The Divining Wand

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Judy Merrill Larsen’s Love Story

February 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character, someone who IF only existed…? On the other hand, when writers imagine their characters, do they ever create their “ideal?”

Our guest author for this week, Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers), has experienced both and shares how her romantic dream came true.

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Finding Love Among the Pages

In the summer of 1973 I fell in love. Hard. This was no schoolgirl crush, no scribbling his initials and mine on my fabric covered three-ring notebook. In a way that I didn’t fully understand, this was it, was real, was grown up.
I was 13.

That summer I read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the very first time, and along with all the other emotions the book elicited in me, on some level, I also realized that Atticus Finch was my dream man. And this was before I’d seen Gregory Peck playing him on screen (that pretty much sealed it for me, though, when I did).

Atticus was a good man. He strove to do right even when everyone around him told him it was wrong. He loved his children. He was smart and funny and believed that most people were good. He wanted to make the world better.
Now, my passion for Atticus didn’t keep me holed up in my room all through high school, pining for a man I could never have. No, I fell for crooked grins and dimples, sweet smiles and piercing blue eyes . . . most of it unrequited. And, I always had my worn hard cover copy of MOCKINGBIRD at the ready to dive into anytime I needed the comfort of what had come to feel like home.

Ten years later I got married (what was I thinking? I was only 23!), had babies and began playing adult. Dreams of writing and of Atticus collected dust while I nursed my boys, did the laundry, cooked the meals and created a home for my family. On rare (very rare when you have two active little boys!) occasions I’d get a few moments to myself and I’d grab a book to read, sometimes reaching for the comforts of Maycomb and Atticus Finch.

Twenty years later, I was a single mom to those same two sweet little boys, feeling a bit stunned and shell-shocked to be an ex-wife. Eventually, I would try dating again, hopeful that I might find Mr. Right, but doubting he really existed, at least for me. My mantra became “hope for the best but expect the worst.” Once, after another bad first date, I was bemoaning my situation to my best friend who looked at me and said, “You’re looking for Atticus Finch, aren’t you?”

I was, of course, but had never admitted it to anyone, even to myself. And it occurred to me that perhaps I’d set the bar a tad too high.
I had a full life and I knew I was lucky. But, as I wrote about my main character in ALL THE NUMBERS, “Fortunately for Ellen, her life was full of family and friends and work. But sometimes her bed seemed too big for just one person. And sometimes she wished for a welcome home hug and kiss from an adult.” This was true for me, too.

I found time to chase the dream of becoming a novelist, and I poured many of my hopes and dreams and frustrations into Ellen. And, through the magic of fiction, I created her (and my) in the character of Bob Hansen, a lawyer who helps her after the death of her son. He’s patient and kind and good-looking. He’s smart and funny. He’s Ellen’s Atticus.

And I wanted him, too. But, like Atticus, he existed only between the covers of a book, and in my case, a book that hadn’t yet been published.

Flash forward another eight years, to 2001. Almost thirty years after I’d met Atticus; two years after I’d created the character of Bob Hansen.

My own Atticus Finch/Bob Hansen walked into my life, my REAL life, a life that existed not in the pages of a book I loved or a manuscript I hoped would someday be published.

A funny, smart, kind man who adored his children and mine, was respected as a lawyer, and wore glasses just like Atticus and Bob. A man who made me laugh, kept me on my toes, and had those great crinkles around his eyes when he smiled.

When my book was published five years later. Our friends (by then, we’d been married for a year) teased us that he was Bob Hansen. The character in my book. They didn’t believe me when I explained I’d written him, described him in the pages a full year before we met. The dark hair, the eye crinkles, the intelligence and kindness. All of it was John . . . but I hadn’t met him yet. In my toast to him at our wedding, I said he was my Atticus, and my best friend, my matron of honor, the one who all those years ago had said that’s what I was looking for, smiled through her tears as did I and as did John.

Who knew I could write the man of my dreams in my book and less than a year later he’d be standing on my doorstep, taking me out for dinner?

So, when I say that writing my book and having it published was the fulfillment of a dream, it’s true on so many levels.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two signed copies of Judy Merrill Larsen’s debut novel, All the Numbers. Please leave a comment on this post before tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. EST to be entered into the random drawing. The winners will be announced in Thursday’s post.

The Revealing of Judy Merrill Larsen

February 10, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

JudytmbWhen Judy Merrill Larsen, a former high school English teacher, wrote her debut novel, All the Numbers, she brilliantly told the heartbreaking story of losing a child. And, although it was purely fiction, the book resonated with so many who had lived through that tragic nightmare. In fact Judy was overwhelmed with “thank you” mail for giving voice and respect to their grief.

With her talent and literary skill grounded in the core values of middle America, it’s not surprising that this author simply says: “I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband, our five kids, a really sweet (but very dumb) golden retriever and a diabetic cat.”

Now let’s g;et to know Judy much better through what she reveals:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Really happy, very lucky, always grateful, needs coffee.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: It is what it is and it’s all good. (Or Go Packers!)

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Recognizing and appreciating how good I have it when I have it. Not to be all preachy or anything, but I sometimes have to catch myself to enjoy the moment without wishing for more. Most days, I choose to be happy.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Something really bad happening to one of my kids or my husband. That and being in a snake pit.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Somewhere warm (I’m pretty sick of winter these days). More specifically, I’d love to be in the South of France or in Tuscany, enjoying the view, the wine, and my husband.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: This is hard because mostly I look at people who have struggled/made a difference/survived and I’m in awe, thinking, how did they do that? Where’d they find the strength to do what they did? And I wonder how I’d hold up under such pressure. I like to think I’d stand up for right, that I’d be strong, but I haven’t been tested in the ways so many people throughout history have been, so it seems wrong to compare myself to anyone like that.
And just regular folks like me don’t really stand out in history.

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

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases
A: Okay okay okay. Just a minute. I’ll be right there. Is the wine open?

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d love to be able to understand how to write music. Or draw and paint. That would rock.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Raising my sons who’ve turned out to be really fun, kind, happy young men.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Hmm. I’m impatient. And cluttered. I’m a bit of a hypchondriac. (I just asked my husband and he said, “Not having any flaws.” Ha!)

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Understanding the importance of family and friends and learning from experience.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not having a third (or fourth? Eeek!) baby.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A:I’d love to be a roadie for a Bruce Springsteen tour–you know, the person who tosses him the guitar.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: According to my husband, I’m pretty much without pretense (which isn’t always a good thing).

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Atticus Finch.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Quentin Compson from The Sound and the Fury. He’s just so wonderful to hate. And it all comes back to bite him in the end.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Brett Favre. I’d thank him for all the fun and excitement of watching him over the years. And then I’d ask him to please apologize to my son for going to the Vikings.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A:Probably rudeness and intolerance– they both seem so pervasive these days.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading or cooking or planning my next trip.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I think I’d love to be a chef or a singer in a band.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Honesty/integrity, a sense of humor, kindness

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Really good pizza or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies. Oh, or homemade chex-mix.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Fly Me to the Moon, Thunder Road, Sweet Baby James, Little Darlin’/Here Comes the Sun, Brown-Eyed Girl

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: To Kill a Mockingbird, Crossing to Safety, The Things They Carried, The Sound and the Fury, and Grapes of Wrath

Would you like to know even more? Become Judy’s friend on Facebook and welcome her next Wednesday when she guest blogs during a special week at The Divining Wand.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away both of Kristy Kiernan’s novels, Catching Genius and Matters of Faith, as a duo. Please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the random drawing. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST. with the winner announced here in tomorrow’s post.