The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

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?


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.”

* * * * *

Holly LeCraw and The Swimming Pool

April 05, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


From the book’s front cover:

“Holly LeCraw’s THE SWIMMING POOL is a complex,
astonishingly well-crafted, and completely compelling debut.”
– ANITA SHREVE, author of Testimony

When Holly LeCraw becomes a novelist tomorrow — April 6, 2010 — with her highly anticipated debut, The Swimming Pool, she will have accomplished a life-long dream.

Now most writers constantly dream that dream but, on her website’s On Writing page, Holly confesses her mixed feelings about whether she wanted to be a writer:

“I think I always did, although often I wouldn’t admit it to myself. It just seemed the height of hubris. I was one of those children who read constantly, constantly–hundreds and hundreds of books. Being a writer just seemed like the most magical, incredible thing in the world to me, and so it seemed delusional to aspire to actually be one. I struggled with that for years.

The author explains:

“What did I do all that time? The short answer is I dithered, and tried to do every legit sort of writing-type thing that wasn’t writing.”

What was her turning point?

“I have heard a number of writers, when asked for advice, say that you should only write if you can’t not write. That is what I spent a number of years proving to myself: I really have to do it, otherwise I’m miserable. As soon as I finally realized that, I buckled down. Whenever I wanted to give up, I just reminded myself that I’d tried that before, and it hadn’t worked.”

This author’s candid revelation of her personal journey might well be the basis for the complex and insightful, emotional storytelling. Although Holly claims that the plot of The Swimming Pool came as a complete surprise to her.

In fact, on the Author Q & A: WRITING THE SWIMMING POOL page, she describes how her backstory evolved:

‘I started off with a brother and sister, who became Jed and Callie. I knew the mother was dead, and I knew that Jed wanted to know who had killed her. At first I thought it was a short story. Then, one weekend, my wonderful husband took our kids down to the Cape to give me some peace, and after I had sat stunned in the silence for a while, I started playing around with those characters. I started asking questions–so, where’s the dad? Hmm, I think he’s dead too. But something is amiss. Not another murder, but a complication…maybe he had an affair. How does that matter? And then Marcella came to me, and the whole thing just opened up.

“That has happened to me before: a story seems fairly straightforward, and then some side character–in this case, the mistress of the father of the protagonist–comes along, and lets me look at it slant. The side character takes center stage, and suddenly the plot is much more layered.”

In other words, the storyline became complicated as the synopsis describes:

A heartbreaking affair, an unsolved murder, an explosive romance: welcome to summer on the Cape in this powerful debut.

Seven summers ago, Marcella Atkinson fell in love with Cecil McClatchey, a married father of two. But on the same night their romance abruptly ended, Cecil’s wife was found murdered—and their lives changed forever. The case was never solved, and Cecil died soon after, an uncharged suspect. 

Now divorced and estranged from her only daughter, Marcella lives alone, mired in grief and guilt. Meanwhile, Cecil’s grown son, Jed, returns to the Cape with his sister for the first time in years. One day he finds a woman’s bathing suit buried in a closet—a relic, unbeknownst to him, of his father’s affair—and, on a hunch, confronts Marcella. When they fall into an affair of their own, their passion temporarily masks the pain of the past, but also leads to crises and revelations they never could have imagined. 

In what is sure to be the debut of the season, The Swimming Pool delivers a sensuous narrative of such force and depth that you won’t be able to put it down.

Indeed this novel is intense from the start, just read the First Chapter.

Amid all its buzz my Advanced Reader Copy arrived from the publisher in mid-November, yet I waited until bone-chilling cold February to dive into The Swimming Pool and experience the summer sizzler.

In a tale of betrayal, loss, and too many secrets, the story actually begins at a family pool party on Cape Cod. Now please think about that. Why a backyard pool on Cape Cod that’s surrounded by an ocean? Yes it is rare (and oh so symbolic) but the pool was built to be unique and intimate.

Above all, Holly LeCraw’s writing is both elegant and powerful as this novel demands the reader’s unwavering attention. Adultery, murder, and another affair would likely pique interest. Yet it’s the reasons for those events — the characters’ motives — that elevates the book to a level of fascination. And every mistake or misdeed revolves around the human need to belong, to be a part of someone, to be needed.

This need, then, is a heartbreaking obsession that turns into passion? Some would say so, I do not. Because without truth can there be passion and love or simply more secrets? The Swimming Pool with its detailed setting — including the actual feel of heat, humidity, even the sea air — will allow every reader to decide this and more for themselves.

In her beautiful breathtaking debut, Holly LeCraw gives us a “sins of the father/mother” plot with a twist on life. The Swimming Pool — the author’s magical, incredible dream — will be available in bookstores and online retailers tomorrow…awaiting your reading dip into its pages!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of The Swimming Pool in a random drawing of all comments left on this post. The deadline is Wednesday, April, 7, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return on Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Holly LeCraw Takes on THE Dreaded Question

March 30, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts, Uncategorized

As Holly LeCraw prepares for next Tuesday, April 6th and the launch of her debut novel, The Swimming Pool, she’s realized that writing her book was probably the simplest task of being an author.

For she has learned it doesn’t matter how literary critics describe her novel:

“Strong writing keeps the reader sucked in to LeCraw’s painful family drama debut. It is a story of deep and searing love, between siblings and lovers, but most powerfully between parents and their children.”
Publishers Weekly

Friends, acquaintances, and inquiring minds ask her THE question.

What’s it all about? Tell me quick.

Prepare yourselves, writer friends: someday you really are going to finish that book, and a publisher will buy it, and will then actually publish it, and then the question will be asked, over and over: “What’s your book about?”

Looking confused and scraping your toe in the dirt and answering, “uh, life?” is, I have discovered, not the right answer.

Reader friends, here’s the shocker: we writers write books and we know who they’re about, and what happens; but we are so immersed in our imaginary worlds that it’s hard to step away and get the big picture, the view that someone who hasn’t read the book would, hopefully, get right away. What is it about? Don’t ask us.

The process of reducing your book to a few lines starts early, when you have to begin querying agents—and I’m convinced this is at least part of the reason that the whole agent-search thing has been turned into a Web industry of massive proportions. Writers are convinced there’s some alchemy involved in landing an agent, and are desperate for the formula. But what is really freaking them out is having to say what their books are about—coming up with the vaunted “elevator pitch.” It’s a true art in itself. It’s narrative and enticement and psychology, crammed into the length of a haiku.

But here’s the rub: novelists write things that are, well, long. We are sometimes rather strange people. We sit in little rooms, alone, for the much of the day. We are not marketing geniuses. Reducing our magni opi to a few lines that will make an agent/publisher/book buyer want to grab that book and never let it go is not necessarily our strong suit.

In my case, I somehow managed to write a query letter that worked; and among the many varieties of relief I felt was the comfort in knowing that, now, the vast roomfuls of marketing geniuses at my venerable publisher were going to take over the job of telling everyone what my book was about. (Imagine my surprise when entire paragraphs from my query letter reappeared, verbatim, in the first drafts of the flap copy.)

Recently, I stumbled upon a crucial clue to this whole conundrum. I was at a reading being given by the wonderful writer Katharine Weber, and she happened to mention that when she had been in school and had had to write a paper, she had always written the paper first, and then the outline. I sat there in dawning comprehension. I had been absolutely sure I was the only freak of nature who had ever done that. Who outlines something that’s already written? Besides, well, me? But when I questioned her further, she said that every novelist she had ever known claimed to have done the same thing.

See? We have to write it, and only then do we know what it’s about. And the more distance, the better. In five or ten years, I’ll have my debut novel, The Swimming Pool, down to one crisp sentence. To a word.

For the record, though, I do have an elevator pitch now. The Swimming Pool is the story of a young man, Jed McClatchey, who is mired in grief for his parents, dead seven years ago. He falls in love with an older woman, Marcella Atkinson—who, he then discovers, was his late father’s mistress; and then he, and we, begin to wonder if she knows anything about the unsolved murder of his mother.

So there it is.

But wait. Please wait. (This is me, holding the elevator door open and calling to you as you exit.)
The Swimming Pool is also about relationships–if anything, more about the relationships holding up the big juicy taboo one than that affair itself. (Now you’re turning around.) It’s about the bonds between lovers–but also between spouses and siblings and, especially, parents and children, and the way those bonds intersect and conflict. It’s about secrets, and the ripple effects of secrets long kept. It’s about all the things parents will do, misguided and otherwise, to protect their children.

In my fantasy, you’re stopped in your tracks now, and you’re nodding.

I say, What’s my book about? Really? Well, it’s like all novels. It’s about life.

Trust me.

The Revealing of Holly LeCraw

March 24, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Holly LeCraw debuts on April 6, 2010 with The Swimming Pool — a starred review from Library Journal — and the claim: “An author to watch.”

There are also bestselling authors praising Holly’s novel, including Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter) who says:

“THE SWIMMING POOL is as riveting and psychologically complex as Hitchcockian film noir…a tale of entangled lies, complicity, betrayals, and unstoppable consequences.”

The Divining Wand has scheduled a full presentation/review of The Swimming Pool on Monday, April 5, 2010, but, in the meantime, it’s time to meet Holly LeCraw through her “official” bio:

Holly LeCraw was born and raised in Atlanta, and now lives outside of Boston with her husband and three children. Her short fiction has appeared in various publications and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

And here is Holly revealed:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Extremely blessed. Busy. Sometimes exhausting. Always interesting. Sorry, that’s only seven…I am not good at doing what I’m told.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: One of them is Goethe’s “Do not hurry, do not rest.”

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: I’m not sure that’s possible in this life. The closest we can come is being loved unconditionally by someone.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Losing someone I don’t want to lose…I’m too superstitious, don’t even want to talk about it.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Right here (in my study) is just fine. More than fine.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’ve never thought about it…we are all individuals. I don’t think I’m like anyone else, or vice versa. I have plenty of role models, though. I think Virginia Woolf had the ideal writer’s life, in many ways: breakfast every day at eight, wrote from nine to one, lunch, took a long walk through the countryside, read by the fire after dinner. Discipline, routine. Leonard took excellent care of her and she didn’t have to cook. Heaven.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: It’s so hard to say. I admire artists who have stayed true to themselves and have worked all their lives. I saw Peter Mattheissen on Charlie Rose recently—the man is eighty-three and so smart and dignified, so completely present. Or William Maxwell, who was ninety-one when he died and was a working writer until the end. Or Joan Didion or Grace Paley. I guess I am thinking about aging today.

On a completely different note, I’d have to say I admire someone who was truly willing to give his or her life in order to thwart evil—someone like Claus von Stauffenberg or Dietrich Bonhoffer. Although they’re not living. Sorry, not following rules again…

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: If I knew, then I’d quit using them.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d want to be effortlessly, genuinely musical.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: To have finally done what I said I was going to do, which was write a book.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: My tendency to procrastinate.

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

Q: What do you regret most?
A: I try not to think that way…that being said, I could have studied harder in college. But I went to grad school to atone.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: Maybe a lead singer in a band. Who could also play several instruments. Well.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: You’d have to ask the people who pay attention to me!

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: I am fond of narrator-heroes, non-hero heroes: Nick Carraway (Gatsby), Jack Burden (All the King’s Men), Will Barrett (The Last Gentleman). Also both Franny and Zooey.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: He’s not a real villain, but Jack Boughton in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home is heartbreaking.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: “Dude. It exhausts me just to watch you.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Getting serious now—it’s more than a pet peeve: People spreading hate in the name of God.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Being with my family. Gardening. Or possibly sleeping. I’m serious.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: No fantasy—I’m doing it.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Empathy, sense of humor, irreverence.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Well, as my children often point out, pizza has all the food groups.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Oh, man. I don’t know. Loud cheesy stuff from the 80s. Stuff I can dance to. And also the Bach suites for cello.

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Only 5? You’ve got to be kidding! All the ones I’ve already mentioned, plus John Cheever’s stories, Evening by Susan Minot, So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell, Four Quartets, all of Salinger (although Catcher is my least favorite), Absalom, Absalom and The Unvanquished, all of Peter Taylor, especially A Summons to Memphis, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Howard’s End, Portrait of a Lady and The Wings of the Dove, The Scarlet Letter, The Sea by John Banville…these are all just off the top of my head, and barely scratching the surface.

Hmm, barely scratching the surface of this debut author’s favorite books causes wonder at how much more there is to learn. Perhaps by following Holly LeCraw on Twitterand becoming a friend on Facebook you may find out.