The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Kate Ledger and Remedies

August 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

From the front cover

“Remedies is an immediately gripping, expertly woven tale of pain and healing.
Ledger is a brilliant writer; the book is dazzling, but more importantly, it is moving.”
– Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of Barefoot

What Kate Ledger has elegantly and eloquently written in her debut novel, Remedies, is a “witty,” “complex,” “humane,” and “intense” story of a marriage/family in crisis. And those are a few reasons why Remedies garnered:

*A Starred Review from Publishhers Weekly
*Being named an Indie Next List Notable Book for August 2010
*Selection as an Ingram Premier Pick recommendation to libraries across the country.

Although more praise can be found on the author’s Press page, a most telling description comes from the novel’s Facebook page where a reader commented on the paperback’s cover: “I love the knot in her hair . . . so symbolic of the character and the story.”

Yes the novel can be rendered almost that simply as long as the “knots” also describe the husband and teenage daughter. For this is a character-driven storyline. Its idea came from Kate’s interest in a doctor who would believe he’s come up with a treatment to relieve, eradicate physical pain from his patients and she explained his character — and his wife’s character — development in Guest Kate Ledger on REMEDIES: A Novel/The Journey of Writing.

And from those characters came this Synopsis:

Simon and Emily Bear look like a couple that has it all. Simon is a respected doctor. His wife, Emily, shines as a partner in a premier public relations firm. But their marriage is scarred by hidden wounds. Even as Simon tends his patients’ ills, and Emily spins away her clients’ mistakes, they can’t seem to do the same for themselves or their relationship.

Simon becomes convinced he’s discovered a cure for chronic pain, a finding that could become a medical breakthrough, yet he is oblivious to the pain that he causes at home. Emily, struggling to move beyond the devastating loss she and Simon suffered fifteen years earlier, realizes she hasn’t felt anything for a long time–that is, until a lover from her past resurfaces and forces her to examine her marriage anew.

In a debut novel on par with today’s top women writers, Remedies explores the complicated facets of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longings of the heart. Depicting modern-day marriage with a razor-sharp eye, Remedies is about what it takes, as an individual and as a couple, to recover from profound loss.

That profound loss was the death of their six-week old infant son and, once Kate identified and addressed this tragedy, her story focused on the crumbling of a marriage. As she says:

“I found the Bear’s marriage exquisitely complex. As I wrote their interactions, I thought a lot about the ways that people communicate, particularly when they don’t address a real problem: The core issue remains present in every interaction. Simon and Emily aren’t simply two people who can’t talk to each other or who’ve moved apart from one another. In fact, they’re constantly straining to have the terrible conversation they’ve never been able to have. Their terrors are simmering under the surface. Simon can’t help but provoke Emily in ways he knows will frustrate her, hoping that they’ll wind up in a confrontation. (He has grandiose plans to surprise her with winemaking in the basement, for instance, a plan that will surely annoy her.) He must know on some level, that in one of those confrontations, she might blame him in the way he’s most afraid of being blamed. Emily retreats from his antagonistic actions, accepting his signs of outward kindness, as she holds onto the story she’s believed all along: Simon isn’t responsible for their loss since every one of the doctors missed the signs that their son was desperately sick. But, of course, as in all relationships, what’s under the surface always eventually emerges.”

Ironically both Simon and Emily professionally deal with helping patients/clients handle physical pain and successfully communicate. In fact Simon enjoys introducing themselves to others as “the doctor and the spin doctor,” yet — in truth — their skills appear to be left at the office.

Still losing a child is devastating and too many couples who experience such grief, guilt, and emptiness do divorce. They simply can’t forget and find a way back to “normal” because their family life isn’t “normal” any longer. The fortunate ones find strength in each other and from family, friends, religion, and counseling. However Simon and Emily had none of these for support and their individual backgrounds allow this to ring true. Why? Because Kate Ledger created her characters with the perfect flaws that would prevent them from asking for help.

These are fascinating characters, outwardly strong while internally too weak to face and then try to find a remedy for fifteen years of pain. But since — according to the author — “the book is very much about the fear of how people will receive you” — it’s only natural that they would create a facade rather than display their true feelings. As a result, neither Simon or Emily are likable yet they are understandable. In fact if Remedies was a theatrical movie it would most likely win the Oscar for “Best Picture of the Year” for the realistic and exquisite depiction of a lost couple.

As a book it is lyrically gorgeous, created with so much care that the reader doesn’t need actors to make the storyline come alive. Kate’s words do that, aiming directly to the heart. And although the novel focuses on sorrow and pain, the author feels: “It’s a hopeful book. The great journey of the novel is for each of these individuals to come to terms with the past—acknowledge it, examine it, maybe even cry about it— in order to set sights on building a new future.”

Remedies, filled with the potential for insightful discussions, would be an excellent book club selection. If you’d like Kate to visit your book group by speakerphone or Skype, please email Or take pleasure in this debut by reading and reveling in it on your own!

Book Giveaway: This week Kate Ledger has graciously offered two “signed” copies of Remedies to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post. A comment left on any other post during the week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in Thursday’s post. IF you do enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Guest Kate Ledger on
REMEDIES: A Novel/The Journey of Writing

August 17, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Kate Ledger, in her debut novel Remedies, tells a brilliantly complex story of physical and emotional pain. In today’s guest post, she explains how an initial fascination with medical knowledge led her on a ten year writing journey to an even richer, deeper, more painful subject requiring a remedy. ]

REMEDIES: A NOVEL/The Journey of Writing

I’d always wanted to be a fiction writer, even as far back as my childhood. But in my mid-20s, after a graduate program in creative writing, and with no livelihood in sight, I did a little freelance magazine writing and then began a fulltime job at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, writing for publications about medicine and research. It was a fascinating job. I sat in on all kinds of surgeries, visited the labs of world famous scientists, and had the chance to talk with people who were making great advances and new discoveries.

The truth was, I enjoyed the job, but I missed writing fiction. After a few years, I left to become a fulltime freelance writer, which I imagined would make time for the novel I’d always wanted to write. I had new and very rich material to draw on from my experiences writing about the medical world. Over the years, I’d met many doctors and researchers who’d developed astounding and helpful treatments for patients. Some of those treatments even defied the scientific thinking of the time. As I pondered the core of a novel, I wondered: what about a doctor who believes he’s discovered a cure for pain?

That was the launching point. I began to read about pain. I interviewed several people who suffered daily from chronic pain, whose lives had been completely undermined by mysterious ailments. I interviewed pain specialists about the treatments that exist. But the burning question, and what really intrigued me, was about character. What kind of person would believe he’d discovered a cure. even if he had no proof, beyond what his patients told him, that it was helping them? What would that person be like? I began writing about a doctor, Simon Bear—a passionate man full of ideas and ambitious plans—who believes he’s stumbled across a cure for pain. I imagined he would be confident, even to the point of being overbearing, but that he would be devoted to healing his patients. But as Simon’s character began to evolve, I wondered why he was so committed to his patients’ pain. I realized he was focused on curing others because he wasn’t able to address his own pain. At that moment, I realized that, in fact, I was writing about a marriage. The miraculous cure for pain wasn’t a thing in and of itself, but an onerous stumbling block to Simon’s most intimate relationship.

Choosing to write from the point of view of a forty-seven year old man was incredibly liberating to me as a writer. It meant imagining a world wrenched from my own anxieties and concerns—and I was free to make Simon both overbearing and insecure, wistfully in love and incapable of making the right decisions without feeling inhibited. I wasn’t sure about some things—for instance, I didn’t know: Are forty-seven-year-old men with established careers still concerned what their parents think of them? (I began reading books with middle-aged male protagonists, and also asking around, and it turns out, yes, they are.) But I also made the decision to tell the story of this painful marriage simultaneously from Emily’s point of view. I felt the two perspectives would give real insight about what’s going on in this house. And I have to admit, as different as I am personally from Emily—she’s proper, super-confident and very defended—telling a woman’s point of view created a familiar zone for me within the book.

But the most profound leap for me came the day I realized the source of their terrible pain. In this sense, the book evolved from a cerebral place—thinking about characters and their circumstances—to a place of deep emotion. The process surprised me, but I think this is typical in writing a novel. You have a story, and you write and you write, until you realize what, exactly, you’re writing about. At this point, I’d written about Simon and Emily for several years; he was finding the miracle treatment, defending his decision to give it to his patients, and in each iteration, his character and Emily’s were growing more and more layered. When I’d begun writing the novel, I was still dating the man who would become my husband. A few years later, we’d married and had children. As I pondered Simon and Emily’s pain, I asked myself a question that felt daring: what was I most afraid to put on the page? What words was I most afraid to see? The answer came to me immediately. As a new mom, I was most afraid of losing a child. Once I’d thought the words, the feeling they evoked was so overpowering, I felt I had no choice but to write about it.

I teach novel-writing these days. I tell my students that a good place to begin is with something that absolutely fascinates them, something that’s always gripped them, or that they keep wondering about. That’s your toehold on the mountain. But you’re on a journey as you write, and you keep asking questions, and keep feeling your way forward. You try to be ready for what you encounter.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Kristina Riggle’s The Life You’ve Imagined in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Kristina Riggle and The Life You’ve Imagined. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

The Revealing of Kate Ledger

August 11, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Interviews, Profiles

Last August Kate Ledger made her fiction debut with Remedies — a novel that earned critical raves, including this Starred Review from Publishers Weekly:

“Ledger’s accomplished debut offers a compelling view of married life through the prism of unacknowledged grief. Baltimore physician Simon Bear is a confident, magnanimous man with an inflated view of himself and his abilities. His wife, Emily, a star public relations executive, handles corporate crises with an ease, but can’t find a way to connect with their moody adolescent daughter, Jamie. While the Bears outwardly appear an enviably successful couple, neither Simon nor Emily has ever resolved the tragic and early death of their firstborn. Simon buries himself in work and with all-consuming hobbies (his latest is winemaking). Emily, too, is consumed by work, though she’s privately devastated about her shortcomings as a mother and tempted by another man. Jamie, meanwhile, presses her mother’s buttons, knowing she can never make up for the loss of the dead brother she never knew. Ledger follows the trajectory from achievement to failure with rare insight, suggesting that it is through Jamie that Simon and Emily can find redemption. An impressive portrait of a family in crisis, executed with finesse and assurance.”

Last week the Trade Paperback edition of Remedies was released and has been selected as an Indie Next List Notable book, August 2010. The Divining Wand has scheduled a full presentation/review of the novel for Monday, August 23, 2010, however — in the meantime — let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Kate Ledger grew up in Philadelphia, PA, and graduated from Akiba Hebrew Academy and the University of Pennsylvania. She received a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from the University of Arizona. For several years, she worked as the senior writer at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. As a freelance writer, she has published articles in Self, Health, and other national magazines. She lives in St. Paul, MN, with her husband and children.

And now to get to know the “real” Kate by what she reveals:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Started slowly, seemed to speed up, now races.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Do the right thing.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: When my kids’ funny expressions and silly antics make me laugh. That’s good stuff.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Not knowing the answer.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Hanging out with my husband, wherever that might be. We have a good time together.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: This is such an interesting question, and I don’t know who I identify with. But if I could go back in time, one person I’d like to meet and hang around with for a while is Nellie Bly, the reporter who traveled the world in 80 days and did investigative reporting inside an insane asylum by pretending to be a patient who needed to be committed.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: My daughter, at age seven, is pretty incredible.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: Like. For a while I was actively trying to exorcise it from my speech, but it was like impossible.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Fluency in every language on the planet.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Indecisiveness.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Sensitivity.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: The year I finished writing “Remedies” was a tremendous year. My husband and I moved across the country with our family to a new city for his new job. Our daughter was three years old, and I was nursing twin babies. I was writing freelance articles for magazines and also desperately trying to finish the novel I’d been writing for several years. Even now, I can’t quite say how we got through that year, but we did. And the book sold and the babies weaned, so it all worked out.

Q: What do you regret most?
A:Never getting enough sleep.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: House cats seem to have it pretty good, a little purring, a lot of napping.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Many people tell me I look like someone they know, a cousin or a childhood friend.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Atticus Finch

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Iago. So very bad. But if we’re talking villains who eventually get rehabilitated, I’d have to say The Grinch.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Apolo Ohno. “How you doin’?”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: People who are rude for no good reason.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Pottery. I used to be a member of a potter’s guild. I haven’t thrown in a few years, but I miss it terribly.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I have about twenty. I fantasize about them every time I have a hard day writing. Opera singer…. architect…fashion designer…Queen of England.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, cleverness, humor.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Ugh. Only one thing? That sounds like a nightmare. Brown rice, maybe. Keep it simple.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Reelin’ in the Years–Steely Dan
Tangled Up in Blue–Bob Dylan
Mr. Tambourine Man–Bob Dylan
Suzanne–Leonard Cohen
Country Roads–John Denver

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: The list changes, of course, because you’re never the same person when you read again, and what each book means to you is always changing, but right now my five faves are:
Mrs. Dalloway–Virginia Woolf
The Things They Carried–Tim O’Brien
The Corrections–Jonathan Franzen
American Pastoral–Philip Roth
Song of Solomon–Toni Morrison

Fascinating in her breadth of knowledge and interests, while being down-to-earth with humor and friendliness, Kate Ledger is an author to watch by following her on Twitter and becoming a fan of Remedies: A Novel, by Kate Ledger on Facebook

[Note: This week Kate Ledger and Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me) are two of the featured writers on Author Buzz. For a chance to win a copy of their respective novels, read the “Dear Reader” letters from Kate and Sarah.]

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Book Giveaway: This week Julie Buxbaum has graciously offered two “signed” copies of After You to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post, Julie Buxbaum and After You. A comment on any other post during this week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in tomorrow’s post. IF you do enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.