Category: books

Sometimes the movie, sometimes the book

colmbrooklynI used to be of the camp that the book is always better than the movie — always. But I’m starting to realize that moviemakers have done their homework over the last 20 years; they now insist on compelling scripts and better attention to detail, nuances, and characterization. Coupled with that, the art of cinematography is now so advanced it is allowing Hollywood to bring a novel to life in marvelous ways that just weren’t possible before.

All that preamble is because I need a good reason to have liked Brooklyn the movie better than Brooklyn the book. The book was readable, enjoyable, but all the while I was immersed in the pages I was wondering when would the part come that was so amazing it’s the reason why it was made into an Oscar-nominated movie.  That moment never came for me. The prose was simpler than I like, simpler than I write. Perhaps simple isn’t the right word. A fellow reader on Goodreads said the book was “awash in grey when I wanted vibrant color.” I think that’s what surprised me the most about it; the writing didn’t tantalize my senses, didn’t leave me lingering on sentences that were so delicious I had to read them twice.

I saw the movie halfway through reading the book and honestly, watching the movie helped me better appreciate the characters. I’m disappointed that I had a hard time emotionally bonding with them via the book alone. And I now I am left wondering if I am missing something profound that it took a screenplay and a screen and actors and music and camera angles to so beautifully bring this story to life. Those who bought the film rights surely saw this book’s raw potential, and the aching story of love and purpose and belonging that lurked quietly on that seemed to me unseasoned pages.  I overlooked that somehow and that perplexes me.

I get that books are like cuisine. I might say something is wicked spicy and another might taste the dish and say please pass the Tobasco. But still. A book that gets cinematic attention should be the kind of book that grabs us by our emotional lapels and doesn’t let us go. At least that’s what I’ve always thought. Is it just me? Did I miss something big with this book?

What say all of you? I would love to hear from you…


Books I am dying to read this spring

Okay, so I am not literally dying but I do sense a terrible longing to fling all responsibility aside today, buy these five books and and do nothing but sit outside with iced coffee and read them to my heart’s content. And let’s not even discuss the ToBeRead ladder to the moon that I’ve already got. I know how many books I have bought over the last few months (okay, years) that are waiting to be opened and read. Let’s just concentrate on the moment, shall we? And at the moment, I REALLY want to read all these new books:

Summer-Before-War-NovelThe Summer Before the War

I adore this cover, but putting eye candy aside, I’ve heard nothing but good things about this second book from Helen Simonson, who wrote Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. This one is set in 1914 – perfect for the time period I am researching right now – and centers around Beatrice Nash, who comes to a sleepy little coastal village in England to teach Latin. BookPage says its “full of wry humor and loveable characters.”  The Washington Post says it’s a novel to “cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . .”  Sign me up.


I love a good memoir that reads like a story (see The Glass Castle if you want to know what I mean by that) and Dimestore by Lee Smith looks like it’s that kind of literary biography about the author’s childhood in an Appalachian community she was “raised to leave.” The back cover copy says: “Dimestore’s fifteen essays are crushingly honest, wise and perceptive, and superbly entertaining. Smith has created both a moving personal portrait and a testament to embracing one’s heritage. It’s also an inspiring story of the birth of a writer and a poignant look at a way of life that has all but vanished.” Want it yesterday.

Excellent Lombards The Excellent Lombards

Ever since I read A Map of the World back when my kids were tots, I’ve been a fan of Jane Hamilton’s storytelling.  I was so glad to hear she has a new book out and equally vexed (terribly vexed) that I don’t know when I will get to it. This one is set on a Wisconsin apple orchard, narrated by Frankie Lombard, a girl who wants nothing to change, ever. But you and I both know that’s not how life is. From the back cover:  “As Frankie is forced to shed her childhood fantasies and face the possibility of losing the idyllic future she had envisioned for her family, she must decide whether loving something means clinging tightly or letting go.” 

Salt to the seaSalt to the Sea

My mom, who is an avid reader but a discriminating one, loved this book. And if she says it’s wonderful, then it has to be so. This story is inspired by a nearly forgotten event in 1945 (my fave kind of book), the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, actually. From the back cover: “Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war. As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.” You want to read it now, too, don’t you?

The Translation of LoveThe Translation of Love

This book by debut author Lynn Kutsukake, was inspired by the “avalanche of letters” sent to Gen. Dougas MacArthur by the people of Japan. BookPage says: “At the heart of the story is Aya, a 13-year-old Japanese-Canadian girl who has been repatriated to Japan with her father. When the sister of her friend, Fumi, goes missing, English-speaking Aya is rapped to seek help from the famous general.”  Kirkus Reviews said: “Kutsukake’s moving debut novel focuses on the intertwining stories of several protagonists in post-World War II Tokyo…The result is a memorable story of hope and loneliness with a cathartic ending.” And can we just all agree right here that the cover of this one is beautifully evocative?

So there you have it! If I didn’t have a new book to promote, a book to edit for next year, and a new book to write for the year after that, plus the other nitnoid and also lovely details of life, you would find me under a tree with these five books in my lap. How about you? Any new books out there your soul is itching to read?


Five Stars Over Sunset freebies

audiocoverOne of the great things about having different platforms on which to enjoy a book is that you don’t have to necessarily be sitting down in an armchair with a cuppa to read it – although few activities are more enjoyable than that. With an audio version of a book, you can enjoy a novel from the comfort of your car while on your morning or evening commute, or while you are jogging, or while you are waiting for something to start and it’s going to be awhile.

I love having my novels available to you on audio files. For some of you busy people, it’s often the only way you can get a book a “read.” For those with vision limitations it IS the only way you’ll get a book read unless someone reads it to you.

With that in mind, I am happy to announce I’ve got giveaway coupons for five individual downloads of STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD, courtesy of my audio publisher, Christian Audio. Christian Audio’s got a classy and delish cover for the audio version and I’m thrilled that they contract with the best narrators out there.

If you end up being a winner all you will have to do is go to, add STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD to your cart and checkout with the coupon code. To get in on the drawing, just type in a comment below. Any comment will do. Tell a joke, tell me your favorite old Hollywood movie, tell me your dog’s name. Just tell me something and you’re in. Five code winners will be drawn at random after 5 p.m. PST on Saturday, March 26. You can win the coupon code and give it someone else, say a visually impaired friend or someone who spends a lot of time on the road.

And while you’re checking out Christian Audio’s site, take a listen to the audio interview we did together a few months ago. That link is right here:

As always, thanks for stopping by and good luck!



A visit with Julie Cantrell

Today I am so happy to welcome to the blog New York Times bestselling author Julie Cantrell so that we can chat about her new book, The Feathered Bone. Julie is not only a gifted wordsmith, she is a genuinely kind soul and a lover of humanity. Do read to the end of our interview so that you can get in on the giveaway of a copy of this emotionally gripping novel.

TFBJulie has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. She has contributed to more than a dozen books in addition to her two children’s books and award-winning novels. Her debut novel,  Into the Free, which I LOVED received the Christy Award for Book of the Year (2013) as well as the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. It also was selected as a Best Read of the year by LifeWay, USA TODAY, and many book clubs.

The Feathered Bone opens in the pre-Katrina glow of New Orleans. Amanda Salassi is anxious about chaperoning her daughter’s sixth grade field trip to the Big Easy during Halloween. And then her worst fears come true. Her daughter’s best friend, Sarah, disappears amid the magic and revelry—gone, without a trace. Set amidst the murky parishes of rural Louisiana and told through the eyes of two women who confront the darkest corners of humanity with quiet and unbreakable faith, this novel is Julie Cantrell’s master portrait of love in a fallen world. Here, then, is our conversation:

You address many issues in THE FEATHERED BONE that are not easy to talk about: human trafficking, teen suicide, and domestic violence. What have you learned personally by writing about such difficult topics?

I have learned the importance of talking openly about these issues. It’s true, they are difficult to examine. It’s not pretty stuff. But by ignoring the reality of what is happening around us, we are—in a sense—allowing it to happen.

It’s time we examine the impact our choices have on others, particularly how our choices affect the most vulnerable among us. We tend to convince ourselves that when we act as a group (a business, a political party, a government, a society, etc.) we are not personally responsible for those actions. We remove our own accountability. We convince ourselves we can’t change things because we use terms like They and Them instead of We and Us.

We need to take personal responsibility for the behaviors of our businesses, our churches, our communities, and our government. If not us, who?

How did you come up with this very interesting title and what does it mean?

While brainstorming the story, my publisher and I were discussing the various ways women can become enslaved in life.  Research led us to an article about featherbone corsets. It’s a fascinating story that is woven into the book.

To sum it up, corsets were once made of very rigid materials like steel rods, wooden reeds, and whale bones. But this restrained women’s movement too much, and they frequently broke. In 1883, a savvy Michigan businessman discovered a feather-duster factory in Chicago. He decided to use discarded feather bones to make corsets. These were less costly than the traditional steels, and they allowed women to bend without the bindings breaking.

In the book, the featherbone represents the resilient strength of something that can bend without breaking, and the corsets are used to examine the lengths women will reach in order to feel of worth to a man.

Throughout history, we have allowed ourselves to become “slaves” in a sense. We go as far as contorting our bodies and worse, our minds. We bind our feet and train our waists; we have face lifts and breast implants and develop eating disorders. We dye our hair and spend excessive amounts of money on clothing and jewelry and make-up. And worst of all, we absorb lies about our true purpose in life—all so men will consider us worthy of their attention and affection.

I realize this can affect both men and women, but culturally, women are usually the ones taking such extreme steps. As a woman, I want everyone, men and women both, to believe we are of worth exactly as God created us, without having to lose our true selves in order to gain human acceptance.

Human trafficking has been brought to the forefront of national attention in recent years. Why did you choose to write about this topic and did it bother you to delve into something so dark?

JulieCantrell2Well, you’re right. It is dark, and in fact, it has become such a buzzword I was hesitant to explore the topic. But no matter how much I fought against this story, it insisted on finding its way to the page.

What I’ve learned is that it could happen to any of us. To any of our children. People enter into prostitution in many different ways and for different reasons. And it is a very hard world to escape.

But I don’t like to feed the fear. Instead, I write so that we can conquer those fears. Ultimately, it’s a hope-filled story about forgiveness, resiliency, faith, and love.

What did your research for this novel reveal to you about human trafficking?

In talking to the women and children from the sex trade, I’ve learned that everyone just wants to feel loved and safe in the world. The large majority of these people have been victimized, and we have to take an honest look at who is victimizing them. It’s not just the pimps and the pushers. It’s also the Johns who pay for pleasure and the Joes and Janes who sit home in their living rooms watching porn, convincing themselves it is harmless.

Everyone who takes part in victimizing another person should be held accountable.  As well as all of us who walk past the situation pretending it isn’t happening.

In recent years, thanks to the hard work of law enforcement agencies, non-profit organizations, and ministries, we are finally taking a more appropriate response and targeting the people who are profiting from this market. The last step is to quell the demand.

You weave your faith into your writing, but it’s done in a way that examines the spiritual journey from all angles without bias. How does your personal faith impact your worldview?

As a person of faith, I believe we are loved, each and every one of us. But as life hurts us, we begin to believe a very big lie—that we are not loved. This either hardens us or makes us desperately seek love from unhealthy sources, leading us to hurt ourselves and others.

If we have a solid belief that we are loved by God, we are free. We are only separated from this love by our own choices or our own reactions to the choices of others. Realizing this and opening ourselves once again to God’s love is the essence of what some people call a spiritual awakening, enlightenment, or (in Christian terms) being born again (or saved).

I have explored this a bit in all three of my novels. In THE FEATHERED BONE, Sarah, goes through horrific experiences when she is kidnapped and trafficked. But she is able to journal her way through the captivity by examining the lies the captor wants her to believe versus the truth she knows in her heart. She comes very close to separating herself from the truth, from God’s love for her, but in the end, she holds tightly to the core beliefs her parents instilled in her and that’s how she is able to fight her way back to freedom and to the light.

What’s the takeaway message you want readers to carry when they close THE FEATHERED BONE?

Whether someone is Christian or not, the answer to all of our problems is as simple as Jesus said it was: Love God. Love others. Love ourselves.

The first (Love God) is the part many in our modern culture have forgotten. We make false Gods of our money, status, ego, business, entertainment, sex, porn, drugs, alcohol, appearance, material obsessions, and even our religion or our family. We end up becoming separated from God, from love, because we try to fill that crucial need with other things that will never satisfy our spiritual requirements. These substitutes may numb the pain, but that “high” is not sustainable. Only genuine love (God) fills that hole in a way that brings true peace and contentment.

The second (Love Others) is the part that many men in particular tend to forget, especially in our culture where men are conditioned to be strong and unemotional, shutting down their ability to feel empathy and compassion for others. How many little boys are told not to cry? To be tough? To “man up”? Sadly, this tends to make them turn cold and destructive to the people who love them because the only acceptable emotion they were encouraged to express was anger. They end up believing the lie that behaving this way is the manly thing to do. It stunts their emotional and spiritual development, separates them from God and, thus, blocks their hearts from love.

And the third part (Love Ourselves) is the part many women in particular tend to forget. We are taught to love everyone but ourselves. But we’ve each been given only ONE soul to carry through this world—our own. And we are most responsible for moving THAT soul toward a peaceful eternity with God. Many women feel selfish or mean if we put ourselves on the list, but if we do not set healthy boundaries to protect our own souls, we are at risk of becoming spiritually wounded and therefore becoming separated from God. From love. From our true purpose in this life.

Again, these gender lines are fluid, so I speak only in generalities. Many a woman’s heart has become hardened, and many a man has lived a selfless and spiritual existence.  But culturally, these are the roles we have historically been conditioned to fill, and in this particular book, I examine these patterns.

In the end, it all comes down to one infinite and universal love.  I call that love, God.

THANK YOU, Julie, for being my guest today! If you want to stay connected to Julie, dear reader, here are places you can find her:






And now for the giveaway of a copy of The Feathered Bone. In a comment below, just include one thought about why you’d like to get your hands on this book! The winner (US/CAN only) will be randomly chosen from all those who comment by 5 p.m. Pacific on Monday, March 21. Good luck and happy reading!

Reflections on the past from Olivia

Olivia as MelanieToday I simply must send you hopping over to this blog interview with the remarkable Olivia de Havilland, the wildly talented actress who played Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (among many other memorable movie roles.)

Ms. de Havilland, who was born to British parents in Tokyo, Japan, will celebrate her 100th birthday on July 1 of this year. She is the only major star of Gone with the Wind still with us. This interview, which was published just a few months ago, offers us a candid look into what it was like to be a part of the most iconic movie ever made.

This quote from the interview is my favorite. Ms. de Havilland was asked which means more to her, having won the highest honors for her contributions to art and culture or being in the most popular movie ever produced? She said:

“Must I choose between a sapphire and an emerald?”

It was my pleasure to spend quite a bit of time with Melanie and Scarlett this past year as I wrote Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, my latest book about two studio secretaries who become best friends on the 1939 movie set of GWTW. Melanie is as deeply complex as character as Scarlett. You don’t appreciate how much until you truly study Melanie as a literary figure. Olivia de Havilland played her perfectly.

Enjoy the interview! Here again, is the link:


Where it all began


From left: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Margaret Mitchell, producer David O. Selznick, and Olivia de Havilland.

I’m in Atlanta as I write this, sitting inside a hotel room at the Georgian Terrace Hotel, the very place were the Gone With the Wind premiere party was held in December 1939, and where all the stars of the film stayed the night of that momentous occasion.

I had the distinct pleasure last night of speaking at the Margaret Mitchell House about writing STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD and why I chose the movie set of Gone With the Wind for its backdrop.

When first I learned I was going to be speaking about this book here in Atlanta, I wanted to do cartwheels. I was that excited. A couple seconds later, though, I fully realized that I’d be speaking to a group of people who are more tied in to this film and the book than I could ever hope to be, and at a far more intimate level. That’s when I needed, if you’ll pardon my reference to Aunt Pittypat, my smelling salts.  What right does a San Diegan have to speak about Gone With the Wind to an Atlantan crowd, seated in the very place where Margaret Mitchell wrote it.

But you know, everyone who loves Gone With the Wind, and there are millions of us, is connected in a small way to the mother tree, if you will. What I brought to the gracious attendees who came to hear me speak last night was my own personal bit of ponderings and musings about this story, from way out on my little limb. It was a lovely evening!

Here are a few photos from the inside of the Margaret Mitchell House (If you get to Atlanta, it’s a must-see). The tour offers so many insights into how Peggy Marsh’s life experiences influenced her the story of Gone With the Wind.

Have a lovely weekend!


The front porch of the house looks onto Peachtree Street. Margaret was born in 1900 a few blocks away, just off Peachtree St, and died in 1949, a few blocks the other direction, also right off Peachtree Street. She was hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street.


The furniture inside the apartment are period pieces that are close copies of what John and Peggy Marsh had. So you can actually sit in this blue chair if you wanted to…

The Margaret Mitchell House used to be an apartment building for ten renters. Peggy Marsh (aka Margaret Mitchell) and her husband John moved in to apt 1 on their wedding day on July 4, 1925.

The Margaret Mitchell House used to be an apartment building for ten renters. Peggy Marsh (aka Margaret Mitchell) and her husband John moved in to apt 1 on their wedding day on July 4, 1925.

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Before Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind, she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal. Here she is with the heartthrob of the day, Rudolph Valentino.

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And this is me, sitting in the exact spot where Margaret Mitchell created such memorable characters as Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashely Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton.

Why that hat?

GWTWset4One of the more enjoyable things I get to do when a new book comes out is share all the inside stuff about how the story came to be. Those details aren’t usually included on a book’s back cover and yet I think most of us novel-lovers like learning about a book’s genesis, how the author came up with the storyline, and why she made the decisions she did in the telling.

I will be sharing with you the inside scoop on STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD for the next few weeks as its launch into the wild is celebrated – at least by me! Today I want to tell you why, of all the Gone with the Wind props and costume pieces I could have chosen to make a mysterious reappearance in the 21st century, I chose Scarlett’s curtain dress hat.

I am a huge fan of metaphor. For me, that curtain-dress hat is emblematic of what dire circumstances can lead someone to do when what she loves most is in danger of being taken from her. If you’re familiar with the scene in the movie, you know that Scarlett is in a place of decision when she pulls down her dead mother’s curtains so that she can dress the part of someone she is not.  I think what’s being communicated through imagery here is that when we’re afraid of losing what we treasure most, we sometimes do things that we would never do in an ordinary situation.

I don’t think it’s any accident that that hat is part rich velvet and gold braid and part barnyard rooster feathers. It’s an amalgam of Scarlett’s strength and her weakness. She will do what no one else will do because of how afraid she is of losing everything.

You might find it interesting that the actual hat worn by Vivien Leigh is part of the museum collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. When I spoke to the curator about my premise way back at the idea stage (I told him I was going to have the curtain dress hat show up in a vintage clothing store on Sunset Blvd in the current day) he  told me there was indeed a second hat made – a back-up – and no one knows what became of it. I didn’t have to use any literary license in getting the hat out of the museum and into a boutique in Hollywood. Pretty cool, huh?

The sketch at the top of this post is costume designer Walter Plunkett’s original concept for this dress and hat. You can see many more of those costume designs, and much more info on GWTW, on the University’s wonderful website. Here’s the link.

And now let’s have a giveaway, shall we? I will give a signed copy of STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD to two randomly-drawn winners who comment below. I’d love to hear what your favorite GWTW costume or costume piece is. No worries if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t have a favorite (but really, what are you waiting for!? Watch the movie!). Leave your comment by noon PST on Monday, Jan 11. If you share the link to this post on Facebook or Twitter, your chances will double. Do let me know in your comment that you shared so I will know.

Have a great weekend!

p.s. Did you know the infamous mock curtain-dress Carol Burnett wore in her parody WENT WITH THE WIND is on display at the Smithsonian? With its curtain rod no less!


Today’s the day!

SOSB_NEW_Final.inddIt’s always thrilling and nerve-wracking when a new book of mine is released into the wild. I am usually on pins and needles waiting to see what the reaction among readers will be.  I want so very much to please those who’ve liked my other books. In fact, I think I worry about this more than pleasing reviewers! Interestingly enough, every idea for a book that I attempt to execute is harder to pull off than the one before it. Rather than getting eaiser, it actually gets more difficult!

I know that’s partly because I set the bar a little higher for myself each with each new story and yet I start a book the same way each time — looking at a scary blank page.

This one, STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD, was especially challenging to write, because unlike my previous two books, SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE and  A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, this one was carved against a benevolent setting. Old Hollywood was a glamorous, exciting place; very different from the malevolent settings of World War II and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire — the two settings for those other books. The tension had to come from my characters and their desires, not so much the environment.  But I think in the end, with the help of my wonderful editors and agent, I’ve been able to craft for you a transportive novel that I hope you will enjoy.

This book is about two studio secretaries who become best friends while working on the 1939 film set of Gone With the Wind. One wants to be needed, one wants to be wanted. Their desires will collide, of course, and when they do, we see what lengths a person will go to hold on to what she thinks she cannot live without — I took a few cues from Scarlett and Melanie here!  (Study these fictional characters and you will see that GONE WITH THE WIND is about their complex friendship as much as anything else…)

I so very much hope you will enjoy this book. I wrote it hoping you would! And I would love to hear from you after you’ve read it so we can chat.

On Friday I will share with you why I wanted to set a novel on the set of this iconic movie. I will have a giveaway that day, too, so come on back!

Until then

A visit with Nicole Dweck

ReadingNicoleDweck friends, I am so happy to welcome fellow novelist Nicole Dweck to the blog today. I had the pleasure and privilege of reading her debut novel, THE DEBT OF TAMAR for endorsement for its re-release (her story of getting published by a New York house is an exciting one!) and I fell in love with her style and voice. I have a copy of this lovely book to give away to one of you lucky readers; just make sure you read to the end to see how to get in on the drawing. Nicole Dweck holds a BA in Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs from NYU. She lives in New York City with her husband and their son.  She and I are planning to get together for a cuppa when I’m in New York in February!

The story in a nutshell? It’s 2002, and 32-year-old Selim Osman, the last descendant of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, flees Istanbul for New York. In a twist of fate he meets Hannah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and an artist striving to understand a father she barely knows. Unaware the connection they share goes back centuries, the two feel an immediate pull to one another. But as their story intertwines with that of their ancestors, the heroic but ultimately tragic decision that bound two families centuries ago ripples into the future, threatening to tear Hannah and Selim apart.

And now for our via email chat:

SUSAN: When people ask what this book is about, what do you tell them?

NICOLE: The Debt of Tamar is a multi-generational family saga that follows two families, one Jewish, one Muslim, from the time of the Spanish Inquisition and 16th century Ottoman Empire to modern-day New York City and Istanbul. Ultimately, it’s a love story that spans centuries and continents.

SUSAN: Where did the idea for this very unique story come from?

NICOLE: I have always been fascinated with history. Wanting to explore my own cultural heritage, I began researching Sephardic (Spanish Jewish) history and learned about the tremendous role Ottoman Muslim sultans played in rescuing persecuted Jews from the Spanish Inquisition. I wanted to illuminate this forgotten time period in history, when Jews and Muslims thrived alongside each other for centuries.

SUSAN: Where did your research take you? What was the most intriguing thing you learned while researching?

NICOLE: All over the world!debtoftamar
Since my book is set in multiple locations, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Istanbul, Tiberias, Venice and Paris. The most interesting part of my research was visiting Topkapi Palace in Istanbul where much of the action in my book takes place. It was amazing to walk in the footsteps of my characters, through the same gardens, halls, and chambers I’d envisioned them frequenting.

SUSAN: What surprised you most in the writing process? Did you know where these characters would end up at the end of the book?

NICOLE: I really did know where they would end up. In fact, the first two chapters I wrote were the first and the last.  I simply knew what had to happen. I suppose the journey to that end was the real adventure. What most surprised me throughout the process was how much I grew to love the characters I created. Some of them did things that made me cringe, but in the end, they were like real people; complex, capable of both good and bad, shaped by all they had experienced, and deserving of compassion and empathy rather than judgment.

SUSAN: Your road to getting picked up by St. Martin’s Press is so fascinating. Can you tell us how it happened?

NICOLE: I can’t really say I was goal-oriented throughout the writing process. For me, it was all about the journey. I had a story I wanted to tell, and the question of publishing that story was not really part of the equation. I wrote this book for myself. I suppose I published it for my audience. By the time it was complete, I went ahead and self-published it through CreateSpace. With a bit of creative online marketing, the book went on to become an, B&, and USA Today Bestseller. Within a few weeks, I began receiving offers from editors at traditional publishing houses who had stumbled across the book and loved it. The Debt of Tamar was eventually picked up by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing.

SUSAN: Your cover is delicious. Did you have any input on that?

NICOLE: I worked with freelance designer Laura Klynstra, who completely understood my vision and created the beautiful cover that was used for the self-published edition as well as the newer, traditionally-published edition.  My editor at Thomas Dunne liked it so much, we stuck with it! As for what is next on the horizon, I am currently working on my second book, an adventure/mystery/love story which will transport readers from modern-day Brooklyn to the ancient Jewish community of pre-war Syria to WWII era Shanghai. I’ll leave it at that!

SUSAN: Thanks so much for stopping by, Nicole! I am huge fan of historical fiction with contemporary story threads thrown in. Readers, if you would like to get in on the drawing for a hardback copy of THE DEBT OF TAMAR, just leave a comment telling us where in the world you’d like to go to research for a book. You don’t have to be a writer to answer this one! Just pretend you are traveling with one. Ha! Which historical place would you visit? Post your comment by noon Sunday, Dec 6 PST. The winner will be chosen by Good luck and happy reading!


The last time I will read this book…

The new book takes place on the set of Gone With the Wind in 1939.

The new book takes place on the set of Gone With the Wind in 1939.

After many long months researching, then writing, then revising, then editing STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD, the galleys are here at my house, which means this will be the last time I read this book that I love so much. After this last pass with the pages, I will sign off on it, as will my editor and the production staff and the next thing you know, the book will be printed and the warehouse will be waiting for the turn of the calendar page to start shipping it off in January. I seriously doubt I will ever read it again.

Does that surprise you?

I was talking to a friend the other day and I told her that I don’t read my books after they are published and she was amazed. Why not? she said. I could only shrug and say that I don’t really know other than I’ve already read the book a dozen times by its release date, and that it’s hard to read it after publication and be totally okay with it. I am thinking there would be too many little things I would do differently, change up, change back. Change.

Once you release a printed book into the wild, it really does feel like it’s now out of your hands. An electronic file can be amended now and then; if I really wanted to change something in the one book I have on Kindle Direct Publishing, I could. But that just seems weird to me; to be continually revising a printed novel that has already been released into its own time and space. A work of non-fiction, like a textbook or a how-to or self-help, can and most likely should be revised, as the pertinent facts and figures change. But a story is a story.  Wouldn’t it be odd if Ernest Hemingway could somehow revise A FAREWELL TO ARMS from beyond the grave? If he could, and he did, I’d read it and probably be irked. Because it wouldn’t be the story I read way back when he first released it.SOSB_type_4

Were I to read a book of mine after the ink is dry I might love it less, promote it less ardently, worry more over what I could have done, should have done. It’s been said that a poet never finishes a poem. There’s just comes a point when he or she must abandon it.  It’s the same with novels, especially when you are on a contracted deadline. The day comes when you just have to say, “It’s done.”

I think it’s probably wise that we authors don’t routinely read our books after publication; at least I think I am in the majority here. I would love to hear what fellow authors think and do.  I don’t know what there is to be gained by re-reading one, unless I couldn’t remember its details. But that has never happened to me.

So what do you all think? Fellow writers, what do you do? Readers, what is your take on this? I would love to hear from you!