The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Archive for February, 2012

Eleanor Brown: Why I Write

February 07, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Guest Posts

[Last January 20, 2011, Eleanor Brown debuted with her “delightful” novel The Weird Sisters (presentation/review) and, within a week, she became a New York Times bestselling author. Amazing? Well actually the story of “sibling rivalry, the power of books, and the places we decide to call home” deserved every bit of acclaim and attention.

For those who have yet to enjoy this reading experience, today is your day as The Weird Sisters is released in its paperback edition. Also Eleanor begins another Book Tour….if she’s scheduled for your hometown, treat yourself to a meeting/signing for this talented novelist who shares why she writes.]

Why I Write

Like many American girls, I spent much of middle school on the phone, chatting with my friends. It seems ridiculous now, in this age where email and texting have proven themselves much more efficient forms of communication, but I suppose that was the point. We weren’t interested in efficiency, my friends and I. We were talking things through, asking each other questions about things we liked (Duran Duran) and didn’t like (gym class), considering the possibilities of our lives: boys we might be interested in, homework assignments we had yet to tackle, plays and sports we might try out for, and the unfathomable distant future of adulthood.

In his novella, The Body, on which the movie Stand by Me was based, Stephen King’s narrator says, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?” I actually do still have friends like the ones I had when I was twelve – I even have a few of the same ones – but our friendships are not the same. The idea of having enough long, empty hours to fill with meandering conversation seems indulgent, and we have, at this point in our lives, a less pressing need to discuss Duran Duran.

But I do still find myself with the kind of questions of identity and meaning I had when I was twelve, though I am better able to articulate and label them as such. And since my friends and I cannot talk those questions through on a daily basis, I must try to work out the answers myself.

And so, I write.

When I began writing The Weird Sisters, I was turning thirty, and, in the way that those decade birthdays have, it was shaking my faith in the status quo. That question I had mused over with such idle curiosity as a teenager – what was I going to be when I grew up? – now seemed terrifying and imminent, if not woefully overdue. And so I created three sisters, split my confusion and my personality traits among them, and set out to write my way out of my precocious midlife crisis. All the things I was wondering about came out in that book: What does it mean to be an adult? Why are family roles so persistent, so impossible to change? How do you relate to your parents when you are an adult? Why do I always feel like a failure? Can you change the person you always thought you were?

Those are big questions, and I can’t say I resolved them all in the pages of The Weird Sisters, but writing that book did give me a great blessing: it forced me to spend time with each one, often more than was comfortable. I faced mistakes I’d made, people I’d hurt, the way I had been careless with my own heart, all through the problems of these fictional sisters. I held each question to the light like a gem and watched the light reflecting off it until I had considered all its facets. And if I didn’t find the answers to the questions, I do think I found peace in them.

The page has infinite patience. It lets me say ridiculous things and then retract them a moment later without judgment. It allows me to change my mind at will, to wander off on seemingly unrelated tangents and then circle back around to find the perfect thing to say. It is as broad and as narrow as I need it to be at any moment.

Someone asked me recently why I read, and my answer was instantaneous: to understand, and to connect. And I think these are the same reasons I write. In stories, as both a reader and a writer, I am trying on lives, meeting new people, learning. I am twelve, lying on the linoleum of the kitchen floor, the phone cord twisted around my finger, talking my way through the mysteries of life with my closest friends.

* * * * *

ATTENTION: Please remember that Catherine McKenzie’s debut novel SPIN makes its U.S. launch today.

Book Giveaway: In celebration of paperback release day for The Weird Sisters, The Divining Wand will give away one copy of the book — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 8:59 p.m. EST tonight! The winner will be announced here on Thursday.

Picture the Book:
The Mother-Daughter Show

February 02, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Book Trailers, Books

Natalie Wexler is the author of an award-winning novel, A More Obedient Wife, and a journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, the American Scholar, the Gettysburg Review, and other publications. Her latest novel, The Mother-Daughter Show, was published in December, 2011, to glowing praise:

“A terrific read. Funny and heartbreaking and so credible I laughed out loud.” Susan Shreve, author of Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR’s Polio Haven.

“A wise and lively look at real grown-ups, alleged adults, and women-in-training. The setting is perfect for Natalie Wexler’s satire.” Susan Isaacs, author of As Husbands Go.

“Every page of this very contemporary page-turner is written with a heartfelt, humorous touch, with characters so vivid and real, they came to feel like friends I’d known forever.” Rachel Simon, author of The Story of Beautiful Girl.

“Witty and wise throughout, The Mother Daughter Show highlights Natalie Wexler’s keen perceptions–of family dynamics, social mores, and professional subcultures–and reminds us of life’s one constant: change.” Erika Dreifus, author of Quiet Americans.

A brief description of The Mother-Daughter Show:

At Barton Friends a D.C. prep school so elite its parent body includes the President and First Lady – three mothers have thrown themselves into organizing the annual musical revue. Will its Machiavellian intrigue somehow enable them to reconnect with their graduating daughters, who are fast spinning out of control? By turns hilarious and poignant, The Mother Daughter Show will appeal to anyone who’s ever had a daughter – and anyone who’s ever been one.

Now Picture the Book.

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

What was the author’s inspiration for the novel? Natalie Wexler explains:

“I wrote The Mother Daughter Show partly to try to maintain a sense of humor about a situation I found myself in—the real Mother Daughter Show, a longstanding tradition at Sidwell Friends School, where my daughter was a senior. Every year the mothers of graduating senior girls write and perform a musical revue for their daughters, and it seems like almost every year peculiar things happen between the mothers. I wanted to understand why—what was it about this situation that made people act in ways they usually don’t? One obvious possible reason was that the senior year of high school is a stressful year, for mothers as well as daughters: there’s the pressure of applying to college, the stress of wondering where your child will get in, and the emotions stirred by the prospect of your precious little girl leaving the nest.

So I wanted to explore that, but I also saw the novel as an opportunity to write more broadly about the mother-daughter relationship. I gave each of my three main characters a mother of her own as well as a teenage daughter, to allow for a multi-generational aspect to the book.”

As was mentioned, there’s a personal connection to the story since both Ms. Wexler’s two children are graduates of Sidwell Friends School. Therefore how much of the book is drawn from real life?

According to the author, “In terms of the details, not that much. To some extent I’m satirizing things that probably go on in any private school milieu (although as far as I’m aware, Sidwell is the only school that has a Mother Daughter Show). Of course, there’s a Washington, D.C. aspect that’s distinctive—for instance, a President’s daughter attends my fictional school, and the Obama girls currently attend Sidwell. But the Presidential daughter in the novel, who is an extremely minor character, is clearly not Sasha or Malia, any more than any of the characters are real people.

What I did borrow from real life about that situation is the excitement surrounding the presence of the First Family at the school, at least when they first got there (the novel begins in February 2009). In the book, tickets to the annual auction and the school play sell at an unprecedented rate, because people think the President and First Lady might show up. That really happened, more or less. Of course, as in the book, the President didn’t end up attending many school functions, apparently because he was a little preoccupied with trying to solve the nation’s problems.”

A satirical, absorbing read with compelling characters and a dishy setting,The Mother-Daughter Show offers a uniquely entertaining selection for you and/or your reading group.

Have a sneak peek with this Book Excerpt. Enjoy!

Guest Danielle Younge-Ullman on Inspiration

February 01, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: ebooks, Guest Posts

[Danielle Younge-Ullman debuted in July 2008 with Falling Under (do read presentation/review) — a book this Fairy Godmother described as painfully breathtaking and brutally exquisite. And it remains so in its Kindle Editon and NOOK Book format.

Today, in this guest post, the author focuses on her inspiration for the novel, and what makes the story passionately honest.]


It’s kind of a pretty word, a word that suggests something beautiful, like a butterfly landing on your fingertip, or a beam of sunlight bursting from the clouds.

But I was mad when I wrote FALLING UNDER. Furious, in fact. And the issues I was furious about are what sparked and drove the writing of the book.

Inspiration didn’t come to me like a butterfly, in other words, or even a beam of sunlight. More like a burning astroid, or a Mac truck.

The thing I was on about, and angry about, is what happens to kids when their parents divorce, particularly when those parents cease to function as parents, leaving the kids to navigate the world on their own…to essentially parent themselves.

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter Sixteen that will give you an example. (My protagonist, Mara, has just been kicked out of her mother’s house.)

“The morning you arrive with your huge suitcase, Dad tries the heart-to-heart, but it’s not helpful to have him rant about what a bitch Mom is and then punch the wall beside the fridge, get hammered that night, and refuse to go to work the next day.

Certain kinds of support are worse than none at all.”

Sure, divorce is an everyday kind of tragedy these days. And yes, kids are elastic, adaptable, they survive. Sometimes they adapt so well on the surface that nobody sees how deeply and profoundly their view of the world has changed; how hurt they are, how alone they feel, how much more precarious everything seems to them, how much less they trust.

Mara, is a sensitive kid, a smart kid, a funny kid, and also a survivor. But the decisions she makes, as a result of having no stability and no parental figures she can trust or go to for guidance, are not often the best. The results are sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, often both. And Mara grows up to be a mass of contradictions and unfulfilled potential—so afraid of the world that she can barely leave her house most days, stuck in a horrible artistic and professional rut, and burdened by a past littered with disastrous romantic (and sexual) relationships.

Mara’s adult life is consistent with what studies and statistics say, which is that many of the effects of divorce become evident only when a child reaches adulthood and confronts adult relationships. These are conflicted people who’ve had to rely on themselves, and don’t necessarily know how to function in a trusting relationship. They are also (statistically) likely to be less educated, more substance-addicted, less financially stable, less emotionally and psychologically stable, more likely to marry early, more likely to divorce…and it goes on. Unfortunately these stats are true of the adult children of all divorced families, including the amicable and “good” divorces, though of course the more stability and support provided by parents, family and community, the better chances the child/grown-child has of thriving.

Think about what that means, in a society where 50% of people are getting divorced…

Now I want to be clear: I am NOT on an anti-divorce rant. There are people who shouldn’t stay together, people who can’t.

I simply wanted to tell a story that would pull people, as viscerally as possible, into Mara’s experience, so that they would understand it. I wanted to reach out to adults and young adults who have been through this and maybe wonder why they (possibly) feel screwed-up and are not coping, and let them know they’re having a normal reaction, and that they can work through it. And I wanted to reach out to parents who may have divorced, or be considering it, and give them a sense of how it might affect their children, how important it is for them to continue to provide as much stability and leadership and understanding as possible, so their kids can better cope with whatever happens.

And then, if it’s not too much to ask, I’d also like society as a whole to start doing a better job at supporting families in crisis. Because THAT would be inspiring…in the beam-of-sunlight-bursting-through-the-clouds sort of way.

* * * * *

You can follow Danielle on Twitter, friend her on Facebook, and download Falling Under on your Kindle or NOOK Book.