The Divining Wand

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Archive for January, 2011

Caroline Leavitt and Pictures of You

January 31, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

As a writer Caroline Leavtitt is known for her essays, short stories, and book reviews for the Boston Globe and People, as an award-wining author she is known for eight previous novels including — Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) — , yet it is as a storyteller of her latest book, Pictures of You, that may prove the most enduring/endearing role to readers.

First consider this critical praise:

“An expert storyteller….Leavitt teases suspense out of the greatest mystery of all — the workings of the human heart.” Booklist

And then realize that a major reason for the author’s success is writing about obsession — beginning with her own and turning it into the character’s. Basing Pictures of You on her phobia for driving, she wanted to write about the fear of causing a car crash and killing someone. Could becoming fixated on that car crash and how it affects the people involved cure her?

Although it did not, the idea turned into a novel with its primary theme asking the questions: How well do we really know the ones we love, and how much — or how little — do we choose to see what is going on in our lives?

How appropriate that the life-changing car crash literally takes place in a fog. Here is the synopsis for Pictures of You:

Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, the book asks, How well do we really know those we love-and how do we forgive the unforgivable?

There was enough Early Praise to have the publisher (Algonquin) order a second printing before releasing the book a month early.

And, by reading the Excerpt of the first two chapters, you’re certain to be praising its immediate intrigue too.

Fascinating in its depth, Pictures of You is a seemingly “easy read” about how complicated individuals’ lives become when they intersect over a tragic mistake. The author — without “dropping a stitch” on her characters’ insight, behavior, guilt, and grief — offers a multi-layered, complex storyline that never suggests heavy handed, intimidating literature. Instead what she creates is simple, but how?

Caroline laughs at the idea that it’s simple and explains:

“The writer Jonathan Evison told me “‘Easy read means hard writing.'” And he’s right. I wrote about 16 drafts (I’m not kidding~!) of Pictures of You. In every draft, I made charts, outlines, I read things out loud, I tried different fonts. It was a never ending battle to get things right, to try to cut to the core. And it took me four years to do it.”

However, after four years, the novel is eloquent and universally appealing, both literary and commercial.

Of course it fell on the characters to make it so and the authors tells that Isabelle came to her first:

“I knew she was going to enact my deepest fear–getting in a car crash and killing someone. But then I thought, well who was she going to kill? I couldn’t bring myself to have her kill a child, because if I did that, I could never continue to live myself, and I couldn’t have it be her mistake because that also seemed too awful to me, so I had it not be her mistake. Suddenly, I had this image. A woman standing in the middle of the road, her car turned around. A child running into the woods. I wanted to why and how, and I just started writing.”

Aha, the mysterious ways of creativity become the mysteries of the novel and Caroline Leavitt takes readers on an emotional journey of discovering why, how, and then what? While the aftermath of the accident suggests the need for forgiveness, healing, and closure, the truth is that life’s much too complicated for such a straightforward resolution. For, by sorting through the details of “how well do we know the ones we love?” another question arises of “how well do we know ourselves?” If we lie, mislead, or keep secrets from each other, consider how blurred individual perspectives are. Memories, images, and even pictures cannot reveal the entire past.

Then add the ripple effect that spreads into and affects a small town community for years. Well-meaning sentiments, kindness, gossip, finger-pointing, and even bullying mix together to create a chaos theory. Because, as the author agrees, “when something happens in a blink, your whole life changes. And when your whole life changes, it impacts the lives around you.”

Yet as mysterious and thought-provoking as Pictures of You reads, its most compelling aspect is the author’s portrayal of a family torn apart by the loss of a mother/wife. The husband who only saw what he wanted to see in his wife lives in pain, once realizing he did not know her. The young asthmatic son who almost physically cannot survive the guilt and grief he feels for his mother’s death, let alone how much he misses her. And the other woman — the surviving photographer — who tries to sort out her own truths, even though she feels certain it was her mistake that tore apart a happy family portrait.

Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You is captivatingly honest and heartfelt. Her storytelling will entertain as well as possibly cause readers to wonder about what they know is true and such truth makes this book a “must read.” Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You 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, February 2, 2011 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.

Writing Rituals, Secrets, and Superstitions, III

January 27, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Once again, for every writer there are intangible elements — personal habits — that allow the mind to roam and find its comfort zone when the words aren’t flowing. To take a look at what some of these practices include, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

Do you have any unusual writing rituals, secrets or superstitions that always work when all else fails?

And this week the following authors replied:

~Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters):

“I wish I did. When writing isn’t going well, I’m frankly likely to go play Mario Kart Wii for a while until I can bear to face the blank page again, and that’s neither terribly unusual nor terribly constructive. But one thing that does tend to work for me is going back to writing longhand. I hate it for long periods, but there’s something about the flow of pen against actual paper, even if it’s just jotting notes or writing descriptions that tends to jar things into motion for me. Sometimes I can even read what I’ve written afterwards.”

~Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water):

“Taking a break always works for me. I tell myself I will not think about the problem I’m having with my story, but I always do. Often my mind just needs to do something different in order to come back to a problem with a fresh solution.”

~Ann Wertz Garvin (On Maggie’s Watch):

“I use music to get me in the mood–music with lyrics that fit the milieu I’m working on. Sometimes I’m so moved by the melodies and words, it’s like a space heater thawing out my writing frost. I also peruse my writing note books for observations. I have a terrible memory and writing down words I like and phrases remind me how much I like to write.”

~Kate Ledger (Remedies):

“I believe if I misspell or mistype a word, my fingers are telling me it’s the wrong word. Also, I have to begin with coffee. It just never feels right without coffee.”

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

“Music! For me it’s critical that each story or book have a song or a few songs that set the mood for the story. When I wrote THE ARRIVALS I played a lot of Amy Winehouse while I wrote. My current project has to do with two characters who are each going through some dark times and searching for some solace in unlikely places. There’s a song by Josh Ritter called “Lantern” that feels like the right song for this book. I probably play that song 10 times a day, especially when I’m trying to get into the mood of the story.”

~Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me, and Skipping a Beat coming February 22, 2010):

“Not really – just stare at the screen and don’t get distracted by laundry, opening the mail, or checking my email!”

~Lori Roy (Bent Road coming March 31, 2011):

“I have no secrets or superstitions, but I do drink green tea whenever I write, and I generally write with my feet propped up on my desk.”

To be continued….

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Announcement: The winner of Linda Gray Sexton’s memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide is Andrea Miles Martin. Congratulations!

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

The Further Revealing of Lauren Baratz-Logsted

January 26, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

As one of The Divining Wand’s most prolific authors, Lauren Baratz-Logsted (The Education of Bet YA, Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series Book 5: Marcia’s Madness) was first revealed here on March 31, 2010. Since that was almost a year ago — or four published books later –, it felt definitely time to catch up with this writer and her most recent YA novel The Twin’s Daughter, and middle grade addition The Sisters Eight Book 6: Petal’s Problems. Both were released in early Fall 2010 and received this critical praise:

For The Twin’s Daughter — “Identical twin sisters. Murder. Mistaken identity. Secret tunnel. OF COURSE it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2010.”—Library School Journal

The Sisters Eight Book 6: Petal’s Problems — “Thrills, suspense and hijinks to satisfy adventure-seeking young readers.”– Kirkus Readers

The Divining Wand has scheduled a joint presentation/review of Lauren’s latest releases for Monday, February 7, 2011 but, in the meantime, let’s become reacquainted with the author through her “official” bio:

LAUREN BARATZ-LOGSTED is the author of more than a dozen books for adults and young readers, including The Twin’s Daughter, Crazy Beautiful, and the Sisters 8 series, which she cowrites with her husband and daughter.

And now for the further revealing of Lauren:

Q: What would you choose as the theme song of your life?
A: “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

Q: Possible pseudonym?
A: JK Rowling. The royalties would be better.

Q: Name three “bests” of being a published author.
A: 1) The actual writing. 2) Having my daughter be proud of me. 3) Fan mail, particularly from little kids.

Q: Favorite book release season of the year?
A: Fall because then I can at least delude myself for a while that “this one might be The Big One.”

Q: If given the opportunity, which reality show would you be on?
A: So You Think You Can Dance? The thing is, I can’t dance, at least not in any way that’s suitable for public consumption, but Nigel and the other judges seem lighter at heart than judges on other shows so I’m sure I’d fit right in.

Q: Favorite childhood fairy tale?
A: Rumpelstiltskin.

Q: What U.S. city would you like to visit that you haven’t been to yet?
A: Atlanta, Georgia.

Q: Your reward after a day of writing?
A: “General Hospital” from 3-4pm and sometimes wine.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are LEAST important to you?
A: Success, wealth, fashion sense.

Q: An author quote that inspires you?
A: “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who only dream at night.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Q: Where do you like to read?
A: Everywhere.

Q: Book or ebook reader?
A; Strictly book, but you never know – sometimes even I change!

Q: Growing up, who was your teen idol?
A: The authors who wrote the books I loved. I was also a big Rolling Stones fan but looking at Mick and Keith now, I’m thinking it’s just as well things didn’t work out for us romantically.

Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
A: I’d make myself taller, but only for a day. At 4’11 I’ve always been curious how the other half lives.

Q: Must love dogs and/or cats?
A: Cats. The Sisters 8 features eight cats. I am most definitely a cat person. Have I adequately conveyed that yet?

Q: Which author – past or present – would you have chosen as a mentor?
A: If we’re fantasizing, why not ask for Shakespeare? If I had to select a living author, it’d be Arturo Perez-Reverte. He writes literary thrillers, and sometimes the scenes are violent, but there’s so much sheer joy and intelligence that readers can glimpse in the sensibility behind his books.

Q: What book did you fake reading?
A: HA! I used to fake reading all the time when I was very young, to compete with my older brother and parents who were all very prolific readers, but it’s been decades since I faked reading anything.

Q: What is your favorite scent?
A: Peonies.

Q: What is your favorite movie adaptation of a novel?
A: To Kill a Mockingbird.

Q: Two books you always give or recommend, knowing they’ll be loved?
A: Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead.

Q: What are five of your favorite things?
A: Since you said “things” I’m going to assume you mean that literally so I’ll leave people off my list. Hmm…five of my favorites… Good books, good wine, TV, anything with shrimp, and my furry blanket on the couch in the living room.

In addition to being an imaginative and talented author, Lauren is extremely knowledgeable of the book world in general. To keep up with her isights, follow the author on Twitter, and become a friend on Facebook!

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Linda Gray Sexton’s Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Linda Gray Sexton and Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. 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 Caroline Leavitt on
Torn between Two Lovers:
Promoting One Book While Writing the Next

January 25, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Last spring or early summer The Divining Wand asked its authors, “how do you say goodbye to your characters?” In today’s guest post, Caroline Leavtitt (Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) details how it feels to promote/love her latest novel Pictures of You and still move on to write yet another novel.]

Torn between two lovers: promoting one book while writing the next

Six months before its publication, I started promoting my new novel, Pictures of You. It’s a truly heady thing, to be flown to new cities, to talk to booksellers (I love, love booksellers), to meet readers (I love, love, love readers), and to speak in front of audiences that genuinely want to hear you.) I admit I love it all. I can’t wait to go on tour across the country, and I’m thrilled to talk on radio and read in stores. Part of this is because after the four years it took me to write this book, I know the characters as well as I know anyone in my life. I care about them, I worry about them. I still hear their voices whispering in my head. Want to ask me any questions about them? I’m thrilled to spill their beans and push them into the limelight.

But wait! While all this is going on, what about that other novel? The one I sold to Algonquin on the basis of a detailed synopsis and 70 pages, the one that’s due by 2012? The one that right now is called The Missing One, but most likely will get a new title? I’m like that old song, “torn between two lovers,” because the honest truth is I love both of these novels with a passion, and while Pictures of You is like an old, wonderful marriage, this new novel is like the first heady flush of romance.

Dealing with two novels at once means I have become an expert juggler. I sit at my desk four to five hours a day and do nothing but write, especially since I know that come the end of January, I’m going to be on the road and carving out the time I need won’t be so easy. I have learned that I have to turn off all social network and all email accounts, because otherwise I keep waiting to hear what’s happening with Pictures of You, now. What did I miss? What do I need to do? I’ve also discovered—me, who has never had a cup of coffee in her life—the wonders of coffee. To my surprise, not only does it boost my mood into the stratosphere, it hones my concentration, and zooms up my energy. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this before?

I know how important it is to keep love alive, especially a new one, so I have started carrying a notebook with me everywhere (I’ve never been the notebook type) so I can fan the flames of my new novel. I’m always thinking of my new novel, like any besotted person, and I write notes, or scenes when and where I can, just to make sure our relationship is still viable and growing. Sometimes, I feel like the universe is sending me signs, like when I read something about the 1950s, where my novel is set, in today’s New York Times, and that sparks me even more.

There’s always a moment, in writing a next novel, when it begins to be so powerful, it shuts out the old ones. The old characters begin to fade and the new ones become so powerful, they are all you can think about. It’s bittersweet, this goodbye, but it’s also quite wonderful. And hey, it means that after I finish this next one, I can move on to another.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Linda Gray Sexton’s Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Linda Gray Sexton and Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, January 26, 2011 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.

Linda Gray Sexton and
Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide

January 24, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Imagine being the daughter of America’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. The innate writing talent, the lesson skills taught, (see Passing It Along), and the absolute love of words shared. Now, on the other hand, consider growing up as Linda Gray Sexton (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Other works in Bibliography) and being raised by this publicly revered mother who suffered from severe depression, alcoholism, and suicide attempts that required stays in mental institutions. These far too many absences that forced being shifted to live with grandmothers and other relatives, while causing you to wonder — on your mother’s return home — whether she would keep her promise and not leave again.

When Linda Gray Sexton was barely twenty-one, her mother successfully committed suicide and was — at least — physically gone forever. However, in her just released memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, the author takes readers on her own brutal journey of depression, pain, and overwhelming sense of loss that led her to three suicide attempts. Like her mother, Linda promised her children she would never leave them yet the bond to be with her mother again always proved (not quite) stronger.

From the book’s inside jacket flap:

After the agony of witnessing her mother’s multiple—and ultimately successful—suicide attempts, Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton, struggles with an engulfing undertow of depression. Here, with powerful, unsparing prose, Sexton conveys her urgent need to escape the legacy of suicide that consumed her family—a topic rarely explored, even today, in such poignant depth.

Linda Gray Sexton tried multiple times to kill herself—even though as a daughter, sister, wife, and most importantly, a mother, she knew the pain her act would cause. But unlike her mother’s story, Linda’s is ultimately one of triumph. Through the help of family, therapy, and medicine, she confronts deep-seated issues and curbs the haunting cycle of suicide she once seemed destined to inherit.

Also you may read an Excerpt of Half in Love.

According to the author, the title “Half in Love” is taken from the Keat’s epigraph for the memoir which reads: “I have been half in love with easeful death, called him soft names in many a mused rhyme…” And, in relating this to her own experiences, Linda says “…it refers to being half in love with death, and then coming to be fully in love with life.”

In fact as she answered the question, The best age for you? in an interview from The Great Women Series, Linda said: “My fifties. I have come into my own and defeated my depression. I am writing again, conversing with other writers again. I have reclaimed my life.”

Now living with joy rather than pain, wouldn’t one wonder why the author chose to write about her past? Well, in the blog post — Why Write Memoir? — she addresses just that:

“It’s a difficult question. How do you protect the ones you love and still write about a topic you believe needs to be made public and to be discussed?

“In the United States today, someone kills him or herself every seventeen minutes, a million commit suicide worldwide annually, and suicide outranks homicide two to one. You could say that if you are depressed, your own hand is more dangerous than a gun.”

Startling and horrifying statistics, aren’t they? And yet they create the reason to read this book.

As Erica Jong praised: “A vivid and daring exploration of survival from the author of Searching for Mercy Street, Linda Sexton’s beautiful book is a cry for health and sanity.”

Although the subject matter of Linda’s writing is not an easy read, it is fascinating as well as more important than ever. Early in the memoir she notes that during the 50’s, 60’s, and beginning of the 70’s — when her mother struggled with mental illness and lost the battle — it was a disease difficult to diagnose, treat, and medicate properly. Support groups were non-existent and families either tried to ignore or hide a loved one’s severe psychological problem.

However that was then and this is now so The Divining Wand asked why she thought modern medical and therapy strides aren’t making a difference in saving someone from committing suicide every seventeen minutes?

Linda Gray Sexton said: “I think there is still a stigma about mental illness and suicide that makes people reluctant to talk about it. I am getting scads of mail since the book was published from those who feel that someone has at last spoken up for them. I do think that there are strides being made medically in terms of psychoactive drugs, but it takes a long time for these things to penetrate the general population. Who knows what the statistics were a decade ago? And those statistics were undoubtedly colored by the fact that people were reluctant to let others know that their loved ones had died by their own hand. Even today, how many times do you read an obituary that seems extremely vague about the cause of death? We just have to keep plugging away at it, talking about it openly and continuing to support those who live with us, or to whom we are connected, to take their meds and see their psychiatrists. Don’t let depressed people fade out of your life.”

Hopefully the author’s brave and intensely compelling telling of Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide will offer hope and help to others facing a similar situation. For those fortunate enough not having to deal firsthand with mental illness, may it give a better understanding and willingness for support. And to those readers who simply desire a truly brilliant book written — without pity — by a gifted author whose mind conquered all, this memoir is for you!

[On a personal note, I encourage you to take time to visit Linda Gray Sexton’s website. It’s enchanting, even if you only stop to look inside the writing cottage you’ll learn where and how this writer writes.]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Linda Gray Sexton’s Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide 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, January 26, 2011 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.

Writing Rituals, Secrets, and Superstitions, II

January 20, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

For every writer there are intangible elements — personal habits — that allow the mind to roam and find its comfort zone when the words aren’t flowing. To take a look at what some of these practices include, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

Do you have any unusual writing rituals, secrets or superstitions that always work when all else fails?

And this week the following authors replied:

~Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart:

“I write everyday whether I feel like it or not. If something isn’t working I play a game of what if and turn the story around so the characters react in a manner opposite than what I expected. Even if I don’t end up using it, the different approach helps me get words on the page. The thing about rituals or superstitions is that they don’t get words on the page. I know this sounds simplistic – but to be a writer you must write.”

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

“I don’t have any rituals, but if anyone has any that work I’d be happy to give them a whirl. I find what works is that I don’t let myself give up. Keep showing up, keep trying different approaches, but the most important this is to keep trying. As the famous saying goes- you can’t fix a blank page. If I get something down then there’s always a place to start.

“If all else fails a tea and cookie break don’t hurt. I’m not sure they help, but a cookie is never a bad thing.”

~James King (Bill Warrington’s Last Chance):

“I do almost all of my writing via computer, but when I hit a wall, I pull out my writer’s ‘journal’ (a plain, college-ruled, wire-bound notebook) and write by hand. Something about writing on paper with a pen helps me break through. I’ll start by giving myself a little update about where I’ve been with the story, where it is now, and where I want to go with it. I then try to figure out what’s stopping me from getting from here to there. I’ll try different solutions in the notebook, writing out a scene or two in longhand, before returning to the keyboard.”

~Allie Larkin (Stay):

“When I get stuck, I like to go do something active that lets my mind wander, like taking the dogs for a hike or gardening. I don’t like to sit at the computer and stare at the page when things aren’t working.”

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

“Reading it aloud. If I’m not sure if something’s working, if I’m looking for errors, if I want to know if chapters start or end in the right place, or if I don’t know what to write next, I read what I’ve written out loud. Maybe just a few sentences, maybe a whole chapter, but hearing the words is totally different than seeing them on the printed page. I don’t know if it’s that unusual, but it’s one of my favorite tricks.”

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

“You mean, besides dancing around a nightly bonfire covered in warpaint and snake oil? Ha. Probably nothing all that unusual, but I do like to write while being comfy. To me, that means fuzzy socks (the uglier, the better), a zip-up hoodie (I have three to choose from), and a warm woolen blanket to drape over my legs. Summer temperatures obviously create challenges in this regard.”

~Melissa Senate (The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, The Mosts YA, The Secret of Joy, the rest in Bibliography):

“I carry a little talisman for every book. Right now, it’s a tiny marcasite silver starfish charm on a delicate bracelet to represent the book I’m working on (set in a harbor town)–and to wish me luck on its fate in proposal form.”

To be continued….

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Announcement: The winner of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters is Jonita. Congratulations!

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

Thank you to all who entered….if only The Divining Wand was magical enough to offer 24 more books.

The Revealing of Caroline Leavitt

January 19, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

This month, the ever popular and prolific Caroline Leavtitt (Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) returns with her 9th novel, Pictures of You, which — by all accounts — is another hit! Actually scheduled to be released on January 25th, the book went into its third printing, based on Pre-order sales, and can be purchased now….anywhere!

Consider the novel’s intriguingly mysterious set-up and cast of characters:

A mysterious car crash on a deserted, foggy road brings three people together in a collision of their own:

A photographer fleeing her philandering husband and consumed with guilt.

An asthmatic boy with a terrible secret.
A husband who realizes that he never really knew his wife.

And there is the praise from both literary and popular reviewers:

“A touching story of loss and discovery. Leavitt explores the depths of grief and the sticky spots sorrow pushes people into, and …her near bottomless reserve of compassion for her imperfect characters will endear them to readers.” 
Publisher’s Weekly

“Caroline Leavitt plumbs the depths of grief and forgiveness in the lovely Pictures Of You.” 
Vanity Fair, Hot Type

“Suspenseful…gripping. Leavitt is superb at revealing the secrecy inside many marriages and the way children grieve; several moving scenes involve Sam, who has come to imagine Isabelle as a crash scene “angel” who will take him to his mother. Most impressive is how Leavitt deals head-on with well-meaning people who come to realize, too late, that even an imperfect life is irreplaceable.” 
Jane Ciabattari, O, the Oprah Magazine

Although you need not wait to read the post to read the book, The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Pictures of You for Monday, January 31, 2011. Right now, however, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eight previous novels. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a columnist for the Boston Globe, a book reviewer for People, and a writing instructor at UCLA online. Caroline Leavitt lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, New York City’s unofficial sixth borough, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their teenage son Max.

Creative, productive, and successful, let’s discover more about Caroline in what she reveals:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Chaotic, happy, obsessed, compulsive, silly, adventurous, love, family

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Anything is possible, and that includes eating vast quantities of chocolate without getting sick.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Ah, I’m with Freud on this one–I think you need people you love and work you love.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Unfriendly alien invasion. Hey, it could happen.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: In Rome, in a cafe, eating pasta with my husband and son.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Cleopatra! She wielded great power and she had great love in her life.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: It’s a group actually, stem cell researchers. I feel they hold the key to conquering so many terrible diseases.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: I’m guilty of “you know” peppered in my sentences. I also am horrified that I do use “like” a whole lot, too.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I wish I could drive. I’m completely phobic and I can’t. I’d also love to be able to sing, something I used to be able to do!

Q; What is your greatest achievement?
A: My son–14, smart, funny, creative and kind. But I can’t take all the credit. I have to share it with Jeff, my husband.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I’m obsessive-compulsive and I over worry about everything, making myself and those around me crazy.

Q; What’s your best quality?
A: I’m really kind and generous (I help a lot of writers!) and I’m funny, which makes the hard times easier.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not being bolder when I was younger–I was so shy back then and missed so many opportunities for mischief because of it!

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d like to be the ruler of the universe, but just for one day. Just so I could straighten things out a bit, tie up loose ends, and make sure peace, love and understanding was all over the Earth. And oh yes, I want everyone to read. A lot.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My big wild mop of long curly hair and my pale, pale skin. I also have this raspy voice that is pretty distinctive.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Jay Gatsby in the Great Gatsby–a romantic if there ever was one.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Hannibal Lector!

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I think you can argue that dancers are athletes. I’d love to meet Baryshnikov and I’d ask him to take a look at my plie and tell me what I’m doing wrong.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A:People who throw their cigarette butts on the sidewalk. They aren’t biodegradable, folks!

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading or going to see films (I’m a movieholic.)

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I’d love to be a ballet dancer. I studied when I was in my twenties and was the worst dancer on the planet.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, funnybone in good working order, ability to love.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Pasta! I eat it for breakfast sometimes, which grosses out my husband.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: There is a Light That Never Goes out by the Smiths
Don’t Dream it’s Over by Crowded House
For the Roses by Elvis Costello
I Will by the Beatles
Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wuthering Heights
Room by Emma Donughue
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell

Warm, engaging, and full of surprises, stay up-to-date with Caroline Leavitt by following her on Twitter, becoming a friend/fan on Facebook, and reading her blog, CAROLINELEAVITTVILLE.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Presenting Debutante Eleanor Brown and The Weird Sisters. 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 Linda Gray Sexton on Passing It Along

January 18, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Although Linda Gray Sexton (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Other works in Bibliography) is more than familiar with inherited traits — as her latest memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide profoundly showcases –, she is also well-acquainted with the gifts we receive from others. In today’s guest post, the memoirist/novelist writes about shared talents and cherished experiences that have enriched her life.]

Passing It Along

I am always struck by the way so many aspects of my life are rooted in the lives of other people, how they transform my experiences, moment by moment. Be they parents or children, mentors or professors, lovers or friends, they all have made a significant impact upon my growth as an individual, and I believe that I have had the same effect on them. It is a creative kind of sharing between us, very different from that which psychology and science say about the domination of environment and genes.

I learned how to write in my mother’s study, curled up on the old green sofa while she leaned back in her desk chair, her feet propped up on the bookshelf. Through her own experience as a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, she passed on to me a love of the word that formed the basis of my own desire to express myself this way. At twelve, I began to write my own poetry seriously, based on the methods she had shown me, creating draft after draft till I reached the most pitch perfect poem I could.

At college, I learned about expository writing, from professors and grad students alike, and began to hone my critical—rather than my creative—skills. This new sense of style came to me in my classes, an ability to craft explication de textes, as well as verse, and to write with absolute adherence to more formal language. Then, at my own hand and computer, I discovered more still as I began to write both fiction and memoir, as well as book reviews and teaching both younger and older students to pay attention to structure and their choice of words.

I combined all I had learned about the craft of writing of every sort, and then learned to plow slowly through whatever I was creating in order to grow as a writer. And whenever someone asked, I happily gave away all I had learned, to readers, listeners and peers alike.

The opposite has been true for me as well. How often, sometimes without even knowing it, we give to those who are older and wiser or just plain different than us in their outlook or experience. My sons, along with their friends, have taught me so much: how to work the internet, and how to post on Facebook; how to hold down a job that requires sixty hours a week, and how to date in this brave new social world. And I hear professional writers and younger voices as well: how to look at a book in a new way either through a review, or a blog; how to craft a better idea that engenders a bigger audience.

There was a time when I helped my mother to grow in just this way. During college vacations, I brought home books by writers whom I was exploring in class, and we would once again hole up in her study—but this time it was I who read favorite authors to her, I who taught her all I knew about writing and reading. T.S. Eliot, Wordsworth and Tennyson, Ezra Pound. With no college degree of her own, she would marvel at all I was learning and thank me for bringing this new knowledge into her writing room.

Once, as we sat outside a doctor’s office, waiting for my results of a crucial examination by a specialist in gynecology, she supported me through the dreadful vigil. My predisposition for a particular cervical cancer came from a drug she had taken as she had tried to prevent a miscarriage while she was pregnant with me; but when I turned twenty-four, I had a different problem, of another sort than the one we had anticipated—infertility.

She sat with me that day, in unspoken empathy, knowing that she might have passed on to me a deadly condition and blaming herself, though no responsibility could really be assigned. We were two different but united women, each with our own issues: guilt and fear.

And as we sat there waiting, I read aloud to her from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in a quiet voice that took into consideration the other patients sitting around us. Nevertheless, my mother grew excited and then enthusiastic and then, at last, emotionally moved. She had never experienced Woolf before. We distracted ourselves from the threat of the medical issue before us, and she marveled at the rhythms and the words that this other woman had chosen to bring her vision into life, words that I now offered up to my mother as we held hands and I spoke them out loud.

When I was a child, she had passed onto me an enduring and immense gift: the love of language. That day I gave back to her a gift of the education in literature that she had never had. It was a special kind of communication, one woman to another. It was a mutual inheritance, from her to me, and then, in reverse, from me to her. I know I treasured the exchange. I am certain she did, too.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Presenting Debutante Eleanor Brown and The Weird Sisters. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, January 19, 2011 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.

Presenting Debutante Eleanor Brown and
The Weird Sisters

January 17, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

When Debutante Eleanor Brown began visiting The Debutante Ball during its first Season of 2007, it’s doubtful that she ever imagined being one of the most honored Debs well before her book launched. But this Thursday, January 20, 2011, the author will hopefully stop pinching herself and simply revel in the debut of her novel, The Weird Sisters.

Described by as a major new talent, Deb Eleanor has written a literary/commercial book focusing on the complicated relationship of sisters, the powerful influence of books in our lives, and what we finally come to accept as home. For this, Publishers Weekly has given it a starred review “…bright, literate debut, a punchy delight”. Barnes & Noble has chosen the novel to be part of its Discover Great New Writers program beginning February – May. has selected it as one of the Best Books of the Month, January 2011, and it’s also been mentioned in USA Today. Of course that’s in addition to the other sparkling Praise and Press.

Duly impressed yet still wondering why The Weird Sisters is considered that special? To better understand, please know that there’s nothing weird about the sisters. In fact they even proclaim from the book’s front cover: See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much.Now how normal does that sound for three female siblings?

The choice of the title is a logical one since it comes from Macbeth’s three witches, also known as the “weird sisters,” who represent both fate and destiny. And, since the novel focuses on the sisters’ questioning what they thought they were destined to be and struggling against what reality has dealt them, the title is a perfect description.

In writing her October 5, 2010 post, Deb Eleanor on Change and Saturn’s Return, the author explains how important she believes change is for characters:

“I believe good fiction is all about change. If there’s no difference between the characters at the beginning and the end of a novel, a memoir, even a non-fiction screed, I’m likely to end up dissatisfied. I want the characters to go through discomfort and maybe even a little pain, and to come out the other end reborn through the experience.

“Though it’s never mentioned in the book, when I wrote The Weird Sisters, I did a lot of research on Saturn’s Return.

“I call The Weird Sisters a belated coming-of-age novel. There is a reason my characters are 27, 30, and 33- I wanted them to be on the cusp of great change, to be pushed into places where they confront the lives they have created and acknowledge – and change – the pieces that aren’t working.”

Still it’s not only how the three sisters change but where they change as the author writes in her October 19, 2010 post, Deb Eleanor’s Favorite (Fictional) Place:

“….one of the things that I love most about books is their ability to transport you somewhere. In The Weird Sisters, one of my goals was to create a living, breathing town, a place that you felt you had seen before, or might be able to stumble upon, and I hope I’ve done that in the town of Barnwell, Ohio.”

Indeed Deb Eleanor has succeeded in giving the small college town of Barnwell a hometown feeling – a place where readers want to linger, while the sisters want to flee. And the combination of characters and location provides for the novel’s synopsis:

There is no problem that a library card can’t solve.

The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they’ve been running from – one another, their small hometown, and themselves – might offer more than they ever expected.

This debut novelist, as the youngest of three sisters, has been frequently asked which of the weird sisters — Rose (Rosalind – As You Like It), Bean (Bianca – The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia – King Lear) — is she? Her response is that “there’s a little bit of me in each of the characters” and The Divining Wand has exclusive proof of that from three Q&A’s in The Revealing of Eleanor Brown:

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

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

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Hurting other people.

No *spoilers* here, but every one of these three answers describes one of the three sisters. It’s true, the author is delighted to admit. And, oh yes, the major theme of the book is revealed in:

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Having the courage to build a life I want to live.

However what may be the most vital and magical element of The Weird Sisters is the narrator’s omniscient first person plural voice. Using “we” rather than “I,” the voice is privy to all the sisters’ thoughts, feelings, and secrets. It will pull readers into this triangular sisterhood, allowing one to feel as if they too belong…and never want to leave. In other words, it’s highly effective as well as pitch perfect.

As an Amy Einhorn book, the Uncorrected Proof of The Weird Sisters I received had an introductory letter from Ms. Einhorn in which she confesses:

The Weird Sisters is a novel I would shout about from the rooftops and urge everyone to read if I could.”

And, if that were possible, I would be among the first to join Ms. Einhorn. Yet what is possible for me to tell here is that this will be the book you reluctantly bookmark after each reading, muse about the characters as your mind wanders during the day, and rush back to its pages with anticipation only when you have a good chuck of time to spend in Barnwell, Ohio with the charming, weird sisters.

Since The Weird Sisters does not debut until Thursday, is featuring the novel at a Pre-order price — that costs little more than a Trade paperback — for a few more days. If you can, please take advantage of this opportunity. . . .and enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters 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, January 19, 2011 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.

Writing Rituals, Secrets, and Superstitions, Part I

January 13, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Q&A

During the fall The Divining Wand — in a series of six post recently honored by Suzannah Freeman of Write It Sideways — presented our authors’ best writing exercises. Tried and true, these exercises were designed to jumpstart both imagination and motivation, yet what about the intangible elements that set minds free while wrapping writers into their comfort zone?

To discover the answer our authors were asked:

Do you have any unusual writing rituals, secrets or superstitions that always work when all else fails?

The first in (hopefully) another insightful and helpful series begins with the following responses, including those new to TDW — ever popular Caroline Leavitt and debut novelist Camille Noe Pagan:

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

“Going for a walk almost always helps me get an idea or solve a problem. I like to tell myself the story as I walk as I would a friend or potential reader. That’s one of the things that is challenging about book-length work: keeping it all in your head. Yes, I use sticky notes and notebooks and cork boards, but still going over the story over and over and over again is necessary for me. And something about being outside and moving really helps.”

~ Claire Cook (Seven Year Switch, Must Love Dogs, Life’s A Beach, and the rest in Bibliography, and Best Staged Plans coming May 31, 2011):

“After decades of procrastinating, I wrote my first book in my minivan, which taught me that if you want it enough, you can write anywhere and under any circumstances. So I refuse to believe in rituals. I take a page from Nike’s book — and just do it.”

~ Sarah Jio (The Violets of March coming April 26, 2011)

“A clean office! I write so much better when my office is organized, dusted and tidy. I literally feel my creativity faltering when things are askew, so I tend to take a few minutes, before sitting down to write, to fix my piles (there are so many piles!), toss things in the recycle bin, etc. Also, I love natural light, so I like to keep my office window shade open. And, must have a big, tall glass of cold water! This trio works for me. ”

~ Caroline Leavtitt (Pictures of You, Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography):

“Yep. Magic thinking. I tell myself if I don’t do my four hours, something really bad will happen. Like demonic possession. That always works.”

~ Camille Noe Pagan (The Art of Forgetting coming June 9, 2011):

“When I’m stuck, I tell myself I’ll just write 250 words–even 250 horrible, nonsensical words. It seems more doable than, say, 1000. And nine times out of ten, it gets my creative wheels turning and I’m able to figure out a tricky scene or keep writing until I have several pages down.”

~ Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters coming April 12, 2011):

“I write my novels at Starbucks – okay, I said it. There.

“I am a mess when I try to write at home.

“’I’m writing,’” I say to myself at home, which means I should be writing, but instead I’m looking for inspiration in the refrigerator, in the cabinets, in the stubborn wrinkles in my daughter’s dresses. I’ll iron before I write at home. I’ll ponder the vacuum. I’ll think Bach or Yo-Yo Ma will solve this distractedness. Then a cup of tea. Yes, nice green tea. Tea cookies? Do spiders get hungry for something sweeter than gnats or flies? Maybe I should Google that. Maybe I should Google the oil spill in the Gulf and watch the robots trying to patch together the future miles beneath the surface of the sea. Maybe it’s all utterly hopeless and I should just take a nap and hope I dream about ice cream cones and spun sugar.
It’s all so daunting. So I go to Starbucks and, miraculously, the words start flowing…”

~ Emily Winslow (The Whole World):

“If a scene or chapter is really resisting me, I resort to an all-nighter. I make coffee and tell myself I can go to sleep only when I’ve finished.”

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