The Divining Wand

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Kristina Riggle: Why I Write

June 20, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Guest Posts

[Having written/published three successful novels in two years, Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars, The Life You’ve Imagined, and Things We Didn’t Say) has become a critically acclaimed and well-known/loved author who ends her third career year with Keepsake, releasing next Tuesday, June 26th.

Perhaps the best word to describe Kristina’s writing is “real.” And there’s good reason for that since it’s who she is and why she writes.]

Why I Write

Why do I write? “I love it” is the short answer, but that’s obvious and boring. I love to sing, too, but I’m not doing that professionally. I write because it’s what I know. What I am, in fact.

What I mean is that writing is “it” for me. My thing. People ask me how long I’ve been writing, and I always say, “Since I knew how to read”. My grade school, Townline Elementary, always encouraged writing, and the Young Author’s Day preparation –when we all wrote stories and made little books out of construction paper with laminated covers – was my very favorite time of year.

You know how dancers will say they’ve been at the ballet barre since they had baby teeth? Or basketball players spent dawn to dusk shooting hoops on the playground? I used to sit on my feet to better reach my manual typewriter as it sat on the particle board desk in my bedroom, in front of the window looking out over the daylilies. I would sprawl outside on a warm summer day on a blanket with a notebook and pen, and write sentences for a melodramatic story of young love, or a murder mystery.

Some kids just have a “thing”, and you watch them, and you feel like you can see their future. Is every kid like that going to be a superstar? Of course not. But you can tell they feel most alive, most in their element, pursuing that art, or sport, or study.

I was a kid like that, and my thing was writing. My eighth grade English teacher signed my yearbook, “Keep on writing!” I won a citywide writing contest when I was fifteen. Sure, I beamed for the praise – who wouldn’t? – but I would have written without it, because I loved it.

What was true then, as a child, is still true now. I feel most “me” when I write.

I didn’t jump into writing novels for a living. I was a journalist first, but that’s writing, too. Any career I chose was going to involve writing. That was inevitable.

Writing always was my “thing”. Simple as that.

* * * * *

Keepsake is a timely and provocative novel that asks: What happens when the things we own become more important than the people we love?

Trish isn’t perfect. She’s divorced and raising two kids—so of course her house isn’t pristine. But she’s got all the important things right and she’s convinced herself that she has it all under control. That is, until the day her youngest son gets hurt and Child Protective Services comes calling. It’s at that moment when Trish is forced to consider the one thing she’s always hoped wasn’t true: that she’s living out her mother’s life as a compulsive hoarder.

The last person Trish ever wanted to turn to for help is her sister, Mary—meticulous, perfect Mary, whose house is always spotless . . . and who moved away from their mother to live somewhere else, just like Trish’s oldest child has. But now, working together to get Trish’s disaster of a home into livable shape, two very different sisters are about to uncover more than just piles of junk, as years of secrets, resentments, obsessions, and pain are finally brought into the light.

Critical Praise:

“Riggle offers a marvelous and sensitive portrayal of rich, full characters, using realistic dialogue and intriguing secondary subplots. The housecleaning scenes leave the reader feeling horrified yet sympathetic at the same time. She also employs a light sense of humor, while never making fun of the disorder at hand. Highly recommended.”

- Booklist (starred review)

“Touching and timely” – Publishers Weekly

“This story of two sisters…is as unflinching as it is compassionate. I was pulled in from the first page, as Trish and Mary reckon with the devastations of loss and the bonds of family, and as they make their hard, brave, often funny journeys toward hope and wholeness.” – Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Falling Together

“Kristina Riggle addresses the difficult turf of the hoarder with compassion and understanding. With its contrasting sisters-one unable to let go of things, the other unable to allow clutter into her life-Keepsake immerses us in the complicated world of family and love.” – Meg Waite Clayton, bestselling author of The Four Ms. Bradwells and The Wednesday Sisters

Now here’s an Excerpt from (available for pre-order) Keepsake.

This fairy godmother has “known” Kristina Riggle since she waltzed around The Debutante Ball during the year of waiting to become a published author. What I knew then and still realize today is that her writing has never, ever disappointed because of how honest and basic she expresses the truth. Kristina captures storylines by taking a slice of life and creating them into novels to which we can all relate. The stunning aspect is that she makes it feel so easy….enjoy!

Please visit Kristina Riggle’s website, follow her on Twitter and like her novels on Facebook.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Keepsake by Kristina Riggle — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Anita Hughes: Why I Write

June 19, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Guest Posts

[Happy Debut Day to Anita Hughes as her terrific summer novel, Monarch Beach, appears on bookstore shelves and ships from online retailers today!

Although this is the novelist’s first published book, Anita admits in today’s guest post to making up stories since childhood. Could that explain why she writes?]

Why I Write

As a young girl, I always had a notebook filled with the beginnings of a novel. My favorite part of writing was naming my characters, and then I usually sent them on some Nancy Drew-like adventure. Even at the age of ten, I felt a connection to the characters I had created. I worried about them as they tried to solve some impossible mystery, and missed them when I put the notebook away.

Today, I write for much the same reasons. I have always loved to read. In college I consumed 18th and 19th century British literature, with some French and American writers sprinkled in. As an adult, I read with the same passion and the authors I love cover a wide spectrum. I am only happy if I am reading a good book and have another great book waiting in the wings.

Writing is like reading only better. I invent the characters instead of just reading about them. I put them in the locations I want to go, give them problems I can relate to, and cheer when they succeed. I am happiest when I am sitting at my laptop, making my characters laugh and cry. They often take me in directions that surprise me, and I feel a real loss when I write the final chapter.

The wonderful thing about writing is even after I type ‘The End,’ the story doesn’t leave me. I find myself thinking about my characters, picturing where they live, hearing their conversations. They occupy a special part of my brain and reflecting on them makes my day-to-day life richer.

In many ways, life is about gathering great moments and storing them in our memory. For me, that includes music, movies, books and my own writing. Having an internal world full of these things makes dealing with the external world easier. When the outside world gets tough, I can always sit at my computer and slip into my latest manuscript. When I wish I had a new pair of shoes, I can give my heroine a delicious pair of Christian Loubutrins. When I want to go on vacation, I can send my characters to Capri or Monaco. And if I feel nostalgic for my childhood, I can always have them tackle a Nancy Drew-style mystery.

* * * * *

Monarch Beach, already selected for Los Angeles Magazine’s The Reading List – June ’12, has also been chosen for the Los Angeles Times Summer Reading Guide and here’s a synopsis of why:

Monarch Beach is an absorbing debut novel about one woman’s journey back to happiness after an affair splinters her perfect marriage and life—what it means to be loved, betrayed and to love again.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

Now Picture the Book:

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

TRUTH: Monarch Beach is: !) An adult fairy tale; 2) A refreshing fantasy escape; 3) Deliciously fun; and 4) THE perfect summer read! For Anita Hughes offers a debut that transports the reader to live within a world where — though there may be heartbreak — the luxury of wealth provides the best of distractions. It’s almost a “guilty pleasure,” but somehow the writing reassures that you deserve to getaway on this reading vacation.

Rather than “champagne wishes” experience “butterfly wishes,” the Presidential Suite at the St. Regis Hotel, a lovely wardrobe, a happy young son, and a doting mother. This is all so real that even heartache brought on by a philandering husband and a rebound fling can be forgotten. 😉 Really!

Chapter One is available to be read now and Monarch Beach can be read as soon as you wish. Mmmm, enjoy……!

Please visit Anita Hughes’ website, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Dawn Tripp: Why I Write

June 13, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Guest Posts

[Without question Dawn Tripp (The Season of Open Water, Moon Tide) is a literary artist weaving both subtle shadows and bold, clear-cut emotions into her most recent novel, Game of Secrets, just released in paperback last week.

The author’s poetic, yet realistic prose can transport readers’ minds into a different state of consciousness — a state that Dawn seeks for herself in explaining why she writes.]

Why I Write

10th grade English. It was winter, snow falling through the windows outside. And our teacher Mr. Rossiter was talking about a poem by T.S. Eliot. I don’t remember what poem it was. I don’t remember what he said about it. But I will never forget the passion in his face, his eyes lit, as he spoke about that poem. And I remember thinking to myself: when I grow up, I want to write something that makes someone feel THAT.

From the time I was a child, I hung around with people who didn’t exist. Whether I met them through the books I loved, the stories I fell into, or whether they came to me out of the elsewhere place where the Muse lives. From the time I was a child, I wrote. I would look at something as simple as a pool of sunlight on a leaf and it would begin to form itself into words in my head. Or I would see a man in Boston Common sitting on a park bench, and I would begin to construct a story about why he was sitting there, where he had just come from, where he was going.

My novels start as tiny glimmers—of character, story, scene. When those pieces surface in me, I feel them—not with my mind, but in the body—they have a certain feverish intensity, a certain dreamlike immediacy—they feel alive. And I begin to write into them, longhand at first. I’ll fill a notebook with these fragments even if I can’t yet see—with my daylight mind—how they will all come together.

To me, secrets are key to strong storytelling. And by ‘secrets,’ I mean those things that strike closest to the heart—things we cannot always look at head-on, and yet they move in us. Even buried or barely glimpsed, they impact our lives in ways both explicit and oblique. My characters and their secrets—the sense and burn of them—always come to me before the plot—they drive the story. And I write to discover things about them: about what they want, fear, hide, remember, dream, what they will not let themselves dream.

In Game of Secrets, one of the most powerful characters for me was Huck as a fourteen-year old boy. I saw him first as that boy, driving fast down an unfinished highway in a stolen car—heat in his hands on the wheel thinking about a girl. And I wanted to know: Who is that? What does he want? What drives him? Who is that girl he’s thinking of? I fell into the novel through that scene—which in the paperback appears on pp. 113-115. Huck is not the main character of Game of Secrets, but he impacts the lives of the three women the novel revolves around. And for me, as a writer, Huck was a galvanizing force. He is deeply flawed—even as a boy, he has that James Dean kind of doom about him, and he grows up to be a man whose insular views and past stand for things that are easy to dismiss or disdain. I didn’t see that coming, and it broke my heart a bit. I wanted more for him. When he first appeared to me as that boy in the car, driving, he was like fire underground, and I wanted him to get out from underneath the dark weight of the life he had been born into. And as I wrote the story, that hope drove me. Even when I began to learn things about him I wished I didn’t know, I couldn’t quite outrun that raw and simple desire he felt once not just for that girl, but for the freedom of a dream she stood for.

When the burn of a story is in me, it’s always with me. Whether I am out for a run with the dog, picking my kids up at school, folding laundry, it’s like a parallel skin laid over every other thing. It’s like being in love. It’s like having the flu. It’s a fall-off-the-cliff kind of feeling—liquid silver in the veins—that rush of air and speed through space. And I have to be honest. I live for that state.

* * * * *

A Boston Globe bestseller

Jane Weld was eleven years old when her father, Luce, disappeared in 1957. His skiff was found drifting near a marsh, empty except for his hunting coat and a box of shotgun shells. No one in their small New England town knew for sure what happened until, three years later, Luce’s skull rolled out of a gravel pit, a bullet hole in the temple. Rumors sprang up that he had been murdered by the jealous husband of his mistress, Ada Varick. 

Now, half a century later, Jane is still searching for the truth of her father’s death, a mystery made more urgent by the unexpected romance that her willful daughter, Marne, has struck up with one of Ada’s sons. As the love affair intensifies, Jane and Ada meet for their weekly Friday game of Scrabble, a pastime that soon transforms into a cat-and-mouse game of words long left unspoken, and dark secrets best left untold.

Reviews and Praise:

“Drop-dead Yankee storytelling . . . Elizabeth Strout fans will find a lot to admire about Game of Secrets, cleverly framed around the idea of revealing old family mysteries through a continuing series of Scrabble games.” 
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Like a Faulkner novel, Game of Secrets weaves in and out of time. . . The varied points of view and fragments are rendered with such poetry, each sentence is a pleasure.” 
—The Providence Journal

“A gracefully told character study of three intelligent, forbidding women and the men who love them, wrapped up in a taut, suspenseful mystery.” 

“A page-turning thriller—a game of Scrabble helps two families spell out the history of a small-town murder.”
—Better Homes & Gardens

“A combination of thriller, mystery, and literary fiction; the secrets of a murder are revealed through an intense Scrabble game…An intelligent beach-read.” 
—Boston Phoenix

Although there is even more, Caroline Leavitt, bestselling author of Pictures of You describes the novel best:

“A hypnotic literary mystery . . . Startlingly original, Dawn Tripp’s haunting novel explores the secrets we keep even from ourselves.”

TRUTH: Game of Secrets is a gorgeous novel about the games people play with themselves and each other. However, by including an ongoing game of Scrabble, the author’s use of this unique element allows the storyline to develop and unfold to an end that’s almost certain to surprise. This is a book to savor for its characters, plot, description, and mystery. As lush and beautiful as a perfect summer day, Game of Secrets will be enjoyed in the present and become a memory keeper in the future.

For your instant gratification, please read an Excerpt.

Much more about Dawn Tripp can be found on her website as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Joshua Henkin: Why I Write

June 12, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Guest Posts

[As a novelist Joshua Henkin (Matrimony, Swimming Across the Hudson) has written of family and his latest book, The World Without You — releasing a week from today, Tuesday, June 19, 2012 –, features the same subject.

Indeed, families are ripe with complex storylines but, in Joshua’s case, family might also explain why he chose to write.]

Why I Write

I was recently at my twenty-fifth-year college reunion, and I was on an authors panel where the group of us had to speak about how we ended up becoming writers, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. My path to becoming a fiction writer started with my family, specifically with my grandfather and my father, both of whom were quite well known, at least in the worlds in which they each traveled. My grandfather was an Orthodox rabbi who emigrated from Russia to the United States and who lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for fifty years and never learned how to speak English. It simply wasn’t necessary. He lived on the Lower East Side of yore, a place where you could speak Yiddish and nothing else; the secular world didn’t impinge on you. He wrote about matters of Jewish law, and Jews from all over the world would come to consult with him. To this day, I could go to an Orthodox synagogue anywhere in the world and my last name would get me invited over to strangers’ houses for a Sabbath meal.

My father chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps and instead of pursuing the rabbinate he went to law school, clerked on the Supreme Court, and ended up a law professor at Columbia for fifty years. He was a scholar of constitutional and international law, and in another world, a very different world from my grandfather’s, his name carries a lot of weight. I was always Rabbi Henkin’s grandson, Lou Henkin’s son, and while there were real pleasures in this, it was also at times a burden. My father, who died a couple of years ago, and whom I very much loved, was also, I think it’s fair to say, overly invested in my education. When I was in eleventh grade and the SAT was impending he would come home from his office with a list of words he happened to run across while he was at work. The word “quondam,” for instance, which I have never encountered since and whose meaning I know simply because of those daily vocabulary sessions.

At college, we had to take expository writing freshman year, and we were asked to choose between different options—history, literature, social studies, and the like. One option was fiction, and if you enrolled in it you would write essays about fiction and you would also write some of your own short stories. When I mentioned this to my father, he said, “I wouldn’t begin to know how to write a short story.” And I thought, Aha, that’s what I’m going to do.

That’s what set me on the route to becoming a fiction writer. It seemed to me a way to carve out my own path in the world. I also found that I loved doing it. Yet after my first semester, I stopped writing fiction and instead took a more traditional academic path. I studied political theory and I planned to go on to get a Ph.D. in it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a fiction writer; I very much did. But I also wanted to be a basketball player, and at a certain point you realize you’re neither good enough nor tall enough. That’s how I felt about fiction writing. It seemed to me a delusion, a dream. But then I graduated from college, moved to Berkeley, and found a job working at a magazine, where one of my tasks was to be the first reader of fiction manuscripts. And I was struck by how terrible most of them were. I didn’t necessarily think I could do any better, but I was impressed by the number of people who were willing to try and risk failure. I found it oddly inspiring. I thought I should be willing to try and risk failure, too. So I started to take some workshops, ending up moving to Ann Arbor to get my MFA, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But the fact of trying and risking failure hasn’t changed. Richard Ford came to Ann Arbor when I was there. This was around the time that he won the Pulitzer Prize for Independence Day, and so he’d had a lot of success, but what he told the graduate students, and I really think this is true, is that when he sits down to write the page is just as blank as it is for anyone. Just because you’ve done it once doesn’t mean you can do it again. And it’s that fact—and the terror that accompanies it—that makes fiction writing both a challenge and a pleasure. Writing fiction is about creating something out of nothing, which is another of its pleasures. And I’m a gossip, which I believe most fiction writers are. We’re interested in people, and what better way to feed your interest in people than to make them up? My mother tells a story that when I was a toddler and she would walk with me down Broadway, she couldn’t get anywhere because I insisted on being picked up so that I could look in every store window. I wanted to see everything and everyone. To me, that’s what a fiction writer is—someone who wants to look in every store window, who’s always hoping to discover something.

* * * * *

A moving, mesmerizing novel about love, loss, and the aftermath of a family tragedy.

It’s July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer, who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.

The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe—Leo’s widow and the mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.

Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family.

TRUTH: How appropriate are those bursting fireworks on the cover of The World Without You? Very! For both symbolize a celebration of life — despite loss — and an emotional explosion in family dynamics. Profiling the parents, sisters, wife, brother-in-laws, and children left to deal with the present and future minus a loved one, Joshua Henkin focuses on memories of the past. With each family member telling a different perspective of Leo, the book explores how individual grief varies and reminds readers of the adage that no parent should have to bury a child. Yet the reality is that they do and the world continues on.

Now please read an Excerpt of The World Without You, available next Tuesday, June 19th.

More about Joshua Henkin can be found by on his website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The World Without You by Joshua Henkin — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Nichole Bernier: Why I Write

June 05, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Guest Posts

[Although today celebrates Nichole Bernier becoming a novelist with the debut of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., the truth is she’s always been a writer. In fact one need only look at her professional success as a contributing editor and journalist for proof.

However, in today’s guest post, Nichole shares the personal aspect — the real reason — for why she writes.]

Why I Write

The day I started keeping a journal I was twelve, an awkward twelve—as if there’s ever anything else—and brand new to town. It was the first day of seventh grade. My English teacher gave the class an assignment to write about something on our minds, anything interesting or troubling. We were to do this for ten minutes daily. No one would see it but her.

Moments before, the girl at the desk next to mine had turned to me and said, “I like your skirt.” My family had just moved to Connecticut from the midwest, and as the oldest child of four whose mother still picked out her clothes, I had no concept of cool. So I had no idea I was about to experience my first social catastrophe of junior high.

“It’s not a skirt,” I said, stretching out my legs to show the glorious plaid extending all the way to my lace-up Buster Brown shoes. I can still see the expression on the girl’s face, a combination of disbelief and good fortune, because she had something so rich for the person beside her.

I know these details not just because I remember them – because really, who ever forgets? – but because I wrote them in my journal, and then continued to document my year’s highs and lows. I don’t recall my teacher ever saying anything to me face-to-face about my personal writing, and I’m not sure I would have been comfortable if she had. I remember her as a cool artsy presence, a pen pal, an aloof fairy godmother. But the fact that she didn’t say anything made it possible for me to keep up the illusion that I was writing only for myself.

I continued the journaling habit the following year even though it was no longer an assignment, exorcised each hopeful and painful detail, like when a boy announced to homeroom on the first day of eighth grade that over the summer that Nichole Bernier’s mosquito bites had turned to maraschino cherries. As the years passed, the journal became the place I processed the big decisions: what kind of person I might become if I went to this college instead of that one. Whether I should let go of a relationship that was not healthy, and later, whether I should gamble everything — job, rent control, beloved city—for one that was. It was where I played with poetry and experimented with long and flowery tortured sentences.

In spite of those sentences, the journal writing probably led to my career in magazines because investigating ideas through writing was second nature to me. I loved that work: the travel, the struggle for just the right word and sentence to describe a place. I loved interviewing people and reading between the lines of their quotes and body language to develop character. Literary journalism was the name my graduate school had for this form of writing, and I loved it — fact through fictional style. It never occurred to me to actually write fiction even though I loved reading it.

But after I lost a friend in the September 11th attacks, my magazine writing wasn’t the appropriate place to express some of the more haunting thoughts, and my journal was no longer enough. I began doing free-form scene writing, though if you told me at the time that it was the beginning of a novel I wouldn’t have believed it. Once I accepted that it was, my relationship to writing changed. Words were a way to report on details and observations, but also a creative vehicle to deeper truths, the why behind the beautiful and ugly things people think and do and have done to them. Fiction writers can take a germ of an idea spool it out into the what-ifs: What if someone felt this way about trying to protect her family in post-September 11th world that suddenly felt dangerously arbitrary, but it became an obsession? What if a mother felt passionately about her career, but left it behind because that’s what she thought good mothers did?

Once I started seeing the what-ifs behind the whats, I couldn’t unsee them. In our old town there was a family — mother, father, and teen son — that sat a few pews in front of us in church. The boy was sadly obese and always had an unwashed look. The mother always had her arm around him protectively. One day they were sitting directly in front of me, and I noticed blanched patches on the boy’s skin around the back of his neck and ears, signs that suggested the beginning of vitiligo disease. I imagined what it would be like for a parent, worrying about a teen who had these strikes against him in a world where appearances matter. What would he grow to be because of, or in spite of, this disease? Was he teased? Would some good person still love him someday?

Writing for me makes beautiful things more beautiful, and distills an ugly thing—prejudice, cruelty—to its ugly core. It clarifies the nauseous prickle of witnessing something you cannot make sense of until you begin to get it down on paper. The sentences will be reduced and discarded, reduced and discarded, until the essence of a thought becomes an of course. It’s an understanding I can’t reach until I write it out.

* * * * *

Previously selected as one of BookPage’s Most Anticipated Debuts of 2012, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, has now been chosen by VOGUE for its Hit List: Six Summer Novels. And here’s a glimpse of why:

Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth’s journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew.

The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage.

The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died.

Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

TRUST: A novel based on loss, introspection and ultimate self-discovery, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D is hauntingly bittersweet, often asking more questions than can ever be answered. How well do we know others is an obvious example but how well do we know ourselves may be more thought-provoking. Intriguingly honest, this is a story told within a story about a life of quiet desperation until its end(?).

Now please, explore the book on your own….enjoy!

More about Nichole Bernier can be found on her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook. 

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Claire Cook: Why I Write

May 31, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Guest Posts

[It simply wouldn’t be summer without a new Claire Cook novel to inspire/entertain and this Tuesday, June 5th the New York Times bestselling author (complete book listing) offers readers her ninth book, Wallflower in Bloom

For those (few) who don’t know Claire’s story, writing and publishing nine books in a career might seem easy. Ah, but finding the dedication for her desire took a bit of work and that is all a part of why she writes.]

Why I Write/Claire Cook

I write because I can. I’d love to be a musician or a painter, but writing is the place where my urge to create and my ability intersect. I think we all have that place. For some, the trick is finding it. For others, it’s all about having the courage to live the dream.

I’ve known I was a writer since I was three. My mother entered me in a contest to name the Fizzies whale, and I won in my age group. It’s quite possible that mine was the only entry in my age group, since “Cutie Fizz” was enough to win my family a six-month supply of Fizzies tablets (root beer was the best flavor) and half a dozen turquoise plastic mugs with removable handles.

At six I had my first story on the Little People’s Page in the Sunday paper (about Hot Dog, the family dachshund, even though we had a beagle at the time — the first clue that I’d be a novelist and not a journalist) and at sixteen I had my first front page feature in the local weekly. I majored in film and creative writing in college, and fully expected that the day after graduation, I would go into labor and a brilliant novel would emerge, fully formed, like giving birth.

It didn’t happen. I guess I knew how to write, but not what to write. Looking back, I can see that I had to live my life so I’d have something to write about, and if I could give my younger self some good advice, it would be not to beat myself up for the next couple of decades.

But I did. At the same time, I pretended I wasn’t feeling terrible about not writing a novel, and did a lot of other creative things. I wrote shoe ads for an in house advertising agency for five weeks, became continuity director of a local radio station for a couple of years, taught aerobics and did some choreography, helped a friend with landscape design, wrote a few freelance magazine pieces, took some more detours. Eventually, I had two children and followed them to school as a teacher, where I taught everything from multicultural games and dance to open ocean rowing to creative writing.

Years later, when I was in my forties and sitting in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice at 5 AM, it hit me that I might live my whole life without ever once going after my dream of writing a novel. So, for the next six months I wrote a rough draft in the pool parking lot, and it sold to the first publisher who asked to read it.

My first novel was published when I was forty-five. At fifty, I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie version of my second novel, Must Love Dogs. I’m now the bestselling author of nine novels, including my about-to-be released Wallflower in Bloom.

Writing is still that place for me where my urge to create and my ability intersect. And not many days go by that I don’t take a deep breath and remind myself that this is the career I almost didn’t have.

* * * * *

In addition to being a June Indie Next Pick, Wallflower in Bloom has been praised by these two distinctly different raves:

“A fun and inspiring read . . . Cook’s humor and narrative execution is impeccable; Deirdre’s increasing self-consciousness elicits support for her to overcome insecurity and endure in her journey to find happiness and fulfillment on her own terms.” —Publisher’s Weekly

WALLFLOWER IN BLOOM is a Cool Reads for Summertime pick — Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In other words, this book is a winner!

Here’s the synopsis:

A winning and witty novel about a woman who emerges from the shadow of her overbearing family and finds herself “dancing with the stars.”

Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own. She’s the round-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag. As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as gatekeeper to Tag at his New England seaside compound.

Then Deirdre’s sometime-boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman, who just happens to be having the baby he told Deirdre he never wanted. While drowning her sorrows with Tag’s vodka, Deirdre comes up with an idea. She’ll use his massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute replacement on Dancing with the Stars. It’ll get her back in shape, mentally and physically. It might even get her a life of her own. Deirdre Griffin’s fifteen minutes of fame has begun.

Irresistible, offbeat, yet with a thoroughly relatable and appealing heroine, this is an original and deeply satisfying story of one woman who’s ready to take a leap into the spotlight, no matter where she lands.

Read and/or listen to Claire read Chapter One….enjoy!

Visit the one and only Claire Cook at her website, follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, and enjoy the reading fun of Wallflower in Bloom!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Camille Noe Pagán: Why I Write

May 30, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[One year ago Camille Noe Pagán debuted with The Art of Forgetting (presentation/review), complete with its stunning book cover and fascinating storyline of forgiving/forgetting for the sake of friendship. However, as of yesterday, The Art of Forgetting is available in paperback with another lovely cover for the same intriguing tale.

Interestingly, in today’s guest post, Camille admits that she doesn’t forget and that helps to explain why she writes.]

Why I Write

There was a guy. I’d call him a man, but I knew him long before he became one, and I loved him then, too. But I didn’t know what to do with that love; I was afraid of it, paralyzed by how I thought it would limit me. You know this story: We moved on. We married other people.

There was an acceptance letter: Harvard School of Public Health welcomes you. A letter followed by a difficult decision: I’m going to give this writing thing a try. A real try, instead of squeezing it in between classes and roping myself down with thousands of dollars of debt, debt that would influence my future career choices, and not necessarily in good ways. You can always reapply, I told myself as I mailed off the reply: Thank you, but no.

There was a city. The city: New York, the only place I’d ever felt at home. But I was about to have my second child, and I wanted to give him and his sister more than I’d be able to if we stayed. So my husband and I packed up and moved to the Midwest, where we had space, more educational options, and at least some of our extended family nearby.

I’ve never regretted choosing my husband—not once. I have a career that even on the worst day is better than I could have ever imagined. My children adore their home, with its attic playroom and grassy yard where they kick around soccer balls and splash in their kiddie pool. And I adore it, too, even if I occasionally wonder if they’d be just as content with Brooklyn as their backyard.

Some people claim they never look over their shoulder, back at what they left behind in order to be where they are now. I am not one of them. Even now, in this blessed life I’ve forged, I still sometimes think of that guy, and graduate school, and New York.

For me, looking back is not about regret. It’s just how I think—and it is exactly why I write.

It’s no news flash that life doesn’t come with do-overs. It’s all forward motion, and it’s faster and faster with every passing year.

But writing: that comes with track changes; multiple drafts; a delete button. It is chance to live many lives, to make many choices, to explore things freely and know that in the end, even though I have created them, they are not my own. Each time I return to the blank page, I am choosing a new adventure. An adventure I can revise as many times as needed before it feels just right.

* * * * *

Forgive and forget—but not necessarily in that order.

The Art of Forgetting is a story about the power of friendship, the memories and self-created myths that hold us back from our true potential, and most of all, the delicate balance between forgiving and forgetting.

Here’s an eclectic sampling of praise since its debut:

“Pagán writes with both a subtle sense of humor and great wisdom about the power of friendship and the importance of forgiveness in her quietly compelling literary debut.”
 —Chicago Tribune

“Fast-paced, painful, funny, and renewing at once.”
—Daily Candy

“A cathartic, thought-provoking story of unconditional friendship and the choices we make on the road to becoming who we’re meant to be.”
Shelf Awareness

Camille Noe Pagán can be followed on Twitter, liked on Facebook and enjoyed through her writing of The Art of Forgetting.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagán — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Meg Mitchell Moore: Why I Write

May 22, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Journalist/novelist Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Arrivals (presentation/review) was praised as “a promising debut” (Publishers Weekly) when released last spring. This spring — on May 29, 2012 — the author offers So Far Away praised by Publisher’s Weekly: “This sweet and thoughtful novel is both tense and elegiac, exploring the damage we inflict on ourselves and each other, and the strength it takes to heal.”

The Divining Wand has scheduled an interview with the author on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 where you’ll learn much more about So Far Away however, in today’s guest post, Meg cites a legendary journalist/author to help explain why she writes.]

Why I Write

I once heard a quote about writing that really struck me. It went something like this, “Writing is the only thing that when I’m doing it I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.” When I sat down to write this post, I thought I would try to dig out the exact quote. Laboring under the misconception that it came from Gertrude Stein, I searched through a bunch of her quotes, trying to untangle those gloriously complex sentences to find what I was looking for. Nada. (Indeed the statement seemed, in retrospect, to be a remarkably succinct one for Stein: I should have known.)

As it turns out I had the right initials, wrong writer. It was Gloria Steinem who said it, in a November, 1965, article for Harper’s called, “What’s In It For Me?” As an nonsubscriber I am not privy to the entire article but the bit that I was able to access told me that Steinem is right on the money. Here’s the quote:

But for me, it’s the only thing that passes the three tests of métier: (1) when I’m doing it, I don’t feel that I should be doing something else instead; (2) it produces a sense of accomplishment and, once in a while, pride; and (3) it’s frightening.

Yes, yes, and yes! Is it bad guest-post-writing etiquette to say, “What she said!” and move on with my day? Maybe, but I don’t think I could articulate my thoughts about writing as well as Steinem articulated hers. Really, she nails it.

Life is so busy for so many of us that it’s a very common affliction to have our minds on anything but the task at hand. I am certainly guilty of that. When I am folding laundry I feel like I should be stretching my hamstring. Walking the dog? Usually thinking about the laundry. Grocery shopping? Field trip permission slips or the Scholastic book orders. Or walking the dog. You get the picture.

But writing does not allow for that sort of divided attention: it demands all of us, for a concentrated amount of time, and giving in to that demand—and overcoming the fear the Steinem talks about—is a rare and wonderful thing. It’s something that we writers should feel very fortunate to experience, because not everybody gets to do so on a regular basis.

The next line in Steinem’s article says, “I don’t like to write. I like to have written.” Yes again! Who among us (be honest!) doesn’t agree with that sometimes? I’m a runner, and I have made the comparison between running and writing more than once, here on this site and elsewhere, so I won’t bore this audience with that again. But. I will say that usually, having run feels better than actually running. Often, having written feels better than actually writing. Bravo to Steinem for saying so, for saying all of it, and bravo to all the writers who are out there plugging away at it, day after day after day. I bet if we could ask her now we could get even Gertrude Stein to agree.

Meg Mitchell Moore can be followed on Twitter and liked on Facebook.

Jennifer Gooch Hummer: Why I Write

May 16, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Jennifer Gooch Hummer’s debut novel Girl Unmoored could simply be described as stunning and be left at that. And maybe it should be, allowing readers to wonder, then discover on their own what makes it so.

The best news is that today’s guest post offers a sample of the author’s voice on her feelings and thoughts as Jennifer shares why she writes….(brilliantly).]

Why I Write

When my kids were still too young to taste the difference between brownies made with water and brownies made with broccoli, my husband went to Mt Everest for two months. Two months. He’s a sports broadcaster. It was a show. I talked to him once a week from base camp.

There were days when the only people I spoke to were three feet tall. Staying sane was a top priority, so I had to come up with a plan. I decided to pretend there were secret cameras in every corner of my house. That way, when I most wanted to scream my brains out, I would think twice and remember to at least smile as I did. And as nutty as this sounds, it helped. (I also taught them to address me as their “young-looking beautiful mom” whenever they asked for something.)

This is how writers go through life. Not as that insane mother, but as the hidden camera. We’re watchers. We watch people when they don’t know it. We watch people when we don’t know it. And weirdest of all, we watch ourselves and know it.

I write because I’ve always been the hidden camera. When I was seven years old, I was brushing my teeth one day, minding my own business, when the girl in the mirror smirked at me. “You’re going to be a writer you know.” “Nope,” I said. Writers were old and not pretty and not famous. Plus, I had big plans to be a professional Avon lady. There was no way I was going to be a writer. “You’ll see,” that little girl said. And by fourth grade I knew she was right.

I often wonder if whoever designed this thing called “Life” fell asleep at the wheel a few times. Why else would bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad? But writers can fix this. We add the motives to the craziness. Selfish, self-centered, mean? You don’t get the girl at the end. Humble, caring, funny? You do. It might be cliché, but it’s also reassuring. Writers are like ER doctors; we never know what kind of trauma we’re going to find when we show up at the page each day, but whatever it is, it’s our job to fix it.

Being the hidden camera can be solid gold at times. But it’s also a bit of a curse. When I’m away from the page for too long, my brain gets tangled and scrambled and snarled. The things I’ve seen or thought or watched in the passing wordless days make no sense. These motive-less moments get all cramped together inside that too-small space between my ears and pretty soon – we all know – it’s gonna’ blow.

I wish it weren’t this way. I wish I could stop assigning reasons as to why my mail person consistently wears a knee brace on the right knee one day, but on the left the next. I wish I would stop wondering why that guy I see at Starbucks who’s dressed in an Armani suit drives a red beat up truck. And mostly, I really wish I had just done the math on the SAT’s instead of staring off into space wondering why Jimmy had seventeen marbles while LaShawn only had six – did Jimmy steal them? Are they siblings? Is he threatening to beat her up if she tells anyone?

Okay, so I didn’t get into my first-choice college. But I’d be willing to bet my mother’s circa 1960 Pucci pants that I’m not the only writer out there whose head is in a constant state of repair. And I think we’d all agree that these brain explosions are much better splattered on paper rather than on family, friends and dentists. Personally, I need these people, I love these people (not my dentist) and even though I wish I could edit them sometimes (did I mention I have three tween/teenage daughters now?) staying sane for them is still a top priority.

So I write.

And every minute of every day I feel so lucky that I do.

* * * * *

In The Revealing of Jennifer Gooch Hummer, the phenomenal praise for Girl Unmoored was noted along with the news that the book had won the Paris Book Festival Award 2012, Best YA Fiction. Since then this unforgettable novel has also won The San Francisco Book Festival Awards 2012 – Teen Fiction, Next Generation Indie Awards for YA Fiction, Finalist in the Next Gen Indie for Best Chick Lit, and Finalist for Best Fiction Cover. Please disregard the YA and Teen Fiction labeling. This is a coming-of-age story — a tale in which lessons are learned about life and love at any age! [In fact, according to Amazon tracking, customers who purchased Girl Unmoored also bought Fifty Shades of Grey. I rest my case. 😉]

Jennifer Gooch Hummer can also be followed on Twitter and liked on Facebook.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Jillian Medoff: Why I Write

May 15, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[As an individual, Jillian Medoff (Good Girls Gone Bad, Hunger Point) knows herself well and — because of this — as an author, she knows her characters even better. I Couldn’t Love You More, her third novel, releases today and holds the promise of being your “next best read.” Seriously!

In today’s guest post Jillian admits her need to make sense of the world through writing. However, by doing so, the novelist gives voice to all of us. Enjoy.]

Why I Write

I Couldn’t Love You More, like each of my novels, was born of rage and frustration. Although the reasons for my rage differ from book to book, the underlying motivation is always the same: to have my say, usually about someone who has wronged me or someone else. (To clarify: nine times out of ten, the people who wrong me have no idea. Although I burn with the heat of ten thousand suns, I do this silently. I am painfully shy and overly nice (too nice, sometimes), but only my closest friends (and now you) know that I can also be opinionated, competitive, and when it comes to writing, very critical of myself. But because I rarely articulate my truest thoughts (not out of fear but because it’s not nice), I need some way to express them.) I also feel very sympathetic toward people who have been mistreated, marginalized, and under-represented in our culture. My husband says that I carry the sorrows of the world, but someone has to speak up for those who can’t. I realize this sounds as though I write novels about migrant farm workers or early 20th century factory workers when in fact I write tragicomic domestic dramas. Give me time, though. I’m just warming up.

Here’s the truth about writing fiction: no one asks you to write, and no one cares if you do. In fact, very often it feels as though people are actively arguing against it. As an artist, then, your challenge is to create despite (or in my case, because of) the world’s indifference and opposition. To make art is a very lonely, very isolating enterprise. Believe me, I would much rather watch crime shows and British period dramas than stare at a computer all day. But I am a writer, which means that even if I have just spent five years working on a dead book that no one wants to read, much less buy (see my Q&A), I will sit down and do it again, and again, and again.

The world is an absurd, chaotic place, and my books help me make sense of it. Writing is what keeps me tethered. When I’m not engaged in a novel, ambient sounds become deafening. There are too many sharp corners. Time moves at a dull, languid pace. I feel too present, too large and ungainly. But when I’m working, the loud noises are muffled, the edges smoothed out, and everything is cast in soft focus. Writing well feels like moving through water. It’s easy, endlessly satisfying, often exhilarating, and I can lose eight, ten, twelve hours at a clip. Writing novels is like having a conversation with every person who has ever burned you (or a mistreated factory worker), except you are the only one talking, so you can finally express all that built-up resentment and sorrow. For someone who rarely had her say growing up, this is a very heady, very powerful feeling.

I am the eldest daughter of a traveling salesman who moved his family 17 times by the time I was 17. I attended seven elementary schools, two junior highs and three high schools. At the end of the tenth grade, my family ended up in Atlanta, where—spoiler alert!—my new novel is set. After high school, I studied writing at a fancy private college, and then struggled to pay for a top MFA program while working full-time. In graduate school, I discovered I was a terrible editor, and had to first re-learn how to read before I could then re-learn how to write. Most of the writers I went to school with were talented, many far more talented than I, but talent, we all found out, was the easy part. A writer’s life is fueled by stamina, relentless self-belief, deliberate self-delusion, and absolute will (and in the end, it all comes down to the luck of the draw). Back then, I doubted myself at every turn, but to not try to succeed seemed worse somehow than failing. So I gave it a go.

Here is another truth about writing: you are rejected, in one way or another, every single day. I graduated from college in 1985, and since then, I have worked (almost) full-time at an anonymous, old-fashioned, nine-to-five corporate job. So for the whole of my adult life, I worked and went to work. While my friends went to bars, hooked up, got married, and had children, I worked and went to work. Eventually, I had children and got married, too, but I continued to work and go to work—and I continued to get rejected Every. Single. Day. Despite all the rejection, though, the idea that anyone—agent, publisher, reviewer—could say anything that would make me stop is beyond my comprehension. I may never be considered a literary icon, but my art is my art and I work at it every day. I’m a writer, ipso facto, I write.

After reading (and likely feeling) Jillian’s strength and passion, you can now watch and listen to her describe the storyline of I Couldn’t Love You More. Also another truth is that this book could not be more highly recommended!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of I Couldn’t Love You More by Jillian Medoff — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.