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Archive for March, 2011

Go-to Writing Books, II

March 31, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles, Q&A

Before, during and after a work-in-progress, a published/debut author has likely read more than a few books on the art and craft of writing. Whether it’s for motivation or inspiration, favorites must exist to be read and reread whenever the need arises. With this thought in mind, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

What books do you keep nearby or go back to as you’re working?

And this week the following authors replied:

~Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“While I admire so many great writers whose books grace the shelves in my office, I cannot read or refer to fiction while I am deep into my own fictional world. As a matter of fact I have an occupational short attention span for reading anything while I am writing. Instead I would say I use visual stimulus. I find the works of the photographer Sally Mann, Tina Barney, Diane Arbus, the paintings of Alice Neel, Lucien Freud and John Currin, among many, many others to be so inspiring. For me, looking at these works is actually a different kind of “fiction” there are so many stories hidden in the pictures.”

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

“The Forest for the Trees” by Betsy Lerner
“Coaching the Artist Within” by Eric Maisel
“Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Browne & King (no relation)
“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

~Catherine McKenzie (Arranged, Spin):

“I re-read Jane Austen at least once a year. The Harry Potter series too. If I need something gently, I might re-read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books or the Anne of Green Gables books. I wouldn’t say I go back to them necessarily, they are just constantly in my life.”

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

“For general writing advice and inspiration, I love Stephen King’s “On Writing”. To see how smart humor can be done right, I go to Lorrie Moore’s short stories (“Like Life” is a favorite). But the one book I return to again and again–both when I’m writing and when I’m not–is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer”. For me, it’s the whole package: great dialogue, amazing description and, most importantly, a wonderful story with the perfect blend of tragedy and triumph.”

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

“I constantly reread four on the craft of writing: Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott; On Writing by Stephen King; Making A Literary Life by Carolyn See; Escaping Into The Open by Elizabeth Berg. I love craft books. Not so much for the exercises or how-to, but for the comfort, the yes, this is hard.”

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

“Since I’ve been busy doing teaching and manuscript consulting, I’m tending to have a lot of craft-of-writing books on my desk, which are always helpful to consult, whether it’s for my students, clients or myself. Some of my recent favorites are: “Hooked” by Les Edgerton, “The Modern Library’s Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction” by Stephen Koch, “The Making of a Story” by Alice LaPlante and the classic “bird by bird” by Anne Lamott.”

To be continued….

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Announcement: Happy Debut Day to Lori Roy and Bent Road!

AND

With a major thank you to Rebecca Rasmussen’s publisher, Crown, there are now two copies of The Bird Sisters for the Giveaway. The winners are Jennifer Gravely and Hira H. (Enamored Soul). Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and one book will be sent out promptly, while the other book will be Pre-ordered for its release on Tuesday, April 12th.

The Revealing of Jael McHenry

March 30, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Skilled amateur cook and creatively talented writer Jael McHenrty combines Julie & Julia with Jodi Picoult in her debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter to be released on April 12, 2011.

In a one sentence description:

The Kitchen Daughter is about a woman who discovers she can invoke ghosts by cooking from dead people’s recipes.

And the critical reviews prove the book a literary feast:

“Skillfully rendered from Ginny’s point of view, McHenry’s debut novel is a touching tale about loss and grief, love and acceptance.” Kirkus Reviews

“McHenry’s debut novel is a sensitive and realistic portrait of someone living with Asperger’s. Readers looking for good family-themed women’s fiction will enjoy this novel, and the magical element of the cooking ghosts will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen.” Library Journal

“…an intelligent and moving account of an intriguing heroine’s belated battle to find herself.” Publishers Weekly

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of The Kitchen Daughter for Monday, April 11, 2011 but, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Jael McHenry is a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who blogs about food and cooking at the SIMMER blog. She is a monthly pop culture columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in New York City.

Now it’s time to look beyond all that and get to know Jael, upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: A small town girl, citified along the way.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: “To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.” I read it on a teabag.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: I wouldn’t – I don’t want to jinx anything!

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Just the run-of-the-mill stuff – car accidents, roller coasters.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: On a beach chair in Lanai, Hawaii, overlooking the ocean. Reading.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: You’ve heard the saying “Well-behaved women rarely make history?” I’m really well-behaved, so the people I identify with, we’ve never heard of them.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: My mother.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: No one who is actually cool uses the word “cool” as much as I do.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’ve always wished I could run.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: In college I was on “Jeopardy!” – I didn’t win, but I made a killing in consolation prizes.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Constant and insidious overthinking.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I want everyone to be happy.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: That we only get one go at life, since there are so many fascinating and amazing things to do with it.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I kind of like being me!

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Apparently I don’t have one – people always tell me I remind them of someone else they know.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Westley from The Princess Bride.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Also from The Princess Bride: Prince Humperdinck.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I hardly know any athletes – I’d probably want to meet the two Harlem Globetrotters who were on “The Amazing Race”, Flight Time and Big Easy, just to talk about what their experience racing around the world was like.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: When someone walking too close behind me steps on the back of my heel. It drives me NUTS.

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

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Supermodel. (I could never constrain my eating enough to maintain a model’s weight, but you did say “fantasy.”)

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

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Toasted everything bagels with butter.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors by Moxy Fruvous
Vampires in Blue Dresses by Margot & the Nuclear So-and-Sos
Fast As You Can by Fiona Apple
Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello
Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Lady Oracle and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
All About Braising by Molly Stevens

Incredibly creative and engaging, Jael McHenry is a new author to follow on Twiter, become a fan of on Facebook, and be a regular visitor to her SIMMER Blog.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Darien Gee aka Mia King on
The Bread That Inspired a Novel

March 29, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[One of the most frequently asked questions of an author is: “Where did the idea for your novel come from?” In today’s guest post, Darien Gee aka Mia King (Good Things, Sweet Life, Table Manners) explains how her novel Friendship Bread “started.”]

Guest Darien Gee aka Mia King on the Bread That Inspired a Novel

If you’re never heard of Amish Friendship Bread, your life is about to change forever. Mine certainly was.

Amish Friendship Bread is similar to a quick bread except it’s made with a sourdough starter. If you’ve ever seen (or smelled) a bag of fermenting batter, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s something you won’t likely forget.

Amish Friendship Bread is similar to a chain letter in that after ten days you’re asked to divide the starter into four portions, keep one for yourself and give the other three portions away to lucky (and unsuspecting) friends or neighbors so that they can do the same. After five rounds, there will be 1,024 bags of starter floating out there. After ten rounds: 1,048,576.

That’s a lot of starter to emerge from one bag of the stuff.

I’m often asked if Amish Friendship Bread is really Amish. I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone else does, either. There’s no documented evidence of its origins, and I know some people’s suspicions are raised when they see instant pudding listed among the ingredients. But what I do believe is that the inspiration behind the bread is undoubtedly Amish in nature. It’s about friendship and community, about sharing what you have with others and expressing gratitude for the good things in your life.

Friendship Bread was inspired by my own experience with the bread, when my daughter brought it home along with a bag of starter she’d received from a friend. I was eating the last few crumbs when I started to think about a woman who receives the starter and just doesn’t want to do it. I saw a sadness hanging over this character and I knew I wanted to find out more. I started writing and the story quickly took shape—more importantly, it soon became clear that the book wasn’t about any one person, but an entire community ready for change and connection.

Friendship Bread is about what can happen when one person is willing to reach out and help another. It may seem like an overly simple solution, but maybe it’s not as insignificant as we think. Maybe there’s more power in it than we realize, and all it takes is one person who’s willing to give it a try.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters

March 28, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Acclaimed as magical, graceful, and poetic, Rebecca Rasmussen makes a spring debut with her novel, The Bird Sisters on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. And, with birds on the wing to our homes, what perfect timing!

Lyrical in her writing, the author is also precise and clear about the focus of her story. The book’s idea came from two questions: Rebecca’s curiosity about her grandmother’s family history, and what does it mean to be home and to stay there?

For Rebecca, this is deeply personal. Since her parents divorced when she was a baby, her life was split — growing up in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Northfield, Illinois — and it caused her to feel that she didn’t belong in either place. As a result this writer draws on the experience, saying: “I suppose that’s why in my fiction, I pay very close attention to place; I’m constantly searching for a way to make home feel like home.”

As for The Bird Sisters, it was born from the Emily Dickinson poem:

“These are the days birds come back, a very few, a Bird or two, to take a backward look.”

Then the author created two elderly sisters who had spent their lives caring for injured birds — allowing them the freedom to someday fly away — and the storyline evolved into the following synopsis:

When a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.
 


But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn’t exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly’s eye. And, most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.
 


Rebecca Rasmussen’s masterfully written debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

Now enjoy this stunning visual that also tells the tale:

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here.)

Also read the wonderful Praise and, of course, an Excerpt from Chapter 1.

Gentle, yet so honestly perceptive in her storytelling, Rebecca shares both heart and soul in creating immediate intimacy with Milly and Twiss. In the book, the time frame is only from breakfast to the evening meal — less than twelve hours — but during that day the sisters’ background and basic life is told in flashback memories. While each go their separate ways, doing daily chores they have done forever, thoughts and feelings explain what happened to keep them at home. Yes, the time frame kept everything neat and focused, but what was the specific reason for its use?

The author explained: “I wanted to slow down the present action of the story and really focus in on the pace of the sisters’ lives when they are older, and I thought what better way to do that than to showcase a single day in their lives.”

Poignant and bittersweet, The Bird Sisters is built on the factual theme that our backgrounds shape our future. Which is enormously sad since Milly and Twiss barely had a chance for personal dreams. Their parents did but — when their dreams went unfulfilled — their daughters paid the price for adult disappointment. And, yet, it is their bravery in the face of betrayal and dreams denied that bind them together in strong sisterly love.

In her guest post, Semper Fi, Rebecca Rasmussen proved that even when faced with difficulty and disappointment, the joy of hope remains. Why? Because she has a gift of taking states of loneliness and despair and, in elegant prose, write of their consequences as truly beautiful. Milly and Twiss could have lived much more and still their story is what it is — a tale of a magical world. Admitting that sacrifice can be incredibly sad, the author believes it can be incredibly beautiful at the same time. For her sisters Rebecca says, “I wanted to depict loneliness but not in place of the love of the sisters. They do what they do almost entirely for each other, and to me that is admirable.”

TRUTH: The result is beautiful! After all, what readers hopefully will take away from The Bird Sisters (debuting in two weeks) is Rebecca’s message of: “Love is timeless, first. And so are dreams.”

The Divining Wand’s message: The Bird Sisters soars and then nests in one’s heart.”

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird 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, March 30, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Go-to Writing Books

March 24, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles, Q&A

At one time or another, before as well as during her/his writing career, a published author has likely read more than a few books on the art and craft of writing. Whether it’s for motivation or inspiration, favorites must exist to be read and reread whenever the need arises. With this thought in mind, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

What books do you keep nearby or go back to as you’re working?

And this week the following authors replied:

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

“Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, Story by Robert McKee, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.”

~Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion, and Exposure coming May 3, 2011):

“I like to read John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist every now and then, along with Stephen King’s On Writing. They’re conversant and inspirational. I like Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, Anne Bernays’ What If?, and Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. Then there are the novels that I pull from the shelves when I need to remember what gorgeous writing looks like–we all need role models, after all: Bel Canto by Anne Patchett is a favorite.”

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

“It changes. I fall in love with authors every week. I’m in no way a monogamous reader. I’d hate to be my reader girlfriend because I could never commit. So sometimes I read Erma Bombeck, Nora Ephron, Elizabeth Berg and other days it’s Jackie Mitchard, Jane Hamiliton, Elizabeth Strout. I use books to get permission for oddities in my writing. Since grammar and punctuation is often beyond me (my spell check program is so totally superior and snarky), I like to get the nod from authors who take liberties with language.”

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

“For fiction, nada. I rely on my brain and sometimes good ol’ Google to check a fact. (Though when I’m researching a new book (or even just a book idea), I try to get my hands on every relevant book I can find on my subject/time period. This is the fun part! For instance, recently, I have been researching the 1920’s and loving the book “Flapper,” for a new novel I’m working on). But when I’m doing a magazine story, I’m always referring to the latest and newest nonfiction books—self-help, diet, fitness, etc. I have a huge stack of these books on my desk at any given moment.”

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

“John Truby, The Anatomy of Story. Brilliant structural advice.”

~Kristina McMorris (Letters From Home):

“When it comes to an author’s voice, I connect most with Jodi Picoult. Her lyricism, analogies, and often simple statements that convey profound beauty are a great inspiration, specifically whenever I find myself struggling to write after being away from a manuscript too long. And the opening sentences of her novels? Wowsers. I dare any reader to stop after reading only the first line.”

To be continued….

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Announcement: The winner of Bent Road by Lori Roy is karenk. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be Pre-ordered for its release one week from today.

The Revealing of Darien Gee (aka Mia King)

March 23, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

When Darien Gee was about to publish her first novel, her husband– Darrien Gee — was also releasing his first nonfiction golf book. Although their two genres were miles apart, to avoid any confusion Darien took the pen name of Mia King and became the author of Good Things, Sweet Life, and Table Manners. That was then and this is now, specifically April 5, 2011 when the first Darien Gee novel Friendship Bread will be released.

Although brief and simple, this one sentence best describes the novel: An anonymous gift sends a woman on a journey she never could have anticipated.

Even the following early praise offers a taste of the story:

“As comforting, warm and delicious as a slice of freshly-baked friendship bread.”— Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author of Promises to Keep

“The wonderful characters in Friendship Bread face life-changing adversity of the sort that either brings us down or transforms us into better people. Darien Gee has a writer’s heart and a baker’s sense of mixing it all just right. The result is a book you will read over and over.”—Nancy Pickard, New York Times bestselling author of The Scent of Rain and Lightning

“Deliciously entertaining! You’ll root all the way as these characters stumble toward forgiveness, understanding, and, ultimately, celebration. A perfect book club selection, Friendship Bread is a treat worth sharing with all the women in your life.”—Kate Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Friday Night Knitting Club

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Friendship Bread for Monday, April 4, 2011 but, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official: bio:

Darien Gee is an author, wife, and mother of three. She’s a Libra Monkey, a chocoholic, and of late, an Amish Friendship Bread addict. A former California resident, Darien served on the board of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and ZYZZYVA, an award-winning literary journal. She’s an alum of Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Her next Avalon novel, Memory Keeping, will be published in 2012 by Ballantine Books.

And now let’s get to know Darien, upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Learning more and more about myself every day.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Do the things that bring you joy, and let go of the things that don’t.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Being true to yourself and feeling good about it—no guilt, no anxiety, no second guessing, no explaining.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Fear. Fear has a way of turning you upside down, of making you stop listening to yourself. It is, both figuratively and literally, a killer.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Let’s see … I live in the rolling green hills of a beautiful tropical island in the middle of the Pacific with a husband and three children I love and who love me … I think I’m good! But if pressed, well, France or Italy would be runner-ups, provided I have my gang with me.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases
A: Really? Seriously? No, really?

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d love to be musically gifted with a gorgeous singing voice and the ability to play guitar and piano.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: I had a home birth after a cesarean. I’m such a wimp when it comes to pain that I never thought I’d consider this option, much less go through with it. But I did, and it was an incredible experience.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I don’t say no when I should.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: My intuition.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: When I get into other people’s business. There’s always a tendency to render an opinion or get involved in a situation that you may have strong feelings about, but it really has nothing to do with you. If anything it just makes things worse—you think you’re helping, but you’re really not.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: I’m told I talk fast and have a lot of energy.

Q: Who is a favorite fictional hero?
A: For me, every protagonist is a hero whenever they overcome odds and have a stronger sense of themselves by the end of the book. I just finished Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman—CeeCee is a wonderful, sweet character that you root for all the way.

Q: Who is a favorite fictional villain?
A: General Woundwort from Richard Adams’ wonderful novel, Watership Down.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Tiger Woods. Was it worth it?

Q : What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Overflowing laundry hampers. It’s just not right.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Homeschooling my kids or possibly starting up another business. I’m an entrepreneur at heart.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Movie producer.

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

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Kale. But I’d have to have access to olive oil and an oven, too.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: I’m always changing so my tastes are always changing. Here’s what I’ve been listening to the past year:

Begin Again by Colbie Caillat
Bottle it Up by Sara Bareilles
I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas
Never Know by Jack Johnson
Somewhere over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole

Q: What are your 5 favorite books?
A: I’m always changing so my tastes are always changing—even favorite classics move to the back burner from time to time. I’m happy to crack open any of the following books, anywhere in the book:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Volger
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Friendship Bread is more than a novel, discover what Darien is planning by following on Twitter, becoming a fan on Facebook, and a friend at the Friendship Bread Kitchen.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Lori Roy’s Bent Road in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Lori Roy and Bent Road. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Rebecca Rasmusssen on Semper Fi
(In Other Words: Have Some Heart, Rebecca)

March 22, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Where does perseverance, confidence, and belief in always doing one’s best come from? In today’s guest post, debut novelist Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters coming April 12, 2011) shares her personal learning experience.]

Semper Fi (In Other Words: Have Some Heart, Rebecca)

The first time I walked off the course and back to the starting line I felt justified in my choice to quit. I was in terrible pain. I had lost my breath. I had cramps in my legs, in my heart. Girls were passing me on all sides. Their ponytails were swishing right out of my view. So here’s what I did: I simply walked back to the place I’d started.

The year was 1992, and I was a freshman in high school, thirteen years old. I had a shaky relationship with just about everyone in my family, though I remember my mother coming to this cross-country meet, my first. I remember she wore my dad’s boxy old yellow windbreaker, which I took from his closet the last time I visited him and my stepmom in Spring Green, Wisconsin, though I don’t remember why.

“You’ll do better next time,” my mother said, when she saw me near the starting line.

I’ll tell you this: a part of me wanted to get in the car with her. To stop and pick up pizza at Malnati’s on the way home. To rent a funny movie and eat sour cherry candies. To forget about cross-country and move on to field hockey or dance. Or chess even.

But I’ll also tell you this: an even bigger part of me wanted something else entirely, something I couldn’t put a name to, but knew as a secret deep in my heart. And that’s what I got—exactly what I wanted—that early Saturday morning in September, while girls sprinted into the chute and parents cheered and brightly colored ribbons flapped in the breeze.

“Come here right now,” my coach, Mr. Baker, said to me, in a voice I thought only parents were allowed to use.

“I think I’ll take her home,” my mother interrupted.

“Not yet,” Mr. Baker said and pulled me away from my mother, which I remember thinking was impressive. People didn’t say no to her.

When we were alone behind a grand old Illinois oak tree, Mr. Baker asked me why I’d stopped running, why I came walking back, why I gave up.

I told him what I told you. Cramps. Pain. Breath.

“I don’t care if you’re the last girl out there and you crawl in on your hands and knees,” Mr. Baker said. “You don’t ever give up like that, do you understand me?”

“I couldn’t go on,” I said, looking at the electric leaves up in the tree.

Mr. Baker put his hands squarely on my shoulders and looked me
directly in the eyes, which nobody had ever done before. (I come from a long line of side-glancers.)

“You can always go on,” he said very seriously.

I don’t know why, but I wanted to wrap my arms around this man. His strength and strange, unwarranted belief in me was what I’d been looking for in members of my family and what members of my family couldn’t give me just then, and here Mr. Baker was, a man I barely knew, a man with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.

“I wasn’t going to win,” I said, knowing then that that was the real reason I’d quit.

Mr. Baker smiled. “This is the first brave thing I’ve seen you do.”

“What?” I said, beginning to smile, too, though I didn’t know why.

“Tell the truth,” he said, and hugged me so securely I thought I’d turn blue. “You’re a good kid, you know. I think you’re going to be all right.”

(Words that were so wonderful I started to cry.)

***

I don’t know if you can teach someone to have heart or not, but that’s what Mr. Baker did for me that day and that strength of heart is what I’ve carried with me all these years. If a door closes, I find another one to try to open. If ponytails are passing me, I go after them instead of giving myself over to negativity and turning away.

Crossing the finish line, having guts and grit, is what’s important to me. Knowing that I didn’t quit—that I don’t quit—makes me proud, confident, happy.

These days, I’m a writer more than I’m a runner, though I still try to hit the pavement four or five times a week. Writing, I’ve learned, takes the same tenacity, the same hard work and hard-won belief in one’s self. I’ve seen so many talented writers give up, and I want to grab them by the shoulders and look directly in their eyes and tell them what Mr. Baker told me. Keep writing even if you have to crawl on your hands and knees.

My first novel is coming out with a large New York press in April. From the outside, my story looks so easy and breezy and, well, full of beauty. The truth is that I fought for my book every single step of the way. I fought for it when people kept saying no for months and months and months. I fought when they said, “we need to think about sales figures.”

I am fighting for it even now.

And you know what: it probably won’t sell a million copies, I probably won’t be able to quit my job and shop at Whole Foods for herbs and nuts and fish, and I probably won’t wake up and see my name in The New York Times any time soon.

But on April 12th, I’ll be smiling. I promise you that.

Writing a book, finding an agent and an editor, finding my way through all of the no, you can’ts! has been the longest race of my life and I’ll have finally made it to the chute—without fanfare, maybe—but on my own two feet.

(A thought so wonderful I know I will cry.)

***

I haven’t seen Mr. Baker since I was a senior in high school. Is he alive? Is he still coaching running? I don’t know.

That warm September day at the cross-country meet was the beginning of a relationship that changed my life. He taught me about being brave, about being bold, about fighting for what you want and deserve in life. He taught me about nourishing myself in every sense of the word.

He told me about his time in Vietnam, about never giving up even when people around him were dying in muddy rice paddies.

I’ll never forget what he said.

Right before the next cross-country race, Mr. Baker and I exchanged presents, if you can call them that. I gave him my father’s old yellow windbreaker, which he wore to most every meet for the next four years, and he gave me a Semper Fi flag he’d had since the war and which I still keep in my treasure box in the closet.

Whenever I find myself alone on the course now, in the middle of a race that’s even less defined than when I was a teenager, I think of Mr. Baker—those blue eyes and that flag—and I keep going.

I keep hearing him say, have some heart, Rebecca.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Lori Roy’s Bent Road in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Lori Roy and Bent Road. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Lori Roy and Bent Road

March 21, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Lori Roy’s spellbinding voice tells the suspenseful tale of her debut novel, Bent Road, coming to online retailers and your local bookstore on Thursday, March 31, 2011. And, although Bent Road runs through a small town in Kansas, this is far from the Kansas which Dorothy and Toto wished to return to.

Ironically, though, location has everything to do with the story. In fact the idea for the novel came to the author as a setting, explained and illustrated in the January 24, 2011 blog post, Never a Good Answer. Please take a look because Lori writes:

“One of the questions I am often asked, for which I really have no good answer is…Where did you get the idea for BENT ROAD? It would be simple if I could point to a single newspaper article or recount an old family story passed through the generations. But I can’t. The truth is, I don’t know where the idea came from, but I do know where it began. It began with setting. So today, I thought I’d share a few pictures taken from the setting that inspired BENT ROAD.”

Next came the cast of characters — the Scott family, their extended family, and neighbors. The young children, Eve-ie and Daniel, appeared to the author first with Arthur, their father, the slowest to develop. Eventually all the characters became clearly defined as their personal story unfolded with the plot. And that storyline evolved into the book’s synopsis:

For twenty years, Celia Scott has watched her husband, Arthur, hide from the secrets surrounding his sister Eve’s death. As a young man, Arthur fled his small Kansas hometown, moved to Detroit, married Celia, and never looked back. But when the 1967 riots frighten him even more than his past, he convinces Celia to pack up their family and return to the road he grew up on, Bent Road, and that same small town where Eve mysteriously died.

While Arthur and their oldest daughter slip easily into rural life, Celia and the two younger children struggle to fit in. Daniel, the only son, is counting on Kansas to make a man of him since Detroit damn sure didn’t. Eve-ee, the youngest and small for her age, hopes that in Kansas she will finally grow. Celia grapples with loneliness and the brutality of life and death on a farm.

And then a local girl disappears, catapulting the family headlong into a dead man’s curve. . . .

On Bent Road, a battered red truck cruises ominously along the prairie; a lonely little girl dresses in her dead aunt’s clothes; a boy hefts his father’s rifle in search of a target; a mother realizes she no longer knows how to protect her children. It is a place where people learn: Sometimes killing is the kindest way.

This Book Trailer is worth well more than a thousand words:

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here).

The outstanding Praise and Reviews are worthy of attention. And there is also a brief Excerpt of Chapter 1 to begin your travels on Bent Road.

Have any goosebumps or is your heartbeat a bit faster? Indeed this remarkable novel causes those side effects without any trickery. For Lori Roy, with taut and exact prose, tells of normal and mundane life on a farm. There is baking and cooking, snow being cleared, and children forgetting to lock the cow within a gated enclosure. It’s real and believable, including Arthur’s reluctance to share what he knows of his sister’s death. But there are many other secrets being kept by those on Bent Road and — whether true or merely rumors — they lurk in the shadows and seep into the reader’s imagination. With each page turned, one anticipates the horror that is certain to appear.

However, when the frightening moments come, they are more stunning revelations than actual terror. With brilliant pacing — including the ebb and flow of tension –, The Divining Wand wondered how much the author actually knew what was going to happen. To avoid any *spoilers” no character names will be mentioned here but Lori admitted that even she had a “surprise” and a “shock” about a why as well as a who did what! And she further explains:

“Yet the bottom line was that everything made sense given the circumstances. I did not plot out the entire novel, but worked to integrate the plot and the arch of each character as events unfolded. The backstory and what happened twenty-five years earlier developed along with the front story, and after many rewrites, I wove the two together.”

Of course the title, Bent Road, is purposeful too since it suggests both of the book’s themes. The first is a reminder that one never knows what life holds around the corner, while the second substantiates how all individuals are shaped/influenced — positively and negatively — by past experiences. Embedded in those experiences are the secrets and rumors, both harmful and capable of impacting lives forever.

A literary suspense novel, a psychological thriller, a mystery, whatever Bent Road is categorized as it’s achingly beautiful and breathlessly solid. Lori Roy has taken an ordinary family to tell an extraordinary tale prepared to consume them all. Simply put, Bent Road (available next Thursday, March 31, 2011) is an excellent “must read!”

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Lori Roy’s Bent Road 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, March 23, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Fictional Characters as Best Friends Forever, V

March 17, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles, Q&A

No matter the age or stage in life, a best friend forever could be made at any time and the same appears to hold true for bonding with fictional characters. Whether it’s in a children’s book or a chapter in a YA or adult novel, there are those characters who — if only real — would be chosen as our BFF.

With this in mind The Divining Wand wondered who the authors felt close to, and asked:

What fictional character would you choose to be your BFF and why?

And, in this final week, our authors replied:

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

“Eloise. No question.”

~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):

“There are so many great characters to choose from. How do I pick just one? I’ll go with Charlie from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory- he’s got a never ending supply of chocolate after all.”

~Dee DeTarsio (The Scent of Jade [Kindle Edition]):

“I cannot think of any better BFF than the lovely Luciana Vetra! She is the star of The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato, and I have never been so captivated by any character! She is a part-time model and full-time prostitute in 15th-century Italy with the most hilarious look at life via her inner dialogue. She is irreverent, foul-mouthed and so earthy it is a sheer joy to see what she does next. I would love to share a cup of espresso with her at a little piazza in Florence…although I am sure she would give me three reasons, Ragione Uno, Due, Tre, why I should pay and then leave her alone!”

~Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt):

“Oletta Jones (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt) for her wisdom, and Tom Wingo (The Prince of Tides) for his wit and sarcasm.”

~Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“I think Elizabeth Bennett would be a hoot. She’s smart and funny and sarcastic–and also, deep down, a romantic.”

~Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent The Twin’s Daughter YA, and middle grade addition The Sisters Eight Book 6: Petal’s Problems, The Education of Bet YA, Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series Book 5: Marcia’s Madness):

“From my recently released novel The Twin’s Daughter, I’d pick Kit. He’s the most purely heroic character I’ve ever written.”

~Catherine McKenzie (Arranged, Spin):

“Elizabeth Bennett. Because she is awesome. And maybe I could steal Mr. Darcy from her.”

~Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars, The Life You’ve Imagined, and The Things We Didn’t Say coming June 28, 2011):

“Can I have all four of the Ya Yas from THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD? If forced to pick one I guess I’ll pick Vivi. I’d hate to be married to her, but she’d be a helluva friend. I’ve been a fan of that novel since long before my own publication.”

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The Revealing of Rebecca Rasmussen

March 16, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

The talented Rebecca Rasmussen introduces readers to her beloved state of Wisconsin as she pays fictional homage to her grandmother in the debut novel, The Bird Sisters coming April 12, 2011.

This one sentence describes the book: The Bird Sisters is a lush and moving story about discovery and disappointment, failing and forgiveness, and the enduring bond of family.

And critical praise follows:

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, the story of the sisters depicts the endlessly binding ties of family.”

From Library Journal Review, Starred Review: “Rasmussen’s debut novel is full of grace and humanity. Her heroines are fearless and romantic, endearing and engaging, and her poetic prose creates an almost magical, wholly satisfying world.”

“The Bird Sisters is a unique, beautifully written, and heartbreaking story that explores the fierce bonds, wounds, and tender complexities of the human heart. Rebecca Rasmussen has crafted a magical debut.”–Beth Hoffman, Bestselling Author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of The Bird Sisters for Monday, March 28, 2011 but, right now, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Rebecca Rasmussen teaches creative writing and literature at Fontbonne University. Her stories have appeared in Triquarterly magazine and the Mid-American Review. She was a finalist in both Narrative magazine’s 30 Below Contest for writers under the age of thirty and in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest. She lives with her husband and daughter in St. Louis. This is her first novel.

Indeed quite talented! But there’s much more to Rebecca and it’s time to get to know her better, upclose and personal: 


Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Bird Husband. Bird Daughter. Bird Family. Bird Love.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Never give up on your dreams.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: The moment right before you cross the finish line.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Flying.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A:A: At my old camp in Eagle River, Wisconsin

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: The Pioneers.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Marilynne Robinson + Alice Munro. (I cheated. I know.)

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: “You know?” As in you know what I mean?

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I don’t know if x-ray vision is a talent, but I’d like to have it.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Writing my book.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I have been known to be a little too passionate.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I have been known to be a little too passionate.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Losing touch with old friends.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I would like to try being a bird for a little while.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My eyes, I think.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: don’t know if people would call him a hero. But John Ames from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: I’m not super into villains these days.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I’d want to meet a professional runner. Any one of them would be so interesting to go for a jog around the block with. Well, they’d be jogging, and I’d be running. Eventually, I’d say, “Go on without me.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: When people chew with their mouths open.

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

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: A painter.
Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, honesty, and heart.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Red curry with coconut milk.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: I’m going to have to go with my five favorite artists:
Indigo Girls
Gillian Welch
Tracy Chapman
Bach
Nina Simone

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Gilead By Marilynne Robinson (Surprise!)
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Tracks by Louis Erdrich
The Progress of Love by Alice Munro
Disgrace by JM Coetzee

Smart, heartfelt, and ever so thoughtful, Rebecca Rasmussen is a new author/friend to follow on Twitter and become a fan of on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: For those readers who have Kindles, The Divining Wand will honor the first 10 comments left only on this specific post, Suzanne Anderson and Mrs. Tuesday’s Departures — until tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT. — with a download of Suzanne Anderson’s Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure. Please include the email address used to download and the ebook will be gifted to you promptly.