The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters

March 28, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Acclaimed as magical, graceful, and poetic, Rebecca Rasmussen makes a spring debut with her novel, The Bird Sisters on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. And, with birds on the wing to our homes, what perfect timing!

Lyrical in her writing, the author is also precise and clear about the focus of her story. The book’s idea came from two questions: Rebecca’s curiosity about her grandmother’s family history, and what does it mean to be home and to stay there?

For Rebecca, this is deeply personal. Since her parents divorced when she was a baby, her life was split — growing up in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Northfield, Illinois — and it caused her to feel that she didn’t belong in either place. As a result this writer draws on the experience, saying: “I suppose that’s why in my fiction, I pay very close attention to place; I’m constantly searching for a way to make home feel like home.”

As for The Bird Sisters, it was born from the Emily Dickinson poem:

“These are the days birds come back, a very few, a Bird or two, to take a backward look.”

Then the author created two elderly sisters who had spent their lives caring for injured birds — allowing them the freedom to someday fly away — and the storyline evolved into the following synopsis:

When a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.

But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn’t exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly’s eye. And, most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.

Rebecca Rasmussen’s masterfully written debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

Now enjoy this stunning visual that also tells the tale:

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here.)

Also read the wonderful Praise and, of course, an Excerpt from Chapter 1.

Gentle, yet so honestly perceptive in her storytelling, Rebecca shares both heart and soul in creating immediate intimacy with Milly and Twiss. In the book, the time frame is only from breakfast to the evening meal — less than twelve hours — but during that day the sisters’ background and basic life is told in flashback memories. While each go their separate ways, doing daily chores they have done forever, thoughts and feelings explain what happened to keep them at home. Yes, the time frame kept everything neat and focused, but what was the specific reason for its use?

The author explained: “I wanted to slow down the present action of the story and really focus in on the pace of the sisters’ lives when they are older, and I thought what better way to do that than to showcase a single day in their lives.”

Poignant and bittersweet, The Bird Sisters is built on the factual theme that our backgrounds shape our future. Which is enormously sad since Milly and Twiss barely had a chance for personal dreams. Their parents did but — when their dreams went unfulfilled — their daughters paid the price for adult disappointment. And, yet, it is their bravery in the face of betrayal and dreams denied that bind them together in strong sisterly love.

In her guest post, Semper Fi, Rebecca Rasmussen proved that even when faced with difficulty and disappointment, the joy of hope remains. Why? Because she has a gift of taking states of loneliness and despair and, in elegant prose, write of their consequences as truly beautiful. Milly and Twiss could have lived much more and still their story is what it is — a tale of a magical world. Admitting that sacrifice can be incredibly sad, the author believes it can be incredibly beautiful at the same time. For her sisters Rebecca says, “I wanted to depict loneliness but not in place of the love of the sisters. They do what they do almost entirely for each other, and to me that is admirable.”

TRUTH: The result is beautiful! After all, what readers hopefully will take away from The Bird Sisters (debuting in two weeks) is Rebecca’s message of: “Love is timeless, first. And so are dreams.”

The Divining Wand’s message: The Bird Sisters soars and then nests in one’s heart.”

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters 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, March 30, 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.

Guest Rebecca Rasmusssen on Semper Fi
(In Other Words: Have Some Heart, Rebecca)

March 22, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Where does perseverance, confidence, and belief in always doing one’s best come from? In today’s guest post, debut novelist Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters coming April 12, 2011) shares her personal learning experience.]

Semper Fi (In Other Words: Have Some Heart, Rebecca)

The first time I walked off the course and back to the starting line I felt justified in my choice to quit. I was in terrible pain. I had lost my breath. I had cramps in my legs, in my heart. Girls were passing me on all sides. Their ponytails were swishing right out of my view. So here’s what I did: I simply walked back to the place I’d started.

The year was 1992, and I was a freshman in high school, thirteen years old. I had a shaky relationship with just about everyone in my family, though I remember my mother coming to this cross-country meet, my first. I remember she wore my dad’s boxy old yellow windbreaker, which I took from his closet the last time I visited him and my stepmom in Spring Green, Wisconsin, though I don’t remember why.

“You’ll do better next time,” my mother said, when she saw me near the starting line.

I’ll tell you this: a part of me wanted to get in the car with her. To stop and pick up pizza at Malnati’s on the way home. To rent a funny movie and eat sour cherry candies. To forget about cross-country and move on to field hockey or dance. Or chess even.

But I’ll also tell you this: an even bigger part of me wanted something else entirely, something I couldn’t put a name to, but knew as a secret deep in my heart. And that’s what I got—exactly what I wanted—that early Saturday morning in September, while girls sprinted into the chute and parents cheered and brightly colored ribbons flapped in the breeze.

“Come here right now,” my coach, Mr. Baker, said to me, in a voice I thought only parents were allowed to use.

“I think I’ll take her home,” my mother interrupted.

“Not yet,” Mr. Baker said and pulled me away from my mother, which I remember thinking was impressive. People didn’t say no to her.

When we were alone behind a grand old Illinois oak tree, Mr. Baker asked me why I’d stopped running, why I came walking back, why I gave up.

I told him what I told you. Cramps. Pain. Breath.

“I don’t care if you’re the last girl out there and you crawl in on your hands and knees,” Mr. Baker said. “You don’t ever give up like that, do you understand me?”

“I couldn’t go on,” I said, looking at the electric leaves up in the tree.

Mr. Baker put his hands squarely on my shoulders and looked me
directly in the eyes, which nobody had ever done before. (I come from a long line of side-glancers.)

“You can always go on,” he said very seriously.

I don’t know why, but I wanted to wrap my arms around this man. His strength and strange, unwarranted belief in me was what I’d been looking for in members of my family and what members of my family couldn’t give me just then, and here Mr. Baker was, a man I barely knew, a man with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.

“I wasn’t going to win,” I said, knowing then that that was the real reason I’d quit.

Mr. Baker smiled. “This is the first brave thing I’ve seen you do.”

“What?” I said, beginning to smile, too, though I didn’t know why.

“Tell the truth,” he said, and hugged me so securely I thought I’d turn blue. “You’re a good kid, you know. I think you’re going to be all right.”

(Words that were so wonderful I started to cry.)


I don’t know if you can teach someone to have heart or not, but that’s what Mr. Baker did for me that day and that strength of heart is what I’ve carried with me all these years. If a door closes, I find another one to try to open. If ponytails are passing me, I go after them instead of giving myself over to negativity and turning away.

Crossing the finish line, having guts and grit, is what’s important to me. Knowing that I didn’t quit—that I don’t quit—makes me proud, confident, happy.

These days, I’m a writer more than I’m a runner, though I still try to hit the pavement four or five times a week. Writing, I’ve learned, takes the same tenacity, the same hard work and hard-won belief in one’s self. I’ve seen so many talented writers give up, and I want to grab them by the shoulders and look directly in their eyes and tell them what Mr. Baker told me. Keep writing even if you have to crawl on your hands and knees.

My first novel is coming out with a large New York press in April. From the outside, my story looks so easy and breezy and, well, full of beauty. The truth is that I fought for my book every single step of the way. I fought for it when people kept saying no for months and months and months. I fought when they said, “we need to think about sales figures.”

I am fighting for it even now.

And you know what: it probably won’t sell a million copies, I probably won’t be able to quit my job and shop at Whole Foods for herbs and nuts and fish, and I probably won’t wake up and see my name in The New York Times any time soon.

But on April 12th, I’ll be smiling. I promise you that.

Writing a book, finding an agent and an editor, finding my way through all of the no, you can’ts! has been the longest race of my life and I’ll have finally made it to the chute—without fanfare, maybe—but on my own two feet.

(A thought so wonderful I know I will cry.)


I haven’t seen Mr. Baker since I was a senior in high school. Is he alive? Is he still coaching running? I don’t know.

That warm September day at the cross-country meet was the beginning of a relationship that changed my life. He taught me about being brave, about being bold, about fighting for what you want and deserve in life. He taught me about nourishing myself in every sense of the word.

He told me about his time in Vietnam, about never giving up even when people around him were dying in muddy rice paddies.

I’ll never forget what he said.

Right before the next cross-country race, Mr. Baker and I exchanged presents, if you can call them that. I gave him my father’s old yellow windbreaker, which he wore to most every meet for the next four years, and he gave me a Semper Fi flag he’d had since the war and which I still keep in my treasure box in the closet.

Whenever I find myself alone on the course now, in the middle of a race that’s even less defined than when I was a teenager, I think of Mr. Baker—those blue eyes and that flag—and I keep going.

I keep hearing him say, have some heart, Rebecca.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Lori Roy’s Bent Road in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Lori Roy and Bent Road. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, March 23, 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.

The Revealing of Rebecca Rasmussen

March 16, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

The talented Rebecca Rasmussen introduces readers to her beloved state of Wisconsin as she pays fictional homage to her grandmother in the debut novel, The Bird Sisters coming April 12, 2011.

This one sentence describes the book: The Bird Sisters is a lush and moving story about discovery and disappointment, failing and forgiveness, and the enduring bond of family.

And critical praise follows:

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, the story of the sisters depicts the endlessly binding ties of family.”

From Library Journal Review, Starred Review: “Rasmussen’s debut novel is full of grace and humanity. Her heroines are fearless and romantic, endearing and engaging, and her poetic prose creates an almost magical, wholly satisfying world.”

“The Bird Sisters is a unique, beautifully written, and heartbreaking story that explores the fierce bonds, wounds, and tender complexities of the human heart. Rebecca Rasmussen has crafted a magical debut.”–Beth Hoffman, Bestselling Author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of The Bird Sisters for Monday, March 28, 2011 but, right now, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Rebecca Rasmussen teaches creative writing and literature at Fontbonne University. Her stories have appeared in Triquarterly magazine and the Mid-American Review. She was a finalist in both Narrative magazine’s 30 Below Contest for writers under the age of thirty and in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest. She lives with her husband and daughter in St. Louis. This is her first novel.

Indeed quite talented! But there’s much more to Rebecca and it’s time to get to know her better, upclose and personal: 

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Bird Husband. Bird Daughter. Bird Family. Bird Love.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Never give up on your dreams.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: The moment right before you cross the finish line.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Flying.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A:A: At my old camp in Eagle River, Wisconsin

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: The Pioneers.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Marilynne Robinson + Alice Munro. (I cheated. I know.)

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: “You know?” As in you know what I mean?

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I don’t know if x-ray vision is a talent, but I’d like to have it.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Writing my book.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I have been known to be a little too passionate.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I have been known to be a little too passionate.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Losing touch with old friends.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I would like to try being a bird for a little while.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My eyes, I think.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: don’t know if people would call him a hero. But John Ames from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: I’m not super into villains these days.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I’d want to meet a professional runner. Any one of them would be so interesting to go for a jog around the block with. Well, they’d be jogging, and I’d be running. Eventually, I’d say, “Go on without me.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: When people chew with their mouths open.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Teaching.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: A painter.
Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, honesty, and heart.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Red curry with coconut milk.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: I’m going to have to go with my five favorite artists:
Indigo Girls
Gillian Welch
Tracy Chapman
Nina Simone

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Gilead By Marilynne Robinson (Surprise!)
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Tracks by Louis Erdrich
The Progress of Love by Alice Munro
Disgrace by JM Coetzee

Smart, heartfelt, and ever so thoughtful, Rebecca Rasmussen is a new author/friend to follow on Twitter and become a fan of on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: For those readers who have Kindles, The Divining Wand will honor the first 10 comments left only on this specific post, Suzanne Anderson and Mrs. Tuesday’s Departures — until tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT. — with a download of Suzanne Anderson’s Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure. Please include the email address used to download and the ebook will be gifted to you promptly.