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Archive for November, 2010

Guest Alice Eve Cohen on
The Occupational Hazard of Memoir Writing

November 30, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Alice Eve Cohen is a memoirist, solo theater artist, and playwright. Her memoir, What I Thought I Knew (Penguin), won Elle Magazine’s Grand Prix for Nonfiction, and Oprah Magazine’s 25 Best Books of Summer. She teaches at The New School in New York City. And, in today’s guest post, Alice shares what is probably the most difficult part in writing about one’s life.]

THE OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD OF MEMOIR WRITING

STEP ONE:
Write your memoir…

STEP TWO:
Confess to your husband or __________ (fill in the blank: wife, lover, doctor, parent, child, yogi, ex-boyfriend, masseur, etc, etc, etc) that you’ve just written a book about the most personal experience you’ve ever had together, and that you hope to share it with the whole wide world.

This is the most dangerous occupational hazard of writing memoir, and it must be approached delicately…as follows:

STEP 2A: FIND THE PERFECT MOMENT
I waited a long time for the right moment to tell my husband about my book. The kids were at summer camp, and Michael and I were enjoying a rare, just-the-two-of-us vacation in Maine. The perfect moment finally arrived: A romantic evening, a glass of wine at the hotel restaurant, overlooking the moonlit bay:

“Michael, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Maybe that wasn’t the best opening line. Michael’s look of adoration morphed to defensiveness, as he waited for me to continue.

“For the past year, I’ve been writing a book… about us…about our terrifying year.”

Long pause.

“You did what?! You wrote a book about our incredibly personal, and—I assumed, until now, private—family experience? I feel completely exposed!”

He slammed the wine glass on the table and walked out of the restaurant.

That didn’t go so well.

I understood why Michael felt exposed. What I Thought I Knew (Penguin, 2009) is a memoir about my unexpected and terrifyingly pregnancy at the age of 44, fourteen years after being told I was infertile, a year before Michael and I were married. During an emergency CAT scan for an abdominal tumor, I discovered I was six months pregnant. Pretty personal stuff.

I sat at the table, wondering how I’d managed to wreck the closest moment we’d shared in years. Finally, I paid for the wine and went up to our hotel room.

“It’s not just that I feel exposed,” said Michael, as soon as I opened the door. “I feel usurped! Until tonight, I thought this was our family’s story. It’s no longer ours. It’s your story. My experience—the most difficult and the most important experience of my life—which I used to think was as important as yours, will be irrelevant.”

That didn’t go well either, but I knew that once he read it, he’d understand that at the heart of this book about our family crisis was a love letter to my family.

STEP 2B: GET HIM/HER TO READ YOUR BOOK
I finished the first full draft of my book that September, and asked Michael if he’d read it.

“Put a copy on my desk.”

The manuscript sat on Michael’s desk, untouched, all fall. I replaced it every few weeks with a new draft.

“Please read it,” I implored him, when I signed with an agent in January.

“Put a copy on my desk.”

“Michael, it’s been on your desk for five months!”

Two weeks later, my agent had lined up several interested publishers, and scheduled an auction date.

“Michael, you have to read it! This is your last chance to vet the book. I can change anything you want me to, but not after it’s sold.”

The next morning, Michael climbed sleepily into bed, as I was getting up.

“I read your book overnight, Alice. Good job.” He closed his eyes.

“Good job? Wait, don’t go to sleep yet.”

“Okay, okay,” he yawned. “I have to admit, it wasn’t as hard to read as I thought it would be. But… I come across as really bland! You made me this boring, saintly guy. I think I’m a lot more interesting than I sound in your book. I’m really tired. I have to sleep.”

With Michael’s help, and with Viking’s blessings, I added his imperfections. Ultimately, Michael became very supportive of the book, though in some ways we’re still dealing with the aftershock of our very personal story becoming so public. From time to time, he gently suggests I might have more fun writing fiction.

Despite the occupational hazards, I continue to write memoirs. In fact, I’m now in the middle of writing a new memoir. I just have to find the perfect moment to tell Michael about it.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Ann Wertz Garvin’s On Maggie’s Watch in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Ann Wertz Garvin and On Maggie’s Watch. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Ann Wertz Garvin and On Maggie’s Watch

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

After reading The Revealing of Ann Wertz Garvin, and the guest post, Private Parts, it would be safe to expect the unexpected from Ann Wertz Garvin and her debut novel On Maggie’s Watch.

Of course, for this author, the unexpected is a very good thing as Ann confesses: “Writers are observers and I’m the noisiest observer there ever was.”

Noisy? Actually it’s being curious and having the zest for life to explore all types of interests. For example: Ann’s background is in science with a masters in exercise physiology and a PhD in exercise psychology but in between the academics she did theater, backpacked through Europe (twice), swam in Jamaica, Greece, Hawaii, Kuai, and ate her way through Egypt. And being a full professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater — where she teaches courses on nutrition and stress management — did not stop her from writing fiction, let alone successfully managing the journey to publication.

Ann is uniquely charming and disarming. Please meet her through this video introduction:

(If the video isn’t visible on your monitor, please view the video here.)

The inspiration for the novel came from the author’s chilling experience of watching a SWAT team arrest a world-class sex offender living in her neighborhood. That’s when she began thinking what if he had lived next door to her? What would she have done and what of the aftermath:

“I would have been so disappointed at my inability to sense or ferret out baddies and would have struggled with the knowledge that this kind of evil walks amongst us. What would/should I do with my fears?

But there are these websites that exist essentially to say…’here are the bad guys in your town. Keep away from these houses and you’ll be fine.’ So now we have this false sense of control and security. Although the websites help…it’s the dangers that can’t be seen that tend to do us in. Often on these websites they “‘offenders'” exist on a continuum. Some are sex offenders in the most terrible of senses and then there is the guy who just slapped the wrong woman’s ass. I wanted to explore the craziness in all of us when we don’t have all the information we need.”

Add Maggie — an 8 1/2 month pregnant woman on high alert for safety — and the storyline evolved into On Maggie’s Watch and this synopsis:

To Do:

Set up Crib
Carve Zucchini Boats
Fight Crime

Maggie Finley has just returned to her beloved Wisconsin hometown, quirky best friend, and eccentric mother. Life should be good, but her marriage to Martin is suffering under the strain of a recent family tragedy and Maggie’s feeling pressed for time. Before the birth of her baby she has to figure out how to fit her high-anxiety-self into a low-anxiety-life.

True to her can do attitude, Maggie hires a compelling handy-man, resurrects a defunct Neighborhood Watch and inadvertently discovers a potential threat to her house and home living just around the corner. Choosing to investigate, despite her best friend’s advice to keep her nose out of it…and despite the risk, Maggie sets her sites on discovering the stranger’s secret. As the mystery of the neighbor’s identity draws Maggie irresistibly in, her ordered life starts to unravel in surprising and hilarious ways.

Unexpectedly compelling and sparkling with wit and intelligence, this debut novel chronicles one woman’s quest for control over her surroundings, and the secrets and surprises that lie hidden in an ordinary suburban landscape.

Having read a bit about the book, let Ann tell you more in this video:


(If the video isn’t visible on your monitor, please view the video here.

Also here’s a preview of the novel with Chapter One.

Indeed there’s much more than presiding over a Neighborhood Watch group for Maggie. With the storyline dealing with the pressure of loss in a marriage, deep affection between friends, and an almost consuming desire to control everything in order to keep those we love safe, the author’s goal was to write about humanity and history then marry them with control and fear. As Ann says;

“People are complex, and happily these themes combine and intertwine until you get judgment. Whenever I judge I know it is about me not “‘them.'” I also know, when I judge something I’m going to get a snoot full of whatever I’m judging so I better just stop it. I’m interested in showing how judgement and fear are partnered.”

Or, in other words, what the consequences can be by jumping to conclusions and critical misconceptions. Maggie appears to be an expert at doing both and one might excuse her antics, dismissing them as an imbalance of hormones due to her pregnancy. Yet the author doesn’t take this easy way out because she created Maggie as “a regular person with regular fears and an over-the-top reaction” just as many would have when confronting their own fears.

Instead Maggie’s pregnancy is cause for another fear — a believable one from her past history. And believability is the true beauty of this book’s writing. The humor, the poignancy, the sweetness and the bittersweet have been measured out in just the right amounts to easily provide readers’ with “Aha” personal moments. For that reason alone On Maggie’s Watch is a novel to savor. Please, don’t take it lightly or gulp it down in one sitting. Because, if you do, Ann Wertz Garvin’s message might be missed:

“Listen to the people who love you. You hired those people as a friend for their unique qualifications to tell you when you are not acting like the people they love (for the reasons they love you). Our friends have a bird’s eye view of us; when we get focused in ways that are not good for us, or humanity, it is our friends’ job to pull our heads from our collective asses and get us off our Sit and Spin.”

The Divining Wand’s message: Get yourself up and out to a bookstore as soon as possible!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Ann Wertz Garvin’s On Maggie’s Watch 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, December 1, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Site Info

Wishing you all a warm, loving, and safe holiday. . . .a time to savor.

And, if you have yet to do so, please take a look at the BEST GIFT EVER!

The Revealing of Alice Eve Cohen

November 24, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

In July, 2009, playwright and theater artist Alice Eve Cohen added author to her roles when What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir was published. Now, out in trade paperback, the memoir is described in the following sentence:

In her unflinchingly honest and ruefully witty voice, Alice nimbly carries us through her metamorphosis from a woman who has come to terms with infertility to one who struggles to love a heartbeat found in her womb – six months into a high-risk pregnancy.

And then there’s the Praise — from Oprah to The New York Times — for What I Thought I Knew:

“Her darkly hilarious memoir is an unexpected bundle of joy.” O, the Oprah Magazine

“About what happens when crisis or change in fortune upends what someone thinks she knows about herself, or about how life works … Her memoir, which is shot through with humor, touches on … the stormy mix of ambivalence and love that many women bring to motherhood.” —The New York Times

“A gripping story about one of the most wrenching decisions a woman can make.” —People

“Gripping and deeply moving.” —Elle

“I could not put this book down. I got to the last pages, and I had tears in my eyes. It is a remarkable story.” –Harry Smith, CBS, The Early Show

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir for Monday, December 6, 2010, but, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Alice Eve Cohen is a solo theatre artist, playwright, and memoirist. Her memoir, What I Thought I Knew (Viking /​ Penguin, 2009) won the Elle’s Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Nonfiction, it was selected as one of Oprah Magazine’s 25 Best Books of Summer, and has been optioned for a television movie by Lifetime. She has written for Nickelodeon, PBS, and CBS. Her plays have been presented at theatres throughout the country, and she has toured her solo theatre works internationally. Her writing about arts in education has been published in nine languages. The recipient of fellowships and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, she holds a BA from Princeton University and an MFA from The New School. She teaches at The New School in New York City.

Now how thoroughly impressive is that? Still, since that only lists what the author does, it’s time to discover who Alice Eve Cohen is — upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Freelance writer, performer, mom, liberal, Jewish, nature-loving city-dweller.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: I don’t have one, but I love this quote: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” – Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali poet, Nobel Prize-winner)

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Such stuff as dreams are made on.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Death

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Costa Rica, hiking in the rain forest, surrounded by wildlife

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Louisa May Alcott

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Barack Obama

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: The F-word, and “um.”

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: May I have two, please? Playing piano (classical and jazz) and playing tennis…both brilliantly!

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Raising my two daughters to be thoughtful, generous and happy.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A:I worry too much.

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

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Nothing.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: Me.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My sense of humor.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Wilbur, in Charlotte’s Web

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Humbert Humbert, in Lolita

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: If I could meet the first marathoner, in ancient Greece, at the beginning of his run, I’d suggest, “You might want to slow down just a bit.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Materialistic greed.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Teaching – I love my college students!

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I’d like to be Jon Stewart. I don’t simply want to host The Daily Show. I want to be Jon Stewart.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, generosity, humor

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

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Changes daily, but here are 5 of my favorites:
“Blackbird” and “Because” by the Beatles—both so brilliant!
“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. When my high school boyfriend sang it, he sounded just like James Taylor, and when he broke up with me, I played it over and over and cried every time. Still makes me cry. Great song.
“Con Los Años Que Me Quedan” by Gloria Estefan. My husband and I danced to it at our wedding, and whenever it comes on, we dance in the living room together.
Every song from West Side Story. I grew up going to Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, and I’ve always loved his music.

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: It’s impossible to choose just five! I love each of these books, because reading them is a transformative experience, and because each one, in its own way, is mind-blowing and perfect.
• Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
• The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
• The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
• Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
• Angels in America, Part I, by Tony Kuschner
• The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
• Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt

Also there’s the bonus revelation that yesterday was Alice’s birthday and The Divining Wand wishes her a Happy New Year! To learn even more about this multi-talented author, please become a friend/fan on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

* * * * *

Announcement: The winner of Bill Warrington’s Last Chance by James King is Michelle. Congratulations!

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

Guest Ann Wertz Garvin on Private Parts

November 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[In Best Writing Exercises, Part V, Ann Wertz Garvin (On Maggie’s Watch) explains: “I like to take a phrase that strikes me as interesting or funny–something I’ve seen on a bumper sticker or heard in conversation–and figure out what is funny about it and what it relates to.” In today’s guest post, the author does just that and more.]

Private Parts

My writer’s notebook in my satin evening bag sits untouched. I stand apart from the polished, pore less, people murmuring about soccer schedules and the Indian summer we’re having. I try to join in, talk about my dress-a vintage number I thought was amazing in the store. I drink coffee to stay alert. I scan clusters of people looking for my husband. Instead, I spot a woman. This is the woman that biologists envision when classifying higher life forms and the kind high school seniors rank for Prom queen candidates (which by the way is essentially the same system but the high-schoolers labels are meaner more memorable. No mnemonics needed). She is a queen bee. She’s the slender taper on the top of a grand piano. And, lovely though she is, the lacquer that covers the classified documents that make her real, leave me nothing to talk with her about.

Earlier in the day at gate 46 in Chicago International Airport I was filled with unasked, almost irresistible questions for conversation as I watched people fumble for their boarding passes and spill lattes on their white shirts. I wanted to know what the man with the crazy-ass western boots founds so fascinating in the proceedings of the International Conference on Zebra Fish. I was dying to ask, “What’s up?” to the six very reasonable-looking women seated together wearing matching Lobstas & Beeya’s t-shirts under their practical Eddie Bauer wind breakers. Six of them. Then there was the cuddling couple with the matching spiked purple hair. I wanted to know where they met, how long they’d been together and if their song was from this era or maybe an eighties favorite. Morning Train by Sheena Eastan, perhaps.

I’d actually moved closer to a mother/daughter pair so I could eavesdrop, hoping to engage the mother in a conversation about the book she was reading. The little girl was fidgeting and pulling at her flower legging’s

“Hon,” her mother said, “Is your pocket book bothering you?”

The daughter distracted by her pants, but eager to answer her mother correctly said, “My what?”

Her mother widened her eyes meaningfully, “Your pocket book. Remember our code word?”

The sunshine of memory streaked across the child’s face and she said, loudly, “Oh! My Vagina. No my Vagina doesn’t hurt it just doesn’t smell good.”

To her enormous credit her mother said with considerable dignity, “Good to know.” Breathing deeply she said, “Maybe next time we talk about our privates a little quieter.”

With the innocence of the ages and eyes as large as Oreo cookies (probably parroting an earlier conversation) she said “Why mama? There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I like private parts.”

When the mother asked me to watch their luggage as they hurried to the rest room, I was thrilled. I got to be part of their world and guard both a Hello Kitty back pack and a book totally devoted to the microcosm of E. Coli. I took out my writer’s notebook and recorded these nuts like a squirrel’s ransom.

I’m recalling this moment, while having my own bathroom moment at the beautiful Overture Center, where I am wondering how wearing terrifically uncomfortable shoes can possibly help cancer, when I hear,

“No fricken’ way.”

I move from my overstuffed lounge chair to find The Queen Bee standing at the sink staring in horror in the mirror. She has paper towels under each arm pit and one shoved in the bodice of her strapless gown. She is holding her wrists under running water and is wearily pressing her forehead to the cool tile wall.

“Can I help you, “I say both alarmed and I confess delighted. My God, I think, something to do!

“Two words,” she says. “Early menopause.”

“No way,” I say impressed by my eloquence. My chameleon like ability to say just the right thing at just the right time (inward eye roll).

“Way,” she says. “And in like three minutes I’m going to be cold, damp, and exhausted as a whore after her first trick of the night.

“Rock on,” I say. Again thinking, Jesus Christ, Ann. Get your head out of your ass. Recovering slightly I say, “What can I do?”

Just then she gives me a long look and says, “Nice dress.” Wiping the mascara from under her eyes she smiles, “You wanna get some drinks and just hang awhile? You can tell me why you’re hiding out in the bathroom.” Then she said, “I don’t understand a humanitarian event where you can’t see the humans for the spray tan.”

So we sat on the beige damask chairs. She told me why she hated her husband and how sick she was of shaving her legs. She asked me who did my eyebrows and what I did to keep things sexy in the bed room.

“You don’t have to answer that.” She said, “That’s exactly the kind of thing my husband shushes me for.” The tip of her nose turned red and she pressed a pretty finger to a weeping tear duct.

I touched her shoulder and said, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, I like private parts.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of James King’s Bill Warrington’s Last Chance in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, James King and Bill Warrington’s Last Chance. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. Because of the shortened holiday week the deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.

James King and Bill Warrington’s Last Chance

November 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Although his journey to publication took more than 30 years, James King reached his destination — not only by becoming an Amazon Breakthrough Winner — but by writing his debut novel Bill Warrington’s Last Chance about the journey of life.

The author, a corporate communications writer by day and aspiring novelist by night, had three unpublished novels in his desk drawer when he was inspired to write the character of Bill Warrington based on a neighbor/friend who had passed away ten years earlier. As James says:

“He was a nice man, but in a gruff, New England-Yankee sort of way. My wife and I had just moved into our house two weeks after his wife of some fifty years had died. And over the years, the house that he had built for her started to fall apart around him. He wanted no help. In fact, when I complained to him that he should let me help him, let me be a good neighbor, he said, “’You are a good neighbor; you mind your own damned business.’”

What a great character with a lifetime of experiences but what does the author do with such a solitary man? The genius idea of pairing a failing grandfather with his “dreaming big dreams” granddaughter fell into place when, according to James, “April showed up one day, knocked on the creative block I was dealing with at the time, and demanded to be put into the story. I have no idea where she came from, but I’m grateful she came around.”

And the storyline evolved into the novel and this synopsis:

With a new diagnosis that threatens his mind and most cherished memories, Bill Warrington is determined to patch up his differences with his three children before it’s too late. But when all three grown siblings greet Bill’s overtures with wary indifference, he improvises a scheme to skip town with his fifteen-year-old granddaughter, April, whose twin ambitions to learn how to drive and to find rock stardom on the West Coast make her his perfect–and perfectly willing–abductee. But Bill’s plan soon veers dangerously off course, leaving April behind the wheel of his beloved Chevy Impala, dealing with situations no fifteen-year-old should face. A rich multigenerational saga, Bill Warrington’s Last Chance soars with humor, compassion, and unflinching insight into the pain and joy of all family life, while the promise of a new generation shines bright against the ravages of aging in a man who does not go gently… anywhere.

No Bill Warrington does not go gently at all as this video shows:

And the critics agree:

“The spirited interplay between the gruff but wounded Bill and the perhaps too precocious April provides the most sensitive scenes in this enjoyable first novel.” Publisher’s Weekly

“A moving tale.” People Magazine. Selected as a “Great Read.”

“Part road odyssey, part coming-of-age tale, King’s novel achieves the exact right balance of humor, redemption, and reconciliation.” Deborah Donovan, Booklist

In a beautifully written tale of reality James King explores the universal themes of grief and forgiveness, aging and death, the desire for freedom and the need for connection. A story literally for all ages, the author has provided characters — young, middle age, and elderly — who have yet to learn life’s lessons and continue holding on to their errant behavior until, as in Bill’s case, it’s almost too late.

Yes the characters are flawed but not unlikeable. They have their issues as well as redeeming qualities to which almost every reader can relate. And, in addition to the drama, there is the humor for Bill Warrington does not go gently.

Although Alzheimer’s is implied, it’s also never stated that Bill has been diagnosed with the disease. In fact he rationalizes his forgetfulness during his lucid moments and hours of storytelling. Still, when the author places the reader in Bill’s mind as his memory fades in and out, the experience feels remarkably accurate. So much so that The Divining Wand asked James to explain how he managed to create the believable mental confusion? And he replied:

“I’m not sure I can. My research into dementia was limited primarily to its symptoms. Beyond that, I just put myself in Bill’s shoes and tried to imagine what it was like, for example, to reach for a doorknob and suddenly realize that you have no idea where you are, or who or what is on the other side of that door.”

A frightening, sad thought yet even more disturbing might be the disconnection from family and friends. How ironic is it that we now live in a world where there are phone companies and Internet providers that offer friends and family plans to keep us electronically connected 24/7, yet an in-person smile or nod of understanding is probably what’s needed?

And how appropriate is it that Bill Warrington’s Last Chance is being presented/reviewed during Thanksgiving week? This novel provides hope and possibly even encouragement to reconnect with family members. In fact, since the novel’s debut in late August, James King has been flattered to receive a number of emails and letters from readers who have said that the story has not only “struck home,” but has also reminded them of what’s important in life.

This is truly a good book, a wonderful read, and a lovely gift. Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of James King’s Bill Warrington’s Last Chance in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. Because of the shortened holiday week the deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Wednesday’s post. If you enter, please return Wednesday to see if you’re a winner.

Best Writing Exercises, Part V

November 18, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Q&A

In The Divining Wand’s seemingly never-ending pursuit to discover how our favorite authors/friends perfect their natural skills, they were asked: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

This week’s responses suggest that less is best. Also please welcome another new author, Meg Mitchell Moore!

Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt):

“None, really.”

Karen McQuestion (A Scattered Life, Easily Amused, and Celia and the Fairies for ages 7 – 11):

“I tend to be anti-writing exercises, not on principle, just for me personally. I never understood the benefit of doing “‘Morning Pages'” or “‘Character Work,'” or whatever. I just write and write and then write some more. I add things in and take things out, and somehow it all takes shape and becomes a novel. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”

Meg Mitchell Moore (The Arrivals coming May 25, 2011):

“I haven’t used a lot of writing exercises, though I’m always wondering if I should. The best piece of advice I heard recently was to set a timer and commit to sitting and writing for a certain amount of time without getting up, checking email, checking twitter, snacking, etc. It’s amazing how many words you can get down in just 30 or 40 minutes if you commit to absolute concentration. I use that trick when I can feel my attention wandering.”

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“I don’t really use exercises, but I tend to write and write and write excess background, excess scenes, stuff that I know will fall on the cutting room floor. This helps me know my characters better. I also try to rewrite scenes from another character’s perspective if something doesn’t feel right.”

Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined):

“I don’t have a good answer for this one, I’m afraid! I’m not one to use prompts and exercises. Nothing wrong with them, I just tend not to use them. I tend to just put my head down and plow through the current manuscript.”

Kim Stagliano (All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism):

“Ignore the clock. Ignore the Internet. Move to a quiet room. And just keep typing.”

Emily Winslow (The Whole World):

“I have a confession: I don’t like exercises. I only get excited about writing words that are part of a larger project.”

To be continued…..

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Announcement: The winner of The Thieves of Darkness by Richard Doetsch is Jody. Congratulations!

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

The Revealing of Ann Wertz Garvin

November 17, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Ann Wertz Garvin made her debut only two weeks ago with On Maggie’s Watch, a novel described in this one sentence:

Unexpectedly compelling and sparkling with wit and intelligence, this debut novel chronicles one woman’s quest for control over her surroundings, and the secrets and surprises that lie hidden in an ordinary suburban landscape.

And bestowed with this praise:

“On Maggie’s Watch shows how we thrive, how we go on, in a life that’s neither perfect nor fair. Ann Wertz Garvin writes with humor and compassion so well; just when I’d feel about to cry the scene would twist and I’d laugh out loud. She has such deep understanding for her flawed and trying-to-get better characters; she obviously loves them, and so do we.”
—Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author of The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of On Maggie’s Watch for Monday, November 29, 2010 but, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Ann Wertz Garvin is a full professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, where she teaches courses on nutrition and stress management. This is her first novel.

Interesting background? Indeed. Yet Ann is so much more than that and it’s time to get to know her, upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: That place between too little and too much

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Thank you for having me. I had a nice time.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: My life right now, with slightly better abs (ok-totally better abs)

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Disabling illness (losing my children is really number one but I can’t even think about that)

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: It’s not where you are it’s who your with, then you could be anywhere and be exactly in the right place.
….but Greece is nice too.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Erma Bombeck (I know there are better answers like Eleanor Roosevelt or Jane Austin but I’m going for something not completely self-aggrandizing)

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Nora Ephron

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: No offense (because it’s funny–if you say no offense you know offense is coming)-plus I swear too much.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d like to be a triple threat on Broadway (sing, act, dance)

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Writing fiction, hands down.

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

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Sense of Humor

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not realizing my value earlier in life.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d like to be a dog or a man for an hour. But only an hour and then I want a hot bath. (no offense)

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My crazy, curly hair

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

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Pepe LePew (he’s a lover not a fighter)

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Dara Torres

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Small talk

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

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Teaching and writing but in cooler clothes, a better memory, and kick ass shoes

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness
Sense of Humor
Adaptability

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Cheese (I know, really? But, yeah…it’s cheese)

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
Build Me Up Buttercup-The foundations
You’re the First, the Last, My Everything – Barry White
Hard Candy – Counting Crows
Brown Eye’d Girl – Van Morrison

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The Deep End of the Ocean – Jacquelyn Mitchard
The Short History of a Prince – Jane Hamilton
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital – Lorrie Moore
Olive Kitteridge-Elizabeth Strout

Delightful, charming, and totally unique, Ann Wertz Garvin is definitely a new author to follow on Twitter and become a friend on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Richard Doetsch’s The Thieves of Darkness in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Richard Doetsch and The Thieves of Darkness. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST 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 James King on
How to Talk to a Debut Novelist

November 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[After a journey to publication that took over 30 years, James King finally saw his first novel, Bill Warrington’s Last Chance, on bookstore shelves in late August. It’s a proud, personal success and, in today’s guest post, he explains what a debut novelist appreciates most from family, friends, and (potential) readers.]

How to Talk to a Debut Novelist

First-time novelists tend to be a sensitive sort. Getting published is often a lifetime dream come true, realized after years of solitary work and spirit-sapping rejection. This is why, once the book has finally been accepted, published, and released, any event even remotely related to the recently published (if yet unrecognized) work of art tends to bring out some of our more subtle personality quirks. A good review, for example, will send us on a fist-pumping, chest-thumping, air-kiss-throwing dance around the house as we begin composing the Nobel acceptance speech in our heads. On the other hand, anything less than five stars may send us into a self-doubting, self-loathing funk from which we may never emerge without the help of supportive family, friends, and several gallons of Ben & Jerry’s Triple Chocolate Brownie Fudge Supreme.

God help you if you live with one of these volatile souls. But even talking with one can be a tricky proposition. In the spirit of greater understanding and personal safety, please allow me to offer the following tips on surviving a conversation with a debut novelist:

DO fawn. You know that commercial for an anti-flatulent where a young, bespeckled woman touches the wrist of the product spokeswoman and says, adoringly, “I love your work”? Go for that. And don’t stop when the first-time novelist pretends to humbly brush off your admiration. That dismissive wave is actually a signal for more. Word helper: insightful, delightful, compelling, unique, brilliant.

DON’T ask about Oprah. It’s not enough to finally get a book published? You have to remind the writer of the incredible odds against reaching Ultimate Oz? Sheesh. Besides, most writers hate to self-promote—it’s too close to begging. (Note to Ms. Winfrey: Please oh please oh please?! I promise not to jump up and down on your couch.)

DO ask about the writing life. This gives us the opportunity to don our proverbial smoking jackets, adjust our spectacles thoughtfully, and wax poetic on the creative impulse, the writing imperative, the muses, and other non-commercial topics only writers truly understand.

DON’T ask about sales. This is likely to be perceived as a thinly veiled attempt to find out how much money, if any, we’re making from the book. So don’t be surprised if the answer to this question is a question right back about your own financial situation: salary, earnings, investable assets, etc. (On second thought, probably not: You may actually be able to actually answer those questions, whereas most writers can’t.)

DO say you can’t wait to read the book if you haven’t yet done so. We know that you have a job, family, and other responsibilities. We’ll nod understandingly and express our hope that you enjoy the book.

DON’T say you haven’t had time to read the book. We’ll squint at you and wonder about your ability to get your priorities in order. No time to enrich your mind via deathless prose? Phooey.

DO express admiration over anyone’s ability to write a book. This demonstrates your understanding of the pain and suffering, not to mention draining self-absorption, it takes to get a novel published.

DON’T say you’re thinking of writing a book someday. To a writer, this is like saying to a doctor, “You know, I’ve been thinking of taking up brain surgery one of these days…” You may get a smile, but the explicative-deleted text in the thought-bubble over the writer’s head would make Richard Nixon blush.

So there you have it: quick and easy tips for survivng that next conversation with the world’s most fragile ego. But if you get stuck, just remember one of my favorite New Yorker magazine cartoons. It shows a frazzled writer handing a thick, just-finished manuscript to his apparently nervous wife. “Here it is, my novel,” he says. “I look forward to your compliments.”

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Richard Doetsch’s The Thieves of Darkness in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Richard Doetsch and The Thieves of Darkness. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Richard Doetsch and
The Thieves of Darkness

November 15, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Well before gaining recognition for his clever, backward tale of The 13th Hour, Richard Doetsch had established a reputation for inspired writing with The Thieves of Heaven and The Thieves of Faith — both featuring reformed thief Michael St. Pierre. And, in the author’s latest thriller, The Thieves of Darkness, this unique anti-hero returns — not necessarily to save the world — but to save those he loves.

As with any genre, there are thrillers and then there are quality thrillers of substance. And Richard’s thriller has been classified as:

“[A] masterpiece. . . . Richard Doetsch handles all the elements of a classic thriller superbly, and his characters are fleshed out and involving. He has earned his seat at the table with other A-list thriller writers.” — Booklist (Starred Review)

In his guest post, The One Thing a Writer Needs to Do Every Day, the author explained how he writes a daily story to keep the creativity flowing and when he’s ready to begin a new novel there are a lot of ideas on hand. According to the writer, The Thieves of Darkness contains five of the following one page stories:

1. A story based on Alistair Crowley’s expedition to climb Kanchenjunga and the question of what a man who was into the black arts was looking for.
2. The Piri Reis map story revolving around the fascination with this real map, housed in Topkapi Palace, that shows parts of the world in detail from 6000 B.C. long before man supposedly sailed the seas. But my story was about the other half of the sea chart, the half no one ever asks about, where was it and what did it depict?
3. A woman who worked for me left school at 6th grade to raise her younger sister when her parents were no longer capable of doing so. This gave me a story of true sacrifice, a story of a girl who has to go out and steal to raise her sister despite her own morals.
4. A story of Shambhala, and how it was both holy and evil, in balance, the concept of yin yang where one couldn’t exist without the other.
5. A story where a criminal had to break into prison to save his friend.

All of these came together to evolve into the novel and its synopsis:

An irresistible treasure, two master thieves, and a secret as old as mankind . . .

Michael St. Pierre, a reformed master thief, thinks he has left his criminal days far behind him, when he receives word that his best friend, Simon, has been locked up and sentenced to die in a brutal desert prison. Breaking into jail for the first time in his checkered career, Michael is stunned to discover that his new girlfriend, KC, is connected to Simon’s case.


With a madman on their heels, the three adventurers make their way to Istanbul in search of the mysterious artifact that landed Simon behind bars in the first place: a map containing the location of a holy place lost to the mists of time, a repository of knowledge and treasure predating Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Testing their courage and wits, Michael and his team are forced to plot a series of daring thefts that take them inside some of the city’s most celebrated (and heavily guarded) sanctums, from the imperial harem of Topkapi Palace to the tombs of the Hagia Sophia itself. More than priceless artifacts are at stake—the lives of loved ones and perhaps the fate of humanity itself hang in the balance.

A globe-trotting adventure that wings from the glittering banks of the Bosporus to the highest peaks of the Himalayas, The Thieves of Darkness confirms Richard Doetsch’s place as the modern-day master of pulse-pounding suspense.

Please click on Read an Excerpt (at Barnes&Noble’s site) for Chapter 1.

Not only is this book entertaining and enlightening, its writing is detailed, vivid, and fast-paced. In essence the reading experience is engaging and The Divining Wand wondered if that was because everything played out in Richard’s mind like a movie or does he write to create a movie? He said:

“I see it in my head as a movie. I’m not sure how other people write, but it all plays out in my mind’s eye. I usually have music going and that can really help drive the images out from somewhere deep within me.”

Now that is simply a remarkable gift and, as for his ability to present multi-layered, believable characters, Richard admits that Michael St. Pierre is based on himself. The reformed thief’s thoughts, feelings, and physical skills come from the author’s life in order to keep the character real. Still the truth is that he loves creating all the characters by observing friends/acquaintances so when he does a daily story there is usually a character in mind for the leading role.

Although Richard successfully challenged himself to write The 13th Hour in 30 days, The Thieves of Darkness — written beforehand — required six months to compose. In addition to the storyline and the characters, there is the intensive research involved. Research that made the novel 50% longer before it was edited out in favor of pacing.

Hmm, so what is the key to writing a good thriller? From his experience, the author thinks this type of book needs to have a rhythm. As he explains, “it needs to build like a song with tension growing higher and higher until release, then it needs to breath and start on that ride again. To me, characters are the most important part. If people care for and can identify with them, then the jeopardy is so much more palatable, you don’t need to threaten the world just threaten the characters people care about. When I’m in full on writing mode, my brain doesn’t stop. I’m usually plotting throughout my time away from the keyboard which my wife and kids always know by that far off look in my eyes.”

That far off look ultimately results in taking the reader to far away locations filled with mystery, suspense, and action. It’s truly an escape, a fun and refreshing change of reading pace for anyone. Of course it would be natural to suggest The Thieves of Darkness for every male on your holiday gift list and, yes, they would be thrilled (pun intended) to receive a copy. Yet what about you, don’t you deserve an escape too? Take off around the world with Michael St. Pierre and enjoy every page….as much as I did!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Richard Doetsch’s The Thieves of Darkness 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, November 17, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.