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Archive for March, 2010

The Revealing of Lauren Baratz-Logsted

March 31, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

LAURENLauren Baratz-Logsted is a writer for all ages, just take a look at her Amazon book pages. However you may know her best for the critically acclaimed 2009 YA novel, Crazy Beautiful, or the SISTERS 8 series for youngsters. In fact this series adds yet another addition with the upcoming release of Book 5: Marcia’s Madness on May 3, 2010.

The Divining Wand is scheduled to present/review Marcia’s Madness on Monday, May 3rd but, in the meantime, “meet” Lauren by reading her “official” bio which is quite extensive until it ends at 2006:

I was an independent bookseller and buyer for 11 years before deciding to take a chance on myself as a novelist. While trying to sell my books, I worked variously as a Publishers Weekly reviewer, a freelance editor, a sort-of librarian, and a window washer. My first novel, The Thin Pink Line, about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy, was published by Red Dress Ink in 2003 as their own first-ever hardcover. They’ve since published two more of my books, Crossing The Line (a sequel) and A Little Change Of Face. In September they’ll publish a fourth: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life, a comic gothic that’s equal parts Nancy Drew, Jane Eyre and Chick-Lit. 2006 will also see the publication of two other of my novels: Vertigo, a literary novel set in the Victorian era with erotic and suspense undertones, from Bantam in October; and Angel’s Choice, an earnest YA about teen pregnancy from Simon & Schuster in December. I’m also a contributor to the Jane Austen fiction/nonfiction anthology Flirting With Pride & Prejudice and editor/contributor of the anthology This IS Chick-Lit, due out from BenBella Books in the fall. I live in Danbury, CT, with my wonderful husband Greg and my equally wonderful daughter Jackie.

It’s time for an update and what could be better than this revealing one:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: I am the luckiest person in the world.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: The only person who can ever really take you out of the game is you.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Doing just about anything with my ten-year-old daughter and coauthor Jackie.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: I never used to fear death but now my greatest fear would be dying before my daughter’s old enough to no longer need me. Thanks for depressing me!

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: New York City. Thanks for cheering me up!

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’m convinced that Princess Diana and I were switched at birth.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Hillary Clinton. I know she’s a polarizing figure for many people, but I intensely admire her resilience.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: I have a problem with the word “that,” such that you could say I am that-dependent.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Singing well would be nice, also the ability to make money like a human mint.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Raising a happy child.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Just one??? I’m hard on myself. And sometimes I’m not hard enough on myself. Do you see my point?

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Resilience.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Spending too much of my life worrying about losing weight. I think if women stopped expending so much time and mental energy on that, we could take over the world.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: A cat. Spending my days sleeping in the sun and my nights running around the house like a maniac sounds curiously appealing. Also, except for cat-haters, everyone would love me and admire my fur.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My nose. It enters the room before I do.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: I refuse to pick one. Jo March, Jane Eyre, Phineas from A Separate Peace and Jay Gatsby, swimming pool notwithstanding.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Iago, but that could be just because I like saying “Iago.”

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I’d thank him for all the joy he gave me watching him shoot in sky hook after sky hook.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Intolerant people.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Outside of writing? Mayor of Danbury.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Honor, humor, resilience. Do you sense a theme here?

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Having recently discovered shrimp pizza, I’m going with that.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: “Lonely No More,” Rob Thomas
“Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” Warren Zevon
“The Way You Look Tonight,” Frank Sinatra
“The Numa Numa Song,” O-Zone
“Listen to Your Heart,” DHT
Ask me again tomorrow and this might change.

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?

A: Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Memoirs of Cleopatra, Margaret George

No need to ask me again tomorrow. These won’t change.

Whether on not Lauren changes her mind on music, books, or anything else, she’s a fascinating author to follow on Twitter and friend on Facebook!

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Between Friends in a random drawing of all comments left on this post. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.

Holly LeCraw Takes on THE Dreaded Question

March 30, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts, Uncategorized

As Holly LeCraw prepares for next Tuesday, April 6th and the launch of her debut novel, The Swimming Pool, she’s realized that writing her book was probably the simplest task of being an author.

For she has learned it doesn’t matter how literary critics describe her novel:

“Strong writing keeps the reader sucked in to LeCraw’s painful family drama debut. It is a story of deep and searing love, between siblings and lovers, but most powerfully between parents and their children.”
Publishers Weekly

Friends, acquaintances, and inquiring minds ask her THE question.

What’s it all about? Tell me quick.

Prepare yourselves, writer friends: someday you really are going to finish that book, and a publisher will buy it, and will then actually publish it, and then the question will be asked, over and over: “What’s your book about?”

Looking confused and scraping your toe in the dirt and answering, “uh, life?” is, I have discovered, not the right answer.

Reader friends, here’s the shocker: we writers write books and we know who they’re about, and what happens; but we are so immersed in our imaginary worlds that it’s hard to step away and get the big picture, the view that someone who hasn’t read the book would, hopefully, get right away. What is it about? Don’t ask us.

The process of reducing your book to a few lines starts early, when you have to begin querying agents—and I’m convinced this is at least part of the reason that the whole agent-search thing has been turned into a Web industry of massive proportions. Writers are convinced there’s some alchemy involved in landing an agent, and are desperate for the formula. But what is really freaking them out is having to say what their books are about—coming up with the vaunted “elevator pitch.” It’s a true art in itself. It’s narrative and enticement and psychology, crammed into the length of a haiku.

But here’s the rub: novelists write things that are, well, long. We are sometimes rather strange people. We sit in little rooms, alone, for the much of the day. We are not marketing geniuses. Reducing our magni opi to a few lines that will make an agent/publisher/book buyer want to grab that book and never let it go is not necessarily our strong suit.

In my case, I somehow managed to write a query letter that worked; and among the many varieties of relief I felt was the comfort in knowing that, now, the vast roomfuls of marketing geniuses at my venerable publisher were going to take over the job of telling everyone what my book was about. (Imagine my surprise when entire paragraphs from my query letter reappeared, verbatim, in the first drafts of the flap copy.)

Recently, I stumbled upon a crucial clue to this whole conundrum. I was at a reading being given by the wonderful writer Katharine Weber, and she happened to mention that when she had been in school and had had to write a paper, she had always written the paper first, and then the outline. I sat there in dawning comprehension. I had been absolutely sure I was the only freak of nature who had ever done that. Who outlines something that’s already written? Besides, well, me? But when I questioned her further, she said that every novelist she had ever known claimed to have done the same thing.

See? We have to write it, and only then do we know what it’s about. And the more distance, the better. In five or ten years, I’ll have my debut novel, The Swimming Pool, down to one crisp sentence. To a word.

For the record, though, I do have an elevator pitch now. The Swimming Pool is the story of a young man, Jed McClatchey, who is mired in grief for his parents, dead seven years ago. He falls in love with an older woman, Marcella Atkinson—who, he then discovers, was his late father’s mistress; and then he, and we, begin to wonder if she knows anything about the unsolved murder of his mother.

So there it is.

But wait. Please wait. (This is me, holding the elevator door open and calling to you as you exit.)
The Swimming Pool is also about relationships–if anything, more about the relationships holding up the big juicy taboo one than that affair itself. (Now you’re turning around.) It’s about the bonds between lovers–but also between spouses and siblings and, especially, parents and children, and the way those bonds intersect and conflict. It’s about secrets, and the ripple effects of secrets long kept. It’s about all the things parents will do, misguided and otherwise, to protect their children.

In my fantasy, you’re stopped in your tracks now, and you’re nodding.

I say, What’s my book about? Really? Well, it’s like all novels. It’s about life.

Trust me.

Kristy Kiernan and Between Friends

March 29, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

BFbn

From the book’s front cover:
“A new star in
contemporary women’s fiction.”
__South Florida Sun-Sentinel

After debuting in April, 2007 with the award winning novel, Catching Genius, Kristy Kiernan (Matters of Faith 2008) established herself as a voice for “Everywomen” facing daily life in a complicated world. Known for her gifted storytelling of timely issues, the author offers us her third novel, Between Friends, next Tuesday, April 6, 2010.

Described as, A provocative new novel about birth, death, and the stuff in-between, this could only be a story written of friends and family — those who love you through the good, the bad, and the challenging times of life.

The challenging times? To better understand — without *spoilers* –, please read the synopsis:

There was a time when Ali Gutierrez would have been forced to give up her dreams of motherhood. But thanks to modern reproductive technology—and the gift of her best friend’s eggs—Ali is now the mother of fourteen-year-old Letty.

Now, yearning for a second child, Ali asks her best friend’s permission to use another of the frozen embryos that have been stored away, awaiting this decision. But Cora has a secret that could not only change Ali’s plans for the future, but tear apart her life right now….

In this thoughtful, complex novel, Kristy Kiernan shows us two women struggling with life-changing decisions—and explores both timely moral issues and timeless truths about the definition of family.

The subject of infertility could not be timelier or more personal, yet — in reviewing Between Friends for Ft. Meyers Magazine –, Philip K. Jason writes “It’s Complicated” and discloses when and how the author first had the idea:

“The interest in in-vitro fertilization preceded Between Friends by 10-15 years. While on a trip to Gainesville to visit a friend, Kiernan noticed ads inside public restrooms offering money to women who would sell their eggs. She wondered if the young University of Florida women who made money this way had considered the long-range consequences of their decisions.

“As with the food allergy interest [in Matters of Faith], the author had no idea that a novel would draw upon the facts she began storing away. Years later, a conversation with a friend about kidney donation led Kiernan to explore how that process worked. More time passed, and she began to wonder how the two issues might complicate one another. What if the egg donor had a disease that could be transmitted to her genetic child? Kiernan’s ‘what if’ led her to discover PKD – and then she had the building blocks for Between Friends.”

However there is more to this backstory. For, according to her website’s Frequently Asked Questions (see left sidebar), Kristy describes that her interests “come together as a rather violent and random smashing together of ideas in my mind…much like bumper cars. Every once in a while they get stuck together, and I decide they’re a novel.”

Now logically it would seem that, since Kristy is doing the smashing, she would be in control of timing. But when asked, she said:

“I don’t decide on the timing at all. I’d like to be able to say that I pay attention to rising trends or hot topics and then pluck a few ideas I have hanging around and put them together to write a novel, but the fact is, that smashing, much like a real accident, is always a surprise to me. And, again much like a real accident, once it happens, I have to deal with it. When the novel becomes a full idea in my mind, I sit down and write it. I don’t wait for a more opportune moment. And it so happens that my topics are timely, fabulous…and accidental.”

Actually it’s sheer genius because the ideas work through the author’s empathetic writing of fully drawn characters. Like Every(wo)men, they’re selfish, imperfect, and make decisions that leave readers wondering what were they thinking?

And Kristy admits this is intentional by giving her characters free rein in decision-making even when she, “…might not personally agree with the decision, but when I’m writing it, I’m not thinking like me…I’m thinking like them. And that seems to be a frighteningly easy thing for me to do.”

Although Between Friends is filled with decisions galore, there is not one issue presented as purely black or white. Instead this writer knows the gray area of life — where there are at least two sides to every situation — and she voices both (or more) by giving alternating chapters to Ali, Cora, and sometimes the third person narration of Letty. In addition there are the very real secondary characters that bring a reality check to this novel. And Kristy acknowledges: “I always try to incorporate friends into my characters’ lives. Very few people live in a vacuum, but I keep reading books that seem to concentrate only on the main characters, and it never seems very realistic to me. We all have outside influences.”

Interestingly enough, those outside influences also affect the characters’ respective choices. For the real truth of Between Friends is what might feel and appear to be a personal choice affects everyone. The fact of this overlapping, universal connection isn’t original but the author makes it so.

Kristy confirms that truth of connection by sharing: “It’s the major theme of my whole life, Larramie, as it is everyone else’s, even if they don’t think about it that way.”

Between Friends will make you aware of that message as well as much more. While the writing flows effortlessly, the dialogue echoes in one’s mind, and the details transform fiction into reality, it is impossible to read this novel. Instead you will live within the pages and remember the characters’ experiences as a personal memory between friends.

Between Friends is available for PRE-ORDER, allowing for delivery next week. Already pre-ordered? Perhaps another copy as a gift…for your friend.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Between Friends in a random drawing of all comments left on this post. The deadline is Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return on Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, III

March 25, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Today’s post presents the third and final additions in response to this question:

I wondered, what do your authors read in the way of writing books? Do they have favorites they refer to again and again? Do they read the classics like, Bird by Bird, or Writing Down the Bones, or do they favor books on craft like, Save the Cat?

Reading (and writing) minds want to know!

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“The best investment I EVER made was Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson. The book is terrific, it is well written, full of examples and exercises. I also invested in getting my plots whispered out of me via consultation with Martha. You can’t go wrong with this book and/or her help.”

Emily Winslow (The Whole World coming May 25, 2010):

“I love Donald Maass’ books. He does a good job of inspiring without being too precise.

“I no longer read books on releasing one’s imagination and creativity. They’re invaluable when you need them, but I had enough “release your inner creativity” in acting school to last me a lifetime. (I’m also of a specific age and demographic that had touchy-feely public school. Remember trust falls? We used to do those in *gym class*.) I’m glad I learned it, but I don’t need to add to it any more.

“At this stage, I get most of my writing advice from industry blogs and discussion at Absolute Write and Backspace.”

Robert Gregory Browne (Kill Her Again, etc. and Down Among the Dead Men coming May 25, 2010):

“The only book you’ll ever need is TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Lawrence Block.”

Danielle Younge-Ullman (Falling Under):

“I always come back to Steven King’s On Writing and there’s a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield that’s great. Both of these are particularly good for motivation, pushing through when you don’t feel like it. (And I guess I prefer writing books written by guys named Steven, lol.) For editing I like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.”

Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water coming May 11, 2010):

“I enjoyed reading Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s book On Writing. I have a large collection of screenwriting books that I reread as well. Creating Unforgettable Characters by LInda Segar is worth a read, no matter what you’re writing.”

Alicia Bessette (Simply from Scratch coming August 5, 2010):

“The writing books I’ve found particularly helpful include Stephen King’s ON WRITING and YOUR FIRST NOVEL by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb (the latter discusses both writing and publishing). And yes, I adore BIRD BY BIRD.”

Eve Brown-Waite (First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How A Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and A Third World Adventure Changed My Life):

“My very favorite writing book has always been, Bird by Bird. Also, when I read what I consider a really, really well-crafted book, I re-read it, trying to see how the author did that. Amy Tan’s THE HUNDRED SECRET SENSES and Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE. fall into that category for me.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“I gravitate more toward craft books than inspirational ones, though I own both. My two favorites—the ones that will always be on my keeper shelf—are “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass and “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder, because they provide the tools for creating a standout novel.”

A major thank you to all our authors who contributed to this book list!

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, I, Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, II

The Revealing of Holly LeCraw

March 24, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Holly
Holly LeCraw debuts on April 6, 2010 with The Swimming Pool — a starred review from Library Journal — and the claim: “An author to watch.”

There are also bestselling authors praising Holly’s novel, including Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter) who says:

“THE SWIMMING POOL is as riveting and psychologically complex as Hitchcockian film noir…a tale of entangled lies, complicity, betrayals, and unstoppable consequences.”

The Divining Wand has scheduled a full presentation/review of The Swimming Pool on Monday, April 5, 2010, but, in the meantime, it’s time to meet Holly LeCraw through her “official” bio:

Holly LeCraw was born and raised in Atlanta, and now lives outside of Boston with her husband and three children. Her short fiction has appeared in various publications and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

And here is Holly revealed:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Extremely blessed. Busy. Sometimes exhausting. Always interesting. Sorry, that’s only seven…I am not good at doing what I’m told.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: One of them is Goethe’s “Do not hurry, do not rest.”

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: I’m not sure that’s possible in this life. The closest we can come is being loved unconditionally by someone.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Losing someone I don’t want to lose…I’m too superstitious, don’t even want to talk about it.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Right here (in my study) is just fine. More than fine.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’ve never thought about it…we are all individuals. I don’t think I’m like anyone else, or vice versa. I have plenty of role models, though. I think Virginia Woolf had the ideal writer’s life, in many ways: breakfast every day at eight, wrote from nine to one, lunch, took a long walk through the countryside, read by the fire after dinner. Discipline, routine. Leonard took excellent care of her and she didn’t have to cook. Heaven.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: It’s so hard to say. I admire artists who have stayed true to themselves and have worked all their lives. I saw Peter Mattheissen on Charlie Rose recently—the man is eighty-three and so smart and dignified, so completely present. Or William Maxwell, who was ninety-one when he died and was a working writer until the end. Or Joan Didion or Grace Paley. I guess I am thinking about aging today.

On a completely different note, I’d have to say I admire someone who was truly willing to give his or her life in order to thwart evil—someone like Claus von Stauffenberg or Dietrich Bonhoffer. Although they’re not living. Sorry, not following rules again…

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: If I knew, then I’d quit using them.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d want to be effortlessly, genuinely musical.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: To have finally done what I said I was going to do, which was write a book.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: My tendency to procrastinate.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Optimism.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: I try not to think that way…that being said, I could have studied harder in college. But I went to grad school to atone.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: Maybe a lead singer in a band. Who could also play several instruments. Well.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: You’d have to ask the people who pay attention to me!

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: I am fond of narrator-heroes, non-hero heroes: Nick Carraway (Gatsby), Jack Burden (All the King’s Men), Will Barrett (The Last Gentleman). Also both Franny and Zooey.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: He’s not a real villain, but Jack Boughton in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home is heartbreaking.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: “Dude. It exhausts me just to watch you.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Getting serious now—it’s more than a pet peeve: People spreading hate in the name of God.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Being with my family. Gardening. Or possibly sleeping. I’m serious.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: No fantasy—I’m doing it.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Empathy, sense of humor, irreverence.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Well, as my children often point out, pizza has all the food groups.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Oh, man. I don’t know. Loud cheesy stuff from the 80s. Stuff I can dance to. And also the Bach suites for cello.

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Only 5? You’ve got to be kidding! All the ones I’ve already mentioned, plus John Cheever’s stories, Evening by Susan Minot, So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell, Four Quartets, all of Salinger (although Catcher is my least favorite), Absalom, Absalom and The Unvanquished, all of Peter Taylor, especially A Summons to Memphis, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Howard’s End, Portrait of a Lady and The Wings of the Dove, The Scarlet Letter, The Sea by John Banville…these are all just off the top of my head, and barely scratching the surface.

Hmm, barely scratching the surface of this debut author’s favorite books causes wonder at how much more there is to learn. Perhaps by following Holly LeCraw on Twitterand becoming a friend on Facebook you may find out.

Kristy Kiernan on Inconceivable Questions

March 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

Last month Publishers Weekly was the first to review Kristy Kiernan and her third novel, Between Friends coming April 6, 2010, and THE literary trade journal said:

Kiernan (Catching Genius, Matters of Faith) again demonstrates her ability to portray true-to-life relationships between women. Ali Gutierrez is mother to 15-year-old Letty thanks to the egg donation of her best friend, Cora. Ali wants to have another child, but first has to convince her husband, Benny, and then Cora, to endure the process one more time.

Cora, a free-spirit who’s just returned to America from a teaching excursion in Chile, has news of her own—she has a debilitating genetic kidney disease, and she’s not sure how to break the news to Ali. Meanwhile, Letty’s going through growing pains with her bad-news boyfriend, and when poor choices begin endangering her life, it takes all three of her parents—Benny, Ali, and Cora—to try to save her.

With realistic dialogue and pinpointed emotions, Kiernan paints a persuasive portrait of the bonds between mothers, daughters, and friends in this inspiring, heartbreaking tale.

Intriguing storyline? Kristy’s (early) readers thought so and, in today’s guest post, the author writes about their curious and inconceivable questions.

* * * * *

The most frequent question I get from women who’ve read BETWEEN FRIENDS is if I have dealt with fertility issues or I’ve had personal experience with in-vitro fertilization. I’m sure the fact that I don’t have children makes them even more curious, especially since all of my books have focused heavily on parent/child relationships.

Writers who don’t write women’s fiction always seem to be a bit stunned when I tell them the questions that are asked of me when I go to a speaking engagement or book club. And I’d be willing to be that James Patterson doesn’t have readers asking him if he’s tied up and sexually assaulted women in any underground bunkers.

But this kind of deeply personal exchange is exactly what I love most about the genre I write in and what I love most about my readers.

When readers get so involved in a story that they ask personal questions, it means that they felt the characters (whether they liked them or not) and the situations (whether they’re happy about them or not), were realistic enough that they think I surely must have a deep personal connection to them.

There could not possibly be a higher compliment paid to a writer.

And when friends express dismay about how personal the questions I sometimes get are, I just smile. I might not always choose to answer them, as anyone has the right to choose to not answer personal questions, but I do not consider them an intrusion on my privacy.

They are an honor, and a gift, and I hope to always field them with the dignity that they deserve.

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

March 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Books

FIREWORKSbn

From the book’s front cover:

“A luminous love story that readers won’t soon forget…at once
heartbreaking and triumphant—an affirmation of love in all its forms.” 

– EMILY GIFFIN, Bestselling Author of Love The One You’re With

Occasionally The Divining Wand presents a bonus book, from someone other than our authors, and today it’s Jeffrey Stepakoff’s fiction debut, Fireworks Over Toccoa, which will be released on Tuesday, March 30, 2010.

Claimed as “The next great love story,” the novel is described by the following:

Every so often a story comes along that reminds of what it’s like to experience love for the first time – against the odds, when you least expect it, and with such passion that it completely changes you forever.

Lily was married for just days before her husband was sent abroad to fight in WWII. Now, he and the other soldiers are returning, and the small town of Toccoa, Georgia plans a big celebration. But a handsome and kind Italian immigrant, responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned, captures Lily’s heart and soul. Torn between duty to society and her husband, and a poor, passionate man who might be her only true love—Lily must choose between a love she never knew and a commitment she’d already made.

Poignant and elegant, Fireworks Over Toccoa is a mosaic of all the emotions that only love can make possible.

The Publishers Weekly review also offers this favorable summation:

“For sure, forbidden love’s been done to death, but Stepakoff’s spellbinding descriptions of Jake’s unusual line of work and the lush countryside of northern Georgia, the unexpected plot twists, and a surprise ending give this story plenty of oomph.”

There is more Praise for this debut love story written by Stepakoff, a veteran television writer. In fact, by reading the Author page on his website, you’ll discover that you may have watched many of his shows:

“Jeffrey has ‘“written by”’ or ‘“story by”’ credits on thirty-six television episodes, has written for fourteen different series and has worked on seven primetime staffs, producing hundreds of hours of internationally-recognized television, including the Emmy-winning THE WONDER YEARS, SISTERS, WILD CARD, HYPERION BAY, THE MAGIC SCHOOL, C16: FBI, ROBIN’S HOODS, LAND’S END, FLIPPER, SONS & DAUGHTERS, MAJOR DAD, THE YAKOV SMIRNOFF SHOW, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, HAVE FAITH, SIMON& SIMON, and DAWSON’S CREEK where he was Co-Executive Producer.”

Impressive indeed, yet a few years ago, Stepakoff returned to hometown of Atlanta, where he lives with his wife and three young children, and began writing Fireworks Over Toccoa.

The backstory of any writing can prove to be almost as fascinating as the completed work and this is true of the author’s ideas, research and ultimate writing process — all explained in a Letter From Jeffrey Stepakoff. By reading this, it’s understandable how the vivid details of this book transport a reader back to a small Georgia town for the four days of June 30 – July 4, 1945.

Why not experience 112 pages of this story for yourself? Now, until the publication date of March 30th, an Enhanced Excerpt is online.

Traveling back to that small southern town and simpler time will likely enchant a reader. Jeffrey Stepakoff knows how to draw an audience in with lush description, evocative glimpses of physical attraction, and cultural mores/traditions of the past. As someone who discovered Robert Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County long before its bestsellers days, I recognized the feel of rhythm and tone lulling readers to fall in love along with the characters.

And, while not wanting to compare the books, there is a difference. “Bridges” told a tale about a once-in-a-lifetime, mature, and passionate love, while Fireworks Over Toccoa tells of a heartbreaking, first true love. Does it matter or is love, love?

Fireworks Over Toccoa is a springtime escape, a wonderful beach read, and/or a perfect spring/summer selection for Book Clubs. Then, of course, there’s always the movie…

_____
FTC Full Disclosure – My review copy came from the publisher, with hopes I would review it.

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, II

March 18, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Yes there are more of our favorite authors’ writing books for your consideration and, though duplications become more numerous, there are also thoughtful additions to this question:

I wondered, what do your authors read in the way of writing books? Do they have favorites they refer to again and again? Do they read the classics like, Bird by Bird, or Writing Down the Bones, or do they favor books on craft like, Save the Cat?

Reading (and writing) minds want to know!

Carleen Brice (Orange Mint and Honey, Children of the Waters):

“Definitely Bird by Bird, also Story by Robert McFee and This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley”

Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“I love both of the books already mentioned, and I’ve also becoME a big fan of Donald Maass’ books: WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL and THE FIRE IN FICTION. And I also firmly believe my craft improves by reading lots and lots of fiction that’s already out there–both the classics and what’s new, which, of course, rocks because I can claim time spent reading is ‘”work!”‘

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

‘”The Stuff of Fiction”‘ by Doug Bauer is essential.
I also like James Woods ‘”How Fiction Works”‘
‘”Bringing Down the House”‘ by Charles Baxter”

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

“If I MUST choose, my favorites would be:

On Writing by Stephen King for the most down-to-earth advice presently like a memoir.

Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner because she’s an instant shrink for writers.

Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch because it’s an MFA in a book.”

Allison Winn Scotch (The Department of Lost and Found, Time of My Life and The One That I Want coming June 1, 2010)

“I wish I could help but I’ve honestly never read a book on writing! Instead I read what I enjoy.”

Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined coming August 17, 2010):

“BIRD BY BIRD is classic and amazing, as much for its practical advice as its humor and commiseration (operative root word being “misery” of course). Whenever I have a bad day I think of KFKD (you have to read the book to get the reference) and I have re-read the Jealousy chapter more than once when I’m chewing on my own spleen about something.

“I’m a big fan of Sol Stein’s books ON WRITING and HOW TO GROW A NOVEL. Also, I read the classic SCREENPLAY by Syd Field in preparation for writing a film treatment of an earlier book. I don’t plan to walk down the screenwriting road but there were lots of plot tips in that book which helped me focus on my novels.

“Really though, the best education is to write more. Writing is a ‘”learn by doing”‘ affair.

Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA):

“Speaking for myself – I have a zillion craft books. Whenever I’m stuck I seem to buy a new one. I think I buy them in the hope it will help me figure out my problem! My favorites include:

On Writing by Stephen King
Save the Cat by Snyder
Writing the Breakout Novel by Maass
The Writer’s Journey by Vogler”

Kristy Kiernan (Catching Genius, Matters of Faith and Between Friends coming April 6, 2010):

“My top three: The Forest For The Trees by Betsy Lerner. On Writing by Stephen King. And yes, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.”

To be continued…

*****

Announcement: The winner of Jenny Gardiner’s memoir, Winging It, is Cathy Carper and the winners of Ad Hudler’s novel, Househusband, are Dera and Katie Alender. Congratulations to all of you! Please send your mailing address to diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com and the books will be sent out promptly.

The Revealing of Kristy Kiernan

March 17, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

KristyAlthough it’s been two years of waiting for another Kristy Kiernan (Catching Genius, Matters of Faith) book, patience will be rewarded on Tuesday, April 6, 2010 when the award-winning novelist returns to bookstore shelves and online retailers with Between Friends. As brilliant as ever, if not even better, Kristy tells a complex, provocative tale of two women facing life-altering decisions that, either way, will affect each other.

Although the author is a dear friend, my words are TRUTH. Simply read this summation of the Publishers Weekly Review of the novel:

“With realistic dialogue and pinpointed emotions, Kiernan paints a persuasive portrait of the bonds between mothers, daughters, and friends in this inspiring, heartbreaking tale.”

The Divining Wand will offer a full presentation/review of Between Friends on Monday, March 29, 2010 yet, as is tradition, let’s get to know the author from her “official” bio:

Kristy Kiernan was born in Tennessee and raised on the beaches of southwest Florida, where she still lives with her husband. Between Friends is her third novel.

And now here is Kristy revealed:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A:Warm, sunny, contemplative, musical, affectionate, smiling, sandy, wordy.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Beware mottos and maxims. They build unnecessary fences with pretty words.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Easy! Beach, book, puppy.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Accidently encountering totally random deadly wild animals. Sharks in the Gulf. Big cats escaped from the zoo. Water moccasins at the edge of the water.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: St. George Island.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’m going to go with Martha Jane Cannery, a.k.a. “Calamity Jane.” Because by the age of 13 she could “cuss as fiercely as any man,” and was considered a “remarkable good shot.” She sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t she?

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: There’s this woman down the street who goes for a run every single morning. Sundays. Rainy days. Christmas. I don’t know her, but I’ve named her, “That Woman Who Runs Every Single Morning,” and I find her endlessly fascinating and admirable.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases
A: Clearly. Obviously. Evidently. Surely. Apparently. Lovely. Fabulous. Excellent. So long, sucker. (I seem to have a need to point out the obvious to people. And to compliment things. And say goodbye in inappropriate ways.)

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d love to be a really good guitar player. I have a beautiful guitar, and I’ve taught myself some things, but I want lessons.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Well, I’m still here, ain’t I?

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I smile all the time. It has recently been brought to my attention that it is not always appropriate.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I smile all the time. Because I don’t really care if it’s always appropriate.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: My inability to time travel.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: Hmmm, as far as person…I’ve finally figured out my own problems. I certainly don’t want to start all over with someone else’s. Thing? Maybe a sequoia. I’ve always wanted to be taller than 5’4″.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Did I mention the smile?

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Scarlett O’Hara or Micheal Corleone.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Scarlett O’Hara or Micheal Corleone.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I’m not sure I could even name an athlete, much less think of something to say to them!

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Lack of common courtesy.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading, of course!

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Career bestselling author.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: 1) Empathy.
2) Humor.
3) Good hygiene.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Tough one. It’s a toss-up. Either my own bb-q ribs or Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Oh, who could possibly answer this?!
1) And It Stoned Me – Van Morrison
2) You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
3) Here I Am (Come and Take Me) – Al Green
4) Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
5) Harvest Moon – Neil Young
6) Copperline – James Taylor
Yes. That’s six. That’s how I roll.

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: No. No, no, no. The five favorite songs question very nearly killed me. I can’t do it. Five that helped shape my desire to be a writer or to continue to write, in no particular, and for various reasons, are:
1) Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
2) Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
3) A Season in Purgatory by Dominick Dunne
4) Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins
5) We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

As giving, clever, and honest — as she is literary gifted –, experience more of Kristy Kiernan by following her on Twitter and becoming a fan on Facebook.

*****

Book Giveaway; While awaiting completion and publication of Ad’s memoir, The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Househusband in a random drawing of comments left on this post. The deadline is this evening at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced in tomorrow’s post.

AND

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Jenny Gardiner’s memoir, Winging it, in a random drawing of all comments left on this post. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post.

For Ad Hudler, It’s about Time

March 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Ad Hudler (Man of the House, All This Belongs to Me, Househusband) — one of the few select male authors on TDW — may appear to be in the minority yet his writing is universal. In this guest post, he addresses his struggle with procrastination and who (whether writer or reader) cannot identify with that?!]

For years as a stay-at-home dad, I complained that I didn’t have enough time to write. My days were spent running errands, cleaning, cooking, fixing and filling things, and playing chauffeur in the minivan. The caregiver is everyone’s bitch. And his or her needs, especially writing, generally come last.

But, in the past six months, my daughter has gone to college, and my wife has taken a job in another state. And, this being Florida, where our homes are worth a fraction of what they were worth three years ago, I am stuck here for awhile, awaiting the return of the bull market and higher home prices.

Everyone, now: Woo-hooooo! No one to cook for! No one with dirty laundry! And I am breaking the record for number of days that a human can wear one pair of jeans without washing them. (Nine) So I have the most enviable position of all authors right now: I am home, alone! Did you hear me? ALONE!

Given this, I should be writing a book every month, right? I mean, Louisa May Alcott did it with “Little Women.” What’s stopping me?

Well … plenty.

Frankly, I am so thrilled to be living an existence in which no one needs me that I am being somewhat selfish. I’m wasting a lot of time. Hours of time. No, who am I kidding? Weeks of time. I have, most definitely, entered a bon-bon period …

Yes, yes, I’ll write that chapter, but first I’ll catch up on the episodes of Modern Family that I’ve missed. Just one. Okay, two. What the hell: all of them.

I promise that tomorrow I’ll get an early start and write, write, write my butt off. Maybe 2,000 words! Absolutely! Can do! WILL do! …

Oh, but it feels so good to sleep in, and that kitty cat is so peaceful I can’t even think of moving him …

And then, after breakfast, I realize I haven’t been to the beach in awhile, and there was that scene I was writing about shells, and I could definitely do some research ….

Phone rings. It’s a good friend whom I haven’t seen for awhile. “Of course I’d love to meet for lunch. Better yet, let’s do cocktails and dinner.” …

And the next day: How can I even think about writing when I’ve got these cracked sidewalk tiles that need replaced.

Two days later: Well, that certainly took longer than I thought it would. And I’ll sit down to write just as soon as I find that really cool purse that my wife wanted for her birthday …

You get the point. I have found reason after reason not to write. And let me tell you why: Writing a first draft, at least to me, is the hardest thing in the world. You must dig, dig, dig deep, into a special place in your psyche/soul/mind/whatever-it-is for the initial raw words and sentences. And sometimes the act of mining those words, bringing them up to the surface and into this life and onto the computer screen, feels as pleasant as running, backwards, in hot-humid weather. It just drains me. Boggles me. There is nothing harder. Comparatively, editing and revision are more like a walk on the beach in 70-degree weather. I choose the walk over the run. Wouldn’t you?

I’d been acting as if the hours in my day were money, and I’d won the lottery. We all know that when there’s plenty to go around, you don’t feel the need to economize. I, one of the most disciplined people I’ve ever known, had fallen victim to freedoms created by excess.

The problem: I was not making any headway on my memoir. Lots of facebook, let me tell you. (BTW: I give great status), and I wrote some great tweets and blogs on my website … but nothing that would make me money. Even though I’d written four novels, one of them in a six-month period, I evidently had fallen out of practice. And I now know the culprit: I have no deadline for this manuscript. My last three novels were written on contract, with a deadline. I purposely avoided setting up a deadline with this book because I am moving into a new genre – humorous nonfiction – and I am in the experimenting/creating phase right now, trying to find the right voice and pace and content. Not easy stuff, mind you. No wonder I’ve been putting it off. Lesson learned: New genre or not, we all need deadlines. We all need expectations to meet, goals to reach. Otherwise, we languish.

Thankfully, my friend and fellow fiction writer Nancy Zafris stepped in and gave me an ultimatum: I had to write at least 200 words a day. Five hundred would be ideal, 800 would be even better. But, she said, if I managed to pound out at least 200 then I’d often discover that, while I was working toward the goal, momentum would fall on my side of the net, and I would go on to write even more. She was right.

I soon began thinking of my writing in the same way I consider brushing my teeth or taking a shower: It was something required, and I felt “dirty” if I didn’t do it. And soon, in just a matter of days, it became habit again. (It helped that Nancy would email me daily, with an intimidating message that said something like, “Word Count? Progress today?”)
So thank you, Nancy, for getting me back on track. The words have been pouring out of me, sometimes 1,000 in a single day.

That laundry room that needs retextured and repainted? It’s just gonna have to wait. I’ve got a memoir to write.

*****

Book Giveaway; While awaiting completion and publication of Ad’s memoir, The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Househusband in a random drawing of comments left on this post. The deadline is tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced in Thursday’s post.

AND

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Jenny Gardiner’s memoir, Winging it, in a random drawing of all comments left on this post. The deadline is tomorrow, March 17th at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post.