Posts Tagged ‘Sundays With Writers’

Sundays With Writers: The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

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

It’s that good.

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

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

She is my kind of lady.

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

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

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

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

Mary Louise Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Louise Kelly

Source: KPLU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sundays With Writers: Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Sundays With Writers

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

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

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frances Whiting

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

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

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

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

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Source: Simon & Schuster Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that cheating?

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

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

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Sundays With Writers: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

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

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

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

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

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

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

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Sundays With Writers: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

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

As a reader, I love a good surprise.

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

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

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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

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

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

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

Karen Joy Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sundays With Writers: Lifelines by Caroline Leavitt

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I have a very special treat for you today and am so honored to be interviewing bestselling author Caroline Leavitt for our Sundays With Writers series. I have been a longtime fan of her work and recently requested a copy of her book LIFELINES on NetGalley to read. It was so interesting to see several all available for one author (a rarity for a reviewer)  and was so excited to read that Caroline’s backlist of novels are now being published into ebook format for her devoted readers.  I was not as familiar with how all of that works in the publishing world so I was so excited to interview her and let her tell us about this unique opportunity.

Lifelines by Caroline Leavitt

Let me begin with her book LIFELINES that I read last week. Honestly, you would have never known that the book was originally published in the ’80’s because the story is timeless as is the beautiful and rich relationship between the mother and daughter in this story.  This story is about a woman named Duse, a strong-willed psychic and Isadora, her daughter, who struggles to find her own identity. It begins with Duse’s supernatural gifts which lead her to palm reading and how these lifelines in her own hands help guide her in her decision to find love and begin her family. As Duse is open to her gift her husband and daughter do not believe in it and live their lives differently, often conflicting with Duse’s world and their own self-discovery. What happens though when these three worlds collide and what if there truly are things in the world that cannot be explained.

  I found this book to be a deeply moving story that illustrates the bonds and difficulties that often arise in mother and daughter relationships.  I would recommend this beautiful book for people who enjoy stories with lots of character development, descriptive prose, and a slower build in their books. As with everything I have read by Caroline, I find her storytelling superb and this book was such a treat to read. I had happened to read IS THIS TOMORROW recently too and I can say that from her earlier work to her more recent work, it is solid through and through.

Now grab your coffee and let’s chat with the wildly talented Caroline Leavitt today!

Caroline Leavitt

For those of us that aren’t in the publishing world, explain what it means to have your backlist published?  How did this opportunity arise and what is the gain for you, as an author, to see your backlist published?

Before there were-e-books, everything was just in paper, which meant that, for most books, after a while, the book goes out of print. If people want to read it, they hit the library (which is great, I love libraries), or used bookstores or private sellers, which often charge ridiculous prices like $2,000 for my novel Meeting Rozzy Halfway! That  price tag means I can’t afford to buy up extra copies of my own novel! My agent and I were approached by Dzanc Books who had a new series called REprints (that’s the right spelling, by the way!), where they were bringing back literary novels in e-book form and would I like to have my book list out? I was so completely thrilled! In fact, Dzanc is now going to publish another one of my backlist, Living Other Lives. That means all my books, except for my third novel, Jealousies, which everyone hated, (I was pushed into writing a “more commercial novel” by my then publisher), will be available!

I would be most grateful if everyone would take a look and/or order them all here:

I read your book LIFELINES, one of several titles that are making their way out into the world again and would love to hear what makes this book special to you? Do you feel your writing style has evolved since this was published originally in the ‘80’s?

What an interesting question! The book was special to me because it was my second novel. My first, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, had created a sensation and made me a kind of star, and everyone had huge expectations for Lifelines, which got rave reviews—and then the publisher went out of business and the book lost promotion and steam, and well, there you go. The book died. It has particular meaning for me because parts of it were first published in the Michigan Quarterly Review, which was actually my very first publication. They paid me $50! I was so thrilled! I was deeply interested in identity back then, who we are compared to others—(hey, I was really young and insecure). I wrote my first two books in first person, and then I began to branch out!

LIFELINES really, at its roots, deals with the bonds between mothers and daughters.  In one line you say, “Through it all, Isadora began to think that if you had to be mother and daughter, it was easier at a distance.” The complexities of these relationships are so rich and deep just as they often are in real life. What made you want to explore this relationship and do you think there is any truth to Isadora’s thoughts?

Another great question. Well, at the time, I had a tangled relationship with my mother. I loved her (and still love her) very deeply, but she was insistent that I live my life the way she thought I should, and it caused a lot of friction. At the time, I just wasn’t strong enough to say to her, “I love you, but it’s my life and I know what it is going to make me happy.” Isadora wasn’t strong enough to do that—plus, there were parts of her that wondered if she WAS living her life the right way because everything was going badly for her! It became a really useful way for me to explore my own feelings about who I was, who my mother was, and who we could be together.

Edgard Cayce

I have read that you always add a spiritual element into each of your books. LIFELINES deals a lot with the things that we can’t always explain like palm reading, the feeling of spirits moving through one’s body, and the power of hypnosis. Do you believe in the power of these things yourself? What type of research did you do to prepare for Duse’s gifts?

I am LOVING your questions. I have always been interested in magic, the unknown, etc. I blame my father, who used to give me books about Edgar Cayce, the minister who would go into a trance and be able to tell peoples’ futures and cure their ailments, and no one—including him—knew why. I loved reading about that! I saw possibilities everywhere!  My father also gave me these old magazines called Weird Tales, and one of them talked about there being hidden holes in the world and if you stepped in one, you would vanish and go into another world. I looked for those holes everywhere!  But I also started reading a lot of quantum physics for the layperson and the thing that struck me is the pieces always talked about how the universe is really more strange and weird than anything we can imagine. There can be parallel universes where you might be living out another live. Maybe we are part of a giant computer (they’ve recently found pixels in space!).

So I do believe that anything and everything is possible—and that anything and everything has a scientific explanation we just don’t know yet. Many physicists say that there is no time, really, that is all a loop with everything happening at the same time. Wouldn’t that explain how a psychic might know your future?

I didn’t really do research back then. (I know, crazy, right?) Instead, I used what I knew and the experiences I had had with psychics I had gone to.

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

As an author of nine bestselling novels, I am sure it might be difficult to answer this, but what is one novel of yours that you wish everyone would read? What makes that book particularly endearing to you?

Yikes, this is like asking a mom who her favorite child is. Each novel was extremely important to me at the time. I guess I would urge people to read Is This Tomorrow because that is my most recent and the most me.

You are not only an author, but also a critic of books for People, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle. I wrote my first book and had such a hard time reading the feedback from it and have found that I prefer doing interviews with authors rather than reviews of books because I am now aware as an author of what it feels like to be on the other side of criticism. Since you receive criticism for your own work, do you find it difficult to critique others especially when so many authors are colleagues or personal friends? Do you publish feedback if you find you really hate a book?

What a great question. Before I became a critic, my reviews used to decimate me. If they were bad, I would hole up and cry for weeks. If they were good, I was skeptical and wondered if the reviewer was just being kind to me because he or she felt sorry for me.  My husband Jeff is a music critic and he used to talk to me for hours about how this is just one person’s opinion, and you have to weight the criticism, maybe learn from it and in any case, let it go. Becoming a critic was the best thing I ever did for myself because it made me realize how true that is. There have been books championed by every other critic on the planet that I just hated. And there have been many, many books I have loved that no one else even bothered to review, or if they did review, they tore the book to pieces.  It made me review and consider books more carefully. No one sets out to write a bad book, yet many reviews read as if that is truly the case. I think there is a right way to critique, to gently point out things that may not be working and to explore why in the context of what you believe the author was intending to do.

It’s considered deeply unethical to review a book by someone you know, even casually.  You are not supposed to review a book if you share the same publisher or editor or agent. Many papers I have worked for, including the NYT, make you sign a contract stipulating that you do not know the author. I’m very careful with that. Part of why I started my blog was so I could be above board about interviewing writers I knew and giving them some press for their books!

I also work privately with writers on their manuscripts because I love looking at books and figuring out what works and why, and what doesn’t work and how a writer could think about fixing that issue. It’s an intensive process—but it’s always done with great care and concern for the artist, because I know how hard a process writing anything is. And that process deserves the utmost respect. The difference between this and reviewing is that here, I can point out ways for the book to succeed on a higher level. A review is just a review.

That said, I don’t review books I hate. I don’t want to tear apart another writer. There’s so little review space available now, that I want to promote the books I love, instead.

I also read your book IS THIS TOMORROW and absolutely loved it. I’m a big fan of period pieces especially the 1950’s era and you weave a beautiful story about what it would be like as a single mother in this era and the scrutiny of those around her and the heartache of what it would be like for your child to suddenly be missing. I just felt like this one must be made into film.  Are there any plans to see this one being made into a screenplay? Please say yes.

Oh, thank you!  Thank you!  I have had my heart broken and smashed by the movie biz many times. My first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, was supposed to be a film with Paramount and then there was a writers/directors strike. My novel Into Thin Air was considered as Madonna’s directorial debut for three days before she went on tour. It was later picked up by another producer, but nothing ever happened. Pictures of You was optioned and nothing ever happened. Living Other Lives was optioned by the guy who made some Stephen King films and it had a script written by an Obie winning writer. It was about to go into principal photography and then everything stopped. I never heard back from anyone, until months later, when the producer resurfaced in Nashville, but the project was inexplicably dead. Is This Tomorrow actually has a script! I submitted the first scene  (I wrote it) to Sundance Screenwriting Lab, and was a finalist! They take only 6 people, but I didn’t make the cut. There’s a producer interested who is looking at financing, and he’s told me to be patient—so I’m used to all of this. Having a movie made of your book is the brass ring, but the chances of it actually happening are so slim. Still, a girl can hope, right?

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

I’m just about to turn in Cruel Beautiful World, which was sold on the basis of a first chapter and a thirty page synopsis, and of course I’m terrified. It’s set in the 60s and early 70s, the time when all the free love movement was starting to turn ugly, with the Manson murders and Altamont. It’s about a 16 –year-old girl who runs off with her 30 year-old hippy teacher to join the “back to the land” movement that began in the 70s, a so-called-paradise that turns into a nightmare for her.

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

The Great Gatsby. I hated it in high school, but then years later, I had to teach it in a high school, and I began to realize what a perfectly structured novel it is, how moving, how sad, and how beautiful a book it really is.

Thank you for these magnificent questions!

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

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

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Sundays With Writers

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mike-carey

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

Thanks!  I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be a sequel for Melanie?

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

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

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

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

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

You can connect with Mike Carey on GoodReads and on Facebook!  I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book!

You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Sundays With Writers: Margot by Jillian Cantor

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Sundays_With_Writers-1
I am always so excited when I can feature beautiful books in our Sundays With Writers series. Today’s book, Margot by Jillian Cantor, explores a fictional account of what it would be like if Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister, actually lived and had to carry the secret of her escape.

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

Margot

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

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

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

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

 

Jillian Cantor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This series may contain affiliate links!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Sundays_With_Writers-1

One of the highlights of running our MomAdvice Book Club has been our author interviews. It is truly a dream come true to share these interviews with you and to get to ask writers my questions about their process, their pieces, and their own recommendations for great books.

With that in mind, I am starting a new series called, “Sundays With Writers.” It will not be a weekly feature, but as I read books that I think you will love, I will share an interview with you about them and about their books.  It gives me the chance to continue sharing about incredible books and the beautiful minds and thoughts behind their creation. It also gives me a chance to swim a bit more in their words and hopefully share about an author you may not know about.  So grab your coffee and let’s chat about beautiful books together!

We will begin our series with an incredible book that I hope you will run out and pick up! It is called, “Hush Little Baby,” written by Suzanne Redfearn. It is a well-paced psychological thriller that I could not put down. The recommendation came from my friend Kristen, at Dine & Dish, and as I closed on the final pages, I knew that I needed to interview her.

Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn

Hush Little Baby is the story of a woman named Jillian Kane who has the life that she always dreamed of. She is a successful businesswoman, she has two beautiful kids, she wants for nothing financially, and her husband is a well-respected cop who every woman wish she had. Jillian is living with a secret though.  For nine years, her husband has abused her and he is calculating enough to abuse her in ways that no one would ever suspect that she is a victim.

When things escalate too far, Jillian decides to run away from him with her two kids. Unfortunately, she has no money, no plan, and no one that she can turn to.  It is in this most pivotal moment of her life that she develops unlikely friendships and learns to finally save herself and her kids. Her husband though, is a cop and is determined to do everything in his power to get his children back…and kill her.

I could not put this book down because I was so worried about Jillian and her kids. For two days, every moment I had, I was reading this to make sure that they could get to safety. When I say that I had my heart all wrapped up in this one, it would not be an understatement.

Today I am talking with Suzanne about her amazing book and a little bit about her process in writing this!

Suzanne_Redfearn

The abuse that Jillian suffers is so painful to read through and yet illustrates how important it is for her to break free. Did you struggle with this as you were writing these scenes?

In order to accurately depict what Jillian was going through, I needed to do extensive research on domestic violence and reading the first person accounts and testimonials of victims was very difficult.  And then internalizing what I’d read so I could use it in the story was exhausting.  Writing is a lot like acting, in order to do it well, you need to get inside your character’s head, put yourself in their life, and experience what they are going through.  Jillian is a lot like me in some ways, so it wasn’t difficult to feel her plight.  The nice thing about being an author is that, unlike my characters, when it gets to be too much, I can step away and return to my real life, the one that is loving and warm and not full of violence and fear.

 One thing that really struck me in your book was that Jillian often thinks of herself in pivotal moments and not her children. This part really pulled at my heartstrings, but I wonder if it was meant to do that. Was this meant to showcase the guilt that we all have as mothers in putting our own needs first?

Great question and one I haven’t been asked.  This was a result of the research I did as well as my experience of being a mom myself.  Oftentimes this is the dilemma an abused woman faces, save herself or stay to protect her kids.  Fear plays havoc on the psyche and self preservation is an instinct that is hard to override.  But you’re right about the resulting guilt that occurs after a woman has those treacherous thoughts.  Even if she doesn’t act on them, it can be devastating.  Some readers have told me they didn’t like Jillian because they didn’t think she was a good mother.  I would defend that she is a real mother, one who is not perfect, who sometimes made mistakes and had selfish thoughts (haven’t we all?), who had been beat down to believe she wasn’t a good mother, but who ultimately risked everything to save her kids.

There is a pretty scary scene for me, as a mom, when Jillian finds her son torturing a frog at a birthday party. Was this meant to show us how the abuse had weaved its way into Drew’s life?

Thank you for picking up on that.  I think it was a pivotal moment foretelling of the perilous path Drew was on to follow in his dad’s footsteps.  Abuse begets abuse, and I believe it is because of that moment that Jillian realizes something needs to change, if not to save herself, to save her kids.  I contrasted the frog scene with the gift scene of the Hollyhock seeds to show that Drew is at a crossroads and that there is still hope to save him.

I had a secret hope that you would bring Jillian back to the Flying Goat and reunite her with the people that helped keep her safe. Did you consider bringing her back or weaving those characters in at the end?

So many readers have mentioned this, and I too fell in love with Goat and Paul and the entire crew from Elmer City, but the story told itself and ended where it was supposed to.  I will leave it to the readers’ imaginations to figure out when and where their paths cross again.

 I find it so unbelievable that this is your first novel- the writing is so beautiful and the scenes were woven together so well. It reminded me a lot of some of my favorite books from Heather Gudenkauf or Diane Chamberlain. Since you are an architect by profession, what brought you to this moment in your life to pursue writing and was this a difficult career transition for you?

 I am what someone termed an accidental author.  I did not go to school for writing and never considered becoming an author, but one day I sat down with an idea for a story and started to write and it poured out of me (that was seven years ago and it was not Hush Little Baby), and I discovered that I love to tell stories.  My grandfather was a storyteller, and I believe I inherited the gift from him.  I was hooked, and since architecture had tanked with the recession, I had time on my hands, so I set out to learn the craft and kept writing.  Hush Little Baby is the fifth novel I wrote but the first one to get published.  I still love architecture, and, if inspired, I will switch hats again and build something.  It’s not one or the other for me, it’s wherever I’m at in any given moment of time.  For now, the stories continue to flow, so I continue to peck at the keys, but who knows where this crazy path will lead or what I will do next.

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

 The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

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

I am very excited about the next project.  It is another story about a mother protecting her children but in a very different context and with a very different protagonist.  I can’t disclose more than that, other than to say, it’s another rollercoaster ride of emotion.

*This series may contain affiliate links! 

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