The Divining Wand

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Interview with Erika Robuck on
Hemingway’s Girl

August 29, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Interviews

Let’s simply begin with the TRUTH. Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck (Receive Me Falling) is a captivating, beautifully written historical fiction novel that feels completely real. Impressive in its detail, the storytelling — focusing on a young Cuban girl and Ernest Hemingway — not only breathes life into both characters, but provides the reader with a remarkable understanding of the complex, (tortured) writer. A love story without the romance, Hemingway’s Girl might well be the most entertaining, engaging book for any TBR List. Available in local bookstores and online retailers next Tuesday, September 4th, Pre-order now and consider it your post-Labor Day treat!

Jenna Blum, New York Timesand International Bestseller of THOSE WHO SAVE US and THE STORMCHASERS writes:

“You’ll love this robust, tender story of love, grief, and survival on Key West in the 1930s….Because of its strong heroine & writing, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is a novel of which Papa himself would approve. Addictive.”

Addictive it is. Rather than offer a written synopsis of the novel, you can picture the book as the author “shows and tells” a background of the story in the following Book Trailer:

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

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And now enjoy The Divining Wand’s interview with Erika Robuck.

TDW: Much has been written about “Papa” and, though you were drawn to write about him, were you ever the least bit intimidated?

E.R.: In the beginning of the research process, I was intimidated. So many people have studied Hemingway and have strong opinions about him one way or another, so he was a daunting figure to tackle. I read as many biographies as I could, visited his house in Key West, and traveled to the Hemingway archive at the JFK Museum in Boston to learn everything I could about him, with a special focus on the year of 1935 when my novel takes place. After reading hundreds of his letters and rereading his novels and stories, I felt like I had Hemingway’s voice in my ear. It was only then that I felt ready to make a character of one of the greatest American writers. I hope that I’ve done him justice.

TDW: Creating the poor yet resiliently strong main character of Mariella to spar/play off of this larger than life man was brilliant. Where did she come from?

E.R.: The origins of my character, Mariella, came from a variety of sources. I saw a young Cuban girl staring up at Hemingway in a photo with a massive fish and wondered she thought of him. I read about an infatuation Hemingway had later in his life with a young woman. I also thought about all of the ways Hemingway tried to distance himself from the rich, especially as his second marriage began to fail, and I thought he would be drawn to a young, poor, down-to-earth girl. These ingredients blended to season Mariella’s character.

TDW: Did you use general research to outline a broad storyline and then follow up with detailed research? What ratio of the novel is fact and fiction?

E.R.: I create layers of timelines as I research. The first is broad and covers significant events throughout the life of the subject. I use different colors to add notes with each biography I read to highlight new details on the timeline or emphasize events of great importance. Finally, once I’ve chosen my approach and specific time period for my subject, I make a very detailed time line of the months or years in my novel. Then I weave in my fictional characters and their lives to enliven the important historical events. It becomes an equal balance of fact and fiction once the writing is complete.

TDW: While reading I felt as though I’d been transported back in time yet wondered how you captured that feeling? Nothing appeared to be glaringly obvious, rather it was a sense of living in 1935 (and 1961).

E.R.: I’m so glad! One of my greatest challenges as a writer of historical fiction or period pieces is to capture the time as naturally as possible, without being too heavy handed in the dialogue or setting. Music, phrases, transportation, and social structure can infuse the text without overwhelming it, but I try to apply it with a delicate hand. I want the magic of the historical setting to transport the reader, while emphasizing the connections between the past and the present.

TDW: You’ve written that for research you attended a boxing match. Did your research include any other physical experiences?

E.R.: For this novel, the most profound physical experience I had was visiting The Hemingway House in Key West. The rooms and grounds are so well preserved and reflect so much of the personalities of Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, that their presence still hangs heavy in the air. I also spent a lot of time on fishing boats, in Key West bars (it was research!!), and on Matecumbe Key where the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 took place. The ghosts of old highways and bridges along the Keys want their story to be told.

I also might have tried absinthe, but that’s just a rumor.

TDW: Where did the themes of using people and perseverance come from? Were those your choices or did they come from the personalities of Hemingway and Mariella?

E.R.: In my research, I found an op-ed piece Hemingway wrote following the hurricane called ‘Who Murdered the Vets.” In it, he expressed his outrage over the government’s failing to evacuate the WWI vets building the Overseas Highway. Over five hundred veterans lost their lives in the storm, and were already living in squalor and extremely hazardous conditions.

Once I decided to use the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 as a focal point in the novel, I read many survivors’ accounts. It was truly horrifying, but what struck me over and over again was the resilience of those who lived through the storm. One family local to the Keys lost over twenty members, but two of them returned to rebuild their lives there. I wanted my main character to embody that kind of grit and determination, in spite of difficult circumstances.

TDW: And where did Mariella get her strength? Not from her mother or her father. Although, they must have had strength to cross racial/ethnic lines to marry for love.

E.R.: Mariella inherited the best of each of her parents. From her father, she inherited her toughness, her connection to the sea, and her spunk. From her mother, Mariella inherited her feisty strong will. The circumstances of her father’s death gave Mariella her determination and forced her to care for her mother and sisters.

TDW: What draws you to writing historical fiction?

E.R.: Growing up between Annapolis and Baltimore, I’ve always had a strong sense of history around me. Old buildings, harbors, cobbled streets, and historic tours of turn of the century homes were a part of my surroundings during my upbringing, and I’ve always felt the mingling of past and present.

For me, historical fiction is a way to teach others about forgotten places in time or to animate events with characters to make readers more understanding and empathetic. I’ll never forget the way I felt about the aftermath of slavery when I read BELOVED, civil rights in A LESSON BEFORE DYING, or facets of WWII in THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. These novels transported me to other places and times and made me feel history the way no textbook ever could. That’s what I want to do.

TDW: What element of the book was the most difficult or emotional for you to write?

E.R.: The most difficult parts to write were the hurricane and the sections of the novel set in 1961 when Hemingway died. All of the storm research and reading I did gave me nightmares for a month, and putting my beloved characters in the face of such danger was hard to do. Also, the shadow that Hemingway’s suicide casts over the novel, and the sections where my protagonist learns about it, made me terribly sad.

TDW: If there’s any little tidbit about Hemingway you discovered but didn’t use in the book, would you please share?

E.R.: At the Hemingway House is a large olive oil jar fountain that trickles into a tiled basin. On a tour of the Key West house, our tour guide told us that the basin represented a bit of the power struggle in Hemingway’s second marriage.

On the night that Hemingway’s favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s, moved to Duval Street, the patrons (including Papa, himself) carried anything they could grab and moved it down the street, while they continued drinking. Legend has it that, much to Pauline’s dismay, Hemingway took a urinal home from the old Sloppy Joe’s. Pauline wouldn’t allow it in the house, and had it put on its side and tiled to form the base of the fountain. It still rests there today.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winners will be notified by email tomorrow.

Interview with Kristina McMorris on
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

February 28, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Interviews

[In mid-January, The Divinning Wand post, Picture the Book: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, provided a sneak peek into Kristina McMorris’ (Letters From Home) second novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, releasing today to critical acclaim. Publishers Weekly declared [it] a “gripping story [that] hits all the right chords,” while Kirkus Reviews praises the book as a “sweeping yet intimate novel.”

Described in one sentence, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves tells this story: A young woman secretly elopes with her Japanese American boyfriend the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed, forever changing two families torn between sides.

A powerful, insightful read, Kristina has managed to authentically capture one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history and still entertain with a moving tale to love, forgiveness, and the endurance of the human spirit.

How was the author able to achieve such success? Hopefully the following interview will enlighten as well as pique your interest. Enjoy!]

TDW: Your journey to novelist feels serendipitous because what began as a family cookbook turned into Letters from Home. Now, having heard of another true story, you’ve written Bridge of Scarlet Leaves. Can you imagine life without these books?

K.McM.: There’s no question in my mind, as cliché as it might sound, that my life has been guided to where I am now. Just eight years ago, I was a PR Director and the owner of professional event-planning company, with no intention of ever becoming a creative writer. As you well know, I wasn’t even a reader at the time! And yet, because of inspiration from historical accounts that moved me, my life took an unexpected turn—one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

TDW: The research for BoSL is impressively detailed, how did you gain access to everything and everyone?

K.McM.: Thank you for saying that! I take a lot of pride in getting the facts “right.” To be perfectly honest, though, I’m probably one of the few historical authors who doesn’t relish the traditional research portion. Although I love having actually learned the information, highlighting info in textbooks sounds as appealing to me as a root canal. What I do enjoy is hands-on experience.

So, for BoSL, I was delighted when the Park Ranger at the Manzanar Relocation Center, who suffered through my endless list of internment questions, invited me to attend their annual pilgrimage. Similarly, when I contacted the Go For Broke Foundation, an organization devoted to educating people about Japanese American military service, they offered to arrange in-person interviews with seven WWII veterans who have since all received the Congressional Gold Medal. I’ve definitely been spoiled.

As for my Air Corps research, it’s hard to beat the thrill of flying on a restored B-17 bomber. For that one, I have my husband to thank. It was by far the best Mother’s Day gift I could imagine!

TDW: The “voice” in both novels sounds authentic for the time period, how did you manage that?

K.McM.: I often joke, given my strong draw to the era, that I must have lived through the ’40s in another life. I love the music, the fashion, and, of course, the slang. To get a good sense of dialogue, I watched many documentaries and WWII films that were touted for accuracy. Movies made in the 1940s, as it turned out, weren’t a great resource, since they often used dramatic Hollywood speak. Real letters from the war, however, including those written by my grandfather, were extremely helpful, as well as a pleasure to read.

TDW: Considering the research necessary for the storyline, I think you’re a detailed plotter…..or are you a ‘pantser’? Please describe your writing process.

K.McM.: Pantsters, in my mind, are advanced mythical creatures with an ability I can’t fathom. Needless to say, I’m a plotter. I find comfort in knowing the basics of what’s coming next. (I suppose it makes sense that I loved being an event coordinator.) When plotting a new book, I like to create an outline, roughly one sentence per chapter, before beginning. For me, this is essential for narrowing down my research load. Otherwise, with the enormity of the topic of WWII, I could end up spending six months reading intriguing yet story-irrelevant details.

TDW: What would you like readers to take away from reading BoSL?

K.McM.: Aside from being transported into another world, I hope readers gain a deep appreciation for real-life heroes they otherwise didn’t know existed, as well as newfound knowledge about history too often brushed over. On a more personal note, if the story causes them to reexamine their own values and perspectives on other cultures, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

TDW: Since your first two novels are historical fiction, do you intend to continue writing in this genre?

K.McM.: Without question, historicals are my favorite to write. There’s something magical about stepping into an old time period, specifically when it’s based on a true account. Although the novella I just completed has a contemporary setting, a rarity for me, it links to a minor character from my debut, Letters from Home, giving the story strong ties to WWII.

TDW: What are you working on now? And when will be lucky enough to read it?

K.McM.: The novella I mentioned, titled The Christmas Collector, will be published this coming October in a holiday anthology headlined by #1 New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels. After that, I’ll be working on my next two women’s fiction novels under contract with my publisher. So hopefully I’ll continue to share stories for a long time to come!

Although readers will have to wait for the novella, remember Bridge of Scarlet Leaves is available in bookstores and online retailers today.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kritina McMorris — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EST tonight! The winner will be announced here on Thursday.

Kristina McMorris and Letters from Home

February 21, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


From the age of nine, Kristina McMorris has been a successful actress, TV show host, entrepreneur, and public relations expert but tomorrow she embraces the role of debut novelist with the launch of her historical fiction, WWII saga, Letters From Home.

Inspired by the discovery of her grandfather’s courtship letters to Grandma Jean during WWII (see Tales of the Past), Kristina soon began to ask “what if?” the couple’s relationship through their correspondence had been based on deceit. And, simply put, that is the backstory for the novel which honors the author’s grandparents as well as all the other brave, unsung heroes of the Greatest Generation.

Here is the synopsis of Letters from Home:

Chicago, 1944. Liz Stephens has little interest in attending a USO club dance with her friends Betty and Julia. She doesn’t need a flirtation with a lonely serviceman when she’s set to marry her childhood sweetheart. Yet something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share only a brief conversation – cut short by the soldier’s evident interest in Betty – but Liz can’t forget him. Thus, when Betty asks her to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan, stationed overseas, Liz reluctantly agrees.

Thousands of miles away, Morgan struggles to adjust to the brutality of war. His letters from “Betty” are a comfort, their soul-baring correspondence a revelation to them both. While Liz is torn by her feelings for a man who doesn’t know her true identity, Betty and Julia each become immersed in their own romantic entanglements. And as the war draws to a close, all three will face heart-wrenching choices, painful losses, and the bittersweet joy of new beginnings.

Now watch and listen to Kristina explain and describe her storyline:

In addition to providing an Excerpt from Letters from Home Chapter One, the author also shares a few of her grandfather’s original letters in Mail Call.

The Raves & Reviews have been wonderful and include:

“Ambitious and compelling…[a] sweeping debut.”__Publishers Weekly

Yet the true testament to this book’s advance success can be viewed by its growing sales of global rights, book club rights sold to Doubleday and Reader’s Digest, film rights being shopped by the prestigious Creative Artists Agency of Los Angeles, and the book’s spotlight in the current issue of Woman’s Day magazine.

What is it about this novel that offers a universal appeal? Perhaps the love story depicted through intimate correspondence, the human triumphs and tragedies of a war fought to end all wars, a connection to what most of our grandparents lived through, the consequences of deceit, and the stirrings of women’s independence on the homefront and even close to the frontlines.

Of course more than likely it’s a combination of all these storyline elements bound together by the author’s distinctive and elegant writing style. The word “lovely” has been used often to describe Letters from Home and Kristina’s choice of words/phrasing are quite lovely. Her style lends itself, in its measured tones, to the characters’ voices, emotions, and behavior. After all much more privacy prevailed then than it does now in casual, contemporary times. Also the mere fact that this debut novelist is paying homage to a generation, being lost to attrition and barely mentioned in public school history classes, is a love letter of its own.

Admitting she previously had not been an avid fiction reader, The Divining Wand asked the author how she became a fiction writer? And she explained:

“I’ve learned the most from simply writing and revising. Fellow authors were kind enough to offer critiques, as well as many contest judges. And, of course, I discovered the magic of reading. I also applied a great deal of what I learned from years of acting, including character arcs, scene elements, and plot points. When it comes to developing goals, motivation, and conflict, there is very little difference between a scene on stage and one in a book.”

Interesting how two creative processes are similar, isn’t it? And why it’s not surprising to discover that, since Kristina initially envisioned the story as a movie, the storyline played out in her head and she wrote from there. In fact she details the experience:

“The story came to me like a movie while I was walking on the treadmill one day. Once I hopped off, I jotted down an outline, describing the scenes/chapters in a sentence or two, from beginning to end. Additional story lines for the secondary characters, namely Julia and Betty, evolved in later drafts, but the final scene I first envisioned–even one of the last dialogue lines–remains the same in the finished book.”

While loss of innocence is a major theme of the novel, so too are sacrifice, the search for inner strength, and the journey toward a woman’s ability to make her own choices. The reality of war causes the novel to have less than an “happily ever after” ending for all the characters, however these characters do share the book’s message — appearances can be deceiving. And, from the first page to the last, the reader discovers that every character is not who they first seemed to be.

Of course, as has been noted, this is also a tribute to all the men and women of the World War II generation, and — on a personal level — Kristina’s Grandma Jean. The Divining Wand asked the author if she had achieved “favorite grandchild” status for writing the book and Kristina said:

“Grandma Jean is definitely tickled, but I admit, she tends to be very even keeled about anything you toss her way. She did, after all, survive the rigors of a childhood on the farm, the Great Depression, and a world war. That said, she’s one of the sweetest, strongest, most loving, and most gracious women I’ve ever known. I absolutely adore her, and am honored to call her my grandmother. So I’m especially excited that she’ll be attending my official book launch event at Barnes & Noble to meet attendees and even sign some copies.” 🙂

How lovely! And how generous is the fact that a portion of sales proceeds will benefit United Through Reading®, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children.

Letters From Home will be available in bookstores and through online retailers tomorrow. A multi-generational read, it’s a remembrance of gratitude owed to the past — a most lovely, entertaining reminder.

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[For the third consecutive week in a row Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and Caroline Leavtitt (Pictures of You) are on The New York Times Bestseller List. To meet these authors when they hit the road again in early March and throughout the spring, please check Eleanor’s Events and Caroline’s Appearances (scroll down the page). ]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Kristina McMorris’s Letters from Home 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, February 23, 2011 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.