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Presenting Debutante Alicia Bessette
and Simply from Scratch

August 02, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Throughout the year she’s watched, applauded, supported her fellow 2010 Class Members dance across the ballroom floor to launch their books and celebrate with tours/signings. However this Thursday, August 5, 2010 it’s Debutante Alicia Bessette’s turn to take a bow when her first novel, Simply from Scratch, appears in local bookstores and ships from online retailers.

Of course, truth be told, this book is not Alicia’s first published “composition.” As a self-trained musician, she’s been playing the piano since childhood and her original solo piano pieces can be heard on radio stations around the world. Reservoir, the first CD, was released in 2002 and the most recent, Orchard, received a nomination for the 2009 “grassroots grammies.” For more about Alicia’s music please visit, Alicia Bessette pianist/composer.

Yet in her Wednesday posts at The Debutante Ball, Alicia rarely mentioned music except for a brief nod, such as this, in the September 2, 2009 post, In which Ms. Wednesday introduces herself, and her book!. Here’s what she shared in that first post:

1. I’m married to my college sweetheart, novelist Matthew Quick. In 2004, with the shared goal of becoming full-time novelists, we quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved in with my parents. Five years later, Matt and I are on our own, back in the Philly area, publishing novels and doing everything we can to continue living the dream.

2. I can’t wait to be reunited with my piano, which is very quietly waiting in what was my parents’ dining room in Massachusetts. What caused the separation? More on that in future posts.

3. Does it have something (anything) to do with France? Or dogs? Movies? Music, of any kind? Yoga? Travel? If so, I’m probably very interested!

In that same post the new Debutante also offered a brief synopsis of her novel:

I once heard an inspiring piece of writing advice: “Write the book only you can write.”

That was my aim with my debut novel, Simply from Scratch—to create a story that’s bighearted, accessible, and totally, authentically me.

A week after Hurricane Katrina, I was hired at a regional newspaper, The Landmark, in my hometown of Holden, Massachusetts. For months my colleagues and I wrote about volunteers from our area helping the people of New Orleans. That spirit of community outreach inspired Simply from Scratch. I asked myself, What would happen if one of those Massachusetts volunteers didn’t return? And the book grew from that question.

Simply from Scratch is peopled with lively small-town heroes. You’ll meet a chainsaw artist in her seventies. (Because really, isn’t it time American literature boasted a strong, chainsaw-wielding older woman?) And you’ll meet Ingrid, a young girl scheming to get to know world-famous TV chef Polly Pinch, coquettish star of a hit cooking show. You’ll meet other characters too.

Marisa de los Santos, bestselling author of Love Walked In offered early praise:

“This story of a young widow edging warily back into the world is full of vivid characters and grace. Imbued with hope but blessedly lacking in sentimentality, it is a fresh, stirring take on the devastation of grief and the holiness of friendship.”

And the buzz of anticipation for the book began.

While more Praise is offered, the REAL treat is an Excerpt of Simply from Scratch Chapter 1 in its entirety!

That first chapter introduces many of the storyline’s characters, while leaving the reader with a variety of unanswered questions. It’s not meant to confuse but to pique interest as the author deftly withholds telling backstory details all at once. Instead she scatters bits of information like breadcrumbs to keep the reader following and engaged.

On the other hand, there may be one character who “knows” almost everything from the start. In response to an interview question (posed by a chain bookstore in Germany) — What is the role of the non-human character, the greyhound, Captain Ahab? –, Alicia answered in the July 21, 2010 post, Knowing things:

Greyhounds are a little bit odd. They’re different than other dogs. Their affection is subtle; their presence is calm and cool; and they have many quirks (they rarely sit, for example).

Like her dog, the grieving narrator of Simply from Scratch is a little … different! An artist, Zell “feels” the world more intensely than most people. She’s got her fair share of quirks too: talking to Ahab in pirate-speak; composing emails to Nick, her deceased husband. Captain Ahab’s reserved yet quirky personality underscores that of Zell.

Many people who feel a bond with animals will tell you that animals know things. They know when their people are hurting. They know when there’s celebration in the air.

Captain Ahab joins literature’s many animal characters that serve to remind us of intuition, of inner-knowing, of keen perception. In the very first scene of Simply from Scratch, Ahab looks on as Zell discovers a present hidden in her oven, a gift Nick intended to give to her. Not emotionally ready to open it, Zell hides the present away, until the end of the book.

But I think part of her knows all along what’s in that box. Some readers might know it, too.”

Knowing what’s in the box (I didn’t) or any other of these characters’ unspoken truths doesn’t matter. In fact it’s part of the enjoyment of getting to know the town that Alicia has created. A cross between two brilliantly written TV shows, “Northern Exposure” and “Men in Trees,” Simply from Scratch offers a comfort zone despite having grief, guilt, and a general feeling of indecision exist within its pages. Yet even as Zell mourns — as does everyone else –, there is hope. Why? Well they all must deal with the loss of a husband or friend and start over, simply from scratch.

Charming, thoughtful, and heartfelt, this debut novel gathers seemingly unrelated, significant details together to create a tale that’s both tender and true. But how did the author transform fictional quirky characters and events into what could pass for a realistic human interest story? Alicia explains:

I’m not sure how they all came together. When you’re working on a book, you devote so many hours and an unthinkable amount of thought (!) to it. After a while, all the random little pieces of your story — events, details, characters and what they want — all these things start to synthesize, start to make even more sense than you realized. I hesitate to use the word “magic” in conjunction with the writing process, and I don’t want to sound flaky … and yet, I do believe that when you’re writing, you’re in a very receptive state, and at some point, subconscious takes over, or some kind of inner awareness — perhaps the magic of creation? — and it guides you in drawing connections.

Simply from Scratch connects on all levels, including the double entendre of its title. Alicia Bessette’s “magic of creation” is present on every page and in every character, none of whom you will soon forget. Treat yourself to this warm-hearted novel and enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Alicia Bessette’s Simply from Scratch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, August 4, 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.

Guest Alicia Bessette on
Gladys Knight and the Pips and Me

July 27, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[When Alicia Bessette (Simply from Scratch coming August 5, 2010) responded to the Revealing Q&A of, “What are your 5 favorite songs,” she said:

For someone who craves music like it’s oxygen, answering this question is impossible. Impossible! Instead, could I offer some songs off the “soundtrack” to Simply From Scratch? They’re all performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips:
“Didn’t You Know (You’d Have To Cry Sometime)”
“Every Little Bit Hurts”
“Every Beat of My Heart”
“All I Need Is Time”
“Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)”
For more information on the connection between Simply From Scratch and songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips, please visit The Divining Wand on Tuesday, July 27, and read my guest post.

Today is the day and Alicia is true to her word.]

Gladys Knight and the Pips and Me

Matt and I both believe in singing in the car. A few winters ago, we were on our way to a friends’ house in Pennsylvania, driving up I-95, singing along to a new soul mix Matt had made for his iPod. We belted out tunes by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye.

Then a song came on that I’d never heard before. Though I wasn’t familiar with any Gladys Knight and the Pips songs besides “Midnight Train To Georgia,” I recognized her velvety voice. She was singing, “Why, why don’t you make me the woman you go home to, and not the one you leave behind? Not the one that’s left to cry, and die?” And the Pips echoed her, “Why, why?”

So pleading, so spurned.

Just like something I had written that morning: a passage about a woman who missed her deceased husband so much that she stood back and watched her kitchen nearly burn to the ground around her. I didn’t know it then, but that scene would eventually become the first scene of Simply From Scratch⎯and that grieving woman would become my narrator, Zell, short for Rose-Ellen.

In the car, Matt hummed along, drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel as Gladys promised, “Total acceptance is all you’ll get. Knowing this you won’t ever regret finding yourself homeward bound.”

Matt glanced over at me. “Are you crying?”

I looked out my window, at the trees whizzing by. “Shut up.”

“You’re totally crying.”

“It’s a sad song, okay?”

He reached over and squeezed my hand. “That’s why I love you.”

I told him about the scene I’d written that morning: the firefighters tromping through Zell’s house to douse the flames; the friends who came to check on her; her nine-year-old neighbor, who announced her desire to become a celebrity chef; and Ahab, Zell’s greyhound, stalwart witness to everything.

The song ended. Matt pushed repeat and quoted Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” We listened to “Make Me The Woman You Come Home To” again. I got teary again, and then we both laughed as I tried to reapply my mascara without jabbing myself in the eyeballs.

The next day I downloaded about twenty-five songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips and grouped them together in a special mix on my iPod. Almost all breakup songs, but their sentiments paralleled Zell’s whirlwind emotions: Didn’t you know you’d have to cry sometime? Every little bit hurts. Every beat of my heart. All I need is time. Letter full of tears. Neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye. It should have been me.

And on and on.

The songs are about pain, loneliness, unfairness⎯all things lamented by the brokenhearted.

All things lamented by grieving widows, too.

I listened to those songs exclusively while I wrote Simply From Scratch. One day I was in the grocery story and heard “Midnight Train To Georgia.” My response was Pavlovian: I stopped my cart in the middle of the cereal aisle to scribble a new scene on the back of my grocery list, using a box of Puffins as a writing surface. The line, “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine” spoke directly to the heart of Zell’s grief.

And yet, Simply From Scratch isn’t about grief. It’s about moving on. Like the music that ushered my writing process, the book contains joy as well as sadness, friendship to make solitude bearable, small good moments to balance out the dark ones.

Zell listens to Gladys Knight and the Pips when she draws her medical illustrations. She’s got her own particular bittersweet reasons for loving that great music. Doesn’t everybody?

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Claire Cook’s Seven Year Switch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Claire Cook and Seven Year Switch. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, July 28, 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.

The Revealing of Alicia Bessette

July 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Alicia Bessette may well have one of the most highly anticipated debuts of the season with Simply From Scratch being released on August 5, 2010. And critical praise from these bestselling authors only heightens the excitement. Consider:

“A love-letter of a novel. There’s enough warmth here to fill your house on the coldest night. You’ll wish you knew these people, this world.”
—Justin Cronin, bestselling author of The Passage

“This story of a young widow edging warily back into the world is full of vivid characters and grace. Imbued with hope but blessedly lacking in sentimentality, it is a fresh, stirring take on the devastation of grief and the holiness of friendship.” 
—Marisa de los Santos, bestselling author of Love Walked In

“In her wise and delightfully fresh debut, Alicia Bessette has composed a tender song that rises through the clouds of loss and grief until it bursts into a joyous celebration of the human heart. To read this story is to embrace life.”
—Beth Hoffman, bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Also this debut novel, recently released in Germany as Weiss der Himmel von dir, is on the Spiegel Bestseller list!

The Divining Wand has scheduled a full presentation/review of Simply From Scratch for Monday, August 2, 2010 yet — in the meantime — let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Alicia Bessette was born and raised in central Massachusetts and graduated from La Salle University in Philadelphia. A pianist and freelance writer, she and her husband, novelist Matthew Quick, live near Philadelphia with their adopted racing greyhound, Stella. Simply From Scratch is Alicia’s first novel.

And now here is Alicia revealed:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Appreciation for beauty and humor. Willingness to engage.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Listen, try, take the high road. Taped to my desk is the quote, “What we play is life,” attributed to Louis Armstrong.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: World peace (which for me includes the protection of beautiful places and the creatures living there).

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Crowds and hospitals are tied for number one. A close second: moths.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Southern France. Land of my ancestors! I’ve never been.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Nobody really stands out, actually. I suppose I can relate in some small way to quite a few figures.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Someone I know: Matt; someone I don’t know: Greg Mortensen

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases
A: I have a bit of a dirty mouth, but I’m trying to clean it.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Cooking without needing to follow a recipe. Also, being able to sing and play piano at the same time.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: I’ve made some major life choices that were unpopular, but intensely right for me.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I’m sensitive.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I’m sensitive.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not living abroad for a semester in college. I hope to have my semester abroad yet.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d love to be a very large, soaring bird (provided I could eat vegetarian). Or, it would be cool to be the Loch Ness monster. I’m kind of obsessed with the Loch Ness monster.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: A physical trait? My scar from open heart surgery, which I had as a child to correct a valve defect.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Anne Shirley, Amber Appleton, and Maude (from Harold and Maude).

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I admire Hannah Teter and her charity work.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Snobbery. And stickers on fruit.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Hiking mountains, playing piano, meditating, reading, watching movies, being outside, and listening to beautiful music (especially live).

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Concert pianist or large animal veterinarian. Wildlife photographer would be cool too.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Sincerity, artistry, humanity.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Brownies, hands down.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: For someone who craves music like it’s oxygen, answering this question is impossible. Impossible! Instead, could I offer some songs off the “soundtrack” to Simply From Scratch? They’re all performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips:
“Didn’t You Know (You’d Have To Cry Sometime)”
“Every Little Bit Hurts”
“Every Beat of My Heart”
“All I Need Is Time”
“Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)”
For more information on the connection between Simply From Scratch and songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips, please visit the Divining Wand on Tuesday, July 27, and read my guest post.

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Again: Impossible! I’d say three very formative books were Anne of Green Gables, Annie John, and She’s Come Undone. L.M. Montgomery gave me a love of headstrong, imaginative, earnest heroines. Jamaica Kindcaid taught me about verbs’ power and the potential potency of sensory details. And Wally Lamb’s writing is a lesson in creating fully realized, original characters, while building suspense and sympathy on every page.

I love Robert Cormier. Susan Cooper’s books are totally satisfying. I always dig Justin Cronin and Agatha Christie. Nevada Barr mysteries are awesome. The Art of Racing In The Rain made my heart swell. So did The Corrections and The Lovely Bones and Life of Pi. My favorite five fantastical novels are Watership Down, The Hobbit, A Wrinkle In Time, Frankenstein, and Dracula. I love to read far and wide!

To become even better acquainted with lovely, thoughtful and most talented Alicia Bessette, please follow her on Twitter and become a friend/fan on Facebook.

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Announcement: The winners of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Education of Bet are: Marcie Turner and Helen Joy. Congratulations.

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be sent out promptly.

AND

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Keetha DePriest Mosley’s Culinary Kudzu and one copy of More Culinary Kudzu in a random drawing to two separate individuals who comment only on this specific post, Keeth DePriest Mosley and Culinary Kudzu(s). Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Friday, July 23, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Monday’s post. If you enter, please return Monday to possibly claim your book.

What If….Therese Walsh, Holly LeCraw, and Alicia Bessette?

July 15, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites

What a day — or more — for a daydream in the summer heat of July. In fact it feels like the perfect time to wonder “what if” The Divining Wand possessed magical powers and could grant authors, who create their own magic with “what if,” the following two questions:

Based only on their writing, what author would you want to be?

AND

If given the opportunity to have written ONE book in your lifetime, what would that title be?

~ Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy in Hardcover, The Last Will of Moira Leahy coming in Trade Paperback on August 3, 2010, also chosen as a TARGET BREAKOUT BOOK):

“Ray Bradbury. He’s simply brilliant.”

“The Wizard of Oz is a fantastical story with iconic characters. It’s inspired a classic film, unique spin-off novels, and even a Broadway play. Not to mention the millions of Halloween costumes…”

~ Holly LeCraw (The Swimming Pool):

“I’d want to be Virginia Woolf, and I’d want to have written To the Lighthouse.”

~ Alicia Bessette (Simply from Scratch coming August 5, 2010):

“LM Montgomery & Le Petit Prince.”

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