The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Presenting Debutante Alicia Bessette
and Simply from Scratch

August 02, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Throughout the year she’s watched, applauded, supported her fellow 2010 Class Members dance across the ballroom floor to launch their books and celebrate with tours/signings. However this Thursday, August 5, 2010 it’s Debutante Alicia Bessette’s turn to take a bow when her first novel, Simply from Scratch, appears in local bookstores and ships from online retailers.

Of course, truth be told, this book is not Alicia’s first published “composition.” As a self-trained musician, she’s been playing the piano since childhood and her original solo piano pieces can be heard on radio stations around the world. Reservoir, the first CD, was released in 2002 and the most recent, Orchard, received a nomination for the 2009 “grassroots grammies.” For more about Alicia’s music please visit, Alicia Bessette pianist/composer.

Yet in her Wednesday posts at The Debutante Ball, Alicia rarely mentioned music except for a brief nod, such as this, in the September 2, 2009 post, In which Ms. Wednesday introduces herself, and her book!. Here’s what she shared in that first post:

1. I’m married to my college sweetheart, novelist Matthew Quick. In 2004, with the shared goal of becoming full-time novelists, we quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved in with my parents. Five years later, Matt and I are on our own, back in the Philly area, publishing novels and doing everything we can to continue living the dream.

2. I can’t wait to be reunited with my piano, which is very quietly waiting in what was my parents’ dining room in Massachusetts. What caused the separation? More on that in future posts.

3. Does it have something (anything) to do with France? Or dogs? Movies? Music, of any kind? Yoga? Travel? If so, I’m probably very interested!

In that same post the new Debutante also offered a brief synopsis of her novel:

I once heard an inspiring piece of writing advice: “Write the book only you can write.”

That was my aim with my debut novel, Simply from Scratch—to create a story that’s bighearted, accessible, and totally, authentically me.

A week after Hurricane Katrina, I was hired at a regional newspaper, The Landmark, in my hometown of Holden, Massachusetts. For months my colleagues and I wrote about volunteers from our area helping the people of New Orleans. That spirit of community outreach inspired Simply from Scratch. I asked myself, What would happen if one of those Massachusetts volunteers didn’t return? And the book grew from that question.

Simply from Scratch is peopled with lively small-town heroes. You’ll meet a chainsaw artist in her seventies. (Because really, isn’t it time American literature boasted a strong, chainsaw-wielding older woman?) And you’ll meet Ingrid, a young girl scheming to get to know world-famous TV chef Polly Pinch, coquettish star of a hit cooking show. You’ll meet other characters too.

Marisa de los Santos, bestselling author of Love Walked In offered early praise:

“This story of a young widow edging warily back into the world is full of vivid characters and grace. Imbued with hope but blessedly lacking in sentimentality, it is a fresh, stirring take on the devastation of grief and the holiness of friendship.”

And the buzz of anticipation for the book began.

While more Praise is offered, the REAL treat is an Excerpt of Simply from Scratch Chapter 1 in its entirety!

That first chapter introduces many of the storyline’s characters, while leaving the reader with a variety of unanswered questions. It’s not meant to confuse but to pique interest as the author deftly withholds telling backstory details all at once. Instead she scatters bits of information like breadcrumbs to keep the reader following and engaged.

On the other hand, there may be one character who “knows” almost everything from the start. In response to an interview question (posed by a chain bookstore in Germany) — What is the role of the non-human character, the greyhound, Captain Ahab? –, Alicia answered in the July 21, 2010 post, Knowing things:

Greyhounds are a little bit odd. They’re different than other dogs. Their affection is subtle; their presence is calm and cool; and they have many quirks (they rarely sit, for example).

Like her dog, the grieving narrator of Simply from Scratch is a little … different! An artist, Zell “feels” the world more intensely than most people. She’s got her fair share of quirks too: talking to Ahab in pirate-speak; composing emails to Nick, her deceased husband. Captain Ahab’s reserved yet quirky personality underscores that of Zell.

Many people who feel a bond with animals will tell you that animals know things. They know when their people are hurting. They know when there’s celebration in the air.

Captain Ahab joins literature’s many animal characters that serve to remind us of intuition, of inner-knowing, of keen perception. In the very first scene of Simply from Scratch, Ahab looks on as Zell discovers a present hidden in her oven, a gift Nick intended to give to her. Not emotionally ready to open it, Zell hides the present away, until the end of the book.

But I think part of her knows all along what’s in that box. Some readers might know it, too.”

Knowing what’s in the box (I didn’t) or any other of these characters’ unspoken truths doesn’t matter. In fact it’s part of the enjoyment of getting to know the town that Alicia has created. A cross between two brilliantly written TV shows, “Northern Exposure” and “Men in Trees,” Simply from Scratch offers a comfort zone despite having grief, guilt, and a general feeling of indecision exist within its pages. Yet even as Zell mourns — as does everyone else –, there is hope. Why? Well they all must deal with the loss of a husband or friend and start over, simply from scratch.

Charming, thoughtful, and heartfelt, this debut novel gathers seemingly unrelated, significant details together to create a tale that’s both tender and true. But how did the author transform fictional quirky characters and events into what could pass for a realistic human interest story? Alicia explains:

I’m not sure how they all came together. When you’re working on a book, you devote so many hours and an unthinkable amount of thought (!) to it. After a while, all the random little pieces of your story — events, details, characters and what they want — all these things start to synthesize, start to make even more sense than you realized. I hesitate to use the word “magic” in conjunction with the writing process, and I don’t want to sound flaky … and yet, I do believe that when you’re writing, you’re in a very receptive state, and at some point, subconscious takes over, or some kind of inner awareness — perhaps the magic of creation? — and it guides you in drawing connections.

Simply from Scratch connects on all levels, including the double entendre of its title. Alicia Bessette’s “magic of creation” is present on every page and in every character, none of whom you will soon forget. Treat yourself to this warm-hearted novel and enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Alicia Bessette’s Simply from Scratch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Claire Cook and Seven Year Switch

July 26, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

From the Front Cover

“Reading Claire Cook might be the most fun you have all summer.”
–ELIN HILDERBRAND, bestselling author of The Castaways

Although Elin Hilderbrand’s quote may sound somewhat exaggerated, what would be more fun this summer than sitting on a beach with your arms spread wide to embrace sand, surf, and blue sky? In fact one might imagine that’s how Claire Cook (Must Love Dogs, Life’s A Beach, and the rest in Bibliography) enjoyed her trip to Costa Rica where she researched Seven Year Switch.

Simply put, this bestselling author of seven book believes in having fun while embracing life and her characters reflect that attitude….at least by the end of their tales. Is this art imitating life? Well in her recent post, Guest Claire Cook on Buried Dreams and YOUR Seven Year Switch, she admits that before following her dream: “…I pretended I wasn’t feeling terrible about not writing a novel, and did a lot of other creative things.” However, during the July 9, 2010 LitChat — where the topic of the week was reinvention — Claire explained further:

Change is hard, so I think being miserable is good incentive.

For me the procrastination became more painful than actually writing a book.

I majored in film and creative writing in college, then totally choked. I hid from it for
over two decades.

I’d gotten by on potential and suddenly I actually had to do something.

Those are all insightful and wise statements from a successful author thrilled to have her novels labeled as “beach reads.” However, when dipping into the pages, readers discover the content is anything but shallow. Instead Claire Cook writes: “The main characters in my novels are all trying to find a way to their own next chapters. I’m not sure any journey feels “‘standard'” when you’re the one who has to go through it, fictionally or in reality!”

It’s also not an easy journey when change is forced upon you as it is in Seven Year Switch, described here in the author’s own words:

Seven Year Switch is the story of a single mother whose husband ran off to join the Peace Corps, leaving her with a three-year-old. Seven years later, just when they’ve figured out how to make it on their own, he’s ba-ack – proving he can’t even run away reliably! Now Jill has to face the fact that there’s simply no way she can be a good mom without letting her ex back into her daughter’s life. They say that every seven years you become a completely new person, and it takes a Costa Rican getaway to help Jill make her choice – between the woman she is and the woman she wants to be.

Knowing that Claire’s books are more about the characters rather than about theme, setting, or plot, The Divining Wand asked where Jill Murray came from? Delighted with the author’s response on her free association imagination, it’s only fair to share her thought process:

“Seven novels in, I stop to think what haven’t I tried before, and I realized that while some of my narrators have been single women, I’ve never written from the point of view of a single mom. I’ve been married for a zillion years (to the same guy, no less!) so I started reaching out to friends and friends of friends who were single moms. I was a teacher for sixteen years, and I remembered some of my students’ experiences as their families navigated the waters of divorce. Then I started thinking about how our lives never turn out quite the way we planned. And I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures, and I was dying to take a research trip to Costa Rica. And it was my seventh novel, so I started thinking about the significance of the number seven. And somehow into all this Jill was born! I’m never quite sure how it all comes together — I just feel my way through.”

With such natural common sense, it’s not surprising that Claire confesses her writing goes “flat” if she analyzes too much. Analytical and critical thinking is saved for revisions, but in the first draft she needs to feel it, not think it. Hmm, a gift of talent? All the author knows is she was surprised to learn that everyone’s brain doesn’t function the way hers does. And, while other writers can’t understand how her process can be successful, she just loves that this proves there is no one way to write a book.

To read Praise for Seven Year Switch please read the right column of the page. To read an Excerpt: Chapter One, please scroll down this same page.

Skipping the beach scene to read Seven Year Switch within the air-conditioned comfort of home did prove to be fun as well as thought-provoking. In truth this story focuses on Jill Murray’s two reinventions, the first brought on seven years earlier when her husband left. Literally abandoned, without an income and their three year old daughter to support, Jill transforms herself into a survivor and earns her dues to be startled and confused — though stronger and wiser — on his surprise return. And that’s when the time comes for another seven year change.

The writing showcases an entrepreneurial single mom who is bright, bold, and determined to do what’s best for her child. Also the serious issues of a “deadbeat Dad,” scrimping to get by, and a child missing/loving her father are treated with a respectful light touch. How? Well the author has infused her protagonist with humor, sass, and enough quirky supporting characters to brighten the journey and even create laugh out loud moments — Great Girlfriend Getaways’ headphone, Cynthia, Spanx….

Delivering her message of reinvention, with more than a spoonful of sugar, Claire Cook allows the reader to have fun with Seven Year Switch, while perhaps thinking of changes in their own future. Hmm, enjoy!

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Announcement: The winners of Keetha DePriest Mosley’s Culinary Kudzu(s) are: Alicia and Elizabeth Varga. Congratulations.

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


Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Claire Cook’s Seven Year Switch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

The Truth of a Fortune Cookie

June 23, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Advance News, Books

As a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then as a freelance writer, Therese Walsh’s byline has appeared on hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online. However, on October 13, 2009 — now less than four months away –, Therese will become a novelist with the debut of The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Is this a dream come true? Well, actually, it’s her fortune cookie prophecy coming true!

On international bestseller author M.J. Rose’s blog, Backstory (“Where authors share secrets, truths, logical and illogical moments that sparked their fiction or memoirs.”), the debut author confessed all in her June 19th post, Therese Walsh’s Backstory. Hmm, and may it be also noted that she has a master’s degree in psychology? 😉

It’s possible to tease here because of the great buzz already describing Moira Leahy. In fact please visit news/reviews on Therese’s website and then wander through truly magical pages that hint at and share parts of the story.

Therese Walsh and her novel will be revisited again in upcoming posts over the next months for what could be better or more exciting than choosing a debut author as a friend? And for those readers who wish to pre-order The Last Will of Moira Leahy now, you may do so at any one of these online stores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, IndieBound.