The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Meg Mitchell Moore and The Arrivals

May 23, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

In her debut novel, The Arrivals available this Wednesday, May 25, 2011, Meg Mitchell Moore writes in the genre of a “quiet little novel” focused on everyday people leading everyday lives. Except if that book is based on a three generation family all living together in one household for the summer — and this book is –, then the storyline may not be that quiet.

Ironically the idea for The Arrivals came from the upheaval of the first novel Meg began to write. Halfway through that work-in-progress, realizing it wasn’t working for her at all, she salvaged some characters and their relationships to use in an entirely new book that would become the debut. However the themes of grandparents, and adult children leaning on their parents remained — albeit with a fresh tone and more relevant problems consistent with each generation.

Mother and first-born daughter, along with her own three-year old daughter and infant son, formed the initial relationships and then the rest of the family joined the fray that evolved into this synopsis for The Arrivals:

It’s early summer when Ginny and William’s peaceful life in Burlington, Vermont, comes to an abrupt halt.

First, their daughter Lillian arrives, two children in tow, to escape her crumbling marriage. Next, their son Stephen and his pregnant wife Jane show up for a weekend visit, which extends indefinitely. When their youngest daughter Rachel appears, fleeing her difficult life in New York, Ginny and William find themselves consumed again by the chaos of parenthood—only this time around, their children are facing adult problems.

By summer’s end, the family gains new ideas of loyalty and responsibility, exposing the challenges of surviving the modern family — and the old adage, once a parent, always a parent, has never rung so true.

While the adage rings true, so does the Praise.

One of the reasons for Meg Mitchell Moore’s success with this novel is in her ability to show, rather than tell. The family members — introduced with good pacing — are defined/described/identified primarily by their dialogue and behavior. Yes, for each character’s present problem, there is a backstory as explanation, yet not a detailed one. There’s just enough information given to pique readers’ curiosity to wonder what will they do next? And, because there are five adults and two small children living in the house, the struggles, reactions and dynamics are constantly changing. As a result, this is a natural page-turner exploring how individual crises affect the family as a whole.

However don’t expect The Arrivals to feature a dysfunctional family — i.e. one that implodes in ager and blame at the dinner table. For the most part, the adult children keep their problems private until they need to ask for help. Coming home is their safe haven, a place of comfort, temporary escape and where they know their parents will care for them.

As parents Ginny and William are loving and accepting, even avoiding prying into their childrens’ problems. But they do have their limits and feeling overwhelmed by the disorder that their children and grandchildren create inevitably tries their patience. So, in addition to the obvious theme of once a parent always a parent, there’s also: Coming home reverts even an adult to his/her childhood self. The author, agreeing with this observation, says:

“It’s so true! I recently wrote a guest blog post about things NOT to do when bringing your young children to your parents’ home, and most of the items on the list are things I have done. I leave things lying around at my parents’ house that I would never leave around at my own house. It’s completely obnoxious of me, and I think it’s very common too: you go home, you want to be taken care of, no matter how old you are.”

On the other hand, Meg’s description of family/home also holds the book’s message:

“Home is a rest stop on the highway of life. It shouldn’t be the final destination.”

She proves this with an insightful clarity to variations of timeless family problems, including the question of how best to raise children. Stay-at-home Mom, stay-at-home Dad, or something to accommodate both parents’ careers? Nurturing/caring with love is essential, but so is the need to foster independence and allow the children to one day be able to leave home for good.

When asked, though, what would she like readers to know most about The Arrivals, Meg Mitchell Moore said:

“I love these characters. I know they are flawed, and I know they’ve made mistakes. (They wouldn’t be very interesting if they were perfect.) The cover of the Australian edition, which is a fantastic depiction of a crowded toothbrush holder, says that the book will make you “’laugh, cry…and want to phone home.’” I think that’s very apt. I hope at least some readers feel that way when they close the book.”

And what this Fairy Godmother would like readers to know most about The Arrivals: It is a lovingly honest, and engagingly thoughtful story of how a family — of all ages — comes together with universal love.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore 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, May 25, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Ann Wertz Garvin and On Maggie’s Watch

November 29, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

After reading The Revealing of Ann Wertz Garvin, and the guest post, Private Parts, it would be safe to expect the unexpected from Ann Wertz Garvin and her debut novel On Maggie’s Watch.

Of course, for this author, the unexpected is a very good thing as Ann confesses: “Writers are observers and I’m the noisiest observer there ever was.”

Noisy? Actually it’s being curious and having the zest for life to explore all types of interests. For example: Ann’s background is in science with a masters in exercise physiology and a PhD in exercise psychology but in between the academics she did theater, backpacked through Europe (twice), swam in Jamaica, Greece, Hawaii, Kuai, and ate her way through Egypt. And being a full professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater — where she teaches courses on nutrition and stress management — did not stop her from writing fiction, let alone successfully managing the journey to publication.

Ann is uniquely charming and disarming. Please meet her through this video introduction:

(If the video isn’t visible on your monitor, please view the video here.)

The inspiration for the novel came from the author’s chilling experience of watching a SWAT team arrest a world-class sex offender living in her neighborhood. That’s when she began thinking what if he had lived next door to her? What would she have done and what of the aftermath:

“I would have been so disappointed at my inability to sense or ferret out baddies and would have struggled with the knowledge that this kind of evil walks amongst us. What would/should I do with my fears?

But there are these websites that exist essentially to say…’here are the bad guys in your town. Keep away from these houses and you’ll be fine.’ So now we have this false sense of control and security. Although the websites help…it’s the dangers that can’t be seen that tend to do us in. Often on these websites they “‘offenders'” exist on a continuum. Some are sex offenders in the most terrible of senses and then there is the guy who just slapped the wrong woman’s ass. I wanted to explore the craziness in all of us when we don’t have all the information we need.”

Add Maggie — an 8 1/2 month pregnant woman on high alert for safety — and the storyline evolved into On Maggie’s Watch and this synopsis:

To Do:

Set up Crib
Carve Zucchini Boats
Fight Crime

Maggie Finley has just returned to her beloved Wisconsin hometown, quirky best friend, and eccentric mother. Life should be good, but her marriage to Martin is suffering under the strain of a recent family tragedy and Maggie’s feeling pressed for time. Before the birth of her baby she has to figure out how to fit her high-anxiety-self into a low-anxiety-life.

True to her can do attitude, Maggie hires a compelling handy-man, resurrects a defunct Neighborhood Watch and inadvertently discovers a potential threat to her house and home living just around the corner. Choosing to investigate, despite her best friend’s advice to keep her nose out of it…and despite the risk, Maggie sets her sites on discovering the stranger’s secret. As the mystery of the neighbor’s identity draws Maggie irresistibly in, her ordered life starts to unravel in surprising and hilarious ways.

Unexpectedly compelling and sparkling with wit and intelligence, this debut novel chronicles one woman’s quest for control over her surroundings, and the secrets and surprises that lie hidden in an ordinary suburban landscape.

Having read a bit about the book, let Ann tell you more in this video:

(If the video isn’t visible on your monitor, please view the video here.

Also here’s a preview of the novel with Chapter One.

Indeed there’s much more than presiding over a Neighborhood Watch group for Maggie. With the storyline dealing with the pressure of loss in a marriage, deep affection between friends, and an almost consuming desire to control everything in order to keep those we love safe, the author’s goal was to write about humanity and history then marry them with control and fear. As Ann says;

“People are complex, and happily these themes combine and intertwine until you get judgment. Whenever I judge I know it is about me not “‘them.'” I also know, when I judge something I’m going to get a snoot full of whatever I’m judging so I better just stop it. I’m interested in showing how judgement and fear are partnered.”

Or, in other words, what the consequences can be by jumping to conclusions and critical misconceptions. Maggie appears to be an expert at doing both and one might excuse her antics, dismissing them as an imbalance of hormones due to her pregnancy. Yet the author doesn’t take this easy way out because she created Maggie as “a regular person with regular fears and an over-the-top reaction” just as many would have when confronting their own fears.

Instead Maggie’s pregnancy is cause for another fear — a believable one from her past history. And believability is the true beauty of this book’s writing. The humor, the poignancy, the sweetness and the bittersweet have been measured out in just the right amounts to easily provide readers’ with “Aha” personal moments. For that reason alone On Maggie’s Watch is a novel to savor. Please, don’t take it lightly or gulp it down in one sitting. Because, if you do, Ann Wertz Garvin’s message might be missed:

“Listen to the people who love you. You hired those people as a friend for their unique qualifications to tell you when you are not acting like the people they love (for the reasons they love you). Our friends have a bird’s eye view of us; when we get focused in ways that are not good for us, or humanity, it is our friends’ job to pull our heads from our collective asses and get us off our Sit and Spin.”

The Divining Wand’s message: Get yourself up and out to a bookstore as soon as possible!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Ann Wertz Garvin’s On Maggie’s Watch 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, December 1, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.