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 Meg Mitchell Moore on
So Far Away

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

[When Meg Mitchell Moore’s wrote The Arrivals (presentation/review), she focused on adult children going home to a safe haven for love and comfort. However in So Far Away — available in bookstores today — the author turns her attention to characters searching/yearning for home, family, or a sense of belonging.

Described in one sentence, the novel is about: The lives of a wayward teenager and a lonely archivist are unexpectedly joined through the discovery of an old diary.

The following synopsis provides a bit more detail:

Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents’ ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. She discovers a dusty old diary in her family’s basement and is inspired to unlock its secrets.

Kathleen Lynch, an archivist at the Massachusetts State Archives, has her own painful secrets: she’s a widow estranged from her only daughter. Natalie’s research brings her to Kathleen, who in Natalie sees traces of the daughter she has lost.

What could the life of an Irish immigrant domestic servant from the 1920s teach them both? In the pages of the diary, they will learn that their fears and frustrations are timeless.

And here is a sampling of Praise:

“This sweet and thoughtful novel is both tense and elegiac, exploring the damage we inflict on ourselves and each other, and the strength it takes to heal.” (Publishers Weekly )

“So Far Away is the moving story of three very different women whose lives improbably intersect. Meg Mitchell Moore effortlessly moves among a teenage cyber-bullying victim, a mother who longs for her lost daughter, and a 1920s Irish domestic with a shocking secret. The result is a powerful page-turner about love, loss, motherhood, and friendship.” (J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine and Commencement)

“Meg Mitchell Moore has taken the hot button topic of cyber bullying and crafted a story so compellingly real you will never forget her thirteen-year-old heroine, Natalie Gallagher. Moore’s pitch-perfect rendering of this girl’s voice is nothing short of stunning.” (Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss)

TRUTH: So Far Away captured my heart from the first page and the story of Natalie, Kathleen, and Bridgett never let it go. With genuine characters, experiencing painful, profound feelings throughout an intertwined — yet not complicated — storyline, the novel reflects both the past and present. But read on and allow Meg to explain much more in the following interview.

TDW: Writing/publishing two novels in a year is impressive, when did you have this story’s idea? Before, during, or after writing The Arrivals?

M.M.M.: I started thinking about this story after I had completed The Arrivals and while I was sending out queries to find an agent. I sold So Far Away as part of a two-book deal with The Arrivals, and I had written nothing but a descriptive paragraph at that point. It changed a lot in the course of the writing but whenever I was stuck I went back to that original paragraph to see if the original theme was still viable.

TDW: How much — if any — did the suicide of Phoebe Prince spark your writing?

M.M.M. Consciously, it didn’t. Subconsciously, maybe. That story was certainly in the news as I wrote the first draft, especially in Massachusetts. I had already decided to make Natalie a victim of cyberbullying before Phoebe Prince’s tragedy occurred, and it retrospect I set the story in the same year, but that was more because I was tying in a different historical event (that I will not reveal here) and had to set the book in a certain time to do that. I do think all of the terrible, heartbreaking suicides related to bullying influenced my story in one way or another.

TDW: The voices and entire storyline are dark yet not depressing. In other words it made me care about all the characters, not just Natalie and Kathleen. How did you manage to avoid being “too dark?”

M.M.M.: Thank you! I think that is a fine line and I’m happy that you think I found it. I tried to use humor where appropriate to keep the story from getting too dark. That dark humor is something I think of as a very Boston trait (witness any movie starring Ben Affleck) and I tried to create characters who were going through difficult times but still might be able to appreciate something funny or sarcastic.

TDW: Victims of cyberbullying, runaways, even immigrant outcasts were all characters on the outside looking in. These were also prominent young adult characters based in an adult novel and I wondered if this had always been your intention?

M.M.M.: I think that theme built itself as the story went on. There are several times where I write about girls in trouble, girls in danger, etc., and looking back I think a lot of that really came out in the revision process. As the mother of three young girls those fears are sort of always lurking in the back of my mind anyway.

TDW: The journal was a brilliant element, not just as a means to connect Natalie with Kathleen, but to connect Natalie with her past and another brave young ancestor. How early did the idea of Bridget and the journal come to you?

M.M.M.: Thank you! That’s a funny story. I originally set Bridget’s story in 1925/1926 and told it from the third person. I alluded to the journal but never actually wrote it. Early readers including my agent and my editor kept gently “suggesting” that I really needed to write the journal, but I resisted for a long time; I thought Bridget’s story would lose its urgency and sense of history if I told it in journal form. Of course they were exactly right, it just took me a little time to come around and to force myself to do the work required to write the journal.

TDW: I thought of So Far Away as a tale of people helping people by pulling them out of their own troubles. Would you agree?

M.M.M.: Absolutely. If fact, the working title for a long time was Solace and I still consider that a major theme, that solace can come from unexpected or unlikely sources.

TDW: What is So Far Away? Love, worthiness, a sense of belonging and/or all that along with more?

M.M.M.: I think the title refers to so many different themes in the book. For starters, Bridget is far from her home in Ireland and I wanted her nostalgia about that to be nearly palpable. Other characters are far from the people they loved, or emotionally far from people who might even be in the same room.

TDW: The descriptions of Boston were amazingly detailed. Now that you’re moving, will this novel be your ode to Boston?

M.M.M.: Thank you! That’s very perceptive, and I think it has become that. We didn’t know we were leaving the east coast until the book was complete, in fact it was going through copyediting when we found out, and in retrospect I like to think of the novel as an ode and a goodbye to a town (Newburyport) and a city (Boston) that have both meant a lot to me over the years. There are a lot of descriptions of driving up and down Route One north of Boston, which is a drive I do often, and one that I find so rich with odd details and strange businesses—it feels very particularly Boston to me. If there is another place like it in all the world I don’t know what it is.

TDW: What are you most proud of in So Far Away?

M.M.M.: I am most proud of the work that went into it, which hopefully doesn’t show too much. The stories of the three main characters were always very clear in my mind but knitting them together was absolute torture and took many, many revisions. I’m proud that I stuck with it until it felt right and true.

Meg Mitchell Moore can be followed on Twitter, liked on Facebook, and read in So Far Away.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EST tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

Interview with Joëlle Anthony on
The Right & the Real

April 26, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Interviews

[Happy Book Birthday to Joëlle Anthony’s (Restoring Harmony) second YA novel, The Right & the Real, celebrating its publication today.

Once again Joëlle tells an entertaining, edge-of-the-seat story, of girl power….with the help of terrific secondary characters. For those who may have missed the synopsis in Picture the Book: The Right & the Real, the book can be described in this lead sentence: Kicked out of her home for refusing to join a cult, 17-year-old Jamie must find a way to survive on her own.

Being a reader/fan of YA, the author knows her audience and offers a terrific adventure complete with a love story too. In the following interview though, Joëlle provides more background to the storyline and her philosophy on life as well.]

TDW: Restoring Harmony was a successful dystopian novel but now you’re back in the present with The Right & the Real, is there any reason other than that’s where the storyline worked best?

J. A.: I never set out to write a dystopian, it just caught a wave. A bit of luck on my part, really. With Restoring Harmony, my plan was to tell a story set after an economic collapse, and to do that, I had to set it in the future somewhat. I’ve always considered myself a contemporary YA writer.

TDW: Where did the idea for The Right & the Real come from, what’s the backstory?

J. A.: I’m from Portland and I used to see the sort of motels around that are in the book. I couldn’t go past them without wondering who lived in them. I actually came up with one of the other characters in R&R, LaVon, several years ago when I was working on a book that I’ve since abandoned. I always liked him and when I was looking for a new book idea after Restoring Harmony, he kept saying, “Choose me!” so I thought about who might live in a motel next door to him, and why she might be there.

TDW: In both novels the plot spotlights fighting against control and oppression to gain freedom and independence. Is this a personal cause?

J. A.: I hope it is for everybody! Actually, I think it’s more that I really want to create young characters who are strong and determined. It’s almost my obligation or responsibility. If kids are going to read my books, I want them to feel empowered, like they could be in that situation and handle it, even if they aren’t equipped for it now. It’s more about doing the right thing than fighting anyone.

TDW: Is your idyllic life on the island in B.C. a way to live as freely as possible?

J. A.: Living on such an idyllic island is both a reflection of living my beliefs, and also, a little bit of me sticking my head in the sand. I know that the rest of Canada and the world is not the way it is here, and on a larger level, I worry about that. But on a local level, I do what I can to make this part of the world better. I don’t like the idea of fighting unless you have to, so I try to live here, in a responsible, peaceful way, so that I’m happy and also so I have as little negative impact on the Earth as I can.

TDW: Your protagonists have both been intelligent, strong-willed young adults who are not blind to romance, how do you balance the romantic element and still maintain the character’s independence?

J. A.: I am a total romantic, and I’m not sure I even knew it until people started calling RH a romance! However, it’s important to me that it’s one element of any story I tell, not the whole story. There are places for complete romances, but my writing is not that place. I think we all love romance to some degree, and I can use that in my writing to show my character growing – dumping the wrong guy, standing up for the right one, being on her own if that’s what’s necessary. It has to be one facet of the story, not the be all and end all. The other thing that’s important to me is for the guys to act like guys. My husband watches over them to make sure they don’t do anything too girly!

TDW: Your writing also contains wonderful pacing and believable action, does this come from your theatre background? Do these scenes play out in your mind?

J. A.: I can definitely see every scene as if it were a movie. These movies play in my head all the time when I’m writing. I do think this comes from my theatre background, but it’s hard to say for sure to what extent because I don’t see much separation between writing and theatre/acting. It’s all just part of me. There is a certain amount of scene structure that I learned while studying directing, and I think that helps me create visual scenes.

TDW: Your secondary characters could be stars in their own right and I appreciate how fully developed they are, yet how do you manage to give them that much life in such limited appearances?

J. A.: It’s very nice to hear you say that because secondary characters are my biggest challenge! When I write a first draft, everyone except my main character tends to simply prop up the story. I always mean to make the supporting cast fantastically rounded from the beginning to save myself some work, but it never happens. Once I have a draft, I go back and combine characters, cut others, and try to find ways to use small characters again later in the story. After I’ve done that, I spend time with each one, figuring out what they want in each scene, and in their lives, their likes and dislikes, even what they look like.

I read recently, and I’m sorry I don’t recall where, that every character in every book thinks that the author is telling their story, that they are the most important character in it. As I work on each one, I try to keep that in mind. It really helps.

TDW: Besides being entertained, what would you like readers to take away from R&R?

J. A.: Mostly, I just want them to be entertained. Actually, that’s all I want. A good story can teach you what you need to know, but I consider that a bonus. Some books you read for information, some you read to change your life, and some you read so that you can be sucked into the narrative. That’s what I aim to write…books that grab you and don’t let you go. I like books that make you wonder afterward what you would do if that happened to you. Like my mentors, Nevil Shute and John Rowe Townsend, I’m just trying to tell a good story.

Indeed Joëlle Anthony tells an excellent story and you can discover that by reading The Right & the Real available now.

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

What and Why Krys Lee Writes

March 13, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Interviews

[A few weeks ago debut author Krys Lee (Drifting House) revealed:

Q. What is your greatest achievement?

A. Being responsible for getting a North Korean refugee to safety from the Chinese border area to South Korea will probably always remain the most important thing I’ve ever done. A distant second would be writing Drifting House, a story collection that got major publishers excited enough to begin a bidding auction between eight major publishers.

Krys indeed helped a man find freedom as the Los Angeles Times article, North Korea defector learns to trust the stranger who saved him, explains. Please take the time to read this for, by doing so, you’ll understand the amazing Krys Lee.

Those are the people — made up characters for her stories — that Krys writes about and excerpts taken from a Viking (Publisher) Q&A tell us why she writes.]

DRIFTING HOUSE is a beautiful collection of short stories that portray life in South Korea, North Korea, and as a Korean-American in the US. They depict a fractured world. Where did the stories come from: personal experience, observations, or something else? 



The stories arose from personal experiences as well as my observations and reactions toward the societies around me. Fractured is an interesting, important word for me; being animmigrant in the United States with parents who were afraid of America lends itself to a kind of fracturing. Our house was a Little Korea, and I was fascinated by the homes of American friends that I’d visit because their way of being was so culturally different. There were other, more violent and painful fractures that influenced my life and inevitably, my stories. But my sense of story is usually more Jamesian; the autobiographical impulse is buried in character and thematic obsessions rather than in the plot.

What do you think literature can reveal to us about a people or a society that reportage cannot? Do you think this is especially true in a closed society, such as North Korea? Do you think writers continue to play an important role in the political process by giving a voice to the unseen and underrepresented factions of a culture?


The best literature helps us care about the people facing the issues and problems that the news brings us. In the case of a country as secretive as North Korea, it is easy to forget that the country is made up of individuals, some who are funny, cruel, ambitious, or restless; some from divorced families, or long to travel; who, for the most part, are trying to live normal lives despite the difficulties in their society. But when literature merely tries to deliver information or push an issue, it becomes reportage rather than a vehicle. In these cases, often the characters become types, a standard issue South or North Korean rather than an individual who happens to be South or North Korean. 

It’s important for writers to give voices to those that are underrepresented in books, but what’s most important is that writers write from a need and respond to the material that feels urgent and personal. I’m suspicious of books that tackle themes or identities that don’t seem to be driven by anything more than sensationalism or timeliness, but books that give voice to the underrepresented and help us see them as individuals within the larger context of time and the historical moment that delineates our lives will always be important. 


DRIFTING HOUSE is a collection of stories. What do you like about this medium? Is there anything about it you find particularly limiting? Anything you find particularly liberating?


Stories force you to economize and think like a poet in terms of language and scene. This compression creates a challenge that I like, but for me, people carry their history with them, and that history is not just a family’s history but the history and culture of a nation; how they absorb or react to these histories interested me. Trying to get everything in without having the story’s momentum broken by back story and context was difficult. Each time I wrote a draft, well-intended students in my MFA program would say there’s seven interesting things happening in there; you need to get rid of six. Or I would be told this story would make a good novel. But there are story writers like William Trevor, Alice Munro, and John Cheever, who managed to maintain a novel’s sense of complexity and illumination without simplifying. The world is complex, and I wanted my stories to reflect that complexity or they wouldn’t feel true to me. My decision was to try and keep all seven things in each story.

Krys Lee is an important new voice in the world of fiction and the world in general. To stay updated on all her achievements be sure to follow her on Twitter, become a friend on Facebook and, by all means, read the short story collection of Drifting House.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Drifting House by Krys Lee — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 8:59 p.m. EDT tomorrow night! The winner will be announced here on Thursday.

Sarah Pekkanen Interviewed By Jodi Picoult

March 06, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Interviews

[With the hope of offering something different to The Divining Wand, today’s post was submitted by Sarah Pekkanen (Skipping a Beat and The Opposite of Me) whose third novel, These Girls releases on Tuesday, April 10, 2012.

Being interviewed by NYT Bestselling author, Jodi Picoult, (most recent, LONE WOLF), was not only a thrill for Sarah, it also delves beyond a fellow author’s blurb of praise.]

Jodi Picoult interviews Sarah Pekkanen
about writing, motherhood, and the magic of female friendships…

Jodi: These Girls explores the nuances of female friendships. How hard was it to create a sense of realism between your main characters – Cate, Renee, and Abby – and how much of that came from your own personal experience in your relationships with female friends?

Sarah: Female friendships are vitally important to me, which is why I dedicated These Girls to my girlfriends, especially one I call my “frister” (a friend who turned into a sister). I’m surrounded by wonderful guys – I have two brothers and three sons – and I adore them. But female friendships nurture and uplift me, and I find them so textured and fascinating, which is why I’m drawn to writing about them. I love it that my girlfriends and I – often aided by a bottle or two of wine – can hopscotch from serious to silly to painful topics during the course of a single conversation, and end the night feeling as if we could’ve talked forever. I drew on all of those emotions while writing These Girls.

Jodi: Your main characters in this book come to reevaluate what’s important in life as they navigate the complications of careers and love. As someone with three young children, and who has enjoyed a bit of success now as a novelist, how do you prioritize what’s important in life? Has this changed as you’ve grown older?

Sarah: I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a little girl. After college, I covered feature stories for The Baltimore Sun newspaper, but when my first son was born, I left that job because it required a long commute and frequent travel. And when I suddenly stopped writing, I felt as if I’d lost a crucial piece of myself. But I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my need to write with my need to be with my children. Then one night after the kids were asleep (by then I had two young boys), I sat down in front of on my computer and began to type. The words poured out of me, and turned into my first novel, The Opposite of Me. I never forget for a moment how lucky I am to have a flexible job that I adore, and it’s fairly easy for me to work in writing time around my kids’ schedules. My family is my priority, but I know I’m a happier – and better – Mom when I’m writing, too.

Jodi: As someone who has twists in books all the time, I get asked about my endings a lot. These Girls, too, has quite a surprise in store for the reader. Did you know it would end this way before you started writing the book, or did that evolve?

Sarah: I love books that contain twists (which is one reason why I’m a big Jodi P. fan!), and I knew even before I wrote the first line of These Girls that it, like my previous two novels, would pack a big surprise at the end. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries and sometimes I even deconstruct them, studying how an author put together pieces of the puzzle and used tension-building techniques like foreshadowing. It’s my hope that readers feel as if my books have the same page-turning quality as a thriller – but with less blood and mayhem, of course!

Jodi: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break into writing as a career?

Sarah: Treat writing like exercise – you need to do it nearly every day to get results. For people who say they’re too busy to write a book, I’d encourage them to search for little windows of time in their day. Maybe wake up half an hour earlier than usual, or carry around a notebook and write a few paragraphs on the bus ride into work. Jodi, I remember that you and I once chatted about how we both wrote in car-pool pick-up lines outside of our kids’ schools because it was one of the few quiet times we could carve out of the day. I’d advise other writers to fight for those little snippets of time, and the page count will pile up, slowly but surely.

Jodi: What is the most bizarre fan encounter you’ve ever had?

Sarah: I love that you asked me this question, because it was the very first question I ever asked you! Years ago, I was writing a newspaper article on strange things that happen to big-name authors at booksignings, and you told me about the time someone asked if you’d ever consider writing non-fiction. You replied that it seemed daunting because one had to be meticulous about getting every single fact straight… and then you brought up James Frey, who got into trouble for making up parts of his memoir A Million Little Pieces. And a few minutes later, the librarian in charge of your booksigning brought over two audience members to meet you: James Frey’s parents. This was during the time when Oprah was eviscerating him, but you merely brought up his situation as an example and didn’t pass judgment or make a joke. I thought it was very classy, and even his parents weren’t bothered by your comment, which says a lot.

So… as for my most bizarre fan encounter, I’d have to say it was the time when my husband and I took our three kids out to dinner at a busy restaurant. One of our sons was very tired and cranky – we later learned he hadn’t eaten lunch at school that day – and while we were waiting for a table, he completely melted down, crying and whining. We quickly left, and then my two-year-old tripped and fell on the sidewalk and he started crying too. So there we were, this hot mess of a family, and suddenly a woman stopped and pointed at me and yelled, “Aren’t you Sarah Pekkanen? I love your writing!” And that remains, to this day, the first and only time I have ever been recognized in public. (And I’m still kicking myself for not answering, “No! I’m J.K. Rowling!”)

“Sarah Pekkanen’s latest celebrates the healing power of female friendship for three very different young women sharing a NYC apartment. At turns bittersweet, laugh-out-loud funny, and painfully real, you’ll wish you could move in with these girls.” —

Jodi Picoult, NYT Bestselling author of LONE WOLF and SING YOU HOME.

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Announcement: The winner of Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF is: Kim W.. Congratulations! Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and the book will be sent out promptly.

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.

Interview with Eileen Cook on
Her (e)Book Do or Di

February 21, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: ebooks, Interviews

[In the last four years, Eileen Cook (The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA, Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, Fourth Grade Fairy, Gnome Invasion, and Wishes for Beginners ages 9 -11, and most recent Unraveling Isobel) has been productive and prolific, entertaining adult, YA, and middle grade readers. However, at the end of January, Eileen debuted her first ebook — and first adult novel since Unpredictable — with Do or Di available on Kindle and Smashwords.

Fun, thoughtful, and poignant, Do or Di is a refreshing reading escape. Yet it caused this Fairy Godmother to wonder how long the author had this up her sleeve? To discover, all I needed to do was ask. Enjoy!]

A laugh out loud romantic comedy, from the author of Unpredictable and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood. Erin Callighan has given up on the idea of a fairy tale romance. Having dated her own version of the Seven Dwarves (including Grumpy and Sleepy), she’s letting go of the idea of Prince Charming and settling for Prince Good Enough. Erin’s focused on reaching her dream of having her own talk radio show, even if it means having to temporarily co-host with the annoying “Voice of Seattle”, Colin Stewart. To score points with her station manager, she agrees to be a part of the Positive Partnerships program that matches her with Diana, a troubled pre-teen who swears she’s channeling the spirit of the late Princess Diana. She’s supposed to be mentoring Diana, but the channeled princess has a lot to teach Erin about love and happily ever after endings.

TDW: When did you find the time to write thIS novel? UNPREDICTABLE, REVENGE, EMMA, EDUCATION, UNRAVELING, plus the FAIRY GODMOTHER series has kept you busy and in bookstores for for years, did you write in between these books?

E.C.: The original version of this book was written right after I completed Unpredictable. At that time the market for “chick lit” or any funny women’s fiction novels dried up and I couldn’t sell the book and I turned to writing YA. I’ve always loved this book and wanted to see it find it’s way into the world. One weekend I pulled it up on my computer and re-read it. With the growth of ebooks I knew I could put it up myself. I hired an editor to give me some feedback, polished the book and put it up. I’m so happy to see it out there on the virtual shelves.

TDW: Yet you’re established author, readers of all ages love you and would be thrilled to find an adult novel on the bookshelves?

E.C.: There’s been a lot of change in the publishing landscape. I’ve seen other authors go the indie route with books and I was curious to try it out. By self publishing the book I could set the price quite low at $2.99. Heck, that’s less than buying a latte! By having a book that is low in cost it tempts people who haven’t read my books before to give it a try and hopefully then become interested in my other books. For readers who know they like my book this becomes a way to say thank you.

TDW: For your YA novels, inspiration/backstory is taken from a “classic,” so did you follow the same pattern here?

E.C.: The inspiration for this book was a chance to tap into the fascination I had with Princess Diana. When I was young I got up at dawn to see her wedding and thought it was the most romantic story ever. As I grew up watching her marriage and eventual divorce I realized that love isn’t about fairy tales. She was such an iconic figure for women that I wanted a chance to write a character who has a connection to her. Erin in the book has given up on love and romance. She needs to discover that love, real love, isn’t always pretty, but it does last.

TDW: Astrology, magic, the supernatural and, now, channeling are elements woven into your storylines. In first glance of your books’ synopses, a reader might think you’re writing fairy tales and yet these mystical powers are actually used to support the true power of human strengths and talents. Is this the theme or end goal?

E.C.: People are fascinated with magic and the supernatural. While I agree it is fun, I want to show that the real magic in the world isn’t supernatural, it’s everyday. Real magic is how you feel when you see someone you love, how roses bloom, the sounds dogs make when they dream. We need to open our eyes and see the magical things all around us and also the power that we have to impact change in our own lives.

TDW: Where did the fresh workplace setting of a radio station come from? Was there much research needed?

E.C.; I’ve been fortunate enough to do some readings on CBC, Canada’s version of National Public Radio. The first time I went I was enthralled with the whole process, the chance to wear giant headphones, the call board the entire idea of being live. I was quite certain I would be struck with Tourette’s once the microphone went on. I ended up asking lots of questions and even took some pictures of the space on my phone. I had a sense it would end up in a book someday.

TDW: Although Do or Di is an adult novel, you wrote Diana — a YA character — in almost a co-starring role. It worked so well. Was that your initial intention?

E.C.: When I wrote the initial draft of the book Diana did not have as large of a role. Now years later I’ve written several YA books and enjoy writing teen characters. When I pulled the book out I realized that Diana had a lot to say and that her having a larger role would enhance the book and give it some balance. Erin is skeptical, but Diana represents hope. They need each other to move forward. Erin needs to rediscover the magic in her life and Diana needs to be balanced out with reality.

TDW: Can we look forward to more adult novels from you in the future?

E.C.: In the process of re-working this book I realized how much I enjoyed writing for an adult audience. There will be more adult books- just as soon as I figure out what that winning idea is going to be.

To experience instant pleasure in reading Do or Di, simply download the book from Kindle or Smashwords.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away three copies of Eileen Cook’s Do or Di — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 8:59 p.m. EST tonight! The winners will be announced here on Thursday.