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Archive for June, 2010

The Revealing of Claire Cook

June 30, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Bestselling author Claire Cook (Must Love Dogs, Life’s A Beach, and the rest in Bibliography) is celebrating the publication of her seventh book, Seven Year Switch — selected by US TODAY and The New York Times as their Top Summer Book Picks.

Publishers Weekly might have had the initial endorsement when beginning its review of the novel with, “Roll out your beach blanket for this sweet summer read about making mistakes and moving on.” The Divining Wand has scheduled a full presentation/review of Seven Year Switch for Monday, July 26, 2010. But, until then, let’s meet this “late starter” novelist by reading a shortened version of “official” bio:

Raised on Nancy Drew mysteries, Claire Cook has wanted to write ever since she was a little girl. She majored in theater and creative writing at Syracuse University and immersed herself in a number of artistic endeavors (copywriter, radio continuity director, garden designer, and dance and aerobics choreographer), yet somehow her dreams got pushed to the side for more real-life matters — like marriage, motherhood, and a teaching career. Decades passed, then one day she found herself parked in her minivan at 5 AM, waiting for her daughter to finish swim practice. She was struck with a now-or-never impulse and began writing on the spot. By the end of the season, she had a first draft. Her first novel, Ready to Fall, was published in 2000, when Cook was 45.

Since then, this “late starter” has more than made up for lost time. She struck gold with her second book, Must Love Dogs. Published in 2002, this story of a middle-aged divorcee whose singles ad produces hilariously unexpected results was declared “funny and pitch-perfect” by the Chicago Tribune and “a hoot” by the Boston Globe. (The novel got a second life in 2005 with the release of the feature film starring Diane Lane and John Cusack.) Cook’s subsequent novels, with their wry, witty take on the lives of middle-aged women, have become bestsellers and book club favorites.

Upbeat, gregarious, and grateful for her success, Cook is an inspiration for aspiring writers and women in midlife transition. She tours indefatigably for her novels and genuinely enjoys speaking with fans. She also conducts frequent writing workshops, where she dispenses advice and encouragement in equal measure. “I’m extraordinarily lucky to spend my time doing what I love,” she has said on countless occasions. ” The workshops are a way to say thank you and open doors that I stumbled through to make it easier for writers coming up behind me.”

In fact Claire has spent this month book touring across the country (with only one event remaining on July 8th in Chatham, Massachusetts) but before she left to meet and greet fans, the author revealed:

Q. How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A. Finally living my dream and totally loving it.

Q. What is your motto or maxim?
A. Karma is a boomerang – probably the truest thing one of my characters has ever said.

Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
A. Perfectly fleeting.

Q. What’s your greatest fear?
A. That I’m still a bartender and I can’t remember where this drink should go. Oh, wait, that’s the recurring nightmare.

Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A. Exactly where I am.

Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
A. P.T. Barnum. I’m a direct descendant, and btw, he did not say, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He said, “There’s a customer born every minute.” I have updated that to, “There’s a reader born every minute.”

Q. Which living person do you most admire?
A. It’s a three-way tie between my husband and two kids. Aww.

Q. What are your most overused words or phrases
A. My literary agent recently told me it was Aww. I think she actually called it a verbal tic. That’s the kind of agent you want to have.

Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A. I’d love to be a songwriter. I used to teach the Aerosmith kids, and right around the time my first novel came out, I had this great conversation with Steven Tyler. He wanted to know how I could write a whole novel, and I said that if I could say it in a song, I wouldn’t have to.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Helping my two kids grow into people I both admire and want to hang out with.

Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
A. I can’t do anything halfway.

Q. What’s your best quality?
A. I can’t do anything halfway. And if that’s cheating, I would say kindness.

Q. What do you regret most?
A. Who has time?

Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A. For me, the gift of midlife is that I’m finally being exactly who I really am. There’s great power in that.

Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
A. People always say my laugh. They also often tell me I laugh just like one of my characters, which I think is interesting.

Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A. Nancy Drew.

Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A. I always skip the scary pages.

Q. If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A. If I really wanted to meet an athlete, I’d just find a way. I’d rather go to the gym and get a workout.

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. Mean people.

Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A. Walking the beach.

Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
A. Being a novelist. It’s the career I almost didn’t have, and seven books in, it still feels like a fantasy.

Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A. Humor, honesty, kindness.

Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A. Trader Joe’s organic popcorn with olive oil.

Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
A. I never play favorites. I just can’t. I’d feel too sorry for the songs I didn’t pick.

Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A. The ones I haven’t written yet.

To enjoy more of Claire Cook’s wisdom, kindness, and fun (because she’s all about FUN), please become her friend on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Robin Antalek’s The Summer We Fell Apart in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Robin Antalek and The Summer We Fell Apart. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.

Guest Keetha DePriest Mosley on Creating Time

June 29, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Time can be elusive. One might think that living in a small southern town — as opposed to a big city — that the pace would be slower and offer more time. But, in today’s guest post, Keetha DePriest Mosley [formerly Reed] (Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern, More Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern) explains that even she’s had to learn to create and embrace life’s moments.]

It’s funny about living in a small town, and loving it so much, because when I was younger, I knew Manhattan is where I would live. I would have a sophisticated job and buy flowers from the little carts on the way home. I’d live in a loft and go to art galleries and whatever else it was sophisticated people did. I was going to be fabulous.

I realized – in time – that I could be fabulous right here in Mississippi but finding time, or, rather, making time to do what I really wanted to do was a challenge.

Years ago I read an interview withPeyton Manning. He was asked how was he so successful. One of the things he said was that he used his time. If he had five minutes to look over chemistry notes, he didn’t think, “I can’t possibly get anything done in that time so I won’t try.” He used those five minutes.

I’d heard that advice before. Heard it and ignored it. It was easier to say I don’t have time because I didn’t have a big, pretty block of two hours to write in. I had a messy, jumbled up, untidy, scraggly looking 12 minutes here and four minutes there and that’s not nearly as appealing.

But it works. I find that writing on demand, when an unexpected time opens up works pretty well. I do it fast, without thinking about it and kind of sneak behind my inner critic’s back. I’ve surprised myself by coming up with some decent stuff during those times. Ideas, sentences, topics.

That keeps me busy but it’s a good busy. It always surprises me what I can get done in fifteen minutes.

My mother once said, “You know? Nobody thinks they have enough hours in the day but people tend to do what they want to. If you really want to do something, you’ll figure out a way.”

Finding time is a challenge. Everyone is busy. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. I read a quote once (I love quotes) – I’m paraphrasing – but it was something like, Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have the same number of hours in a day that Benjamin Franklin, Mother Theresa, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Thomas Jefferson had.

A friend of mine told me once that she thought self-discipline is remembering what you really want. I have those words typed out where I can see them every day.

So now I write every day. I’m working on a novel and about halfway through with it. It may well be dreadful – that’s okay. I’m treating this as my own personal intense fiction-writing workshop. By the time I write to the end of it, I’ll know much lot more about crafting a novel than when I began. My second one should be better, and the third one even better.

I almost said that writing fiction is hard. Then I remembered a quote I read by Richard Ford. A Mississippi native, Ford won a Pulitzer. He said that digging ditches is hard. Standing for eight hours in an operating room performing brain surgery is hard. Writing is not hard. I think about that when it feels like it’s too much, that pulling the threads of a story together is too out of my skill level.

Making up stories is the best. I do it all the time. Driving to work, a car will pass me with a man in a business suit. And he’s singing away. I imagine he’s listening to opera. He and his wife’s first date was to opera production in college. Today is their wedding anniversary. Oh and he’s got tickets to Italy he’s going to surprise her with. My husband and I will be in Jackson and he’ll get annoyed because some car cut us off in traffic. I’ll say, Maybe his wife is in labor and he’s on the way to the hospital. Oh, wait – maybe his son is about to play his first t-ball game and he’s late for it. Oh, no, maybe he’s dog has been hit by a car and he’s speeding to the vet’s office. Maybe the guy is a jerk but even if he is, he’s got a story.

The reading life, the writing life, it’s so abundant and marvelous. It makes life – ordinary, every day simple things – seem so full and big. So much to wonder and marvel over – it’s vibrant way of life that I feel so lucky to live.

Note: The movie version of the bestselling novel, The Help, will be filmed mostly in Greenwood, Mississippi, the town where Keetha works. Imagine the behind-the-scenes film making tales she’ll be privy to and might well share in her blog posts at Write Kudzu, so visit often.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Robin Antalek’s The Summer We Fell Apart in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Robin Antalek and The Summer We Fell Apart. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Robin Antalek and The Summer We Fell Apart

June 28, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Just as that luscious lemon tree gracing the cover of Robin Antalek’s debut novel, The Summer We Fell Apart, requires nurturing, careful tending, and a deep root system, so too does a family tree. Without a solid trunk, both trees’ branches will grow but will they mature and remain forever attached?

Whether or not the author considered the lemon/family tree symbolism — in addition to the symbolism that appears in the book — is unknown. However, without question, the following family home movies were created to serve as an introduction to the novel of the Haas family.

The germ of Robin’s book idea came from her desire to tell the story of a large family, complete with the two younger siblings who leaned on and acted as parents to each other. As for the older sister and brother…well their twisted relationship almost mirrored that of their parents’. Sound confusing? It’s quite believable given that abandonment and neglect are strong themes as is the search for love in all its many forms. There is also the idea of forgiveness, which ultimately leads back to all members of the Haas family, even their mother and father.

To better understand, here’s the synopsis:

Every family is crazy in their own special way, and the Haas family is no exception. The Summer We Fell Apart is the story of four siblings: Amy, George, Kate, and Finn as they careen into adulthood, trying to make peace with their past, and with each other. 
As the children of a once brilliant playwright and a struggling actress, the Haas siblings were raised in a chaotic environment, abandoned into a shadowy adult world made up of equal parts glamour and neglect. When their father dies, they must depend on their intense but fragile bond to remember what it means to be family despite years of anger and hurt. From Amy’s adolescent yearnings for a “normal” life to George’s search for love and Kate’s struggle to not always be perfect, to the gritty details of Finn’s addictive and destructive behavior, the Haas children come to learn that this family — no matter how ragged and flawed — provides all the hope they need.

Of course there is also News and Praise for the insightful look into complexities of human nature and its needs. For the characters found Robin and demanded their voices to be heard, their own perspectives to be told. In fact this debut novelist admits, “…sometimes the conversations I heard in my head were audible — so audible that I had to drop whatever I was doing at the time to write.”

Indeed the genuine honesty of Amy, George, Kate, and Finn make them so true-to-life that I asked Robin how she managed that?

She replied: “How can I answer your question about getting them so true? Only to say that the voices I heard for each character were so real — at times it was like I was taking dictation. Also – in this book — I went where it made me squirm in my seat. I opened closed doors. I wrote what I felt regardless of the inner critic. I tried to honor the characters of my creation as real living breathing human beings. It’s not all pretty. As a matter of fact it can get stomach turning nasty. But I couldn’t change it if I tried.”

And by relating some of those truths she’s received hate mail regarding sexual preferences. Nevertheless the author says: “Whatever, the complaint — I know that SUMMER and its characters have touched a nerve, readers are vested in their futures — and to me — that means I’ve done my job as a writer.”

To provide a complete picture of the family from every perspective, The Summer We Fell Apart was divided into sections which almost, yet don’t quite, overlap. The first to be heard from — and the only one written in first person — is 17-year old Amy as Robin explains:

“I wrote the character of Amy in first person because as the youngest, she is very “‘me'” centered. It is simply the characteristic of the teenager that the world revolves around them — and first person really allowed Amy to grow from a teenager when the book opens to a late twenty-something. Amy will always be the baby. I tried all of the characters in first (as I also wrote Amy in 3rd) but in the end it felt like too much noise to have everyone as first. Their personalities didn’t dictate that in your face storytelling as Amy’s did — and given their problems and neurosis — it’s probably for the better.”

What’s even better is being able to Read an excerpt of Amy’s story.

While the video of family home movies reveals a partial background for The Summer We Fell Apart, the actual novel almost reads like a script from a “well done” TV reality series. Robin Antalek’s words flow with passionate thoughts and feelings. Amy, George, Kate. Finn and their mother talk while the reader listens…captivated. With a breathtaking attention to detail, the author also shows the most intimate of personal behavior as if she had filmed the scenes. To read this novel is to feel a bit voyeuristic, yet it’s impossible to turn away because the author has succeeded in making you care.

In her guest post, Guest Robin Antalek on Raising (Writing) Good Characters, she notes:

“Because of my process, or maybe in spite of, who knows, readers identify strongly with these fictional siblings. And two of the questions I always get from readers whether it’s a book club visit or via mail is: who is your favorite? And, are they all okay?”

Yes they are THAT real and this debut novelist has given us all a wonderful opportunity to get to know, understand, and spend time with them in their world. Although The Summer We Fell Apart is filled with personal trials and past failures, it is also based on hope — that love forever binds to offer strength as well as direction. If you’re looking for a memorable summer read, Robin Antalek has written it for you…enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Robin Antalek’s The Summer We Fell Apart in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

More Blogs Favored by Our Authors

June 24, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

How about learning more of the enlightening, entertaining blogs that our authors favor on a daily basis? You might enjoy following along with:

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

~ The Divining Wand – http://thediviningwand.com

~ The Debutante Ball! – http://www.thedebutanteball.com

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

~ LOL Cats – http://icanhascheezburger.com/

~ LOL Dogs – http://ihasahotdog.com/

~ I love food sites, this is one of my favorite baking sites. What this woman can do with cake is amazing. http://www.bakerella.com/

~ Yarn Harlot. Knitting is a hobby so this is fun place to troll
http://www.yarnharlot.ca/blog/

~ It Made My Day People write in with something they saw/did etc that made their day.
http://itmademyday.com/

Holly LeCraw (The Swimming Pool)

~ The Rejectionist – http://www.therejectionist.com/

~ The Intern – http://internspills.blogspot.com/

~ The Forest for the Trees – http://betsylerner.wordpress.com/

~ Facebook – http://www.facebook.com

~ The Divining Wand – http://thediviningwand.com

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

~ Pimp My Novel – http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/

~ Betsy Lerner’s Forest for the Trees –
http://betsylerner.wordpress.com/

~ Beyond The Margins (truth in advertising, I am one of the 12 writers on the one) –
http://beyondthemargins.com/

~ Writer Unboxed – http://writerunboxed.com/

~ STET – http://rick.wordpress.com/

Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me)

~ Writer Unboxed – http://www.writerunboxed.com

~ Ask Allison –
http://www.allisonwinn.com/ask-allison

~ A Moment of Jen –
http://www.jenniferweiner.blogspot.com

~ Murderati – http://www.murderati.com

~ A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing –
http://www.jakonrath.blogspot.com

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing)

~ – http://www.htmlgiant.com

~ The Millions – http://www.themillions.com

~ The Rumpus – http://therumpus.net

~ FU, Penguin – www.fupenguin.com (my favorite)

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy)

~ Writer Unboxed (naturally!) –
http://writerunboxed.com/

~ A Writer Afoot –
http://www.barbarasamuel.com/blog/

~ ArtsJournal: Daily Arts News –
http://www.artsjournal.com/

~ Flickr Most Interesting Photos –
http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days/

~ ScienceDaily – http://www.sciencedaily.com/

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Eve Brown-Waite has a new Book Trailer out for the paperback edition of First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How A Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and A Third World Adventure Changed My Life.

Eve says:

“People are loving it (the book), laughing and learning a bit about this great big world of ours. Plus, 10% of all my royalties go to CARE International to fight malaria in Africa.


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Announcement: The winner of Trish Ryan’s A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances is Elizabeth@LongToLove.

Congratulations! Please email: diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address, and the book will be sent out promptly.

The Revealing of Keetha DePriest Mosley

June 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Today The Divining Wand takes special pride in introducing a cyber friend/reader/and regular visitor to this site in the role of author. Keetha DePriest Mosley (formerly Reed) made her debut on September 1, 2007 with Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern and followed a year later with its sequel, More Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern.

Categorized as Cooking/Essays, the books are described as:

“A charming mix of tips and ideas for entertaining and gifts of food, coupled with rich tales of growing up in the small-town South. This lively book reads like a kitchen conversation with an old friend.”

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern for Wednesday, July 21, 2010. But let’s meet Keetha on her website’s About Me page where she tells:

….I did public relations – award winning public relations, might I add – for my hometown hospital and began writing a food and entertaining column for the Clarion-Ledger newspaper.

I catered, developed recipes, and freelanced here and there.

At some point – I wish I could remember exactly what made the light bulb go off – I decided to write and publish my own book of food writing and recipes, Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern.

The Delta Dish, my monthly ezine, came along. A few years later I came out with the sequel: More Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern.

I helped found the Mississippi Writers Guild. I started a blog.

More recently, I’m writing fiction. I also met and married a wonderful man and that’s not fiction,

I’m working on a novel. I think it may be terrifically bad but that’s okay. I’m treating it as my very own intensive MFA fiction workshop. Nothing may ever come of this particular book but I will have learned a lot and will be better prepared to write the next one. I have ideas.

Keetha certainly has ideas and more personal revelations:

Q. How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A. Blessed, full of grace, happy, full, vibrant, just right

Q. What is your motto or maxim?
A. It’s never too late to be the person you wanted to be.

Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
A. It changes. Sometimes it’s a fall afternoon, blue skies, and a crisp snap in the air. A book that I’ve been looking forward to that delivers. Making my husband laugh. My husband making our son laugh. Lightly floured kitchen counter, my mom’s cookie cutters. Christmas lights at bedtime. Coffee in the morning.

Q. What’s your greatest fear?
A. I can’t talk about it! That would totally jinx it.

Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A. Someplace cool with low humidity by a lake on a porch swing with no mosquitoes.

Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
A. I wanted to come up with a remarkable person and a witty remark to tie it together. But I didn’t.

Q. Which living person do you most admire?
A. I admire lots of people. My husband. My mom. Ann Patchett. The fourth-string Mississippi State football player who found a cell phone in the empty stadium, called the owner, and returned it to her. People who live big.

Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
A. At a writing workshop last weekend a friend pointed out I had used “gestured” five times in ten pages.

Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A. I’d like to be able to render cell phones useless from ten paces. That way I wouldn’t have to listen to conversations at restaurants, movie theatres, and on sidewalks.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Writing every day.

Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
A. Defeating myself before I get started.

Q. What’s your best quality?
A. I’m curious.

Q. What do you regret most?
A. I can’t have regrets. They make me downcast, wistful, and grumpy. I have to see it this way: everything that’s happened has brought me here and I like it here. Everything that’s happened has made me who I am and I like that, too.

Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A. I’d be me. I know how to do that now.

Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
A. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew how other people saw you? If they were at my house, it’d be all the books or the bright red kitchen. That I love my family and thin-crust pizza?

Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A. I think I need another page to fully answer but off hand I’d say Anne Shirley, Woodrow Call, Flavia de Luce.

Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A. Severus Snape.

Q. If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A. Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. Oppressive heat. Drivers who don’t pay attention. Gum chewing.

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

Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
A. Novelist with a part-time gig as a ballet dancer.

Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A. Kindness, compassion, character

Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A. Shrimp

Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
A. Life by the Drop – Stevie Ray Vaughn; Time of the Preacher – Willie Nelson; New Orleans Ladies – Louisiana LaRoux; Just As I Am; You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma – David Frizzell and Shelly West

Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A. That’s funny, coming up with just five books! Wait – you’re serious?

Without thinking too much about it: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett; The Snare by Elizabeth Spencer; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

The Rock Orchard, A Thousand Acres, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I can’t stop!

A charming Southern Belle who can redecorate better than anyone on HGTV, read/review tons of books every month, and share the beauty of life’s simple moments, please visit and enjoy Keetha DePriest Mosley at her (almost) daily blog, Write Kudzu.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Trish Ryan’s latest memoir, A Maze of Grace in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Trish Ryan and A Maze of Grace. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.

Guest Robin Antalek on Raising (Writing) Good Characters

June 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Robin Antalek, in her debut novel The Summer We Fell Apart, (Facebook) introduces the reader to four main characters — all siblings in a dysfunctional family. In today’s guest post she describes the toil and toll required to birth, develop, and then let each one go out into the world…even beyond the book’s pages.]

During the process of writing The Summer We Fell Apart I was a mess. These characters and their lives were so demanding of my emotional well-being (including some very non-hygienic periods – ick –sorry) that I nearly had nothing left for my daughters’, my husband, and my friends … you name it, I ignored it could have been my motto. In many ways it resembled those first few months of motherhood when I survived on instinct and very little else. Then and only then I was as in tune with my infant daughter (now 19) in the most basic of ways, our cyclical routine of: sleep, eat, burp, diaper, hardly varied from hour to hour and day to day for months on end. I existed only for her nourishment and needs.

Except here – in my fictional world — I could re-write the scene from the day before. I could change a word, delete a paragraph, erase a conversation, and alter the mood, all without excess emotional attachment. Or could I?

As the characters grew in my head, on the page, and into the story, there were things so intrinsic that even if I wanted to – I couldn’t mess with. When I tried to re-write their lives it just came up false and I knew – I knew – that no matter what I would have to allow them to be who they were meant to be for better or worse. As a parent and now as a writer, this was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned: your baby (characters) had to fail, it was inevitable and you had to stand by and let them as much as you wanted to run ahead screaming danger and pointing out the bad guys.

The writing life – creating character, plot, theme and story is not so unlike those early days of motherhood. As I was submerged in the world of my newborn – so was I in the “newborn-ness” (so not a word – forgive me) of Amy, George, Finn and Kate Haas. I only worked on one character and their section of the novel at a time – so through the course of the book I metaphorically gave birth four times – and if you think they didn’t demand all my attention – including stealing some serious sleep – you would be wrong. As if I raised quadruplets, this crew was in my face the entire two years it took from conception to birth.

Because of my process, or maybe in spite of, who knows, readers identify strongly with these fictional siblings. And two of the questions I always get from readers whether it’s a book club visit or via mail is: who is your favorite? And, are they all okay? I have to answer in all honesty that some of the siblings were easier to be around than the others at times (as are my own beautiful girls’) – but I am hard pressed to choose a favorite. It would be tantamount to choosing between my children. The answer to the second question? Well that gives me chills every time – in the asking and the answer. It’s what all of us as parents hope for our own children: they are okay, they are making their way in the world. They will figure it out, there’s hope. Always, always, hope.

The Summer We Fell Apart has taken on a life of its own – as have Amy, Kate, George and Finn. And in the words of their mother, Marilyn, “…it is more than I ever imagined.”

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Trish Ryan’s latest memoir, A Maze of Grace in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Trish Ryan and A Maze of Grace. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Trish Ryan and A Maze of Grace

June 21, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Memoirist/Essayist Trish Ryan took readers along on her quest to find “Mr. Right” in her debut memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Love, and Happily Ever After, and tomorrow — June 22, 2010 — she continues to share her life’s journey in A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances.

The idea for chronicling the continuation of the author’s now five years of married life came at the insistence of a friend who never realized that daily wedded experiences could be “Great!” Yet that’s how things “by some crazy miracle” seemed to end up for Trish and Steve. And so she shares their ups and downs as encouragement, noting in a disclaimer: “I’m under no illusion that Steve and I have mastered some “‘spiritual”‘ right way to do life.” However, by asking for God’s input in places they’ve been stuck has provided ideas, suggestions and alternatives to their personal struggles including: infertility, depression, body image, and sex.

Yes Trish talks to God, even about THAT subject. Now for those unfamiliar with He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, please don’t raise your eyebrows. Because the first book is “the story of how a new-age dabbler turned to Jesus for relationship advice and ended up with a “‘happily-ever-after'” husband and a newfound Christian faith.” Considering God offered her sound, practical, and miraculous advice back then, it’s only natural for this author to keep asking for and following His guidance.

Yet to share even more of herself… In the Monday, May 17, 2010 blog post, Good News from Publishers Weekly, Trish admits her relief and joy by writing:

“I just saw the Publishers Weekly review for A MAZE OF GRACE. And it’s fabulous!!! I’m shaking right now, all teared up & soggy. I hadn’t realized how nervous I was about this until I read the review (and then re-read it six or seven times). The relief is unbelievable.

“Here’s why: MAZE was a tough book to write. It’s super-personal, even more so than HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT. It’s real and raw and (in a few places) heartbreaking, even for me. But it’s also–like me–fun and funny, and a little absurd. Which was a weird balance in the midst of the process. Not to mention that life while I was writing was rather tumultuous, and my editors and I were adding and deleting scenes right up until the very last moment. By the time the book was finalized, I’d sort of lost touch with whether it was “good” or not, in the big-picture sort of way: Was it entertaining and encouraging…and something you’d want to give to all your friends? I hoped (and I certainly prayed) so. I’m tearfully grateful to report that he folks at Publishers Weekly say yes:

Ryan (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not) returns with another spiritual memoir, bringing back her trademark wit, humor, and honesty. Her first book portrayed her journey toward love after a promise to take Jesus seriously; this sequel chronicles her spiritual and romantic life during the first five years of her marriage. Each chapter focuses on a unique struggle or revelation, from the joys and challenges of marriage to body image and politics; as a result, the book reads more like a compilation of short essays or long blog entries rather than one continuous narrative. Most admirably, Ryan, currently part of the pastoral staff of Vineyard Church, is able to present herself as a believing Christian who recognizes that spirituality can be both simple and complex, a universal experience that can be felt in an infinite number of ways. Ryan does not evangelize, instead humbly and humorously offering her own experience for interpretation. Readers of all faiths can enjoy this memoir for its humanity and its honest exploration of relationships and religion, showing how those two things can often intertwine. __Publishers Weekly

And, of course, there’s this praise:

“Trish Ryan is the rare writer who can range from the deepest questions of the soul to hilarious moments of everyday life…This engaging account of a spiritual journey will resonate with readers of all backgrounds.”
–Gretchen Rubin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project

Interested? Well now you can Browse Inside This Book.

Having read He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and then following Trish’s life through her blog posts, I appreciated the Advance Reading Copy that Hachette Book Group sent. A Maze of Grace does not disappoint. In fact Publishers Weekly “got it” so right…and more.

Perhaps the book’s appeal is simply Trish. She is both honest and brave in revealing her faith, confusion, opinions and less than sterling homemaking attempts at cooking and cleaning. Yet she tries to find the right way or method.

Her talks with God are most impressive because — though a gentle, loving Father — He doesn’t allow Trish to whine or take the easy way out of a situation. While you may not believe and agree with His teachings or wonder why an intelligent adult woman — complete with a law degree — would believe and abide by seemingly archaic traditions, the fact IS that the author DOES. And she takes full responsibility for that course of faith.

This memoir begins after Trish and Steve’s wedding reception and follows in chronological order through their first few months of the “Honeymoon period.” After that it is a maze of dealing with “life happens.” However, through it all, there is communication with God and between each other. Also there is love.

In reading the post, Guest Trish Ryan on Your Life, Starring You!, you learn that the author doesn’t see herself as the main character in her books, instead “LOVE is the main character — that urge inside of us that keeps us looking and hoping for romantic partnership….” After reading both books, I disagree. Love could be considered the main characters in Trish’s books however it is SELF LOVE — the need within all of us to like ourselves, to be the best of ourselves, and to accept ourselves…that’s what the writer really finds along her way. And everyone can benefit from a good measure of that love found in A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances and in our own lives.

IMPORTANT: Trish Ryan is offering a BOGOF plan until 11:59 p.m. tonight!

Here’s her plan:

“Buy a copy of A Maze of Grace before the official launch date of tomorrow, June 22nd.

Send a copy of your receipt (scanned store receipts count, too) to Trishryanonline AT gmail.com. Include your mailing address (no worries…I won’t use for any other purposes) and I’ll send you a FREE copy of my first book, HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT.”

Source: TRISH’S DISHES’ Tuesday, June 15, 2010 post, BOGOF.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Trish Ryan’s latest memoir, A Maze of Grace in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Our Authors Journey, IV

June 17, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Beginning with a late January post, The Divining Wand has revealed how its successful authors have traveled their personal road to publication. And now the remaining five answer the questions of how they handled rejection and what kept them going to reach their destination?

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

“Years passed between the day I really got serious about writing, and the day I signed a publishing contract. There is no general time-line for when you “should” have something published. Everyone’s on her own path. It takes some writers decades to achieve publication.

“During the submissions process, I became very familiar with rejection. What kept me going? A husband who believes in me, and an inner refusal to quit. Too, I surrounded myself with positive people who made me feel as though I was bound to succeed. And I tried to avoid negative people whose comments, questions, or attitudes made me second-guess myself.”

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

“I’ve been very lucky. Very lucky. My first book was nonfiction and I sold it myself, getting a publisher only after a handful of rejections. My first novel was sold about 4 months after it went on submission. That is remarkably fast. However, it didn’t feel that way at the time, and the novel was rejected by about a dozen publishers. As those rejections were coming in, it felt awful. I started to lose hope. I am a Gemini so I feel uniquely qualified to be on submission. Half of me has complete faith that I will be successful and the other half completely believes I’m a big fat failure. What kept me going is the optimistic half of me. That and my agent’s belief in me, and my husband and my friends.”

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

“The answer to this question depends on when you want to start the clock ticking. I always wanted to write and my parents have one of my earliest “works” dating back to second grade. If we use that as the starting point then it took me a looooooong time. If we start from the time I finished Unpredictable, it took me about five months to find an agent and about six months with her between revisions and when I sold. Once I sold it was two years before the book came out. This is my way of pointing out that writing makes a lousy get rich quick plan.

“Rejection is a part of the publication process. When writers gather they show off their rejection scars like old war veterans. My approach to rejection was to feel sorry for myself for a maximum of 24 hours and then pull up my big girl panties and move forward. There is a saying that the difference between an unpublished writer and a published writer is perseverance. Rejection was just the world’s way of trying to figure out how serious I was about this publication plan.”

Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“From the day I wrote the first sentence of my first draft, to the day my book was available in stores was almost exactly 7 years. I learned to have a very thick skin to deal with the rejections (teaching high school and having kids had already helped me with that!), and I even learned to use the rejections as inspiration to keep going, to get it right. My friends and family also helped, encouraging me every step of the way. And I also knew that giving up simply wasn’t an option–this mattered, my story mattered, and I had to keep going.”

Maud Carol Markson (When We Get Home, Looking After Pigeon):

“How long did it take before you finally got published? And how did you handle rejection, what kept you going? My first novel got published very quickly, but then it took me twenty years until my next novel was published. I handled rejection by getting very involved in other endeavors– not simply seeing myself as a writer.”

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Have you heard?

Allison Winn Scotch (The Department of Lost and Found, Time of My Life and The One That I Want) presents:

The Mother of All Giveaways

On her Wednesday, June 16, 2010 blog post, Allison writes:

“Yes, I use those words intentionally. Because today, I wanted to give shout-outs to some women writers (okay, they’re not all mothers) who have in some way been kind or helpful to me throughout my career, and well, throughout certain times of my life. Writing is a very solitary endeavor, but thanks to some of my friends, I always feel like I have a wide network of support. All of these women are generous – with blurbs, with advice, with open ears when we just need to complain, and just as importantly, all of them have (relatively) new books out. 🙂 And I’m grateful for them, not just for their brilliant words that go onto the page, but for their friendship.

SO.

Here’s the deal:

To enter the contest, click over to my Facebook page, where this contest is announced. Click “like,” on the giveaway or leave a comment underneath the announcement. You’ll be entered. Just like that. I’ll leave it open until Friday at 3pm EST, when I’ll choose the winners, each of whom will receive one of the fabulous books listed below. Oh, and did I mention that each copy will be signed? Yes, the lovely ladies will be sending their autograph too.

Here are the goods that you’ll be up to win:” (Scroll down.)

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Announcement: The winner of Three Wishes by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand is Stacey.

Congratulations! Please email: diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address, and the book will be sent out promptly.

The Revealing of Robin Antalek

June 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Soon after Robin Antalek debuted with her first novel, The Summer We Fell Apart, on January 5, 2010, it was selected as a TARGET Breakout Book. Perhaps you’ve already read it and understand the reason for these insightful words:

“A preoccupied playwright father and a cult-actress mother are the stars of the Haas family in Antalek’s well-crafted and cunning debut novel…. a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and to the importance of family ties regardless of family history, making this an endearing and easy-to-relate-to dysfunctional family drama.” – Publishers Weekly

However, if you’ve yet to discover Robin’s first novel, what a more appropriate time than now….during the summer? The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of The Summer We Fell Apart for Monday, June 28, 2010 but today is the opportunity to meet the author through her “official” bio:

Robin Antalek’s work has been published in numerous literary journals. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, with her husband and two daughters. The Summer We Fell Apart is her first novel.

And to get to know Robin, in her own words, simply read what she’s revealed:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Full house: children, dogs, food and my guy.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Kindness first.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Serendipity – the unplanned moments.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: That I won’t know when I’m at the end – whether metaphorically or on the manuscript page.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: The pristine beaches of South West Florida circa 1975 or the rush of Manhattan.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Charlotte de Berry

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: It would have to be plural: my daughters’.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: Give me a minute. Not now. Yes.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Eating good food without gaining weight.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Where I am right now in this very moment.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Impatience!

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: The ability to see past impossible.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Losing touch with people who mattered along the way….

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I really don’t think like that – I love the life I have.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Laughter – I laugh all the time – sometimes inappropriately.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. She always had a patient with amnesia – fascinating.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Okay – this stumped me!

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I’m not a sports person – however, I would like to meet someone who has sailed solo around the world.

The idea of one person against the power of the sea is pretty awesome.

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

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: As far as I’m concerned these three are interlocked as one: Reading, cooking, and eating.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I’m living the dream.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Humor, honesty and the ability to dream.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Pasta

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
God Bless The Child – Billie Holiday
The Very Thought of You – Ray Noble
Halleluiah – Jeff Buckley
People Get Ready – Jeff Beck /Rod Stewart version

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: This is a TOTALLY unfair question! Just five??
Mary and O’Neil by Justin Cronin
The Annunciation by Ellen Gilchrist
In The Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist
Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie
The Good Mother by Sue Miller tied w/ The Wonders Boys by Michael Chabon

Gracious, with an optimistic, thoughtful perspective, discover even more about Robin Antalek by becoming her friend on Facebook and read her Blog: Robin Antalek.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of the triple memoir Three Wishes by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand with Three Wishes. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is tonight, June 16, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.

Guest Trish Ryan on Your Life, Starring You!

June 15, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Trish Ryan (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Love, and Happily Ever After), — like many recent featured authors — admits to having a messy but interesting life. Ever likable, vulnerable, and oh so human, Trish shares both the joys and blahs of her first five years of marriage in A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances to be released on June 22, 2010.]

Your Life, Starring You!
Thoughts on being the main character

Larramie asked if I’d blog about what it’s like to be the main character in my own books. Her question caught me off guard—I’d never thought about it in those terms.

You’d think it would take a surreal combination of determination and hubris to believe that your life is sufficiently unique and wonderful to keep people turning the pages of not just one, but two memoirs. But truth be told, not even I think my story is all that unique and/or wonderful. Just the opposite, in fact. Until fairly recently, it—and I—was a complete disaster. But here’s the thing: In the midst of my struggles, I always knew I wasn’t the only person out there wrestling with big questions: What is love? How do I get it/give it/absorb enough of it to keep going? Does God play a role? How much is my responsibility? How can I make better choices if I can’t think of any options other than what I’ve already tried? What if self-help doesn’t help? My books are about my search for answers.

I spent my twenties and early thirties in a dizzying try/fail cycle of dating that might be unique if only for it’s breadth and scope. I married so badly that I had to run away to escape. The police were involved on more than one occasion. At some level, I had to admit that not only were my strategies not working, I was out of ideas of new things to try.

The answer to this dilemma surprised me. It was spiritual, and way outside my comfort zone. That surprise—with the good results that followed—made up my first book, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Hope, and Happily Ever After. I thought that other women in my shoes (the ones who hear Stevie Nicks sing, I climbed a mountain and I turned around and think, “That’s the story of my life…”) might find it encouraging to have another option to consider, and comforted that the door hasn’t closed on Happily Ever After…It’s still out there, still possible.

My second book is about looking at these same questions from the other side of the alter, as a newlywed struggling to imagine a marriage better than the warnings I saw in books and magazines. Our culture makes you feel like a special little flower when you’re a bride, but the moment you’re back from your honeymoon, the fantasy wilts. No one tells you how awesome your new life will be; they warn you. You hear the phrase, “The honeymoon is over” muttered in low, dire tones. I didn’t think I was the only wife out there hoping that more was possible, and thus Book #2, A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances, came to be.

So perhaps my answer to Larramie’s question is that I don’t see myself as the main character in my books. As hokey as it sounds, I think LOVE is the main character—that urge inside of us that keeps us looking and hoping for romantic partnership far beyond the point when the more reasonable choice would be to give up, buy a cat and a condo, and find a few new hobbies. Most of us want more than pets and hobbies. As the band Sugarland puts it, “From the beginning, we’re all looking for a happy ending…” My books are about this process.

Thanks, Larramie, for getting me thinking about this question! And blog readers, let me ask you: How do you feel about being the main character in YOUR story? Would you re-write the script? Does your plot need a twist? Are you at the place where all hope is lost (which is, according to writing tradition across genres, ALWAYS when the hero arrives…)? Consider sharing in the comments below. You might not be the only one wrestling with these questions.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of the triple memoir Three Wishes by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand with Three Wishes. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

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The Divining Wand celebrates its first anniversary today. After one year and 219 posts, the site has grown, evolved, and is successfully connecting authors and readers beyond book pages.

Thank you authors/friends/readers, all!
Larramie