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Archive for September, 2010

Guest Jenny Nelson
On Food, Florence, and Inspiration

September 14, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Ah sweet memories — particularly those deep, heartfelt ones that inspire authors to wrap a novel around them. In today’s guest post, Jenny Nelson describes how her first trip to Italy began a love affair and ultimately a setting for her debut novel, Georgia’s Kitchen.]

On Food, Florence, and Inspiration

The first time I went to Florence I was 20 years old and had just finished two semesters in Mardrid, where I majored in “mucha marcha,” the distinctly Madrileño art of partying until four in the morning, learned “un poquito” of Espanol and traveled as much as my budget and my class schedule would allow. After a month of Eurailing among Let’s Go Europe’s top college destinations, my best friend and I parted ways in Brindisi, Italy (the only reason to go there, at least then, was to catch the ferry to and from Greece), and I trained on to Florence alone. I was meeting up with my dad, whom I hadn’t seen since the previous August; it was now almost a full year later. We met in the lobby of our hotel, an elegant, turn-of-the-century mansion, where I couldn’t help but feel out of place with my giant backpack, sleeping bag bungee-corded on the side, and my proudly-purchased-in-Munich Birkenstocks, which were finally comfortable enough to wear (they’d put me through hell in Paris – no one warned me that before becoming the most comfortable, if not the most attractive, sandals, my feet would be sliced, diced and rubbed raw). If my dad was surprised by my 20-pound-heavier frame, which even my baggiest Gap t-shirt couldn’t conceal, he didn’t say anything. We were both starving, so we took a stroll to a local trattoria, a tourist restaurant, the kind whose menu offered photos of the food and a prix fixe that included insalata mista to start and a scoop of gelato to finish. I ordered a Coca Cola Light and the spaghetti pomodoro. Despite all indications to the contrary – the fluorescent lights, the preponderance of spoken English and German, the cheesy photos – the spaghetti was perfectly cooked, the sauce rich and velvety, brightened by basil and chunks of San Marzano tomatoes. I was in love.

Ten years and many trips to Italy later, I was back in Florence and back in love, this time with my fiancé, and we were there to be married. After a civil ceremony at the Palazzo Vecchio in the sala matrimoniale, a sumptuous room adorned with floor-to-ceiling tapestries, crushed red-velvet upholstery and a chandelier as big as the bathroom in our Manhattan apartment, we held our religious ceremony and reception in a villa overlooking the Duomo. We shared then, and still share today, a love of Italian food, wine, art, architecture and language (though only one of us can speak Italian, and it’s not me).

Ten years after this, my debut novel, Georgia’s Kitchen, is on sale at bookstores and online. Though I never became a chef, or a food stylist, or a recipe tester, or a farmer (unless you count the insanely delicious Mr Stripey tomatoes growing in my vegetable garden), I wrote my first book about a chef. An American chef at a trendy New York restaurant who finds herself suddenly unemployed and unengaged, packs her knives and travels to – you guessed it – Italy.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Leah Stewart and Husband and Wife. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Leah Stewart and Husband and Wife

September 13, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


As both a writer and a reader Leah Stewart (The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl) requires that a book offers engagement on an emotional level and, in her third novel — Husband and Wife, released in May — she provides cause for such a response.

The fact that this story is based on detailed, personal emotions undoubtedly led to the interview question, “…is your work autobiographical?” in LEAH LETS LOOSE on SHEKNOWS Entertainment. There the author answered:

“I’m a believer in writing from emotional truth but not necessarily literal truth. In other words I have to put my characters in situations where I’ll understand what they feel, and to do that I mix elements of my own life with details from other people’s lives and add a healthy dose of stuff I made up.”

Leah began writing Husband and Wife when her daughter was three and her son was seven months old. Motherhood, and how it affects your self, and your marriage were the subjects on her mind yet the daily mothering routine isn’t very interesting without a conflict. That’s when she chose infidelity to throw her husband and wife characters into crisis mode. According to the author’s belief, “Nothing causes you to examine a bond like a betrayal of it.”

And, though infidelity/adultery may be one of the oldest stories, this novel takes a more contemporary, insightful look at it by asking how people change when they become adults, mates and eventually parents. Here is the synopsis:

Sarah Price is thirty-five years old. She doesn’t feel as though she’s getting older, but there are some noticeable changes: a hangover after two beers, the stray gray hair, and, most of all, she’s called “Mom” by two small children. Always responsible, Sarah traded her MFA for a steady job, which allows her husband, Nathan, to write fiction. But Sarah is happy and she believes Nathan is too, until a truth is revealed: Nathan’s upcoming novel, Infidelity, is based in fact.

Suddenly Sarah’s world is turned upside down. Adding to her confusion, Nathan abdicates responsibility for the fate of their relationship and of his novel’s publication—a financial lifesaver they have been depending upon—leaving both in Sarah’s hands. Reeling from his betrayal, she is plagued by dark questions. How well does she really know Nathan? And, more important, how well does she know herself?

For answers, Sarah looks back to her artistic twenty-something self to try to understand what happened to her dreams. When did it all seem to change? Pushed from her complacent plateau, Sarah begins to act—for the first time not so responsibly—on all the things she has let go of for so long: her blank computer screen; her best friend, Helen; the volumes of Proust on her bookshelf. And then there is that e-mail in her inbox: a note from Rajiv, a beautiful man from her past who once tempted her to stray. The struggle to find which version of herself is the essential one—artist, wife, or mother—takes Sarah hundreds of miles away from her marriage on a surprising journey.

Wise, funny, and sharply drawn, Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife probes our deepest relationships, the promises we make and break, and the consequences they hold for our lives, revealing that it’s never too late to step back and start over.

Thanks to HarperCollins Chapters 1 – 4 are available for reading from the Browse Inside site. By taking advantage of this reading opportunity, you’ll discover that the author wastes no time in presenting the crisis. On page 6 Nathan implies his transgression and, on the following page, he tells Sarah: “I cheated on you.” There’s no hedging, he was unfaithful and so begins the story of “what now?” rather than “what if?” for husband and wife.

However, despite the “couple” title, the book is Sarah’s story of her journey to stay in the marriage or go off on her own. Not only does Leah Stewart explore the devastating effects of marital betrayal, she also focuses on the modern woman, complete with career, who has not been raised to believe in preserving a marriage at all costs. On the other hand, there is more than being financially capable of letting go. There are the perceptions of how others will regard/judge her ultimate choice.

As a result of the crisis in her marriage comes a crisis of self. Interestingly enough this isn’t based on Sarah’s physical attractiveness (though there’s mention of a need to shed more pounds of baby fat), but the real concern focuses on her artistic, intellectual attractiveness. Her identity as a poet and Nathan, the aspiring novelist, brought them together in grad school where — in truth — dreams feel as though they’re out there waiting. Except, of course, not everyone grabs the brass ring of success. After being together for ten years, and married for the last four, Nathan’s success and Sarah’s role of working mother has shifted the dynamics of their relationship. Is Sarah aware of how much they’ve changed? Is she consciously jealous of Nathan? Does she still care enough about artistic dreams to seek time to work for them?

The irony of this literary husband and wife is their failure at communicating with each other. Or does being writers limit them to expressing themselves only on paper? Even Nathan’s admission of guilt has Sarah refusing to talk to her husband, instead telling him to leave without any thought of how to live/cope without him. Impulsive, eyebrow-raising action given there are young children to care for. And while the overwhelming pain of lost trust — perhaps even lost love — is understood, irresponsibility is not.

Leah Stewart writes an all-to-honest portrait of a couple who, despite having a family, easily grow apart. Her characters are flawed, selfish and not always likable, yet are they merely victims of a modern society that encourages whims of personal gratification? Can their marriage and family be saved?

In Husband and Wife, the future lies in the wife’s hands. After all she has come-of-age as an adult and must now face the responsibility of her ever-changing roles, including “To have and to hold, for better – for worse….”

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 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 see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of Jenny Nelson

September 09, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Early in August, Jenny Nelson debuted with Georgia’s Kitchen), described in this tempting one sentence synopsis:

A dazzling debut novel made with the finest ingredients: romance, cooking, Italy, New York, and one woman’s appetite for more.

And topped off with praise by a familiar author:

“All the right ingredients—an insider’s look at the restaurant industry, a heart–warming heroine, and a romp through Tuscany—make for a delightful and delicious book. Buyer be warned: GEORGIA’S KITCHEN will leave you hungry for more from Jenny Nelson.”
—Julie Buxbaum, author of The Opposite of Love and After You

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Georgia’s Kitchen for Monday, September 20, 2010 but, until then, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Jenny Nelson grew up in Larchmont, NY and graduated with a BA in English Literature from the University of Colorado at Denver. A former web editor and producer, she worked for companies such as iVillage, Vogue.com and Style.com. She lives with her husband, twin daughters and dog in Millbrook, NY and Manhattan. Georgia’s Kitchen is her first novel.

And now it’s time to get to know Jenny’s revealing self:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Happy, hectic, rewarding, hopeful, funny … and sometimes not.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Be your own girl (or boy). I’m constantly saying this to my twin six-year-old daughters, but it’s something we should all try to remember.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: My entire extended family (dogs included, of course) together on a sunny, summer day enjoying a delicious al fresco lunch.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Not making the most of my time with loved ones today and regretting it tomorrow.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at sunrise.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was determined, spunky, adventurous and flawed and she made me want to be a pioneer girl.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Barack Obama; can you imagine having to do his job?

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: “Do you know what I mean,” “absolutely,” and “amazing.”

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to play the piano and pick out songs by ear.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Writing a novel and getting published!

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Procrastination

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I’m a good listener.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not learning to speak Spanish when I studied abroad in Madrid.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: One of the beautiful old elm trees looming over Poet’s Walk in Central Park. I can’t think of a prettier or more interesting spot to spend my days.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: People routinely describe me as “petite,” which is a polite way of saying short.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Lily Bart – tragic, yes, but infinitely fascinating.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Lord Voldemort

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Jesse Owens and of course I’d ask about the 1936 Olympics.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: People who clip their nails on the subway. I will get off the train and walk in a downpour rather than sit through that.

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

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Film director

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: A sense of humor, compassion, honesty

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Penne with peas, parm and butter. I lived on this when I was pregnant with my twin daughters and it’s still my ideal Sunday-night supper (though I’m not quite as liberal with the butter as I was back then!).

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Let it Loose, Rolling Stones; Either Way, Wilco; Rock and Roll, Velvet Underground; Embraceable You, Billie Holiday; Stardust, Willie Nelson

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri; In The Time Of The Butterflies, Julia Alvarez; The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; Empire Falls, Richard Russo; The House Of Mirth, Edith Wharton

Delightful and insightful, debut novelist Jenny Nelson is someone to get to know even better by following on Twitter and becoming her fan/friend on Facebook.

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Announcement: The winners of Tanya Egan Gibson’s How to Buy a Love of Reading are Elise and ella. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and Kate your book will be sent out promptly.

Guest Leah Stewart on Why Do You Read?

September 08, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[In her role as a teacher Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife, The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl) emphasizes and discusses the craft of a novel, while as a reader (and writer) she is drawn to the emotional impact of a book. So here, in today’s guest post, she wonders why or what is most important in reading?]

One of my graduate students emailed me a few weeks ago to say he’d heard me mention Margot Livesey’s novel Eva Moves the Furniture so often in class he thought he should read it. Why, he wanted to know, did I so often use it as an example? Was it because of the way Livesey handles the magical element of the novel, keeping the question of what’s real a mystery until the end?

The answer that immediately came to mind was: it’s because I love it. But that wasn’t what he was looking for. He wanted me to say something about the craft of the book, the way Livesey structures her story. As a teacher I emphasize the use of models, telling students to seek out the books that resemble the ones they want to write and figure out how they work. It struck me as funny, then, that I had to think so hard to give him that kind of answer. When I read that book, it had such a profound emotional effect on me that that response overrode my usual thinking about a novel—how it’s put together, what the writing style is like, what points it might be making about our culture and the world.

Not long after this exchange a writer friend mentioned to me that a book should have more than emotional impact. I’ve been thinking about this comment ever since. For him, I have no doubt that this is true. For me, I’m not so sure it is. I can appreciate a novel that deliberately examines intellectual questions, but if it doesn’t engage me emotionally I’m left disappointed. What I want from stories is primal: I want to be transported, caught up, unable to stop reading even if it’s past midnight and I know my children will be up early. What I’m reading might be Harry Potter or the odd, language-driven stories of Barry Hannah—as long as it makes me feel profoundly, I’m in love.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that in my own work I do my best to create an intense emotional response in the reader. But in some ways that’s been a surprise to me. After all, I went to graduate school for writing. I spend much of my time in academia, where we encourage students to discuss what stories mean rather than what they make you feel. I hear all the time from readers that they were moved by one of my books, that they couldn’t put it down, and I love hearing that I’ve achieved that kind of effect. But the good-student part of me still wants to be told I’m smart. Recently another grad student praised a reading I’d given by saying she could hear my intelligence in it. She added, “In your novels, your intelligence is obscured by the narrative.” She didn’t mean to be insulting, and the comment amused rather than upset me, but it did offer a window on a particular perception of fiction writing, one that suggests emotion and story are not intelligent. I feel like it’s my job to remind both myself and my students that they are—that, in fact, they’re vital. Two of the many sad things about the literary/genre divide in book culture are the way it keeps readers from books they might love on either side, and the way it makes writers who want to be considered artists devalue the pleasures of plot. No matter what we’ve learned in school about how we’re supposed to read, some of our most profound reading experiences came when we were uncritical children, staying up with a flashlight under the covers to finish A Wrinkle in Time.

I wrote back to my student that he was right: I recommend the book because of my admiration for Livesey’s handling of mystery, as well as the way she finds a tone that’s both matter of fact and mystical, and achieves what she herself calls “a certain intensity about the ordinary.” And also, I said, because I love it.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Tanya Egan Gibson’s How to Buy a Love of Reading in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Tanya Egan Gibson and How to Buy a Love of Reading. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. 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 see if you’re a winner.

Tanya Egan Gibson and
How to Buy a Love of Reading

September 07, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


When Tanya Egan Gibson was a high school English teacher, one of her students admitted that she had never read any book she liked. Instead the student spent her time daydreaming about her friends and their experiences shared during the day, imagining what might have been done differently. Although this was creative, Tanya loved books too much not to accept a challenge and vowed one day to write a book the girl would like. And, after ten years. that vow/idea became How to Buy a Love of Reading.

Debuting in May, 2009 and released in trade paperback on July 27, 2010, How to Buy a Love of Reading is beyond multi-layered. In addition to its meta-fiction format, fully drawn, flawed characters, Gatsby-esque setting, society, and quotes, mention of numerous literary works, there’s more. However the novel isn’t complicated, certainly the author’s description is reassuring proof:

“My characters live in the fictional town of Fox Glen, Long Island, where appearances are everything, money is plentiful, and life is forever disappointing. Most of the characters have given up on their real, private selves and have come to believe in their public selves– images they once-upon-a-time constructed to protect their egos, and in which now they find themselves imprisoned.”

Indeed How to Buy a Love of Reading is primarily based on past behavior that now affects the characters’ present. Here is the synopsis:

To Carley Wells, words are the enemy: the countless SAT lists from her tutor, the “fifty-seven pounds overweight” assessment from her personal trainer, and most of all, the “confidential” Getting To Know You assignment from her insane English teacher (whose literary terminology lessons include “Backstory is Afterbirth” and “Setting is Nobody’s Slut”). When he tells her parents that she’s answered “What is your favorite book?” with “Never met one I liked,” they become determined to fix what he calls her “intellectual impoverishment.” They will commission a book to be written for Carley that she’ll have to love—one that will impress her teacher and the whole town of Fox Glen with their family’s devotion to the arts. They will be patrons—the Medicis of Long Island. They will buy their daughter The Love Of Reading.



Impossible though it is for Carley to imagine ever loving words, she is in love with a young bibliophile who cares about them more than anything. Anything, that is, but a good bottle of scotch. Hunter Cay, Carley’s best friend and Fox Glen’s resident golden boy, is becoming a stranger to her as he drowns himself in F. Scott Fitzgerald, booze, and Vicodin.



When the Wellses move writer Bree McEnroy—author of a failed meta-novel about Odysseus’s voyages through the Internet—into their mansion to write Carley’s book, Carley’s sole interest in the project is its potential to distract Hunter from drinking and give them something to share. Instead, as Hunter’s behavior becomes erratic and dangerous, she finds herself drawn into the fictional world Bree has created and begins to understand for the first time the power of stories—those we read, those we want to believe in, and most of all, those we tell ourselves about ourselves. Stories powerful enough to destroy a person.



Or save her.

While there is an Excerpt to the novel’s first pages, it’s up to you to discover it by visiting the website. Simply turn the light on, then browse the bookcase as well as that book being read in bed. According to Tanya, the website is filled with treasures for good reason:

“Much of the material on my website–photographs, a character’s journal, excerpts of fictional “‘books'” that are mentioned in my novel–does not appear in the book and is intended as an extension of the book, a way to keep the “‘world'” of Fox Glen alive.”

It’s also a way to pay to tribute to Carley by keeping her insight into reading alive. For her indifference to books comes from their characters. She wants them to be genuinely human, rather than figure fixtures telling a story. Carley needs to identify and care about people in a book since it’s her way of understanding herself and others. Yes it’s the “unknowable” that Tanya described in her guest post, and the “gap” that 16-year old Carley feels is too wide.

Described as “razor-sharp, funny, and poignant,” How to Buy a Love of Reading is a satire of how the rich are different or appear to be as they hide their true selves from themselves and each other. And then there’s overweight, “intellectually impoverished” Carley who is seeking much more. Although she wants to love books to understand THE boy better — for Carley even knows as in life, so in books, “there’s always a boy” –, this adolescent also wants to know and love herself.

Tanya Egan Gibson had high hopes that her debut would be “literary,” yet her attempts to write towards that goal removed emotion from the story. So she stopped trying and simply told the story of “an overweight teenage girl’s love for her unattainable best male friend.” It’s not complicated yet it is truth. Because, through the multi layers of the book and the book-within-a-book, the voice of Carley remains basic. She’s a girl who leads with her heart, a heart strong enough to set an example for all the bewildering souls around her.

And that’s the author’s gift to readers in How to Buy a Love of Reading. This present is a character/person who allows us to bring our own hearts to the pages with the desire to know and understand each other better. Could there be a more valuable reading experience for your “must read” list?

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Tanya Egan Gibson’s How to Buy a Love of Reading in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Eileen Cook on
The Secret to Writing a Novel

September 06, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[After a long, hot summer Labor Day celebrates the promise of fall. Fresh crisp air — along with the return to a normal routine — energizes and inspires one to sharpen pencils, fill blank notebooks, and go offline to write. It’s a brand new year, the year to write THE novel. Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, releasing in paperback September 21, 2010, The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA coming January 4, 2011, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011) — with her credits — knows something about writing a novel and, in today’s guest post, she shares the secret. ]

The Secret to Writing a Novel

In order to be a successful novelist you must:
a) always create a detailed outline before you start to write
b) avoid an outline at all costs and instead let your imagination run wild
c) use your spiritual guide to channel your characters and let them tell their own story

Answer:
Any of the Above

My best advice to writers is to be leery of writing advice.

What works for one writer may not work for another. There isn’t one right way to write a book, there’s only your way. I’ve talked to many writers about their process. Mystery writer Elizabeth George creates very detailed outlines, collects photos/images and has a three ring binder for each character before she puts a single word of the book on the page. In a presentation the literary author John Irving said he likes to start with the last line of the last chapter and work his way backwards.

When I wrote my first book (and by first I mean the first book that ever saw public eyes, there are several others still buried in a drawer in my desk) I had a general idea of the story. I knew I wanted to write about a woman who was pretending to be a psychic. Armed with only that knowledge I fired up the computer and started typing. There were many, many, many, drafts of that story, but the process of writing it was certainly an adventure. Now I am more likely to have a general outline of the story I want to tell, but I find if the outline is too detailed I tend to lose interest in the story. After all, I already know how it ends.

There will be writers who tell you that if you are serious about writing you must do it EVERY day. They will point out that Stephen King writes even on his birthday and Christmas. Does this mean you’re a failure if you realize it’s Wednesday and you haven’t touched your book since Saturday? What if you are a mom with small kids who all have the chicken pox? Or what if you’re juggling a day job and can’t get in your target of a 1000 words on a particular day?

While I agree that getting into a regular writing habit is best, I don’t think it is as black and white as writing every day. I set a weekly goal for my writing. I have a choice of writing a bit every day, but if I know that there is a day that is going to be eaten up with some other demand, I tell myself it’s fine to write for a longer period another day. I try and take at least one day off every week to recharge my imagination by reading, walking on the beach, or seeing friends.

There will be writers who tell you that you shouldn’t think about the publishing side of the business, and instead focus on your craft. Other writers will tell you that failure to consider the market before you start writing means you’re leaving yourself open to spending a year (or more) writing a book only to discover the world doesn’t want another vampire tale. Once again, I’m going to suggest there is a wishy washy middle. If publication is your goal, you’ll be smart to be aware of what is happening in the publishing business, but at the end of the day you still must be true to the story you want to tell, trend or no trend.

Everyone wants there to be a secret to writing. If there is a secret then all we have to do is master it and we’ll be on our way to publishing fame and glory. Here is the secret: there is no secret. Find the path that works for you. If you aren’t sure what works, try different approaches. Write in the morning instead of at night, set weekly word goals or write every day, make collages, outlines or mind maps. Write by hand or on a laptop or dictate. There are thousands of writing manuals so try different approaches until you discover your own unique writing style. The only thing I am certain about with writing, is that if you don’t keep trying, you won’t ever reach the finish line. Whatever process you decide is right for you- just keep writing.

Guest Jessica Barksdale Inclan on
Being a Mature Bride

September 02, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[ Among the many books she’s written, Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being) has most recently focused on The Being Trilogy with Being With Him releasing in mass market edition on September 7, 2010. According to the author, “This is a story of two people who have felt different and “other” all their lives, who manage to find each other. And then the fun begins!”

Soulmates united in writing….and in life? For Jessica is getting married on September 25th and she’ll be a real bride this time, despite her initial reservations. In today’s special guest post, the author shares the wisdom and joy of being a mature bride.]

There is the bride-to-be, standing on the platform in the bridal salon dressing room. She’s nervous, being yanked into a bridal gown. The attendant uses various clips and hard tugs to get the floor sample to fit. The bride’s mother sits in the corner of the room, beaming. She’s overjoyed, thrilled for her daughter.

The daughter turns, faces the mirror, the dress looks lovely, but what is wrong with this picture? If only she didn’t have all those wrinkles. And what about that bra? Will it hold up everything? Her seventy-two-year old mother nods, so glad to finally be able to take on the supportive mother role. It’s a bit late, of course, but at least it’s finally happening.

Five months ago, that bride-to-be was me. Though I am a “mature” bride at 48, I decided to give a bridal shop a go. I was just going to look around, and then I would head over to Nordstrom and get a regular dress.

My first wedding in 1985 was a too-late-for-a-shotgun affair, my boyfriend and I driving up to South Lake Tahoe for a “Church of the Many Delights” quickie wedding, while my mother babysat our nine-month-old son. I’d worn something I’d found on-the-rack, and there had been no bridal shop, no invitations, no shower, no gifts, no nothing. We got married, stayed at some Nordic-themed roadside motel for the night, and drove home and into the next twenty-three years.

Everything about this second go round is different. My fiancé Michael actually proposed. He put my engagement ring in my stocking on Christmas Eve, and then in front of all our four children and my mother, popped the question when I found the small blue box. He was down on his knee, asking for my hand. And I said yes because this time, I’m ready. This time, I know I’m right. This man is the man I will spend the rest of my life with.

For the first time in my life, I have a bone fide engagement ring. My first husband and I had been broke beyond broke back when we were 23, and we bought our wedding rings at a discount department store. Now, I have an actual diamond.

Proposed to, engagement ring, and then a wedding dress.

So I found myself standing on the dressing room platform, feeling sheepish as the lace went over my head. How stupid is this? I thought. This is ridiculous and wasteful. What would my college students think if they saw their English professor up here on this silly platform?

But then as I turned to face the mirror, I saw myself as a bride for the first time in my life. The white flowing dress meant that the day would be special. My mother smiled, I laughed, and I knew that I didn’t want to go to Nordstrom. Maybe I’m mature, maybe I’m slightly pruned from time, maybe I will never be a featured bride on Say Yes to the Dress, but I wanted a wedding gown. This wedding gown. So I bought it.

Even though a wedding seems an event for younger couples, my fiancé and I have invited 50 people to ours this September. We have registered at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, making lists of things that we should and could buy on our own. After all, what do we really need? Michael is fifty-five, and both of us have been around the block a few times. We are not setting up a house. We’ve already had two households and merged them into one when we bought our house in Oakland, California last year. We don’t need to prepare for children—the children have flown the coop, all of them in their twenties.

But because that is what’s done, we did it, walking around the stores with that fabulous little scanning gun. We’ve ordered invitations. We’ve hired a wedding planner, a caterer, a cellist. We ordered a cake. My friends have organized a small shower.

Well meaning friends tell us we should find a charity to have guests donate to in our name. “That’s what mature couples do,” I’ve been told.

Miss Manners would be appalled by other suggestions. One of my friends told me we should ask for donations toward our Barcelona honeymoon in lieu of gifts.

We will just keep our lists. I really do want that baking set from Crate and Barrel.

Aside from my fiancé’s actual proposal, the image I will remember most is being on that dressing room platform, looking at myself in all my maturity but finding myself lovely nonetheless. I’m making a bold leap, getting married again. I’m giving it a go, and doing it in a way that seems final, permanent, full of hope. I’m dressing up toward that hope, wanting all the good things that all brides want, no matter what age. It’s my turn now. I can have a happy ending.

Best Wishes and Congratulations to Jessica and Michael!

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Announcement: The winners of Katharine Davis’s A Slender Thread are Ruthie and Sarah Pekkanen. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and Kate will send out your book as soon as possible.

The Revealing of Leah Stewart

September 01, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

The dream goal of most authors is being able to describe their book in one sentence — a sentence that piques interest — and Leah Stewart (The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl) has been able to do that with her third novel, Husband and Wife,:

A young mother discovers that her husband’s novel about infidelity might be drawn from real life.

And from this, along with a bit more, come glowing reviews:

“Stewart (The Myth of You and Me) creates a crisis of faith where adult reality collides with youthful dreams, “the people we were and the people…we always thought we should be.” The writing is tactile, elemental, even comical, providing readers with a situation that could so easily be their own. Highly recommended.” —Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal *Starred Review*

“An unflinching look at what happens when one’s identity is shattered, and “what-ifs” and past choices come back to haunt the present. . . . . Stewart’s graceful prose and easy storytelling pull the reader into caring about what happens to the struggling heroine while exploring the many gray areas of life and marriage.” —Publisher’s Weekly

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Husband and Wife for Monday, September 13, 2010. In the meantime, though, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

The recipient of a 2010 NEA Literature Fellowship, Leah teaches in the University of Cincinnati’s creative writing program, and lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children.

And now here’s Leah upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Kids, teaching, music, reading, writing, TV, eating, sleep.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Everything I think of is stupid, so I don’t want to say it. Maybe that’s my motto: Don’t say stupid things.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Enjoying whatever you’re doing at the moment, with no thoughts of your to-do list.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Losing one of my kids.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Without my kids: the cottage on Kauai where my husband and I honeymooned. With my kids: Disneyworld.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’ve always been partial to women who defied whatever the gender norms of the time were. Women who went to war, suffragettes, Jane Austen and George Eliot, Hilary Clinton. I remember really admiring Abigail Adams, way back in elementary school when I read her biography.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: There are so many writers who fit the bill I don’t think I can pick just one. In music: Neko Case. In TV: Joss Whedon.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: In speech: “Does that make sense?” In writing: it.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Singing well. The tragedy of my life is my inability to sing.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Managing to finish a novel three times.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Bossiness.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Well, I think I’m a pretty good writer.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: All the time I wasted before I had kids.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: If I can’t think of an answer, does that mean I’m way too pleased with myself?

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: I talk a lot.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Maybe my most noticeable trait is that I don’t like to give just one answer: Elizabeth Bennett, Dorothea Brooke, Meg Murry, Buffy, Starbuck (the second one), Veronica Mars. I could probably go on.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: So many of the books I read don’t have straight-up villains, I’m thinking of TV again. I’ll go with Angel from BTVS, when he turned evil.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Neither my husband nor my mother can understand this, but I have an almost complete lack of interest in sports. I did watch the Olympics. I could meet Evan Lysacek and say, “Hey, good skating.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Can I list three? Late or sloppy student work, everyone in my family yelling at me at once, use of the word “I” where it should be “me.”

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: When I’m not making up my own world, I’d just as soon be lost in someone else’s, so reading, watching TV, and going to movies. I’ve also become addicted to a dance class called Rhythm & Motion at the Cincinnati Ballet.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Singer!

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Humor, intelligence both intellectual and emotional, reliability.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Chocolate (so predictable!)

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: At this moment:
“Skinny Love” by Bon Iver
“Swim Until You Can’t See Land” by Frightened Rabbit
“Don’t Forget Me” by Neko Case
“Marry Song” by Band of Horses
“L.E.S. Artistes” by Santogold

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson
Eva Moves the Furniture, by Margot Livesey
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

To keep up with talented Leah Stewart, please follow her on Twitter and become a friend on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Katharine Davis’s A Slender Thread in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Katharine Davis and A Slender Thread. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. 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 see if you’re a winner.