The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Julianna Baggott (aka Bridget Asher) and
The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted

May 16, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

“This novel is dedicated to the reader.
For this singular moment, it’s just the two of us.”

It is with the above Dedication that Julianna Baggott welcomes the readinbg audience into her latest Bridget Asher novel The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. And that singular moment will become hours as the author tells a multi-generational tale of: “Grief is a love story told backwards.” In fact that’s the first line in the book.

According to the author, that sentence captured what she wanted to write in the novel — telling a love story from a place of grief and then moving beyond it. However the physical place, from where the story is told, was an equally important element. Julianna’s love of France made it an obvious choice as well as a six week’s vacation/research destination for herself, her husband, their four children, and a niece. While they had their share of adventures — several of which appear in the book –, the entire experience felt as though they were reawakening their senses.

In a March 22, 2011 interview with Caroline Leavitt, the author explained how her grieving character also needed to to experience a reawakening:

“One of the most important things about living somewhere foreign to you is that you can’t take for granted what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting. It’s how we should always live — no matter where we are — fully awake to the world around us. But sometimes we shut down to that world. I wanted to describe a character opening up to it.”

These ideas developed into a storyline and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted synopsis:

“Every good love story has another love hiding within it.”

Brokenhearted and still mourning the loss of her husband, Heidi travels with Abbott, her obsessive-compulsive seven-year-old son, and Charlotte, her jaded sixteen-year-old niece, to the small village of Puyloubier in the south of France, where a crumbling stone house may be responsible for mending hearts since before World War II.

There, Charlotte confesses a shocking secret, and Heidi learns the truth about her mother’s “lost summer” when Heidi was a child. As three generations collide with one another, with the neighbor who seems to know all of their family skeletons, and with an enigmatic Frenchman, Heidi, Charlotte, and Abbot journey through love, loss, and healing amid the vineyards, warm winds and delicious food of Provence. Can the magic of the house heal Heidi’s heart, too?

In addition to reading the lovely praise, there is also an Excerpt from the book to be read here.

Both sweet, bittersweet, and touched with the power of love, this is a fascinating novel based on the human emotions of grieving a loss while trying to believe in the hope of what lies ahead. Julianna does indeed convey all this through exquisite sensory description and what a feast she provides. In Provence, alone, there are the tiny white snails on the roadside flowers, the world of Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire, the lilac fields, vineyards and the magical house of love stories — recently damaged by fire and in need of being restored too. Also there is the food, lusciously described in its preparation, aromas, and mouth-watering tastes. The author admits to eating much of this research — so much so that recipes have been included in the back of the book.

It’s true that Heidi’s sense of taste returns first, allowing her other senses to follow, but still letting go of her grief is difficult. The reader never meets Henry — her love, her husband — alive, yet he appears almost larger than life in every Henry story the brokenhearted widow retells their son. His presence is everywhere in and around their Florida home yet in Provence there are new memories await to be created without him.

While the strong themes of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted are grief and loss and the idea of moving forward in order to heal, the author also explores the connections between mothers and daughters and sisters. For once again a storyline is affected by how past secrets haunt the present as is noted by: “Every good love story has another love hiding within it.” Or, in other words, a multi-generational plotline does promise more than one love. However the idea of being able to reopen one’s heart and find love again is what ultimately transforms this story of devastating loss into one of joy and redemption.

Since its release on March 29, 2011, The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted has had its share of favorable reviews yet, out of curiosity, The Divining Wand wondered if there was anything that a reviewer hadn’t asked or mentioned that Julianna would want readers to know about this story? And she said:

“I love the scene in the boutique. It was actually a scene that was salvaged from 165 pages of a failed novel. The novel wasn’t good but there was something elementally wonderful and vexing and true — in a deep twisted sisterly and motherly way — about that scene. I was so glad to have it. And I love the term getting Briskowitzed. It’d be funny if that one caught on.”

Now, in case all the other elements of this book have not piqued your interest, certainly those two tidbits will. Spend some time in France this May, June, July….with The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. This Fairy Godmother guarantees you’ll feel relaxed, rested, and restored with hope.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher (aka Julianna Baggott) in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, May 18, 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 Julianna Baggott on The Physics of Writing

May 10, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[There are authors who describe writing as an art while still others define it as a skill, but could writing also be considered a science? In today’s guest post, essayist/poet and novelist of her seventeenth book — The Provence Cure for the BrokenheartedJulianna Baggott makes a case for scientific application to writing.]

The Physics of Writing

Scientists get all of the best laws and theories – motion, gravity, thermodynamics, evolution, relativity. What about writers, huh? How about a few unbreakable Laws of Creative Musing? How about a little Theory of Novelization? ‘Bout time, if you ask me.

The fictional apple has dropped on my fictional head and here you go:

Baggott, Asher & Bode’s Laws and Theories of Creative Forces and Narrative Brain Matter

LAW # 1. Fiction punishes you for your absence. This law states that if you stop writing for a week or a month or more, you might think that your writing will be so happy to see you again (oh where have you been! I’ve missed you so!) that everything will come flowing forth. Wrong. You’re out of shape. You’re a body not in motion that’s got to shove itself into motion.

Suggestion: Keep writing because it’s easier to keep a body in motion that’s already in motion. (Also, for novels, once you come up for air and then reattack, you have to find your way back into that world, those characters’ heads. It’s not easy. The more times you break from the dream, the more time wasted reestablishing that dream.)

LAW #2. Writing rewards you early with great leaps in craft – but the better you get, the more diminished the returns. I explained this theory of mine to the world’s leading expert in expertise – Anders Ericsson – who explained, patiently, that this theory wasn’t mine. He could show me a graph that proved it. But this is how writing draws you in. At first, if you put in a little effort, you get great rewards. The better you get, the more effort required for infinitesimal steps forward. Like learning a foreign language – in a few weeks, you can speak well enough to get food, find toilets, tell people off. In a few months, you’re fluent. But it takes years to go from fluent to bilingual and sometimes it never truly happens. (Don’t make me show you a graph.) But by the time the rewards for your labor are tiny, you might already be in so deep – years of hours upon hours – that there’s no turning back. Sorry.

LAW #3 Time plus talent equals stronger craft. Talent without time equals – well, not much of anything. It takes hours – according to Ericsson 3-4 hours per day for 10 years. (When people tell me at cocktail parties that they want to be a writer, I tell them that’s great – and hit ‘em with the data.)

In other words: Talented writers who don’t write are doomed. I know a lot of talented young writers who don’t write. It’s over. Done. Wasted potential. From the start, in fact, they’ve got a strike against them. Writers who are excellent in a first draft are very hard to talk into the enormous effort it takes to get you from damn-that’s-good to actually brilliant and polished. Writers who are really just creating a lump of clay in the first draft – to then have something to sculpt with – have an easier time putting in hours and seeing results. It’s easier for an orthodontist to fix buck teeth than a tiny overlap. It’s the final 1/100th of the centimeter that’s the hardest.

LAW #4 For all I’ve said about putting in the hours, writers can improve solely as a function of the passage of time. A talented young writer of 23 – if he/she keeps writing – is going to be a much stronger writer at 35, simply because they’ll have more life experience to write about. It’s one of those few professions that writers simply get better at as they age. I truly believe this.

LAW #5 If you want to take a leap as a writer, dismantle the books you love. Reading for pleasure? Stop it. Read like a young engineer taking apart a clock. Mark up the margins. Break it down. Read and reread. Read aloud. Memorize lines. Figure out the structure. Reconfigure it. Once all of it exists in parts, try to put it back together again.

There you have it 5 Laws (and Theories) which, unlike the sciences, have all been broken before and will all be broken again. Feel free to add on as the fictional apples fall on your own fictional heads.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The First Husband by Laura Dave in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Laura Dave and The First Husband. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, May 11, 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 Julianna Baggott

May 04, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Novelist, essayist, and poet Julianna Baggott — author of seventeen books — also writes under the pen names of Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. Her most recent novel, The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, has been described as: An absorbing, beautifully written tale about life, death, love, food, and the magic of new possibilities.

Both commercial and critical reviews agree:

“Fans of Under the Tuscan Sun will adore this impossibly romantic read.”—People magazine

“Unabashedly romantic and unafraid of melancholy, Asher’s book is a real charmer about a Provencal house that casts spells over the lovelorn.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Readers who enjoy…Lolly Winston’s Good Grief and Jane Green’s The Beach House or travel-induced transformation books like Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love will find common themes in Asher’s engaging third novel…and become quickly invested in the lives of the deftly drawn characters.”—Library Journal

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted for Monday, May 16, 2011. However, in the meantime, let’s meet this prolific author through her “official” bio:

Julianna Baggott is the author of seventeen books, most recently THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED under her pen name Bridget Asher, as well as THE PRETEND WIFE and MY HUSBAND’S SWEETHEARTS. She’s the bestselling author of GIRL TALK and, as N.E. Bode, THE ANYBODIES TRILOGY for younger readers. Her essays have appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times Modern Love column, Washington Post,, and Real Simple.

She lives in Florida with her husband writer David G.W. Scott and their four kids, and is an associate professor at Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program.

Now it’s time to get to know Julianna, upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: big-eyed, skewed, definite, quick, forgiving, obsessive, tenacious, associative

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Practice empathy.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: It wouldn’t have anything to do with its fast-friend contentedness. It’s about challenge — while not being devoured by challenges.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Oh, so many to choose from. Mainly, I have children — so I fear anything bad that might happen to them. I fear not breathing, drowning, untested smoke detectors, frogs, diseases, apocalypse …

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: It’s almost April so the answer is a boring one: Paris.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I was raised Catholic so we got to choose the name of a saint for confirmation. Other girls were picking Theresa the Little Flower left and right. I love Theresa but I didn’t want to die scrubbing floors, coughing blood into a hankie. And so I chose — Joan of Arc — not just Joan, mind you. No, no. All three words. My Catholic full name is Julianna Christin Joan of Arc Baggott. Friends sometimes still refer to me as such.

I published a book of poems, LIZZIE BORDEN IN LOVE, poems in women’s voices — Mary Todd Lincoln to Monica Lewinski. I do a lot of relating in that book.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: We now own a signed Obama basketball jersey. It feels so good to finally have a president and first lady whom I can admire. And to call everyone — including the president — on stuff — I deeply admire Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow. Odd one off — I just watched The Fab Five and came to admire Jalen Rose. I admire the people of Wisconsin, standing up for the rights of the middle class right now. I admire those risking their long-term health, battling nuclear meltdown in Japan — so awful. (I wish Milk could be alive to see those of us dedicated to fighting for civil rights.) I admire quiet lives lived in the service of others — which brings me back to Saint Theresa the Little Flower.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases
A: All curse words. Cannot repeat here. I’m inventive with that sh*t.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: A singing voice. My heart wants to belt it out.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: I didn’t see it coming, but if you get married young, you have a shot at a long marriage. Dave and I have this relationship that kind of astounds me.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Right now I’m really working on impatience.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I’ve got some resilience. I hope it lasts.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: I found the body of a good friend, dead from suicide. I don’t think I have to explain anymore.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I get to be other people for many hours of each day. I play this fantasy out — page upon page.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: I think I’m scary looking sometimes — like E.T.. My four year old asks me to close my eyes while telling stories because they “fweak” him out.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: C’mon. Atticus Finch.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Humbert Humbert — though technically he’s a hero.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Bill Buckner, Pumpsie Green, Willie Mays … I’d want to hand them my novel THE PRINCE OF FENWAY PARK, in which they are (beloved) characters.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: If I sit on one more moist toilet seat in my own home … four boys in this house.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: I love to dance.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Choreography or weird photography portraits …

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Love, forgiveness and humor — humor is hugely important for survival.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: I actually went a few months (pregnant) only eating chicken salad sandwiches with cranberry jelly. I just don’t know.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: At one point: Thunder Road, The Boys are Back in Town, Currently: shove a song in by The Smiths. If you want to make me cry: Danny Boy, Woman’s Work.

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: I hate this. I refuse. Here. But I’m not sticking to this.
Eloise in Paris (a shot over the bough), Lolita (okay?), 100 Years of Solitude (I know, I know.), Their Eyes Were Watching God (I said it.), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (back off)

Energetic, eclectic, and most entertaining, Julianna Baggott could be your new author to follow on Twitter and friend on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Exposure by Therese Fowler in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Therese Fowler and Exposure. 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.