pop-up in downtown Los Angeles that gave me some ideas in terms of how the principals behind the operation used the ephemeral location to their advantage. I’ve also read about a few (that I have yet to attend) that seem to demonstrate the chef’s passion for both fresh ingredients and a bespoke experience. Collectively, they made Eva’s operation seem somewhat plausible, though I admit at the time I wrote the book I thought Eva’s dinner seemed slightly far-fetched. I no longer think that’s the case.

Since I am a Midwesterner, I truly could appreciate so many of the references you made in this book. I understand that you live out in California now. Can you share what you miss the most about the Midwest?

The people, first and foremost. The environment – the air, the water, the trees, and their evolutions during the fiercely stark seasons. I think about Minnesota a lot; I still consider it home even though I’ve lived in California for seventeen years.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

This is monstrously tough. How can I choose just one? Debbie Graber’s short story collection Kevin Kramer Starts On Monday isn’t out yet – it comes out next spring – but it’s the funniest thing I’ve read in a very long time. Debbie is just brilliant; her humor, which often sends up the contemporary American workplace, is infused with plenty of heart, pathos, and intelligence. I read it in manuscript form and I can’t wait for it to exist in the world. Please pre-order it the moment it becomes available.

You can connect with J. Ryan Stradal  on Facebook or 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: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

It never ceases to surprise me when I reach out to an author to share about their book with my audience and they respond. Today’s author is no exception and he was so fantastic in this interview that I am anxious to now check out his memoirs and read more about him in a more personal way.

For now, I will just have to be content informing you that Did You Ever Have a Family is Bill Clegg’s first fictional book and it is absolutely incredible and worthy of the Amazon Best Book of September 2015 nod as well as being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Can you imagine what a thrill that is for your first piece of fiction?

Oh, and did I mention he is a literary agent representing really incredible talent like Lauren Groff?

Yeah. Kind of a big deal.

And so is this book.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg


On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

Clegg ambitiously illuminates how interwoven we are as people in this beautiful and haunting story of a town tragedy and the people left behind. Although the sheer amount of characters that share in each of the chapters (some once, other main characters more often) is confusing to piece together as a reader, you become a detective as each person is woven into another. The grief-stricken mothers left behind leave you with an ache in your own heart and are written so beautifully they feel real. You are also reminded that even in chance meetings with others you can play a powerful part in someone else’s story. This is one of the best books I have read this year!

I gave this book 5 stars in our September Must-Reads list!

Now grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Bill Clegg to learn how he managed to orchestrate a town filled with so many characters to build his story!

Bill Clegg

Congratulations on your book being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize! How did you find out the news of this and have you done anything to celebrate yet?

My British editor emailed me and I didn’t tell anyone until the next day.  It seemed too unreal to be true.  I needed to let a night pass to make sure I hadn’t made it up.

Your book has a very “old soul,” feel to it and builds upon the heartache and despair of a senseless tragedy. After I finished the book, I looked you up and expected a man twice your age to have been the author! I know that you have documented your difficulties with addiction in your first two books (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man Ninety Days). Do you feel you were able to channel some of your own struggles through this story because of what has happened in your own life? Which of the characters did you relate most to?  

In the seven years I was writing the book no one close to me had died so the grief of that loss was only something I could imagine into.  Weeks before the book came out my father died and he’d not been well for a few years so much of the last year of writing was informed by my fear of losing him.  The loss of friends, career, esteem, and love from drug and alcohol addiction, and the slow progression after – from grief and regret to acceptance and forgiveness – this I know as it’s marked the last eleven years of my life and is ongoing and always.  The characters in Did You Ever HaveFamily are all in their own way – first alone and then less so  – somewhere in this process, making their way.  I relate to all of them.  And the more time I spent with them, the more fully I understood them, the closer I felt to their experience.  This tends to be my experience of people in real life, too.  The more I know someone, no matter how seemingly different they seem (race, age, economics, politics) it never fails to amaze me how much more in common there is between us than not.

 Your story begins with a tragedy and then works its way out, giving your reader a chance to play detective as more of the mystery of those lost is uncovered. In that way, it reminded me of Everything I Never Told You, starting with the loss and developing it out from there.  Why did you structure your story this way for the reader?  

Further to this idea of getting to know people and over time unraveling who and how and why they are I liked the idea of arriving at a set of characters all stepping out and away from moment in time – in this case a tragic accident – and while tracing how they navigate that terrain excavating the years that preceded it.  In a way the accident could have been anything – a Christmas morning, a high school graduation, a lunar eclipse.  But once my brother, who was in heating and plumbing school at the time, began telling me stories about propane leaks and house explosions, I was spellbound and the occasion for the novel fixed.

The amount of characters you juggled in this story was quite astounding, with many characters only lingering for a single chapter. I picture you in your office writing this with a town map and a family tree to try and keep everyone straight! Did you map out the characters first and then build your story from there or did they just come to you as you wrote? Which voice was your favorite to write?

There was no map or family tree or chart as I was writing it.  I think if I had to reckon with how many characters I’d created I would have panicked.  So I plowed ahead and the book swelled to gargantuan proportions and once I had a draft I began to winnow it down to just the core characters of June, Lydia and Silas and then the voice from the communities they live in, leave and enter.  It was painful to let go of some of them but it was clear which voices mattered to the novel.  There was one point late in that process when I printed up the manuscript and laid out each chapter in order on a long window seat in my living room. Seeing it as an object – each character labeled in big black ink on the first page – helped guide me through a final ordering.

I understand that it took you seven years to write this book!  Did you ever reach a point where you just wanted to give up on the story? What motivates you to continue when a book takes so much time to develop?

Many times.  Many corners I painted myself into.  Sleep, another day, a long walk in the woods, music, months of not writing – these were what I turned to in order to find a way forward.  One thing that kept me going was knowing (what I thought for a long while was) the final scene and the last words of the book.  I just had no idea how to get there!  But having a destination helped even if for a long time there was no road or map.

As a literary agent, what has this process been like being the writer? Has this process changed you in any way now as you deal with the writers you work with now that you have been on the other end?

The vulnerability that comes with fiction came as a surprise.  The memoirs were frank and exposing and it was hard to imagine being more vulnerable than that, but there is something about creating a story from scratch and sending it into the world to be judged that makes for a naked feeling I didn’t count on.
Ferris Wheel

 One of my favorite passages in your story is the beautiful analogy of life and the Ferris Wheel. In it you say, “June hears them laughing just outside the house and thinks, with a loose knot of nostalgia and envy, that this moment in their relationship, in their lives, is as good as it will ever get. The before. The top of the Ferris wheel…This is the pivot between youth and age, the thrilling place where everything seems visible, feels possible, where plans are made. On the one side you have childhood and adolescence, which are the murky ascent, and on the other, you have the decline that is adulthood, old age, the inch-by-inch reckoning of that grand brief vision with earthbound reality.”  I don’t have any questions about this, I just wanted you to know that this passage really spoke to me. This idea of our life being like a Ferris wheel is so achingly beautiful.

Oh to be back at the top!  I think the truth of the top is that we only ever see it clearly until we inch down from its peak, seeing we had been there and didn’t know where we’d been and what we had, briefly. 

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

SWIMMING by Nicola Keegan.  By my lights one of the most brilliant, moving and devastatingly funny stories about growing up alongside, coping with and surviving the people who raise us.  The voice is so strong, so piercing and so authentic.  I’ve never read anything that conveyed more powerfully how families can be both curse and windfall.  I think about that book all the time.

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 Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

This will be my first Sundays With Writers featuring a writing duo today in our weekly interview feature. Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for over 25 years and write books together about friendships that are fun and a perfect addition to a beach bag or a much-needed escape. I actually selected The Status of All Things for my local book club selection as we kicked off our next year of reading now that our kids are back to school.

Although the premise of the book is light, it still speaks a lot of truth about how we use social media and the image that we put out there for the world to see. So many times what is really happy and what we are sharing are so different and this lead to a good discussion on how we use social media in our own lives and how we filter those images and updates for the public.

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton & LIsa Steinke

Kate is a thirty-five-year-old woman who is obsessed with social media. So when her fiancé, Max, breaks things off at their rehearsal dinner—to be with Kate’s close friend and coworker, no less—she goes straight to Facebook to share it with the world. But something’s changed. Suddenly, Kate’s real life starts to mirror whatever she writes in her Facebook status. With all the power at her fingertips, and heartbroken and confused over why Max left her, Kate goes back in time to rewrite their history.

Kate’s two best friends, Jules and Liam, are the only ones who know the truth. In order to convince them she’s really time traveled, Kate offers to use her Facebook status to help improve their lives. But her attempts to help them don’t go exactly as planned, and every effort to get Max back seems to only backfire, causing Kate to wonder if it’s really possible to change her fate.

I love books with a magical realism theme and the idea that you can rewrite your own history through your Facebook status was such a good one. It also makes you think about how we present ourselves online and how our reality are often so different!

Grab your coffee & let’s settle in with our FIRST writing duo on Sundays With Writers!

Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

 You have been best friends for over 25 years and now co-author books together. Did you ever dream that your friendship would merge with your work life like this?

When we were in high school and college, we would talk about writing a book together “someday,” but I’m not sure either of us actually thought it was going to happen!

This is my first time asking questions to a dynamic duo instead of just one author. In my head one of you starts the story and then goes … and the next one picks up. Clearly, I know nothing about writing in tandem. What does your writing process look like when writing together?

Writing in tandem is the only way we know. Often authors will say to us, “I don’t know how you write with another person!” and we will respond, “We don’t know how you write alone!” Our system is pretty simple. One of us writes a chapter, the other edits, then we go back and forth until we are settled on that chapter. Then the other person writes the next chapter and so on.

 Your book really centers on our many demons that we all deal with when it comes to social media, particularly the life that we put out there and the real lives we are leading. Are your struggles with social media similar to Kate’s?

Absolutely! Our own struggles are what gave us the idea for the book. We each have what we call a Facebook nemesis—that person we love to hate online. That person we are jealous of, even though we are fully aware their pictures are filtered and their status updates are edited. Sometimes it’s hard not to compare yourself and your kids to what others are doing—even if you know that you are only seeing a very small snapshot of someone else’s life. It’s important to understand it’s all just a game, and to not judge your own life by that yardstick.

The concept for you to change your future by changing the status of your Facebook update to match what you want to happen was such a fun one. If that could happen, tell me one status update you would post right now!

Lisa: I drank a bottle of wine and didn’t have a hangover. In fact, I still woke up at 6am and worked out! (She types as she takes a sip of her Meomi Pinot Noir.)

Liz: I developed a pill that lets you eat all the carbs you want without gaining weight! It’s a miracle!

Your book has made it on almost every beach read list created this summer! If any of us can escape the drudgery of our busy lives to head to the beach, what books would you recommend we pack for our vacation?

Come Away With Me by Karma Brown. The completely unexpected twist at the end will make you want to re-read the entire book!

He’s Gone by Deb Caletti.  The story of a husband who goes missing and the wife who pieces the mystery together. We’ve never read anything like it.

I understand that you are already working on your next book project! Can you give us a little info on what you are planning to publish next?


We are really excited about The Year We Turned Forty, which comes out April 26th, 2016. It’s about three best friends who get the chance to travel back ten years to the year they turned forty, a year in which they all made choices that changed the course of their lives.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Lisa: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She’s a phenomenal writer and this is a memoir you will think about for years after reading it.

Liz: After I Do By Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s an incredibly insightful and refreshing narrative on the challenges of marriage.

You can connect with Lisa & Liz  on Facebook or through their 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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