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Archive for October, 2010

Best Writing Exercises, Part, III

October 28, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles

In continuing to discover what inspires or motivates our favorite authors/friends to perfect their natural skills, The Divining Wand offers more responses to the question: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

Please also take note that this post welcomes and introduces two new authors, James King and Kristina McMorris!

Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“The two that seem to work best for me are:
Flip through a book and point at one sentence and write it at the top of a page, and then flip through a different book and point at a sentence and write it at the bottom of the page and then have to fill in the space between…connecting the dots.

I do the same sort of thing with a phone book, choosing two names at random and then creating a dialogue between them, forcing myself to give them both lives and realities and imagine what circumstance is putting them in each other’s sphere.”

James King (Bill Warrington’s Last Chance):

“In planning a chapter or a scene, I’ll sometimes write a dialog between the main character and me, the writer. I’ll ask questions like:
– What are you trying to do in these next 15-20 pages?
– What obstacle could get thrown in your way that you don’t think I can write your way out of?
– What new and interesting thing am I going to learn about you… or one of the other major characters?
This exercise helps me get to know my characters better and keeps me focused on moving the story forward in a (hopefully) compelling way.”

Kate Ledger (Remedies)

“My favorite writing exercise–and I use it when I teach students and I recommend it to everyone who writes–is to imagine the contents of the purse or pockets of the characters on the page. You learn so much about them from what they’re carrying around. While I was writing REMEDIES, I imagined that Emily, who’s 47, still carried tampons in her purse but couldn’t wait to be done with that phase of life. Once I’d imagined that detail, I felt like I knew everything about her: what kind of relationship she had with her husband and with her child, how she felt about growing older, how she felt about her life experiences. It turned out that the purse itself got written into the novel. Even though I eventually cut the tampons, they were the portal to everything else I needed to know.”

Kristina McMorris (Letters From Home coming February 22, 2011):

“I can’t say I use any writing exercises, per se, but I do make a habit of chipping away at my manuscripts Monday through Friday, from kid drop-off time to the pick-up hour. Treating it as a normal job, even on days when a root canal sounds more appealing than penning a chapter from scratch, is the way I ensure slow but steady progress toward the next finish line. If I waited for the muse to show up, I might still be on chapter two — of my first book!’

Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me, and Skipping a Beat coming February 22, 2011):

“I think for me the best exercise is practice. Writing and more importantly, re-writing is the best possible way to strengthen those creative muscles. I’m not big on formal writing exercises, but for my third book, I worked hard to plot it out in advance. For The Opposite of Me, I did some very broad plotting. I did more with my second book, Skipping a Beat, and found it was really helpful. So I’ve got out the index cards and am really thinking through book #3!”

To be continued….

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Announcement: The winners of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman are Kristan and Kate Ledger. Congratulations!

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

The Revealing of Chandra Hoffman

October 27, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Debut novelist Chandra Hoffman wrote of what she knew best and, as a result, her book, Chosen, has been captured in this one sentence description:

In the spirit of Jodi Picoult and Anna Quindlen, CHOSEN features a young caseworker increasingly entangled in the lives of the adoptive and birth parents she represents, and who faces life-altering choices when an extortion attempt goes horribly wrong.

Followed by Praise:

“Chandra Hoffman’s CHOSEN is a finely tuned page-turner. With unwavering clarity and genuine empathy born of experience, Hoffman turns the spotlight on her so-real characters, exposing the raw edges of their love and longing and fears. There is no perfect happiness here; instead, there is the unexpected grace of discovering that getting what we want is so often less ideal than wanting what we get. This is an outstanding debut.”__Therese Fowler, author of Reunion and Souvenir

“This riveting debut novel from Chandra Hoffman will keep you on edge until its final glorious pages. Enlightening, terrifying, and big hearted, CHOSEN is a terrific book!”__Ann Hood, bestselling author of THE RED THREAD

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Chosen for Monday, November 8, 2010 but of course, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Since graduating from Cornell University, Chandra has been an orphanage relief worker in Romania, a horse trainer in the Caribbean, a short order cook in a third world hospital, the director of a US adoption program and an event planner for Philadelphia’s Main Line elite.

She has lived in eleven international cities and this wanderlust shaped her writing–in each novel, the setting is its own character, flavoring the story. She prefers to write about everyday scenarios, shining a light on the complexities of situations through the voices of multiple characters. Her debut novel, Chosen, uses the domestic adoption scene of Portland, Oregon as a backdrop to pose the questions “What happens when you get what you thought you wanted?” and “How far would you go if it might not be what you want anymore?”

Chandra received her MFA from Antioch University in 2007. She is now settled back in her hometown outside of Philadelphia with her husband, three young children and an ever-changing menagerie.

Impressive and thought-provoking? Definitely, but now it’s time for even more with Chandra, upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: wife/mom/sister/writer/friend/daughter/runner/nurturer

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Before kids it was “Never say no to an opportunity,” which is why my early adulthood was full of adventures and my resume is full of holes. Now I would say that it’s “One of the best things you can be is flexible.” My kids get tired of hearing that.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: family animals success outdoors

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Losing my husband/kids

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: This isn’t bad, but I’d love to be in GumbaLimba in Roatan with the monkeys and the ziplines and the beach with my family.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I can’t come up with anything for this–I don’t think very well in broad sweeping terms. More anecdotal. Tell me a story about someone and I’ll find our human connection.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: I admire my sister, and her ability to follow rules and instructions and recipes. For people I don’t know personally, I admire the lifestyle, writing and ideals of Barbara Kingsolver.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: I just asked my kids and they said, “Turn that off.” I’m not a big fan of electronic entertainment.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I would like natural athletic ability–I definitely wasn’t born with it. I love sports–running, riding, yoga, field and ice hockey, but none of it comes to me naturally.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Without a doubt, Hayden, Macrae and Piper

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I am 3-5 minutes late for almost everything, and I almost never fold the laundry when it comes out of the dryer.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: My ability to (mostly) keep all the balls in the air.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: My husband’s vasectomy–I would love to have one more baby.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: If I could be an angel, briefly, there are a couple of people on the other side I’d like to see.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Creativity or more overtly, my inability to keep my hands still when I am talking.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: I love TS Garp–when he is running through his neighborhood tracking down speeders.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: The Once-ler

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Antero Niittymaki is an NHL goaltender and I have a teeny tiny fan crush, mostly for the endearing and quirky things he does but if we met, I doubt I’d be much for conversation.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Bad breath and meat on the bone followed closely by baby talk.

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

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I’m really living it. I feel incredibly blessed to be doing what I love. I guess I would like more security, to know that my books would keep finding their way out into the world, preferably with the same publisher and editor, because I have at least four more novels in me.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: flexibility, generosity, wit

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: I would say Nutella but for health, quinoa and roasted kale are pretty tasty and would probably be better at ensuring my longevity.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: All I Want Is You – U2 Protection – Massive Attack La Montana – Gipsy Kings They Say It’s Wonderful – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman King of the Dance Hall – Beenie Man

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
Joy In the Morning – Betty Smith The World According to Garp – John Irving The Lorax – Dr. Suess Bel Canto – Ann Patchett Into The Forest – Jean Hegland

To learn even more about Chandra Hoffman and Chosen, please become a fan on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Beth Hoffman and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. 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.

Guest Kim Stagliano on
Favorite Books: All Treat No Trick

October 26, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Kim Stagliano (All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism) — wife, mother, writer/columnist/blogger/, autism activist, and memoirist — leads a 24/7 life. How does she manage to cope with it all? In today’s guest post, Kim shares her favorite, tried-and-true form of relaxation.]

Favorite Books: All Treat No Trick

Thank you for inviting me to share some thoughts on Divining Wand as we countdown to one of my favorite holidays, Halloween.


As the 31st approaches I’m proud to announce that my 300 piece bag of chocolate candy from Costco is as intact as a virgin on her wedding day, safely “hidden” in my coat closet. (Thinking. Maybe just one piece? No! You’ve made it this far, Kim, don’t DO IT!) OK, the moment has passed. Sure we all love candy. But I might be the only one of us who grew up with a drawer in her kitchen called, “The Candy Drawer.” And my Dad was an orthodontist! We still call it that when we go home to my parents’ house in Massachusetts. And there’s usually a Hershey bar or two in it. For a while anyway. The untouched Costco bag is a big deal. Halloween is one of those holidays for children that adults can enjoy just as much and on the same level – candy, costumes, parties. 


My life can be chaotic. A lot of things haven’t gone quite as I’d planned. My husband and I have three beautiful girls with autism. They are almost 16, 14 and 10 years old, and I love them more than all the Kit Kats in the world. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that our lives get really stressful because of the autism.


One of my coping mechanisms is reading. Thinking about Halloween got me thinking about my favorite books from childhood, and how I still love them and turn to them from time to time for the comfortable feeling of going back in time. My wise parents enrolled me in the Weekly Reader book club in the mid 1970s and saved the books for me.


Those old childhood books have a special way of soothing me when I’m as frazzled as a handful of Twizzlers. Before writing this, I pulled a few of them off the shelf and noticed a bit of a Halloween theme in my old friends. Gus and the Baby Ghost and Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead were favorites. Opening those covers releases a slightly damp smell of well read pages and transports me back to my childhood bedroom with the pastel wallpaper (think Brady Bunch) and the Snoopy bedspread I loved so much. 


And I relax.


The day after Halloween is All Saint’s Day. It also happens to be my launch date for my book www.kimstagliano.com All I Can Handle I’m No Mother Teresa. I didn’t plan that twist of calendar continuity – Mother Teresa, All Saint’s day and “me.” The book is a “Kimoir” and I’m both excited and nervous for how readers will receive it. That’s why you’ll find me on the first with my nose in one of my favorite books, surrounded by empty candy wrappers, hoping the launch is a treat and not a trick.

Note: There’s no need to wait until November 1st, All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism is available now!

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Beth Hoffman and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 27, 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.

Beth Hoffman and
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

October 25, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


On January 12, 2010 Beth Hoffman’s debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, was published and — only twelve days later — the book became a New York Times bestseller. Now one wonders how quickly it will take the Trade Paperback edition, releasing tomorrow (October 26, 2010) to take its place on that list as well.

The book described as, “Exemplifying Southern storytelling at its best…” received the ultimate ★ Starred Review from LIBRARY JOURNAL and endless Raves and Reviews have followed. And they’re all for a simple story that is both wise and profound.

The original idea for the novel came from when Beth, at age nine, visited her Great Aunt in Danville, Kentucky as she told bookreporter.com:

“From the moment of my arrival it was culture shock of the best kind. There I was, a shy little farm girl suddenly in the midst of a world I could have never imagined. I was in awe of the massive old homes, the towering trees, and the lush flower gardens, and I was enthralled by the Southern dialect. 

My great aunt Mildred was an accomplished, highly educated woman, and she was a true Southern lady. I’ve never met anyone more gracious, and I suspect I never will. Everyone was welcome in her home, and she greeted people with a smile that was as warm as it was genuine.

Added to that experience is my fascination with the complexities of mother/daughter relationships, so all those things became seeds for my idea. And I adore eccentric personalities and the architecture of the American South. Each of those elements built the framework of my story.”

Please click the Author Video link to listen to why and visually enjoy how important the sense of place was in defining the story. But, of course, the character of CeeCee was most important and, while outlining the novel, the author suddenly heard Cecelia Honeycutt loud and clear. In fact Beth confirms that she also heard the wise cook/housekeeper:

“Yes, CeeCee told me her story, and I was amazed by how clearly I heard her voice. The same is true for Oletta. In fact, Oletta was so real to me that I wept when I typed THE END. I knew I would miss her terribly. And I do.”

From their personal tales the storyline evolved into the following back-of-the-Hardcover-book synopsis:

Back-of-the-book blurb: Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when disaster strikes, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell who whisks CeeCee away to Savannah’s perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie’s all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

Now read an Excerpt from Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.

As might be expected, there are reviews galore on this bestselling debut, with one blog writer even likening CeeCee to Cinderella. Hmm, if this charming — albeit occasional bittersweet — story feels like a fairy tale at all, then it’s reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Interestingly enough, though CeeCee is a voracious reader, she never once mentions a favorite fairy tale. Perhaps it’s her age or the reality of her life that leads her to read and reread Nancy Drew books for, after all, didn’t Nancy always solve the mysteries(problems) in her world? Also books are CeeCee’s only friends until she’s whisked away and rides by the sign that proclaims: Welcome to Savannah.

The lush, detailed descriptions of her new home, the women who surround her, and the experiences that change her all flow effortlessly through this 12 year old’s voice. Whether heartbreaking or joyous, there is emotional enchantment present on every page as well as more than a few messages/lessons for all of us to learn. As Great Aunt Tootie relates the importance of “Finding your fire” and Miz Goodpepper reflects on the power of Karma, The Divining Wand asked the author which message saved CeeCee? And Beth said:

“I believe all the messages melded together–each one helping CeeCee to heal and be able to move forward. But the one message in particular that CeeCee took to heart was when Oletta said, “’People is wise ’cause they get out in the world and live. Wisdom comes from experience—from knowin’ each day is a gift and accepting it with gladness. You read a whole lot of books, and readin’ sure has made you smart, but ain’t no book in the world gonna make you wise.’”

Beth Hoffman was wise. Wise enough to walk away from her successful interior design business and move forward to her dream of writing a book that echoed what she had heard from her own grandmother and Great Aunt. That power of women’s friendship had impacted her more than she realized and, after four years of writing, she had her novel.

The author insists, “All I wanted to do was write a story with characters that I loved and believed in–characters who, individually and collectively, had something important to give a little girl who had a rough start in life.” In Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth has accomplished that and much more. Refreshingly kind, and enchanting, “CeeCee” offers an open heart to women of all ages. If you have yet to read it, oh please do. And, if you have already read it, consider this edition as a special gift for anyone…..young adult to your grandmother. Because this bestseller is truly THAT good!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt 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, October 27, 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.

Best Writing Exercises, Part II

October 21, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles

Once again, whether it’s to warm-up, jumpstart, or let their imaginations wander, many of our authors/friends use a writing exercise. Being interested in what works for them, The Divining Wand asked: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

The following replies lead off with Eleanor Brown, 2011 Class Member of The Debutante Ball:

Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters coming February 17, 2011):

“I have a few character interviews, gleaned from books and workshops I’ve taken over time that generally prove useful to me, but the most important question in them is asking my characters, “What do you want?” The follow-up is then, “Well, what’s stopping you?”. With those two questions, I generally get a good idea of who the character is at her core and what kind of plot points are going to come along to disrupt her journey.”

Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA coming January 4, 2011, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011):

“One of the best exercises I’ve done is to take a book I really liked and for each chapter made a note with information such as:
– what characters are in this scene
– what is the conflict in the scene
– what happens in the scene/ what is the purpose of this chapter

It is interesting to see how another author structures a book, the choices they make and how that shapes the narrative. This also works if you do it with a book you really hated. It helps me sort out what exactly didn’t work for me.”

Jael McHenry (The Kitchen Daughter coming April 12, 2011):

“At last year’s The Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston, Anita Shreve walked us through a set of exercises that I’ve found very handy ever since. You take a scene you’re not happy with and rewrite it in several different ways. If it’s in the past tense, make it present. If it’s in third person, make it first. If the word choice is flowery and elegant, make it sharp and terse. I find the shift shakes something loose. You may or may not end up with text you can “‘use.'” in the book, but it’s a great way to break a stuck scene open.”

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

“While I’ve not used writing exercises, when I am in the midst of a novel draft, one of the methods that suits me well for starting each day’s writing is to begin each day by smoothing over the previous days work. While I don’t consider this rewriting in any major way, it’s a method for reintegrating myself back into the world of my story and also a minor tool for revision.”

Wendy Tokunaga (Midori By Moonlight, Love in Translation):

“I like to talk out the storyline/plot of my novel-in-progress to a friend, explaining the motivations of the characters and what happens next. I have her ask questions when things don’t make sense or aren’t clear and I find this very helpful. And sometimes she comes up with suggestions I’ve never thought of. And we usually do this while taking a walk so this exercise also involves exercise. :-)”

Also there’s Wendy’s Good News – “I’ve been having a blast teaching an online course for the Writer’s Online Studio at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies called, So Not Chick Lit: Writing Novels About Women’s Lives, which filled up quickly. And I just found out that I’ll be teaching this course again in the Spring Quarter, which starts April 4. Since it’s online anyone anywhere in the world can take this class. If you want to plan ahead, start checking this website early next year:

“And if you’re interested, I did a recent blog post on why Mad Men inspires me as a novelist.”

To be continued….

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Announcement: The winners of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate are Suzanne and Dee. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and I’ll pre-order your book, releasing and shipping on Tuesday .

The Revealing of Kim Stagliano

October 20, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Kim Stagliano is the first Class Member of the 2011 Debutante Ball to debut with her memoir, All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism. Although the official launch day is November 1st, Amazon is selling and shipping the book now.

Here’s a one sentence description….and just a bit more:

How one woman raises three daughters with autism, loses one at Disney World, stays married, has sex, bakes gluten-free, goes broke, and keeps her sense of humor.

“Dr. Spock? Check. Penelope Ann Leach (remember her?)? Check. What to Expect When You’re Expecting? Check. I had a seven hundred dollar Bellini crib for God’s sake! I was perfect. And so was Mia when she was born . . .”

And this praise:

“Incredibly funny. . . A bird’s–eye view into what it’s really like
to love and raise kids with autism.” —Jenny McCarthy, world-renowned autism activist, mother, and bestselling author, in her Foreword

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of All I Can Handle for Monday, November 1, 2010. In the meantime, let’s meet the author who offers a more personal touch to her bio:

Hi, I’m Kim Stagliano, wife, Mom, writer, tired. My husband and I have three gorgeous girls – who have autism. Kind of impossible, considering autism affects boys 4:1 over girls. Mark and I have learned that impossible is often inescapable though. My book is humorous look at a life that has been anything but ordinary or easy – and yet is full of laughter, joy and love.
I promise, you won’t need a Prozac to read it.

I’m Managing Editor of www.ageofautism.com, the nation’s first daily web newspaper about the autism epidemic. I write for The Huffington Post www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-stagliano, The Debutante Ball www.thedebutanteball.com, The Dallas Morning News Moms Blog http://momsblog.dallasnews.com and am on the editorial staff of the Autism File Magazine. I speak at national autism conferences, and have appeared on Good Morning America (with the kids!), ABC News, Fox News, in The Chicago Tribune, The National Catholic Register, and on blogs around the world.

I’m available for both in-person and Skype bookclub appearances and would love to learn about YOUR story.

Mark and I live in CT with Mia, Gianna and Bella.

Impressive, yet the truth is that’s what Kim does. For who she is, it’s time to discover her revealing self:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words
A: Raucous, amorous, unusual, blessed, tumultuous, surprising, content, introspective



Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: I know God will only give me what I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much. (Credit Mother Teresa.)

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A:

I’ve experienced perfect happiness in something as simple as watching one of my girls achieve a simple task, like when Gianna learned to tie her shoes at age 11. If I had a wand of my own, it would be hearing a doctor say, “The girls no longer have autism,” and knowing they would live out their lives independently, especially after their Dad and I are gone.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: See above: Mark and I will leave the girls behind in this cruel world when we die.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: On top of The Eiffel Tower looking at Paris after dark.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Madam Defarge. No, wait, that’s literature. I’d have to say Harriet Beecher Stow, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her biography describes her as, “an absent-minded and moody young lady” (check) and by writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin she took great risk. Plus my roommate in boarding school was her great-great-great niece.



Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: My little brother Richard for the honorable, kind hearted, generous man he became despite my torturing him throughout his childhood.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: 
The clean ones? In my writing I use, “headed” far too often. Everyone heads here and there. A quick find-replace search appalled me. In speaking I say, “right” a lot as a way to affirm I’m listening to someone. I’m pretty sure it’s as annoying as “you know,” to other people’s ears.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?


A: Real or magical? I’d like to become an astute medical intuitive and Reiko master so I could help discern what is going on inside my children, especially my youngest daughter, who is preverbal. I guess that’s both real and magical!

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: I’ve helped a lot of parents in the autism community. I think that kind of service to others is always a person’s greatest achievement.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: My temper. What! You don’t BELIEVE ME??????

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: My sense of humor.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: I regret leaving Doylestown, Pennsylvania in 1999 to move back to Cleveland, Ohio just as Mia and Gianna were getting their diagnosis. We’d have been able to do more for them in Pennsylvania, and I was closer to my family in New England.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d be the head of Health and Human Services to get real autism research and programs in place.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My blue Cookie Monster sized eyes. I look like The Runaway Bride in most photos.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?

A: Joseph Morelli from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries. (By favorite you mean the biggest hunk, yes?)

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?


A: Hannibal Lecter. Lord, I love him. His snark, his wit, his ability to reach down into a character’s soul and pluck the sorest string.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Boomer Esiason. I had a huge crush on him in the late 1980s and met him once at a tradeshow (that puddle on the floor was me.) He has done so much for his son Gunnar and Cystic Fibrosis, and I enjoy him on WFAN radio. I’d say, “Der, blah-blu, er, er, er.” The crush continues.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?

A: The noises people make when they eat. I want to run screaming out of the room. Funny thing is, my kids have difficulty eating and make a boatload of noise. It’s like penance.

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

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A:Cake decorator at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, home of The Cake Boss.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?

A: Tenacity, curiosity, loyalty

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Greek yogurt with hot fudge.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: In no particular order: Beautiful Child by Fleetwood Mac, Two Kinds of Love, by Stevie Nicks, Love Cats (our wedding song) by The Cure, Promised Land by Bruce Springsteen, That’s Amore by Dean Martin.

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

A: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Night by Elie Weisel
The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
Mr. Pudgins by Ruth Christoffer Carlson

Incredibly kind, passionate, and possessing a wit one can only wish for, Kim Stagliano is an author you need to keep up with by following her on Twitter and becoming a friend on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Melissa Senate and The Love Goddess’ Cooking School. 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.

Guest Beth Hoffman on
Women and the Power of Friendship

October 19, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[New York Times bestselling author Beth Hoffman wrote her acclaimed debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (releasing in Trade Paperback October 26, 2010), based, in part, on childhood experiences. In today’s guest post, she proudly admits that everything she needed to know about life she learned in her grandmother’s kitchen.]

Women and The Power of Friendship

The formative years of my childhood were lived on my grandparents’ farm. It was a rural area and there weren’t any kids to play with. I was raised among the easy, unhurried ways of older women. From my garden-loving grandma, to the elderly widow who lived up the road and created hand-made paper dolls, each one made a powerful impression upon me.

I was exposed to the simple yet remarkable words of wisdom that came from interacting with women who had lived through decades that encompassed everything from the unspeakable hardships of the Great Depression to the unexpected joy of learning to drive a car at the age of 72. Those daily observations and interactions gave me a foundation that has held me up ever since. Never have I heard more profound truths than those that were spoken in my grandmother’s big old kitchen during the hot, humid days of canning season.

Then came the day that I entered first grade. From the moment I took my seat in that tiny classroom, I felt uncomfortable and awkward. Who were these squealing little people in lace-topped socks and crisp gingham dresses, and what on earth did I have in common with them? I was so accustomed to interacting with older women that the giggling language of girls my own age left me tongue-tied. It took me a long while to adjust to my classmates, and even after I did, I was always glad to return to my grandmother’s kitchen where, as far as I could tell, things just made a whole lot more sense.

When I left my career in interior design and set out to write a novel, it never occurred to me that I would draw so heavily on the simple but rich experiences I had with my grandmother and her friends. When a little girl named CeeCee arrived in my imagination and her story began to unfold, I knew the gals in my grandmother’s kitchen were precisely the kind of women that CeeCee needed during her summer of healing.

An email was forwarded to me not long ago, and as I read it, I kept nodding in agreement. I have no idea who wrote it, but it sums up so much of what I feel about friendship, and I’d like to share it.

Time passes.
Life happens.
Distance separates.
Love waxes and wanes.
Hearts break.
Careers end.
Parents die.
Colleagues forget favors.
Marriages collapse.

But …

Girlfriends are there no matter how many miles are between them. A girlfriend is never farther away than needing her can reach.

When you walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it for yourself, your girlfriends will be standing on the rim, cheering for you, praying for you, and waiting with open arms at the valley’s end. Sometimes, they’ll even break the rules and walk beside you. Or, they’ll come in and carry you out.

The world wouldn’t be the same without them, and neither would I.

When we began this adventure called womanhood, we had no idea of the incredible happiness and sorrows that lay ahead. Nor did we know how much we would need each other.

Every day, we need each other still.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Melissa Senate and The Love Goddess’ Cooking School. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 20, 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.

Melissa Senate and
The Love Goddess’ Cooking School

October 18, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


From the book’s front cover:
There’s no recipe to
follow when it comes
to love. . . .

Bestselling author Melissa Senate (The Secret of Joy, The Mosts YA, the rest in Bibliography) will have her latest book, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, released next Tuesday, October 26, 2010, and its title alone is certain to categorize it as a romance novel. However, in the author’s guest post — Motherhood, Julia Child, and “please can I have a mouse, rat, hamster or rabbit” made a cook out of me –, Melissa reveals that the idea for the book came from having her 6 year old son cooking (and wishing) beside her. Romantic? Actually this novel can best be described as a multi-generational, universal love story of discovering where one belongs in the world.

Selected as an Indie Next List Notable for November, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School first and foremost explores how deeply one’s past affects their present. Often taken for granted, Melissa explains how much her heritage means to her and the novel:

“A big part of the inspiration for Camilla, Holly’s grandmother, was my own grandmother, who died several years ago. I spent many weekends of my childhood in her tiny Queens, New York, apartment, in the kitchen, where I found she did most of her talking. She didn’t love talking about herself, but I was so interested in her not-so-easy early life on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and her two marriages and I got an earful at the sink while scrubbing potatoes. I have this vivid memory of her funeral, of standing at the grave and holding my then toddler son in my arms, and something about that incredible stretch of generations stuck with me. What can your grandmother’s long life teach you about yourself, teach you want to want to know? How does your grandmother’s and your mother’s life affect who you are, your path? I had a lot of questions and found myself poking at that in all the family relationships in the book.”

As those questions were answered, the tale evolved into the following synopsis:

Camilla’s Cucinotta: Italian Cooking Classes. Fresh take-home pastas & sauces daily. Benvenuti! (Welcome!)

Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.

But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

Also Simon and Schuster offers a taste sampling of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by providing an Excerpt: Chapter 1.

Although the novel may initially feel reminiscent of other chick lit books about a single young woman trying to find Mr. Right, it’s not. Instead — and in addition to the already mentioned issues that comprise the storyline — the romance is adult, mature, and complicated. For example, male characters with a past of failed marriages, divorce and shared parenthood are realistically showcased, juggling what’s best for their daughters as well as for themselves. Yes, here the children come first and that’s very important as Melissa says:

“The relationship between parent and daughter is such a huge part of the book, from Liam’s and Simon’s relationship as single fathers with their young daughters, to Tamara’s relationship as single woman with an overbearing mother, to Holly’s with her mother, and her mother with her grandmother, and Juliet’s with her grief. I’ve found I like to explore the effect of loss and divorce—and I like to write about fathers, single or otherwise, who’d go to the ends of the earth for their kids.”

Yet even caring, sensitive parents cannot protect their children from “mean girls” and bullying that range as far back to affect Holly’s mother. For the author will agree that what the novel is truly about is pressure. No matter what one’s age or whether it’s peer or family pressure, the consequences of pressure need to be confronted and dealt with.

Of course The Love Goddess’ Cooking School is also a most savory read filled with romance, pasta, and chicken alla Milanese. But, while spending months perfecting the recipes for the cooking class scenes, the author thought about what would make Holly feel like she belonged in her own life. Was it her own self-identity or other people’s expectations and acceptance?

With insightful clarity, Melissa found that the answer came down to having enough inner strength to hold one’s own against outside pressure, as she says:

“The character of Camilla, Holly’s grandmother, didn’t belong, and yet she made herself belong whether anyone liked it or not. I wanted to explore that strength. And I wanted Holly to find it for herself. I wanted everyone to find it. Then you get to choose; you get to decide.”

TRUTH: Sign-up for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by pre-ordering or purchasing the book next week Tuesday and you’ll discover the best recipe for life and love is entirely up to the real you.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School 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, October 20, 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 Elise Allen on
Collaboration Celebration: a Summation

October 14, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Elise Allen (Populazzi YA coming August 1, 2011) has written for children’s television and film and is the co-writer of Hilary Duff’s first novel for teens, Elixir, which debuted two days ago — Tuesday, October 12, 2010. Elise believes she’s been part of a writing team for most of her life and, in today’s bonus guest post, the co-author describes the collaborative process.]

Collaboration Celebration: a Summation

A couple months into eighth grade, my best friend slipped me a notebook page filled with two paragraphs of scrawl. The first was all about her dazzlingly romantic life with George Michael. The second detailed my torrid romance with Andrew Ridgeley.

I was furious. George was clearly supposed to be mine. I had no choice but to continue both halves of the story, with George getting a nasty case of amnesia, forgetting all about his marriage to my friend, and falling madly in love with me, while Andrew swept my lovelorn friend off her feet in some completely random way that might have had something to do with an elephant.

A year of back-and-forth chapters later, we had what we firmly believed was a brilliant novel. Or the most ridiculous soap opera ever. Or both. And while it would be a supreme stretch to say that was the beginning of my writing career, it definitely cemented my love of collaborative writing.

There’s a stereotype of the tortured writer sitting alone at her keyboard, ideally in a garret, though a back table at Starbucks will do in a pinch, locked in an eternal struggle with her own demons as she battles to get the perfect words down on the page. While the image does have some truth to it (especially if you throw in several large boxes of breakfast cereal getting crunched down by the handful… though that part might just be me), the truth is the writing process is also incredibly collaborative.

Sometimes that collaboration is constant. When I first started writing sitcoms I worked with a partner, and we literally sat together in front of a single computer hashing out our spec scripts, feeling like Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers in The Dick Van Dyke Show as we bantered back and forth to massage the perfect cap to a three-act runner about peanut butter between George and Elaine. (“Peanut butter” turned out to be the perfect cap. I didn’t say it was a good spec script, just that we had fun writing it.)

When I landed on my first sitcom staff (Cosby — not the America’s Favorite Show you’re thinking of, but the one that came after. It’s okay, no one else watched it either), the collaboration rose to a fevered pitch. Instead of two of us in front of a computer, there were sixteen of us, all screaming out joke and story pitches to improve or completely rewrite a script that would officially be “written by” just one of us. We didn’t mind that; it was part of the process – our job as part of the writing staff. And when it wasn’t completely intimidating (I was 24 years old and pitching along with veterans of The Simpsons, The Larry Sanders Show, and the co-writer of Blazing Saddles), it was insanely fun.

That of course was TV. Novel writing, I imagined, would be back in the garret with the decaf grande nonfat lattes.

Not so much.

I did go through a ton of decaf grande nonfat lattes, but I got to drink them side by side with Hilary Duff as I worked with her on her debut novel, Elixir. That was a process I loved. Once again, I got to experience the electricity of hands-on collaboration. It was like being back with my first writing partner – Hilary and I would sit at our laptops and agonize into the wee hours over manuscript sections that weren’t working… and the heady rush when we finally figured them out was beyond exhilarating.

It was also thrilling to work with someone so passionate about the final product. We’d have absurdly deep discussions about whether a sentence should start with “yet” or “but.” We’d laugh at ourselves for doing it, but (yet) at the same time it felt great to know we both cared so much about what ended up on the page.

Direct collaborations like that are fantastic, but none of the writing I’ve done has been in a vacuum. I’ve written a lot of freelance TV and DVD features, and they always involve notes from producers, head writers, network executives… all kinds of people. And most of the time the notes are terrific, shining new light on a story. My own debut novel, Populazzi, would be nowhere near as honest, rich, and layered without the wonderfully piercing notes of my editor Samantha McFerrin. She pushed me out of my comfort zone, and helped me get the book to a place I never would have found without her incredible insight.

To me, collaboration not only makes writing more fun, it also makes the end result a million times better. Sharing what I’ve written, and letting input from people I respect push me to hone and improve it, is among my favorite parts of the process. And since that extends to blogging, this piece won’t really be finished until your thoughts are included too.

Do you love to collaborate? In what ways? What collaborations have been most successful for you? If you’re working solo, at what points do you share your work with others? When you do, do you always go to the same core group of people, or does it depend on the particular project?

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts!

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Announcement: The winners of Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine are Stacey W and Ann. Congratulations!

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

The Revealing of Beth Hoffman

October 13, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

When Beth Hoffman debuted in early January of this year with Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, it’s wondered how many knew the book would become a New York Times bestseller? But indeed it did and for those who missed it in Hardcover, the more affordable, easy-to-carry Trade Paperback edition releases on October 26, 2010.

Here’s a one sentence description of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt:

Steel Magnolias meets The Help in this Southern debut novel sparkling with humor, heart, and feminine wisdom.

Followed by endless, glowing Reviews, including:

“Exemplifying Southern storytelling at its best…”
★ Starred Review — LIBRARY JOURNAL

“This is one of those books that has that “it” factor…Saving CeeCee Honeycutt has all the components necessary to hit the bestseller list right out of the gate, become a book club favorite and the first novel everybody will be talking about in 2010. It’s simply the best book with which to start a new year.”—BOOKREPORTER

“A debut of uncommon grace that beautifully illuminates the power of female friendships, it will have you laughing out loud…and leave a satisfying lump in your throat.”—BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

To celebrate its paperback release, The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt for Monday, October 25, 2010. However, in the meantime, let’s meet this bestselling debut author through her “official” bio:

Beth Hoffman was the president and owner of a major interior design studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, before turning to writing full time. She lives with her husband and two cats in a quaint historic district in Newport, Kentucky. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is her first novel.

And now it’s time to get to know Beth, upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Holding the dream with open and grateful hands.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: My old standby is “Carpe Diem”

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: To live in a world where people and animals were never abused or abandoned.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: That humanity is going in the wrong direction.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Where I am, at home writing.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Joy Adamson.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: My girlfriend, Marlane.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: I don’t think I have any.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Tap dancing.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Rescuing animals from abuse and abandonment, and writing a novel that became a New York Times bestseller.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I’m somewhat reclusive

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I think I’m kind and generous.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not spending more time with my parents before they passed away.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d be me. It took so long to find myself that I don’t want to let “me” go.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: It’s a toss-up—quick to smile or my ponytail.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Stuart Little.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Darth Vader

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I’m not into sports at all so I couldn’t begin to answer.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: People who are cruel and dishonest.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading or working in the garden

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: What I’m doing—writing novels.

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

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

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: 1. The many songs of nature, particularly those of red-winged blackbirds and chickadees.
2. “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas
3. “Canned Goods” by Greg Brown
4. “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
5. “And I am Telling You” by Jennifer Holiday

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds, Roxanna Slade by Reynolds Price, Illusions by Richard Bach, and The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy

What’s next for this talented and successful author? To keep updated, follow Beth Hoffman on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Richard Hine’s Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Richard Hine and Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch. 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.