The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Go-to Writing Books, IV

April 14, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles, Q&A

Before, during and after a work-in-progress, a published/debut author has likely read more than a few books on the art and craft of writing. Whether it’s for motivation or inspiration, favorites must exist to be read and reread — including fiction and poetry — whenever the need arises. With this thought in mind, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

What books do you keep nearby or go back to as you’re working?

And this week the following authors replied:

~Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird. That always can motivate me.”

~Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water):

“I always keep the previous book in my series close by to make sure that I’m not writing something inconsistent in the new book. It’s sometimes hard to keep all the characters (and all their idiosyncrasies straight).”

~Tawna Fenske (Making Waves coming August 2011):

“I am desperately in love with books by romantic comedy goddesses Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich, Janet Evanovich, and Kristan Higgins. I wouldn’t mind having any of those authors’ careers someday, but for now I will settle for stalking them and reading their books over and over.”

~Kate Ledger (Remedies):

‘As I was writing REMEDIES, at least for one stretch, the books nearby were Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral–all of which struck me as a certain kind of writing: muscular and assertive and also straightforward. Some mornings, when I first sat down, I would dip into one of them, reread a small section, and remind myself that the key to it all is telling the story. And then I would get to work.”

~Randy Susan Meyers ( The Murderer’s Daughters):

“There are a few novels I re-read or dip into as a reminder of great writing, including Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, especially for voice, anything by Rosellen Brown to reacquaint myself fusing character and story, Margot Livesy for the elegance of her prose, and Steven King for a reminder of page-turning plot.”

~Kim Stagliano (All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism):

“Strunk & White.”

~Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“I have 21 (!) books on my desk that are necessary guides as I work through my current project. These books aren’t craft-related; they’re specific to this manuscript. The books I’ve used most this week: Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America ’s Hoboes by Ted Conover, and Hopping Freight Trains in America by Duffy Littlejohn.”

To be continued….

* * * * *

Announcement: The winner of The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is Sara Mitchell. Congratulations!

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

Fictional Characters as Best Friends Forever, V

March 17, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles, Q&A

No matter the age or stage in life, a best friend forever could be made at any time and the same appears to hold true for bonding with fictional characters. Whether it’s in a children’s book or a chapter in a YA or adult novel, there are those characters who — if only real — would be chosen as our BFF.

With this in mind The Divining Wand wondered who the authors felt close to, and asked:

What fictional character would you choose to be your BFF and why?

And, in this final week, our authors replied:

~Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“Eloise. No question.”

~Eileen Cook (The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA, Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011):

“There are so many great characters to choose from. How do I pick just one? I’ll go with Charlie from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory- he’s got a never ending supply of chocolate after all.”

~Dee DeTarsio (The Scent of Jade [Kindle Edition]):

“I cannot think of any better BFF than the lovely Luciana Vetra! She is the star of The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato, and I have never been so captivated by any character! She is a part-time model and full-time prostitute in 15th-century Italy with the most hilarious look at life via her inner dialogue. She is irreverent, foul-mouthed and so earthy it is a sheer joy to see what she does next. I would love to share a cup of espresso with her at a little piazza in Florence…although I am sure she would give me three reasons, Ragione Uno, Due, Tre, why I should pay and then leave her alone!”

~Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt):

“Oletta Jones (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt) for her wisdom, and Tom Wingo (The Prince of Tides) for his wit and sarcasm.”

~Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“I think Elizabeth Bennett would be a hoot. She’s smart and funny and sarcastic–and also, deep down, a romantic.”

~Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent The Twin’s Daughter YA, and middle grade addition The Sisters Eight Book 6: Petal’s Problems, The Education of Bet YA, Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series Book 5: Marcia’s Madness):

“From my recently released novel The Twin’s Daughter, I’d pick Kit. He’s the most purely heroic character I’ve ever written.”

~Catherine McKenzie (Arranged, Spin):

“Elizabeth Bennett. Because she is awesome. And maybe I could steal Mr. Darcy from her.”

~Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars, The Life You’ve Imagined, and The Things We Didn’t Say coming June 28, 2011):

“Can I have all four of the Ya Yas from THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD? If forced to pick one I guess I’ll pick Vivi. I’d hate to be married to her, but she’d be a helluva friend. I’ve been a fan of that novel since long before my own publication.”

* * * * *

Writing Rituals, Secrets, and Superstitions, V

February 10, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Yes or no? For every writer there are intangible elements — personal habits — that allow the mind to roam and find its comfort zone when the words aren’t flowing. To take a look at what some of these practices include, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

Do you have any unusual writing rituals, secrets or superstitions that always work when all else fails?

This week provides the final responses, including one from new TDW author Catherine McKenzie:

~Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“Never underestimate the power of a nap, particularly with the television on. The weird midday dreams that sneak in can be very inspiring. And if nothing comes, at least you are well rested.”

~Dee DeTarsio (The Scent of Jade [Kindle Edition]):

It’s “show and tell” on video.

~Tawna Fenske (Making Waves debuting August 2011, Believe It or Not in January 2012, and Let It Breathe August 2012):

“Chianti. Sangiovese. Sometimes Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.”

~Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt):

“I go for a walk in the woods.”

~ Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“I have all three. First, because I am inspired by my grandfather, Joseph McGrath, especially since on his deathbed I promised if he’d help me from the “’other side,’” I would dedicate everything I write to him. He was a writer and a coach. At the start of each day, I touch his old IBM Selectric for good writing when I begin. When I begin, I always close my eyes, imagine him there, and then start. For when I am really stuck, I keep his old sweater in my office. I will wrap it around my neck on those occasions where slogging through mud in cement shoes is easier than writing.”

~Catherine McKenzie (Arranged, Spin):

“Nope. I use many things depending on the day. A certain song. A certain place. And to crib from James Frey: When all else fails, I turn to Dylan. And when Dylan fails, I call it a day.”

~Keetha DePriest Mosley [formerly Reed] (Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern, More Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern:

“At one time I would have found this infuriating advice but the one thing that always, no matter what, always works, is writing. Sometimes I take a break from the project I’m working on to do something different, such as write a letter to a favorite teacher or an ode to caramel. I remind myself that playing with words is fun, that writing is fun. Writing something – anything! – helps jolt anything loose that has me hung up: doubts, that evil internal editor, or just a thorny plot snafu.”

~Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“I stare at my bookshelves.”

~Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined, and The Things We Didn’t Say coming June 28, 2011):

“I’m not the least bit superstitious about my writing, but I have been known to switch from the keyboard to writing longhand on paper when I’m really stuck. Not so much a secret or a ritual, but it’s a little trick that jumpstarts a sluggish brain somehow.”

~Lori Roy (Bent Road coming March 31, 2011):

“I have no secrets or superstitions, but I do drink green tea whenever I write, and I generally write with my feet propped up on my desk.”

~Kim Stagliano (All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism):

“I prefer to write on an old laptop while propped up on pillows on my bed.”

~Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife, The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl):

“I change my surroundings–go from my office to a coffee shop, say–and switch from the computer to pen and paper.”

~Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“Yes, to never, ever talk about my secret rituals. Just kidding. I don’t really have any—unless lucky pencils count. For The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I used a whole box of natural pencils by Focus (#2s, of course). For my current project, I’ve been using angular soft-to-the-touch pencils by Dixon . When I feel stuck in my manuscript, I almost always transition to pencil and paper to work through the problem.”

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Twin’s Daughter are EJ Knapp and Heather. And the winner of the Sisters 8 Series, including Petal’s Problems is Megan. Congratulations!

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

From: Readers/Friends
To: TDW Authors/Friends

Holiday Greetings!

December 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Reader's Holiday Greetings

[During this Season of giving and sharing, The Divining Wand’s readers would like to thank their authors/friends for this past year and wish them Holiday Greetings. The next few weeks will feature universal as well as personal nods to writers who share with us throughout the year. Happy Holidays!]


By Suzanne Anderson

My love of cooking and books about cooking probably stems from my earliest memory of reading MFK Fisher’s Gastronomical Me, back when I was in my early twenties.

My pleasure in cooking grew when I moved to New York City and lived just a few blocks from the Union Square Farmer’s Market, a place that I looked forward to exploring every Saturday morning. It was there that I discovered lobster bisque delivered each week by a man from Maine. This lobster bisque became the inspiration for one of the best evenings I’ve ever spent with my father, a five hour odyssey in the kitchen with three lobster tails, and four cookbooks, and our attempt to recreate the taste of the lobster bisque I’d discovered in New York.

All of which is to explain why I always perk up when Larramie features a cooking themed novel on The Divining Wand. I know that I will not only find a book that combines my two great loves, cooking and reading, but chances are great that in the author who wrote the book, I will find a kindred spirit, one who knows the joy that can be created in the kitchen to nourish the souls of those we love.

I want to thank Stacey Ballis for writing GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT

I want to thank Jenny Nelson for writing GEORGIA’S KITCHEN

I want to thank Melissa Senate for writing THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL

I want to thank Jenny Gardiner for writing SLIM TO NONE

I want to thank Alicia Bessette for writing SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH


Since this is a cyber celebration of the wonderful authors we’ve met on The Divining Wand, allow me to bring the pie.

Not just any pie. My famous Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie, which I’ve made five times in the past month to share with friends and family. Actually this recipe was originally adapted from a recipe I found on for Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie submitted by Anital.

Here’s my version:


1 (9 inch) deep dish frozen pie shell
1 cup white sugar
1 cup rice syrup – I use this in place of Karo syrup because the flavor is milder
1/2 cup butter
4 large or extra large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup bourbon
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup (or more) chopped pecans


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees F).
2. In a small saucepan gently heat butter, rice syrup, and sugar, stirring constantly until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Cool slightly before adding to other ingredients, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.
3. In a large bowl beat together the eggs, bourbon, vanilla, and salt. Slowly add the sugar mixture into egg mixture, starting with one spoonful at a time to temper the mixture and avoid cooking the eggs. Whisk until well combined.
4. Toss chocolate chunks and pecans in the bottom of the pie shell. Pour egg/sugar mixture into pie shell to cover pecans and chocolate chunks…don’t worry, as the pie cooks, the pecans will float to the top and magically arrange themselves in a beautiful pattern on the surface of the pie.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until set and golden. May be served warm or chilled.
Cook’s note: I’ve also melted the chocolate into the sugar mixture at the start of the recipe. Both methods work well.

Merry Christmas Divining Wand authors and readers…..and here’s to a New Year of many more great discoveries on THE DIVINING WAND!

And a special holiday thanks to Larramie, TDW’s tireless creator!

Best Writing Exercises, Part, III

October 28, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles

In continuing to discover what inspires or motivates our favorite authors/friends to perfect their natural skills, The Divining Wand offers more responses to the question: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

Please also take note that this post welcomes and introduces two new authors, James King and Kristina McMorris!

Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“The two that seem to work best for me are:
Flip through a book and point at one sentence and write it at the top of a page, and then flip through a different book and point at a sentence and write it at the bottom of the page and then have to fill in the space between…connecting the dots.

I do the same sort of thing with a phone book, choosing two names at random and then creating a dialogue between them, forcing myself to give them both lives and realities and imagine what circumstance is putting them in each other’s sphere.”

James King (Bill Warrington’s Last Chance):

“In planning a chapter or a scene, I’ll sometimes write a dialog between the main character and me, the writer. I’ll ask questions like:
– What are you trying to do in these next 15-20 pages?
– What obstacle could get thrown in your way that you don’t think I can write your way out of?
– What new and interesting thing am I going to learn about you… or one of the other major characters?
This exercise helps me get to know my characters better and keeps me focused on moving the story forward in a (hopefully) compelling way.”

Kate Ledger (Remedies)

“My favorite writing exercise–and I use it when I teach students and I recommend it to everyone who writes–is to imagine the contents of the purse or pockets of the characters on the page. You learn so much about them from what they’re carrying around. While I was writing REMEDIES, I imagined that Emily, who’s 47, still carried tampons in her purse but couldn’t wait to be done with that phase of life. Once I’d imagined that detail, I felt like I knew everything about her: what kind of relationship she had with her husband and with her child, how she felt about growing older, how she felt about her life experiences. It turned out that the purse itself got written into the novel. Even though I eventually cut the tampons, they were the portal to everything else I needed to know.”

Kristina McMorris (Letters From Home coming February 22, 2011):

“I can’t say I use any writing exercises, per se, but I do make a habit of chipping away at my manuscripts Monday through Friday, from kid drop-off time to the pick-up hour. Treating it as a normal job, even on days when a root canal sounds more appealing than penning a chapter from scratch, is the way I ensure slow but steady progress toward the next finish line. If I waited for the muse to show up, I might still be on chapter two — of my first book!’

Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me, and Skipping a Beat coming February 22, 2011):

“I think for me the best exercise is practice. Writing and more importantly, re-writing is the best possible way to strengthen those creative muscles. I’m not big on formal writing exercises, but for my third book, I worked hard to plot it out in advance. For The Opposite of Me, I did some very broad plotting. I did more with my second book, Skipping a Beat, and found it was really helpful. So I’ve got out the index cards and am really thinking through book #3!”

To be continued….

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman are Kristan and Kate Ledger. Congratulations!

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

Stacey Ballis and Good Enough to Eat

October 04, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Whatever storyline Stacey Ballis (The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography) writes it’s always about the character and, in her most recent novel — Good Enough to Eat –, she proves this once again.

Following her own guidelines described in the guest post, What a Character!, the author introduces Melanie Hoffman’s voice, flaws, and emotional baggage within the book’s first pages. For this is a multi-layered, fascinating woman whose story was inspired by a few of Stacey’s friends who lost weight through gastric bypass surgery and then discovered it was difficult “to date after they lost the weight…harder to trust people, to know who they were in their new body.”

In a Philadelphia Examiner interview, the author explains:

“There is such a misconception that larger people are not the object of attraction, or that the people who are with them are with them “‘in spite”‘ of their size, so I wanted to acknowledge that there are people for whom that is actually the preference. And an equally large misconception that losing the weight brings happiness, when in fact losing a lot of weight can often bring self-doubt, depression, and identity crises. I always love the idea of putting a spin on themes, so starting the book with a woman whose husband has just left her for a woman twice her size after she struggled to lose that much weight seemed to be an interesting place to begin.”

The writing began and evolved into the following synopsis:

The last thing Melanie expected to lose when she went on a diet was her husband.

Former lawyer Melanie Hoffman lost half her body weight and opened a gourmet take-out café specializing in healthy and delicious food. Then her husband left her-for a woman twice her size. Immediately afterwards, she’s blindsided by a financial crisis. Melanie reaches out to a quirky roommate with a ton of baggage and becomes involved in a budding romance with a local documentary filmmaker.

In this warm and often laugh-out-loud novel, Melanie discovers that she still has a lot to learn about her friends, her relationships with men, and herself-and that her weight loss was just the beginning of an amazing journey that will transform her life from the inside out..

And enjoy watching Stacey talk more about the book, while cooking her Roasty Tomato Soup, on Lunchbreak WGN.

To truly appreciate this novel, consider how something as quick and easy as a change in hair style or hair color can affect a personality or even lifestyle, yet both are transformations that result from working solely on one’s outward appearance. On the other hand, dramatic weight loss begins within the inner self — complete with personal emotional issues — and, while pounds may melt away over months/years, the heavy inner baggage is apt to remain…possibly forever. And that’s merely one reason Good Enough to Eat gives readers food for thought.

True-to-life Melanie carries around internal baggage and the author includes this insight by titling each chapter with a food — the first being Mashed Potatoes –, then elaborating on what the food dish means to Mel through an excerpt from her diet journal. Not only is this a clever method of revealing the character’s background, it also serves as realistic motivation for her behavior in the storyline as Stacey explains:

“A lot of nutritionist and diet support groups focus on keeping a diet journal of what you are eating now. But for people with compulsive overeating disorders, it is as much about what the food represents as what you are eating, finding out what the food means to you is half the battle of gaining control over your impulses with it. So I imagined a diet journal for Melanie that was about deconstructing her cravings.”

Certain foods — such as mashed potatoes — are triggers of memories and negative consequences that Melanie could fall back on. However the author continues:

“But maybe if she addresses the trigger, the craving itself will go away. The old adage about ‘“it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you”’ is very true for emotional eaters. By allowing Mel to explore her food memories with her most major trigger foods, it helps her in her battle. And also gives the reader some insight as to where the disorder gets its psychological foundation.”

Hmm, and you thought Good Enough to Eat sounded like another easy, enjoyable read, complemented with savory descriptions of food and the inclusion of forty recipes (all of which are Stacey’s unless otherwise noted). Of course it still can be read for fun but, when given the opportunity to better understand others — maybe even yourself –, why not take it?

The theme of transformation and reinvention is currently quite popular in women’s fiction. For just when twentysomething choices have been made and things feel settled….life happens and we’re forced to face a new reality filled with change.

Stacey Ballis is a delicious storyteller who stirs in changes resulting from significant weight loss, divorce, entrepreneurial success, financial problems, trust issues, and new relationships, sautes, and serves a hearty comfort food dish that would go well with any fine wine. By offering up the tale of Good Enough to Eat as a healthy perspective to accepting ourselves, flaws and all, she wishes Bon Appetit for the rest of our journey. Indeed this is a book to truly savor!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Stacey Ballis’s Good Enough to Eat 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, October 6, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Guest Stacey Ballis on What a Character!

September 28, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography) is known for her strong, believable characters — including a character strong and realistic enough to change a reader’s life (see Fan Mail: An Author’s Most Memorable Reward, II). In today’s guest post, the author details the questions she asks when creating those true-to-life characters.]

What a Character!

As an author, I never get tired of hearing from my readers…those little e-mails or tweets or comments on my blog or good reviews on Amazon are what keep me going when I am sitting alone in front of the computer with a nap tempting me. But as much as I love the notes that tell me a story was interesting or a theme was relevant, the things that makes my heart beat faster are the ones that say that the characters were REAL.

As a reader, I cannot fully engage with characters unless they feel real to me. Even in fantasy or science fiction stories, the humanity has to ring true. I can absolutely believe that Thursday Next can pop in and out of works of fiction and engage with the characters in famous books, as long as she continues to struggle with her relationship with her mother and worries about her marriage. When I start a book, the main character is always the first place I begin. Forget “story”, plot, for me, comes later. I want to know who she is, where did she come from, what is the world she lives in, and then the story can begin to take shape.

There are a lot of elements to making a character ring true for your readers. Some of it is ephemeral and unknowable, the essence of the writer’s art and inspiration. But much of it is craft. When you are working with a character, some things should always be in your mind…

What is their voice? This is everything from the cadence of their speech in dialogue, to the way they think, to the way they respond to the inevitable conflicts of the book. It is essential that this be consistent throughout, and depending on the world of the book, be as realistic as possible. Especially in dialogue. Would you hear someone use those words in that order in the world of that character? Would your twenty-something working girl in 2010 really say “I simply cannot begin to fathom such a thing.” Or would she say “Seriously? Simply. Not. Possible. No way.”

What are their flaws? All humans have flaws. Sometimes they are small quirks that are endearing; sometimes they are major personal demons that negatively impact our relationships with everyone around us. If your character doesn’t have enough flaws, they won’t feel real, they will feel too perfect. Your characters should occasionally say or do something you as a writer or reader wish they wouldn’t. They should make mistakes, sometimes big ones. They should self-doubt, self-delude, and self-destruct. They should push away the people they need most, and embrace the people who are toxic. They should stay when they should leave, and leave when they should stay. Because we all do. We all fail and flounder and choose the wrong path, and if we don’t, we are unendurably dull.

What do they learn? Your book doesn’t need to have some big “moral of the story”, but your characters should learn something or grow in some way during the course of the book. We are learning and growing every day in our lives and it is this forward momentum that is part and parcel of our journey as people. If your character is exactly the same on the last page as on the first, they have gone nowhere as people and they won’t feel nearly as human as they should.

What is their baggage? Often writers take so much time figuring out what a character’s present looks like that they forget that this person was not just hatched into the world full-fledged. Knowing where your characters come from, how they were raised, what their heartbreaks and successes and loves and losses looked like will inform how they engage with their current reality. Your reader might not understand why your heroine would turn down the date with the dashing lawyer unless they have been made aware of her alcoholic lawyer uncle who was always so mean to her poor dad. We all have a past, your characters need one too.

At the end of the day, you will be the best judge of how successful you are in making your characters ring true. Sometimes it can be as easy as having them make a mistake, or share a story from their past. Sometimes it will be as complex as fleshing out an addiction or a dysfunctional relationship. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your characters need to perfect to be likable. In fact, often the opposite is true. The characters from my books that get the most reaction and empathy from my readers are the ones who are flawed but still sympathetic.

Sydney, the heroine of my first book INAPPROPRIATE MEN engages in an affair with a married man, while she herself is still married. In SLEEPING OVER, a character breaks up with her boyfriend after she suffers a miscarriage…pushing away the one person who is trying to take care of her. My third book, ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT explores what happens when professional success negatively impacts your personal life, and Lily, the heroine, alienates not only her best friends, but her colleagues and potential lovers as well. In THE SPINSTER SISTERS, keeping her feelings bottled up is Jodi’s downfall, in spite of the fact that she is a self-help guru, we see her consistently behaving in ways she counsels people not to behave. And in my new book, GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT, Mel, who has worked very hard to lose half her body weight, nevertheless continues to let stress push her to binge eat, and she forgets to be patient and forgiving with the people in her life.

I love a good plot as much as the next girl, and I always hope that the stories I tell are interesting in and of themselves. But mostly, I hope that the people who live in my head and reveal themselves on my pages move into your life in a way that makes you truly believe that they could, simply, exist.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post Karen McQuestion and A Scattered Life. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 29, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Fan Mail: An Author’s
Most Memorable Reward, II

September 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Q&A

Last month’s post on how much fan mail meant to authors surprised some visitors, while inspiring others to finally write their own personal messages. The written word is powerful in expressing heartfelt gratitude and here are more author responses to memorably touching fan mail:

~Tanya Egan Gibson (How to Buy a Love of Reading):

“A man wrote to say that my depiction of alcohol and drug addiction (in a teenage character, Hunter Cay) felt very real. He’d finished my novel between classes and had been crying when his sixth grade students came in. He wrote, “Thanks for touching my heart.” Which, in turn, touched mine. It is so wonderful and kind for people to take the time to write and share like that.”

~Kate Ledger (Remedies):

“One tremendously moving piece of fan mail came from a woman who wrote that REMEDIES had resonated with her own personal tragedy. I got teary at my computer when I read her note. Like the characters in REMEDIES, she and her husband had lost a child. She wrote that the effects of that loss have continued to ripple through her marriage. She wrote that the novel had been difficult to read, and also, ultimately, comforting, and that even though her own outcome was still in progress, the book had come along at exactly the right time.”

~Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water):

“These days you receive more emails than mail, I’m afraid. I did get a request from a girl to sign my photo and send it to her for her scrapbook. It made me feel like a teen rock star, so of course I did it. I’ve really enjoyed hearing from people. It means a lot when someone tells me that they stayed up half the night, or were late because they simply had to finish my book. It makes me feel like I’ve done my job right.”

~Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“They’re all memorable, because I’m touched every time a reader takes the time to let me know how much they loved my book.”

~CJ Lyons (Lifelines, Warning Signs, Urgent Care, and Critical Condition coming November 30, 2010):

“I’ve gotten several letters from fans facing painful medical crises, including one woman whose cancer pain kept her up at nights, unable to sleep or get comfortable. They have written thanking me for providing them with escape from the pain of their lives as they read my books.

The fact that my stories have been able to help these people facing their diseases with dignity and courage brought me to tears…truly better than any award my books could ever win!”

~Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion):

“I’ve had so many amazing letters from readers world-wide; one that I loved came from the mother of seven-year-old twin girls who, after reading SOUVENIR, was inspired to create a journal for their future benefit, and to buy each of them a copy of SOUVENIR, which she was storing away in their “hope chests” to be read when they’re teens. A recent letter of praise from a woman who is a Medical Social Worker and who deals every day with patients in heartbreaking situations was also very rewarding.”

~Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“The young woman who wrote to say that she was able to finally extricate herself from both her dysfunctional marriage and her ongoing affair with her also-married boss because she read “Inappropriate Men”. She wrote from her fabulous new job, where she had met her fabulous (and single!) new boyfriend who worked in the same building. She said that she had felt completely trapped and that the book helped her find her spine. That e-mail gave me goosebumps.”

~Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife, The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl):

“My most memorable wasn’t my best, but a long letter quoting all the passages from my first book that had anything to do with sex and suggesting that I and the letter writer would really understand one another. (Oh, dear.) I also remember one I got after my second book, which was about female friendship, from a woman who’d lost her best friend in Iraq. That one was lovely and very sad.”

~ Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt releasing in Trade Paperback October 26, 2010):

“I received a letter from a 93 year-old woman who said that she loved my book and was so glad it was available in large print. She went on to say that she read it twice because, at her age, she was running out of time and didn’t know if she’d be around if/when the movie came out. It was so touching.”

~Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“I think it would have to be after I published a short story in a literary journal that was put out by a university in Florida years ago. It was handwritten – a page and a half long – from a young woman who claimed to have read the story so many times she felt like the characters were people she knew. She went on to tell me she had written a paper on the story for her English seminar class. It was a pretty cool ego boost for a struggling writer who wrote late at night after work.”

~Katie Alender (Bad Girls Don’t Die YA):

“I love every bit of fan mail I get. From the adorable one-line emails just telling me how much they enjoyed the book to the detailed breakdowns of all of the elements they liked (and why). I get a lot of emails saying I’ve inspired them to write (very flattering), a lot saying that they can relate to Alexis and her sense of outsiderness (very touching), and a lot with interpretations of the book that reflect a cinematic mind at work (very interesting). I am convinced that I have the brightest and funniest fans of any book, ever! I must say, I especially love getting snailmail (as TDW might be aware).”

~Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined):

“One of my favorite notes was from a reader who enjoyed my debut with a stiff drink and added, “Only wished I had a joint to join Mira” who is, as constant TDW readers will know, the flower child grandmother protagonist. I think my favorite fan interaction was in person, at my book launch event. A woman I didn’t know told me she went out and scheduled her mammogram after reading about how my protagonist delayed her own, with severe consequences. I was so touched and honored that my book prompted her to take such an important step, and that she felt moved to share that with me.”

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Jenny Nelson’s debut novel Georgia’s Kitchen are Keetha and Maria M.. Congratulations!

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

The Revealing of Stacey Ballis

September 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Stacey Ballis (The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography), described as “wickedly funny and brutally honest,” celebrated the release of her most recent novel, Good Enough to Eat, a few weeks ago. Another book for the “foodie” in you, this story offers a terrific twist along with 40 healthy recipes.

From the book’s front cover comes this two sentence descriptive tease:

She learned how to eat right. Living right is the hard part.

And this praise:

“Like a perfect dish of macaroni and cheese–rich, warm, nuanced, and delicious.”__Jen Lancaster, New York Times bestselling author of My Fair Lady

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Good Enough to Eat for Monday, October 4, 2010 but until then let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

In addition to being a novelist, Stacey Ballis is a lifestyle and entertaining expert, who previously appeared on The Rachael Ray Show and other television programs. She lives in Chicago.

And now it’s time get to know Stacey upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Spectacular, abundant, delicious, blessed, Love, words, family, friends

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Go big or go home. Also, if it smells bad don’t eat it.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Feeling content in your own skin, more laughter than tears, appreciating the people around you, good work, good food, good friends, profound love.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Not achieving my full potential. Also, swimming face first into jellyfish.

Q; If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: At The French Laundry with my man.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: MFK Fisher.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: My sister.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Issues. Frankly. Catawampus.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be? A: Predicting lottery numbers. (For the homeless.)

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: My relationships with friends, family, and the love of my life.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Hate exercise. Makes wanting to live long healthy life a pain in the ample tush.

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

Q: What do you regret most?
A: The buzz cut in 1983. Yikes.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: Me. Truly! (But Heidi Klum wouldn’t be bad for a weekend….)

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A:I have great eyes. Unless it is humid, and then people tend to notice the hair-shrubbery first.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Francis Urquart from House of Cards.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Walter Payton. I would just say Thank You.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Manipulation of people, especially those who are not up to intellectual challenge. Also, nose picking not so nice.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Cooking with/for my guy and our friends and family.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Five star hotel tester.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you? A: Honesty, generosity of spirit, sense of humor.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A; My godmother’s Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Dvorak’s Symphony for a New World, John Hiatt’s Have a Little Faith in Me, The Beatles In My Life, Frank Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: MFK Fisher The Art of Eating, Marion Zimmer Bradley The Mists of Avalon, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

Keep up with the multi-talented and very humorous Stacey Ballis by following her on Twitter and becoming a friend on Facebook.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Jenny Nelson’s Georgia’s Kitchen in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Jenny Nelson and Georgia’s Kitchen. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.

Current and Coming Attractions

September 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Advance News, Book Trailers, News

Although The Divining Wand authors have been busy writing, publishing, and keeping TBR books piled high, it’s only natural to wonder what’s next for our favorite writers. And what follows is a tasty sampling to whet your reading appetite.

* * * * *

As of today, Thursday, September 16, 2010, Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, releasing in paperback September 21, 2010, The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA coming January 4, 2011, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011) celebrates the paperback release of Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood with the first video in a series of six.

As Eileen explains:

“The idea behind the videos is that the snotty Lauren Wood has her own video blog where she offers popularity tips. You can probably imagine what great advice Lauren has! I am going to have videos come out every couple days until all six are up. Please visit Lauren’s new website and click on the You Tube icon.

And now for the future:

~Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“I’m currently working on a book set on a private island off the west coast of Florida about a woman who has experienced the premature death of her mother and sets out to find the family she never knew while her mother was alive. Tentative title: The Blooms of Ella Island.”

~Stacey Ballis (The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography, and Good Enough to Eat):

“Working on a new book that is a real departure for me, much more mainstream fiction. It is a questing story of a young woman who may or may not be dying, and how it explodes her quiet life.”

~Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“I’ll be appearing at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN, October 8-10. The paperback release of ALICE I HAVE BEEN is December 28th and I’ll be touring for that in January, dates & locations TBA. I’ve been blogging for the Huffington Post, and just joined a new group blog called the Girlfriends’ Book Club. My next historical fiction will be released by Random House in August of 2011; I’ll be announcing the title of the book very shortly!”

~Meg Waite Clayton’s The Wednesday Sisters, The Four Ms. Bradwells coming March 22, 2011):

“The Four Ms. Bradwells, coming March 22 from Ballantine. And my first novel, The Language of Light, will be reissued in paperback in the summer.”

The flap copy:

Meg Waite Clayton’s national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters was a word-of-mouth sensation and book club favorite. Now the beloved author is back with a page-turning novel that explores the secrets we keep, even from those closest to us, and celebrates the enduring power of friendship.

Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

Once again, Meg Waite Clayton writes inspiringly about the complex circumstances facing women and the heartfelt friendships that hold them together. Insightful and affecting, The Four Ms. Bradwells is also a captivating tale of how far people will go to protect the ones they love.

~Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water):

“I’ve just finished up the third Lydia McKenzie mystery, tentatively called “‘An Artful Death.'” Lydia is hired by a real estate company to help catch illegal tenants. She finds an elderly Russian woman murdered in her apartment and suspects that the landlord got impatient. In the midst of her investigation, her parents arrive with another mystery to solve.”

~Tanya Egan Gibson (How to Buy a Love of Reading):

“I’m working on a novel set in an underwater-themed amusement park. The main character is an eighteen-year-old former competitive figure skater whose now skates in the park’s ice show wearing a full-body jellyfish costume. One of the most fun parts of writing this so far is brainstorming ideas for amusement park rides! (My five-year-old daughter has been helping me.)”

~Kristy Kiernan (Between Friends, Matters of Faith, and Catching Genius):

“I’m working on my new novel, A THOUSAND CRANES.”

~Allie Larkin (Stay):

“I’m working on a piece for an anthology of dog-related essays that Wade Rouse is editing called I’M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP. Published in 2011, proceeds will benefit The Humane Society and other animal causes.”

~Kate Ledger (Remedies):

“I’ve begun a new novel. If it were a pregnancy, I’m in that hesitant phase of the first trimester, and I’m not ready to discuss too much. I can tell this: The next novel also centers on family relationships and has medical themes because that’s what I’m interested in. Having finished a book, I feel I have a good sense of the arc of a novel, the overall shape it will take. I also know how long and hard the process is. My hope is that this gestation will be briefer than the last.”

~ Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“I am working on my second novel right now. I can tell you that the book is about a woman who has to correct a mistake she doesn’t know she made and guiding her through this process is her best friends dead brother.”

~Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife, The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl):

“I’m working on a book about adult siblings. It started out being about location and identity (I was going to call it ELSEWHERE) but it’s gotten further and further away from that theme to become about all the complex emotions of siblinghood. Which, alas, probably means I have to think of a new title.”

~Wendy Tokunaga (Midori By Moonlight, Love in Translation):

“I’m working on a non-fiction book called “‘Marriage in Translation: Interviews with Foreign Wives of Japanese Husbands,'” which takes an intimate and sometimes surprising look at the rewards and challenges of cross-cultural relationships. I’m also teaching an online class this Fall through Stanford University Extension called “‘Writing Novels About Women’s Lives.”‘

* * * * *

Announcement: The winner of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife is Shannon. Congratulations!

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

And thank you all for entering. If my wand was truly magical, there would be a book for everyone.