The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Caroline Leavitt and Pictures of You

January 31, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

As a writer Caroline Leavtitt is known for her essays, short stories, and book reviews for the Boston Globe and People, as an award-wining author she is known for eight previous novels including — Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) — , yet it is as a storyteller of her latest book, Pictures of You, that may prove the most enduring/endearing role to readers.

First consider this critical praise:

“An expert storyteller….Leavitt teases suspense out of the greatest mystery of all — the workings of the human heart.” Booklist

And then realize that a major reason for the author’s success is writing about obsession — beginning with her own and turning it into the character’s. Basing Pictures of You on her phobia for driving, she wanted to write about the fear of causing a car crash and killing someone. Could becoming fixated on that car crash and how it affects the people involved cure her?

Although it did not, the idea turned into a novel with its primary theme asking the questions: How well do we really know the ones we love, and how much — or how little — do we choose to see what is going on in our lives?

How appropriate that the life-changing car crash literally takes place in a fog. Here is the synopsis for Pictures of You:

Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, the book asks, How well do we really know those we love-and how do we forgive the unforgivable?

There was enough Early Praise to have the publisher (Algonquin) order a second printing before releasing the book a month early.

And, by reading the Excerpt of the first two chapters, you’re certain to be praising its immediate intrigue too.

Fascinating in its depth, Pictures of You is a seemingly “easy read” about how complicated individuals’ lives become when they intersect over a tragic mistake. The author — without “dropping a stitch” on her characters’ insight, behavior, guilt, and grief — offers a multi-layered, complex storyline that never suggests heavy handed, intimidating literature. Instead what she creates is simple, but how?

Caroline laughs at the idea that it’s simple and explains:

“The writer Jonathan Evison told me “‘Easy read means hard writing.'” And he’s right. I wrote about 16 drafts (I’m not kidding~!) of Pictures of You. In every draft, I made charts, outlines, I read things out loud, I tried different fonts. It was a never ending battle to get things right, to try to cut to the core. And it took me four years to do it.”

However, after four years, the novel is eloquent and universally appealing, both literary and commercial.

Of course it fell on the characters to make it so and the authors tells that Isabelle came to her first:

“I knew she was going to enact my deepest fear–getting in a car crash and killing someone. But then I thought, well who was she going to kill? I couldn’t bring myself to have her kill a child, because if I did that, I could never continue to live myself, and I couldn’t have it be her mistake because that also seemed too awful to me, so I had it not be her mistake. Suddenly, I had this image. A woman standing in the middle of the road, her car turned around. A child running into the woods. I wanted to why and how, and I just started writing.”

Aha, the mysterious ways of creativity become the mysteries of the novel and Caroline Leavitt takes readers on an emotional journey of discovering why, how, and then what? While the aftermath of the accident suggests the need for forgiveness, healing, and closure, the truth is that life’s much too complicated for such a straightforward resolution. For, by sorting through the details of “how well do we know the ones we love?” another question arises of “how well do we know ourselves?” If we lie, mislead, or keep secrets from each other, consider how blurred individual perspectives are. Memories, images, and even pictures cannot reveal the entire past.

Then add the ripple effect that spreads into and affects a small town community for years. Well-meaning sentiments, kindness, gossip, finger-pointing, and even bullying mix together to create a chaos theory. Because, as the author agrees, “when something happens in a blink, your whole life changes. And when your whole life changes, it impacts the lives around you.”

Yet as mysterious and thought-provoking as Pictures of You reads, its most compelling aspect is the author’s portrayal of a family torn apart by the loss of a mother/wife. The husband who only saw what he wanted to see in his wife lives in pain, once realizing he did not know her. The young asthmatic son who almost physically cannot survive the guilt and grief he feels for his mother’s death, let alone how much he misses her. And the other woman — the surviving photographer — who tries to sort out her own truths, even though she feels certain it was her mistake that tore apart a happy family portrait.

Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You is captivatingly honest and heartfelt. Her storytelling will entertain as well as possibly cause readers to wonder about what they know is true and such truth makes this book a “must read.” Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You 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 2, 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.

Allison Winn Scotch and The One That I Want

May 31, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Allison Winn Scotch (New York Times Bestseller, Time of My Life, The Department of Lost and Found) launches her third novel, The One That I Want, tomorrow — June 1, 2010. And once again the question of “what if?” becomes the tagline for the book.

The backstory for The One That I Want is best described as “the bookend” for Time of My Life. In other words, after writing about “what if?” you could go back and change the past, the author decided this book would be “what if? you could see the future and either accept or change it. Acknowledging that she wanted to continue in the same vein because it felt like readers were responding/relating to the concept, Allison also says:

“I really enjoy writing these wish fulfillment types-of-books, but I didn’t want to do anything even remotely like TOML out of fear that people would think that was all I had in my arsenal. And also, of course, to challenge myself: I try to push myself with each book. So I aimed to take everything about TOML and flip it, while still keeping true to who I am as a writer, as well as the themes I like to explore about pursuing a bigger, more fleshed-out life.”

Indeed the writer succeeded because The One That I Want isn’t remotely similar to its predecessor, in fact it might even better! Why? How? Well carefully consider the synopsis:

What if you woke up one day to all your dreams coming true…but those dreams were more like nightmares?

Tilly Farmer is thirty-two years old and has the perfect life she always dreamed of: married to her high school sweetheart, working as a school guidance counselor, trying for a baby. Perfect.

But one sweltering afternoon at the local fair, everything changes. Tilly wanders into a fortune teller’s tent and meets an old childhood friend, who offers her more than just a reading. “I’m giving you the gift of clarity,” her friend says. “It’s what I always through you needed.” And soon enough, Tilly starts seeing things: her alcoholic father relapsing, staggering out of a bar with his car keys in hand; her husband uprooting their happy, stable life, a packed U-Haul in their driveway. And even more disturbing, these visions start coming true. Suddenly Tilly’s perfect life, so meticulously mapped out, seems to be crumbling around her. And as she furiously races to keep up with – and hopefully change – her destiny, she faces the question: Which life does she want? The one she’s carefully nursed for decades, or the one she never considered possible?

What if you could see into the future? Would you want to know what fate has in store?

Now read an excerpt, Chapter One.

And finally take note of the Reviews, including:

“An aching, honest look into the death and rebirth of relationships. Scotch answers hard questions about the nature of personal identity and overwhelming loss with a wise, absorbing narrative.” – Publishers Weekly

“Scotch specializes in heroines at a crossroads, questioning their life choices and preparing to embark on journeys of self-discovery. . . . [She] creates eminently relatable characters, with a particularly excellent understanding of the way sisters interact, and has the ability to craft scenes of real emotional weight.”- Booklist

“Well-told . . . a good choice for fans of women’s fiction and book clubs. It’s fast-paced and feels light yet still packs a satisfying emotional punch.” – Library Journal

These are glowing words for a book of substance. It’s true that in Time of My Life Jillian had problems of emotional weight with which to contend and she tried to solve them by escaping back into the past. But, in The One That I Want, Tilly is literally and figuratively stuck in the present with the clarity of how her past has — and will continue — to affect the future. There’s no escaping for her, only decisions to be made about “what next?”

In last week’s post, Guest Allison Winn Scotch on Scoring Your Goal, the author wrote, “….striving toward goals – both big and small – is an underlying theme of my new book.” Further adding: “My heroine, Tilly, had aspirations for herself – maybe not to light the world on fire, but enough to light her inner-self on fire, and somewhere along the way, she loses these aspirations, without even recognizing that she’s done so.”

Although Tilly Farmer is only thirty-two, she comes across as older and settled with the only goal in her sight — having a baby. While that is the dream/goal of countless women, a baby for Tilly would mean she had achieved her perfect (and rather safe) life. For this protagonist doesn’t take chances. She married her high school sweetheart, chose a stable career as a guidance counselor, and returned to her high school to advise students of their future, bemoaning that most are anxious to move out of the small town.

Tilly thinks she’s happy. Even Allison was initially fooled until she “found” out how much anger the character had. Between the compromises that she’d been forced to make, the decisions that she’d never had the chance to opt for, and a future filled with watching over others, Tilly doesn’t dare to dream BIG. Because, if she does, her illusion of safe happiness falls apart.

After completing The One, the author mentioned in a blog post that there would be fans who wouldn’t like this more serious, darker storyline. How unfortunate. Because TRUTH: Allison soars in telling a multi-layered, complex story of real people with real problems who need to find real goals/dreams to enjoy happiness. The writing is brilliant and carries not a trace of Allison’s own voice — a personal goal she had set for herself.

This writer is known to be “the real deal” as a person. With this third novel, Allison Winn Scotch becomes “the real deal” to critics, fans, and new readers. The book is The One That I Want and you can have it too…tomorrow!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Allison Winn Scotch’s The One That I Want 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 Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.