The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

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.

Guest Kristina McMorris on Tales of the Past:
What we can learn from listening

February 15, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Wisdom, truth and our personal family history are often as near as our grandparents or other older relatives yet do we take the time to ask and listen to their richly detailed experiences? Several years ago Kristina McMorris (Letters From Home coming February 22, 2011) discovered that her grandmother held treasures and stories that could never be found in any social media content. In today’s guest post, the debut novelist shares how what she learned by listening changed her life.]

TALES OF THE PAST: What we can learn from listening

Indeed, at some point, we’ve all heard about the daily hardships of living many decades ago. In fact, it’s become a common punch line guaranteed to garner chuckles: (spoken in a crotchety, old man voice) “When I was your age, I walked ten miles to school every day. Uphill both ways, in a blizzard, and with no shoes. But I didn’t dare complain, because I was lucky to have a school at all.”

I admit, the “uphill both ways” part always makes me laugh. You’d think after hearing it at least a hundred times, it would inevitably get old. But alas, no. There’s just something humorous about those legendary claims, so outlandish they couldn’t possibly be real.

Or could they?

When I was little, I used to love listening to my grandmother share memories of her childhood spent on her family’s Iowa farm. I still recall tales about my great uncles’ orneriness, of his driving the tractor into a lake and pouring sugar into the gas tank. I remember being shocked by Grandma’s mention of buying only one pair of shoes a year. (Given that my trendy Jelly shoes tended to break apart within a month, this bit of information made a lasting impression.)

As time passed, however, Grandma Jean told fewer and fewer stories, and not because she was running low on anecdotes, rather I suspect, because the grandchildren stopped asking. We became teenagers, then college students. We got jobs to pay for our cars and mortgages and electronic gadgets that are now obsolete. The quick pace of life rather than another’s nostalgic memories took precedence.

Then, several years ago, amid all that craziness, I decided to self-publish a cookbook filled with recipes Grandma Jean had collected and created over decades, a holiday gift for the family. Almost as an afterthought, I added a biographical section. And it was solely for that reason, while lounging in her cabin by the lake—with no cell phone to answer, no Internet to surf—that I spent an afternoon with my grandmother, asking questions.

Fascinating tidbits abounded as she recounted days of working as a soda jerk, a nanny, and even a worker at a battery factory. She told me about hunting for catfish in the muddy banks near the farm, about playing on the girls’ basketball team in high school, and how she milked the cows and gathered eggs every morning before school—which, by the way, did actually require a minimum walk of six miles to attend. (No hills either way, though; she was, after all, in Iowa!)

Finally, came the greatest highlight of all: From a closet she retrieved a collection of courtship letters sent by my late grandfather during World War II, a collection I had no idea existed. A collection that ultimately changed the course of my life.

For, when I left my grandmother’s house, the sailor’s written messages lingering in my mind, I began to imagine what could be a wonderful premise for a movie: What if a soldier, in the midst of WWII, fell deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he’s writing to isn’t the one replying?

Before I knew it, I was at my keyboard, attempting to compose my very first novel, LETTERS FROM HOME. Now, as a published and full-time author, I remain utterly grateful for that afternoon at the cabin, and, most all, for Grandma Jean’s stories. Each one comes from a place of wisdom and experience, from a way of life many today know too little about.

So, once in a while, set down your cell phones, hit pause on the daily chaos—and simply listen to tales of the past. It’s amazing how their storytellers can touch your heart, even change your life, if only you take time to ask.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Sarah Pekkanen and Skipping a Beat. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, February 16, 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.

The Revealing of Kristina McMorris

February 09, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Kristina McMorris, a former child television star and public relations professional, admits that she was barely a fiction reader when first discovering her grandparents’ World War II correspondence. However those written exchanges inspired her to write and become a novelist as Letters From Home debuts on February 22, 2011.

This one sentence description tells: Letters from Home is a story of hope and connection, of sacrifices made in love and war–and the chance encounters that change us forever.

And Early Praise claims:

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

“An absolutely lovely debut novel.”
KRISTIN HANNAH, New York Times bestselling author of Firefly Lane

“A novel to savor and remember.”
BEN SHERWOOD, president of ABC News and bestselling author of The Death & Life of Charlie St. Cloud

“Skillfully written… sweeps the reader away.”
LYNN “BUCK” COMPTON, “Band of Brothers” WWII vet

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Letters from Home for Monday, February 21, 2011 but, for now, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Kristina McMorris penned her first novel, LETTERS FROM HOME, based on inspiration from her grandparents’ wartime courtship. The recipient of a dozen national literary awards, this debut is scheduled for release March 2011 from Kensington Books (US) and Avon/HarperCollins (UK). Kristina has worked as a weekly TV host since age nine, and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons.

And now it’s time to get to know Kristina, much more upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Happy, full, loving, blessed, busy, rewarding, adventurous, memorable

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Spending a fun day with my husband and two young sons with no deadlines or thoughts about work; only the sound of the kids giggling at each other, topped off with lots of hugs.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Outliving my children.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: In Italy, eating tiramisu and sipping a cappuccino on a terrace overlooking Florence, where I used to live. 🙂

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Martin Luther King, Jr. — for the racial views we share on peace and equality

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Any number of the WWII veterans I’ve had the privilege of interviewing in the course of my research. When it comes to humility, there are no better teachers.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: In real life. probably the word “crazy” — just because it’s so dang versatile. “Kids, stop acting so crazy!” “Wow…that’s crazy.” See what I mean?

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Speaking articulately to large crowds without the burden of jittery nerves.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: My children, without question.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Optimism

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Caring so much about what others thought while in junior high and high school. Don’t we all wish that?

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d have to say Oprah, though just for a day — long enough to experience her fascinating yet hectic daily routine and, of course, to choose my novel for her book club. Duh.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Physically, that I’m a combination of races (Japanese and Irish-American); personality-wise, that I’m very social.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: In hopes that film references are allowed, this one is a toss up between Maximus from Gladiator and Captain Von Trapp!

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Death, the witty and incredibly compelling narrator in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I’d have to name a group of athletes: the 1919 Chicago White Sox; and I’d say, “Don’t do it, fellas. Believe me, you’ll regret the decision forever.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Drivers who refuse to let you into their lane for no good reason.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Hosting television shows

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Playing the lead in Miss Saigon on Broadway

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: A good heart, funny, approachable

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Handmade gnocchi (potato pasta) – yum!

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) by Frank Sinatra; White Christmas by The Drifters; The Dance by Garth Brooks; I’m Yours by Jason Mraz; and Believe by Josh Groban

Q What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: The Book Thief, Water for Elephants, The Help, The Kommandant’s Girl, and Devil At My Heels

Charming, multi-talented, and “very social,” Kristina McMorris is definitely a new author to follow on Twitter and friend on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Twin’s Daughter AND the entire Sisters 8 Series, including Petal’s Problems in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Lauren Baratz-Logsted and The Twin’s Daughter, Petal’s Problems. PLEASE indicate which book(s) you prefer. As always, comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.