The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now enjoy this stunning visual that also tells the tale:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James King and Bill Warrington’s Last Chance

November 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Although his journey to publication took more than 30 years, James King reached his destination — not only by becoming an Amazon Breakthrough Winner — but by writing his debut novel Bill Warrington’s Last Chance about the journey of life.

The author, a corporate communications writer by day and aspiring novelist by night, had three unpublished novels in his desk drawer when he was inspired to write the character of Bill Warrington based on a neighbor/friend who had passed away ten years earlier. As James says:

“He was a nice man, but in a gruff, New England-Yankee sort of way. My wife and I had just moved into our house two weeks after his wife of some fifty years had died. And over the years, the house that he had built for her started to fall apart around him. He wanted no help. In fact, when I complained to him that he should let me help him, let me be a good neighbor, he said, “’You are a good neighbor; you mind your own damned business.’”

What a great character with a lifetime of experiences but what does the author do with such a solitary man? The genius idea of pairing a failing grandfather with his “dreaming big dreams” granddaughter fell into place when, according to James, “April showed up one day, knocked on the creative block I was dealing with at the time, and demanded to be put into the story. I have no idea where she came from, but I’m grateful she came around.”

And the storyline evolved into the novel and this synopsis:

With a new diagnosis that threatens his mind and most cherished memories, Bill Warrington is determined to patch up his differences with his three children before it’s too late. But when all three grown siblings greet Bill’s overtures with wary indifference, he improvises a scheme to skip town with his fifteen-year-old granddaughter, April, whose twin ambitions to learn how to drive and to find rock stardom on the West Coast make her his perfect–and perfectly willing–abductee. But Bill’s plan soon veers dangerously off course, leaving April behind the wheel of his beloved Chevy Impala, dealing with situations no fifteen-year-old should face. A rich multigenerational saga, Bill Warrington’s Last Chance soars with humor, compassion, and unflinching insight into the pain and joy of all family life, while the promise of a new generation shines bright against the ravages of aging in a man who does not go gently… anywhere.

No Bill Warrington does not go gently at all as this video shows:

And the critics agree:

“The spirited interplay between the gruff but wounded Bill and the perhaps too precocious April provides the most sensitive scenes in this enjoyable first novel.” Publisher’s Weekly

“A moving tale.” People Magazine. Selected as a “Great Read.”

“Part road odyssey, part coming-of-age tale, King’s novel achieves the exact right balance of humor, redemption, and reconciliation.” Deborah Donovan, Booklist

In a beautifully written tale of reality James King explores the universal themes of grief and forgiveness, aging and death, the desire for freedom and the need for connection. A story literally for all ages, the author has provided characters — young, middle age, and elderly — who have yet to learn life’s lessons and continue holding on to their errant behavior until, as in Bill’s case, it’s almost too late.

Yes the characters are flawed but not unlikeable. They have their issues as well as redeeming qualities to which almost every reader can relate. And, in addition to the drama, there is the humor for Bill Warrington does not go gently.

Although Alzheimer’s is implied, it’s also never stated that Bill has been diagnosed with the disease. In fact he rationalizes his forgetfulness during his lucid moments and hours of storytelling. Still, when the author places the reader in Bill’s mind as his memory fades in and out, the experience feels remarkably accurate. So much so that The Divining Wand asked James to explain how he managed to create the believable mental confusion? And he replied:

“I’m not sure I can. My research into dementia was limited primarily to its symptoms. Beyond that, I just put myself in Bill’s shoes and tried to imagine what it was like, for example, to reach for a doorknob and suddenly realize that you have no idea where you are, or who or what is on the other side of that door.”

A frightening, sad thought yet even more disturbing might be the disconnection from family and friends. How ironic is it that we now live in a world where there are phone companies and Internet providers that offer friends and family plans to keep us electronically connected 24/7, yet an in-person smile or nod of understanding is probably what’s needed?

And how appropriate is it that Bill Warrington’s Last Chance is being presented/reviewed during Thanksgiving week? This novel provides hope and possibly even encouragement to reconnect with family members. In fact, since the novel’s debut in late August, James King has been flattered to receive a number of emails and letters from readers who have said that the story has not only “struck home,” but has also reminded them of what’s important in life.

This is truly a good book, a wonderful read, and a lovely gift. Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of James King’s Bill Warrington’s Last Chance in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. Because of the shortened holiday week the deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Wednesday’s post. If you enter, please return Wednesday to see if you’re a winner.

Chandra Hoffman and Chosen

November 08, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Having been an orphanage relief worker in Romania, and the director of a US adoption program in Portland, Oregon, Chandra Hoffman writes what she knows in her debut novel, Chosen. However as the author says, “The story is fiction–but the themes are real, from my own life, from the message boards, from those I have been privileged to witness, and, maybe, even from yours….”

With the domestic adoption scene of Portland as a backdrop — and also taking on a character role of its own –, Chosen focuses on the two complex questions of What happens when you get what you thought you wanted and How far would you go if it might not be what you want anymore? Rather than the musings of “what if”s?” these questions can only be answered by actions and, to do this, Chandra introduces the reader to characters with multiple points of view. In fact being able to hear divergent voices is a major part of her writing as she explains:

“It’s critical to be able to tune into your characters’ unique voices and the easiest way for me to do that is to figure out how they sound out loud. Dialogue is the most natural part of writing to me; once I know how someone sounds, I can get inside their heads and hear how they speak to themselves, eavesdrop on the thoughts tumbling around in their mind before they fall asleep.”

As a result the book offers many sides of the adoption story from a green, idealistic social worker, a grieving birth father, one potential adoptive father, and a nervous single mother. What they want, or think they want, evolve and come together to create the Chosen storyline and following synopsis:

In the spirit of Jodi Picoult and Anna Quindlen, CHOSEN features a young caseworker increasingly entangled in the lives of the adoptive and birth parents she represents, and who faces life-altering choices when an extortion attempt goes horribly wrong.

It all begins with a fantasy: the caseworker in her “signing paperwork” charcoal suit, paired with beaming parents cradling their adopted newborn, against a fluorescent-lit delivery room backdrop. It’s this blissful picture that keeps Chloe Pinter, director of The Chosen Child’s domestic adoption program, happy juggling the high demands of her boss and the incessant needs of parents on both sides.

But the job that offers Chloe refuge from her turbulent personal life and Portland’s winter rains soon becomes a battleground itself involving three very different couples: the Novas, college sweethearts who suffered fertility problems but are now expecting their own baby; the McAdoos, a wealthy husband and desperate wife for whom adoption is a last chance; and Jason and Penny, an impoverished couple who have nothing-except the baby everyone wants. When a child goes missing, dreams dissolve into nightmares, and everyone is forced to examine what they really want and where it all went wrong.

Told from alternating points of view, Chosen reveals the desperate nature of desire across social backgrounds and how far people will go to get the one thing they think will be the answer.

Now please take a minute to view the haunting CHOSEN Book Trailer.

From this critical trade review:

“Gripping. . . . A heartfelt story well told.” (Kirkus Reviews)

To a fellow author’s praise:

“Chandra Hoffman’s CHOSEN is a finely tuned page-turner. With unwavering clarity and genuine empathy born of experience, Hoffman turns the spotlight on her so-real characters, exposing the raw edges of their love and longing and fears. There is no perfect happiness here; instead, there is the unexpected grace of discovering that getting what we want is so often less ideal than wanting what we get. This is an outstanding debut.” – Therese Fowler, author of REUNION AND SOUVENIR

The above opinions confirm that Chandra has captured the human, flawed, and sympathetic side of adoption, along with the darker business aspect of it as well. For in truth, with every adoptive birth, there will be someone going home empty-handed. Like the author’s personal goal while working in the adoption field, the novel’s social worker Chloe Pinter works to create families and happy endings. Yet is that realistically possible? Since adoption is not always the perfect or even correct solution for the adults involved, where does this leave the baby?

Reading Chosen was a reminder of how wanting something too much never quite fulfills expectations whenever it comes one’s way. Nor can happiness be bought, and parenthood is anything but a cooing, sweet baby. Although this work is fiction, it’s based on the reality of Chandra’s experiences and that knowledge is discomforting at best even in minor revelations. For example hopeful, potential adoptive parents are attached to their phones 24/7, either waiting for the phone call that a birth mother has chosen to give them her baby or a call to get to the hospital because their baby is being born. Then there’s another possible call — the one that says the birth mother has changed her mind.

While the adoption issues alone are compelling, Chandra added an extortion storyline to drive the plot and create what has been described as a thriller. Still she believes that “the heart of Chosen is new parenthood, and how people resolve that disparity between perception and reality.” Whether giving birth to or adopting a baby, there’s unbridled joy mixed with disillusionment when confronting the challenges another life holds. It’s not easy either way and, knowing this, the author brings forth the questions of: How does parenthood change you? What happens when your expectations of parenthood are so far from the reality? What makes a good parent? A good person? And what happens when you get what you thought you wanted (but it’s not what you signed up for)?

Chandra Hoffman’s Chosen is a brilliantly written tale that offers fairness to all parts of this emotional equation and may leave a reader wondering just who is being “chosen?” For adoption is complicated and it takes courage to choose….whatever is best for everyone involved.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Chandra Hoffman’s Chosen in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.


Announcement: The winners of a signed copy of Thaisa Frank’s Heidegger’s Glasses are Suzanne and Sue Kaliski. Congratulations!

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

Thaisa Frank and Heidegger’s Glasses

November 04, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

[Note: Although this presentation/review was originally posted on May 17, 2010 for Heidegger’s Glasses debut on May 25th, Thaisa Frank’s first novel was delayed until its launch this Monday, November 1, 2010. For those readers/visitors, as yet unfamiliar with the author, please see The Revealing of Thaisa Frank. Also may everyone read about the special Book Giveaway.]

According to The New York Times, the fiction of Thaisa Frank (A Brief History in Camouflage, Sleeping in Velvet) works “by a tantalizing sense of indirection.” The critic Don Skiles has described her stories as being “in the grand tradition of the fairy tale, the legend, the spell,” while the reviewer Rob Hurwitt has called her work “domestic magical realism.” From Thaisa’s guest post, Do I Choose My Material or Does It Choose Me?, however, this acclaimed writer states: “I would say that I don’t work in the tradition of magic realism but in the tradition of surrealism.” And that is clearly what she’s done in her first novel, Heidegger’s Glasses.

Over twenty years ago, even the content of the book chose the unknowing author, as Thaisa explained in in her February 17, 2010 Red Room blog post, “The Promise of First Pages:”

The imagination is the weather of the mind.
Wallace Stevens, Adagia.

“How many of us have started promising beginnings only to have them sputter out, take wrong turns, and just refuse to go on? And how many of us say about ourselves ‘”I just can’t seem to finish things even though I start them?”‘

“Over twenty years ago, when I’d written just one collection of short stories, I heard a woman’s voice from deep below the earth. She lived in Germany during World War II and was helping people answer letters to the dead. I knew her name. I could feel her claustrophobia. I also heard some of the letters. I wrote sixteen pages and stopped because I knew this woman lived in a world with so many strands only a novel could do it justice. I could even hear the length, like a few musical notes surrounded by hours of silence. But I only knew how to write short fiction.

“I wrote other books. But the sixteen pages kept turning up in my studio, as if attached to springs. They turned up on the bookshelf. They turned up in a tax pile. They turned up under my printer. They even turned up inside a flyer from my son’s school–a long flyer, pleading for ecologically-packed lunches. They began to feel like a letter from the woman in the mine, asking me to tell her story. The paper grew more brittle and the typewriter print more antiquated. From time to time I saw her writing in a large room with other people. I always read the sixteen pages. I felt drawn to them. But I always put them away.

“A few years ago, someone at a Christmas party told me that the philosopher Martin Heidegger once had a revelation that was caused by his own eyeglasses. As soon as I heard this, I saw the title Heidegger’s Glasses and knew I was going to write a novel. I had no idea what it would be about; but I was sure it involved World War II. I didn’t think about those sixteen pages until I’d written the novel and received the galleys. Then I found them–again on invisible springs–as if they were determined to remind me that they were the origin of the book. I read them over and realized they were a DNA of almost everything that became Heidegger’s Glasses. I also realized that even though they were about an imaginary world, the world was launched by real events in World War II. I didn’t know about these events when I wrote those pages. I only found out about them afterwards, when I began to write the novel.” Please read more….

Thaisa Frank’s imagination, research and writing evolved into this synopsis:

A love affair larger than a World War.
A fairy tale with atrocities.
And it all begins with one single letter….

Heidegger’s Glasses is the startling, surreal debut novel from critically acclaimed author Thaisa Frank. The Third Reich’s obsession with the occult has led them to create the Compound of Scribes. Concealed in a converted mine shaft complete with rose-colored cobblestone streets and a continuously shifting artificial sky, the Scribes’ sole mission is to answer letters written to the dead—thereby preventing the deceased from pestering psychics for answers and inadvertently exposing the Final Solution.

As Germany falls apart at its seams, a letter arrives written by eminent philosopher Martin Heidegger to his optometrist and friend, a man now lost in the dying thralls at Auschwitz. The presence of Heidegger’s words—one simple letter in a place filled with letters—sparks a series of events that will ultimately threaten the safety and wellbeing of the entire Compound.

Part love story and part historical fiction, Heidegger’s Glasses evocatively reconstructs the landscape of Nazi Germany from an entirely original and haunting vantage point.

Much like a Grimm fairy tale, Heideggger’s Glasses has garnered a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly and Advance Praise from fellow authors:

“This is stunning work, full of mystery and strange tenderness. Thaisa Frank has written one of the most compelling stories of the Nazi regime since D.M. Thomas’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It is a book that will haunt you.”

“Thaisa Frank has composed a mesmeric image of prisoners trapped in the madness of a decaying Nazi regime. Ms. Frank’s skillfully laced prose and riveting imagery combine to create an unforgettably surrealistic portrait of a world gorged on insanity.”

Also there is an Excerpt from Heidegger’s Glasses.

Although history was one of my college majors, I handled the delivery of Heidegger’s Glasses Uncorrected Proof with wariness. Glowing words for a tale that included the Reich, Auschwitz, Hitler, Mengele, Goebbels, SS leader Henrich Himmler were bound to be hauntingly depressing. But then I remembered anecdotal “stories” of Germany housing fluently linguistic scribes to write letters for the dead. Hitler’s reliance on astrology and the occult were facts, yet the idea of these scribes being saved from death to write for the dead sounded too ironic as well as absurd. Now could it have been true?

Writing brilliantly and mystically, Thaisa Frank has brought the scribes’ story to life and, though fictionalized, it rings true. Honest, sobering, and fairy tale hopeful, this is historical fiction at its best by acknowledging the humanity amidst the insanity of Hitler’s Germany during the end of World War 11.

The woman’s voice — that Thaisa first heard over twenty years ago — is Elie Schacten, considered to be an “angel.” Whether providing for the scribes and/or attempting to save as many innocent lives as possible, Elie is the mystery of the tale. Yet who is she, really?

Thoroughly engrossing Heidegger’s Glasses is mindful of how our present needs to be aware of our past. Thaisa Frank’s debut novel is something special, deserving to be on everyone’s TBR list — hopefully on high school required reading too. Please remember that the release date has been changed…yet your patience will be rewarded once the book becomes available.

Book Giveaway: This week Thaisa Frank has graciously offered The Divining Wand two signed copies of Heidegger’s Glasses to be given away in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winner to be announced here in Monday’s post. If you enter, please return on Monday to possibly claim your book.


Announcement: The winners of All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa by Kim Stagliano are Tiffany and Wendy C. Congratulations!

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

Guest Chandra Hoffman on Dawn Chorus

November 02, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Given that Chandra Hoffman’s debut novel Chosen is about family, her guest post could not be more appropriate. Every writer needs someone to believe in them and, here, Chandra shares “a tribute to my mother-in-law who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2008, but who taught me much about balancing the art of balancing motherhood and the writing life.”]

Dawn Chorus

My mother-in-law died in the early hours of August first, while the East Coast birds sang their dawn chorus. It was her favorite time of day, and as we drank tea and watched the sunrise, my family took a teaspoon of comfort in that, that her spirit might be soaring and dipping with the swallows, calling out with the wrens and the finches.

Cheryl and I had planned to write a children’s opera based on this birdsong phenomenon; she brought her flute whenever she visited, because she had to practice for her concert schedule, but also so we might get serious about this opera project. She would do the music, but, “You’re the writer,” she told me.

She always rose with the sun. When she was at our house, it was to make recordings of the birds and chicory coffee and memories with her grandchildren. When we took our annual winter vacation to the Cayman Islands, she was the first up, reading an entire novel on the screen porch, waiting for me to lumber out of bed and join her on the next part of her morning ritual, a walk of the entire Seven Mile Beach, collecting sea glass. At her home in Buffalo, she spent her winter-dark morning hours in the bathtub on the phone, talking shoes and thrift and art with her sister, an even earlier bird on the West Coast.

My mother-in-law and I were well-matched from the moment her son introduced us—high energy, creatively hungry, lovers of vegetables and words and walking. At that point, she had already endured breast cancer for two years, diagnosed at an untimely thirty-seven. Her cancer was a third person in our relationship, someone hunkered down in the backseat behind us, lurking predatorily. We were good at addressing it when it reared up, but even better at ignoring it.

It was a happy day for us all when five years after meeting, her son and I married, when I started affectionately calling her Cherry, when she gave me a heart-shaped antique silver necklace because I was “the daughter of her heart.”

When we were together, we took occasional breaks from Scrabble and walking marathons. She was a big believer in collaborative competition and losing never bothered either of us. If we weren’t cruising thrift or shoe stores, we were crunching rice crackers and carrot sticks, composing children’s stories and contest winning poetry, scribbling them on index cards we kept tucked in her Scrabble dictionary. If she was in Buffalo, where she was the director of UB’s flute program or preparing for concert perfomances from Southern France to Carnegie Hall, we spoke on the phone daily. She talked with my husband on his hour-long commute to work, to me as I washed dishes and folded laundry, and then the capper, several hours doing knock-knock jokes and stories with our young sons in the evening.

When she visited, she welcomed my boys’ early morning companionship–tidepooling on the beach washed in sunrise, stories in the kitchen, breakfast picnics on the porch with the birds serenading, while my husband and I slept in and counted our blessings.

If it truly takes a village to raise a child, she was our village sage. As the years went on, the majority of our beach walk and phone conversations became about ‘our boys’, her son and grandsons, analyzing their behaviors, development and child psychology and gender theories. She sent me beautiful journals, ads for writing contests and articles on motherhood. I have one from her on the concept of ‘thumos’—male energy in young boys that I have worn thin, copied for all my friends with sons.

Once, faced with a crossroads in our lives, the house my husband and I rented going on the market, deep holes in our resumés that reflected our early wanderlust, I asked Cherry’s advice.

“You’re a writer,” she told me again, and I laughed. Our first son was a full time job, born with challenges that required several hours of expensive specialists a week, my constant devotion.

“No, no,” I told her, “I need to do something that makes money.”

She insisted I send out the stories we’d been playing with, things I’d dashed off and sent to her for her keen editing, her economic and whimsical way with words.

“Where would I find time?”

“Get up in the early morning, put on the kettle, put in a load of laundry, and write.”

Instead, I started an event planning company, despite her constant affirmation that I was a writer, despite the fact that her very existence proved a woman could be both a successful mother and artist.

Her cancer moved, breast to lymph to lung and finally, to brain. At her encouragement, I applied to a school in California for my masters in creative writing. The same day I was accepted, I learned I was pregnant, this time with a daughter.

“How can I do this?” I sobbed to her, meaning get my masters three thousand miles away with three kids under the age of five; meaning, be a mother to a little girl?

“Early mornings,” she told me. “Get up before they do.”

I resisted. She had told me for years that she had no sympathy for her college students who came in whining that they didn’t get enough sleep.

“Get over yourself!’ This was one of her favorite sayings, delivered with emphatic affection. “I haven’t slept through the night since I had Jonathan at nineteen!”

“What about the other, being a mother to a little girl?” I whispered, because my relationship with my own mother was often turbulent.
“Think of our relationship as a model,” she told me frankly. “Love her like I love you.”

I finished graduate school, my novel manuscript as my thesis. I had a daughter I named Piper, which means ‘flute player’, because though we all denied it, we were losing our Cherry. In June, she went in for a treatment that injected chemotherapy directly into her tumor-riddled brain and suffered a massive seizure, the beginning of the end.

I finished my novel that summer as she died slowly, still resisting rising in the early mornings. I watched my sons struggle to comprehend their loss, too early an introduction to death. I sobbed for the daughter, her namesake, who would never remember her, and I ached for my husband as he lost the woman who was as much his best friend as she was mine.

In the hospital, Cherry had promised me she would haunt us afterwards, and she did. That summer, we were constantly visited by dragonflies, alighting on the shoulder of my oldest son while he canoed on our pond, sitting on my knee at the beach and buzzing about us as we planted three cherry trees in her memorial garden. On the morning after my novel sold, I stepped outside at dawn to see not one but dozens of dragonflies swirling overhead.

How did I finish that first novel and start my second?

I set my alarm for 5 am, sometimes 4. It’s not pretty. In the winter, it is worse. My house is cold and dark and my bed is warm and full of people I adore. But I tug on the knee-high baby blue fluff momma furry Ugg boots Cherry bought us both on her last Christmas and I put on the kettle, put in a load of laundry and I get started.

Spring and summer, it’s better. I sleep with the windows open so I can hear the birds, often waking ahead of the alarm to turn it off, slipping out of the bed that by morning is a tangle of children’s limbs and lovey blankets and cats and snoring. I sit down with my tea, and my computer, serenaded by the hum of the washer and the beautiful chorus of the birds that my mother-in-law loved.

And then I write, because Cherry taught me you can be a mother and an artist, but you have to get over yourself, and you have to rise with the dawn chorus.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: This week Skyhorse Publishing has generously provided The Divining Wand with two Hardcover copies of Kim Stagliano’s All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa to be given away in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Presenting Debutante Kim Stagliano and All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Jenny Nelson
On Food, Florence, and Inspiration

September 14, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Ah sweet memories — particularly those deep, heartfelt ones that inspire authors to wrap a novel around them. In today’s guest post, Jenny Nelson describes how her first trip to Italy began a love affair and ultimately a setting for her debut novel, Georgia’s Kitchen.]

On Food, Florence, and Inspiration

The first time I went to Florence I was 20 years old and had just finished two semesters in Mardrid, where I majored in “mucha marcha,” the distinctly Madrileño art of partying until four in the morning, learned “un poquito” of Espanol and traveled as much as my budget and my class schedule would allow. After a month of Eurailing among Let’s Go Europe’s top college destinations, my best friend and I parted ways in Brindisi, Italy (the only reason to go there, at least then, was to catch the ferry to and from Greece), and I trained on to Florence alone. I was meeting up with my dad, whom I hadn’t seen since the previous August; it was now almost a full year later. We met in the lobby of our hotel, an elegant, turn-of-the-century mansion, where I couldn’t help but feel out of place with my giant backpack, sleeping bag bungee-corded on the side, and my proudly-purchased-in-Munich Birkenstocks, which were finally comfortable enough to wear (they’d put me through hell in Paris – no one warned me that before becoming the most comfortable, if not the most attractive, sandals, my feet would be sliced, diced and rubbed raw). If my dad was surprised by my 20-pound-heavier frame, which even my baggiest Gap t-shirt couldn’t conceal, he didn’t say anything. We were both starving, so we took a stroll to a local trattoria, a tourist restaurant, the kind whose menu offered photos of the food and a prix fixe that included insalata mista to start and a scoop of gelato to finish. I ordered a Coca Cola Light and the spaghetti pomodoro. Despite all indications to the contrary – the fluorescent lights, the preponderance of spoken English and German, the cheesy photos – the spaghetti was perfectly cooked, the sauce rich and velvety, brightened by basil and chunks of San Marzano tomatoes. I was in love.

Ten years and many trips to Italy later, I was back in Florence and back in love, this time with my fiancé, and we were there to be married. After a civil ceremony at the Palazzo Vecchio in the sala matrimoniale, a sumptuous room adorned with floor-to-ceiling tapestries, crushed red-velvet upholstery and a chandelier as big as the bathroom in our Manhattan apartment, we held our religious ceremony and reception in a villa overlooking the Duomo. We shared then, and still share today, a love of Italian food, wine, art, architecture and language (though only one of us can speak Italian, and it’s not me).

Ten years after this, my debut novel, Georgia’s Kitchen, is on sale at bookstores and online. Though I never became a chef, or a food stylist, or a recipe tester, or a farmer (unless you count the insanely delicious Mr Stripey tomatoes growing in my vegetable garden), I wrote my first book about a chef. An American chef at a trendy New York restaurant who finds herself suddenly unemployed and unengaged, packs her knives and travels to – you guessed it – Italy.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Leah Stewart and Husband and Wife. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Kate Ledger and Remedies

August 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

From the front cover

“Remedies is an immediately gripping, expertly woven tale of pain and healing.
Ledger is a brilliant writer; the book is dazzling, but more importantly, it is moving.”
– Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of Barefoot

What Kate Ledger has elegantly and eloquently written in her debut novel, Remedies, is a “witty,” “complex,” “humane,” and “intense” story of a marriage/family in crisis. And those are a few reasons why Remedies garnered:

*A Starred Review from Publishhers Weekly
*Being named an Indie Next List Notable Book for August 2010
*Selection as an Ingram Premier Pick recommendation to libraries across the country.

Although more praise can be found on the author’s Press page, a most telling description comes from the novel’s Facebook page where a reader commented on the paperback’s cover: “I love the knot in her hair . . . so symbolic of the character and the story.”

Yes the novel can be rendered almost that simply as long as the “knots” also describe the husband and teenage daughter. For this is a character-driven storyline. Its idea came from Kate’s interest in a doctor who would believe he’s come up with a treatment to relieve, eradicate physical pain from his patients and she explained his character — and his wife’s character — development in Guest Kate Ledger on REMEDIES: A Novel/The Journey of Writing.

And from those characters came this Synopsis:

Simon and Emily Bear look like a couple that has it all. Simon is a respected doctor. His wife, Emily, shines as a partner in a premier public relations firm. But their marriage is scarred by hidden wounds. Even as Simon tends his patients’ ills, and Emily spins away her clients’ mistakes, they can’t seem to do the same for themselves or their relationship.

Simon becomes convinced he’s discovered a cure for chronic pain, a finding that could become a medical breakthrough, yet he is oblivious to the pain that he causes at home. Emily, struggling to move beyond the devastating loss she and Simon suffered fifteen years earlier, realizes she hasn’t felt anything for a long time–that is, until a lover from her past resurfaces and forces her to examine her marriage anew.

In a debut novel on par with today’s top women writers, Remedies explores the complicated facets of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longings of the heart. Depicting modern-day marriage with a razor-sharp eye, Remedies is about what it takes, as an individual and as a couple, to recover from profound loss.

That profound loss was the death of their six-week old infant son and, once Kate identified and addressed this tragedy, her story focused on the crumbling of a marriage. As she says:

“I found the Bear’s marriage exquisitely complex. As I wrote their interactions, I thought a lot about the ways that people communicate, particularly when they don’t address a real problem: The core issue remains present in every interaction. Simon and Emily aren’t simply two people who can’t talk to each other or who’ve moved apart from one another. In fact, they’re constantly straining to have the terrible conversation they’ve never been able to have. Their terrors are simmering under the surface. Simon can’t help but provoke Emily in ways he knows will frustrate her, hoping that they’ll wind up in a confrontation. (He has grandiose plans to surprise her with winemaking in the basement, for instance, a plan that will surely annoy her.) He must know on some level, that in one of those confrontations, she might blame him in the way he’s most afraid of being blamed. Emily retreats from his antagonistic actions, accepting his signs of outward kindness, as she holds onto the story she’s believed all along: Simon isn’t responsible for their loss since every one of the doctors missed the signs that their son was desperately sick. But, of course, as in all relationships, what’s under the surface always eventually emerges.”

Ironically both Simon and Emily professionally deal with helping patients/clients handle physical pain and successfully communicate. In fact Simon enjoys introducing themselves to others as “the doctor and the spin doctor,” yet — in truth — their skills appear to be left at the office.

Still losing a child is devastating and too many couples who experience such grief, guilt, and emptiness do divorce. They simply can’t forget and find a way back to “normal” because their family life isn’t “normal” any longer. The fortunate ones find strength in each other and from family, friends, religion, and counseling. However Simon and Emily had none of these for support and their individual backgrounds allow this to ring true. Why? Because Kate Ledger created her characters with the perfect flaws that would prevent them from asking for help.

These are fascinating characters, outwardly strong while internally too weak to face and then try to find a remedy for fifteen years of pain. But since — according to the author — “the book is very much about the fear of how people will receive you” — it’s only natural that they would create a facade rather than display their true feelings. As a result, neither Simon or Emily are likable yet they are understandable. In fact if Remedies was a theatrical movie it would most likely win the Oscar for “Best Picture of the Year” for the realistic and exquisite depiction of a lost couple.

As a book it is lyrically gorgeous, created with so much care that the reader doesn’t need actors to make the storyline come alive. Kate’s words do that, aiming directly to the heart. And although the novel focuses on sorrow and pain, the author feels: “It’s a hopeful book. The great journey of the novel is for each of these individuals to come to terms with the past—acknowledge it, examine it, maybe even cry about it— in order to set sights on building a new future.”

Remedies, filled with the potential for insightful discussions, would be an excellent book club selection. If you’d like Kate to visit your book group by speakerphone or Skype, please email Or take pleasure in this debut by reading and reveling in it on your own!

Book Giveaway: This week Kate Ledger has graciously offered two “signed” copies of Remedies to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post. A comment left on any other post during the week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in Thursday’s post. IF you do enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.