Category: books

Want to be on the Secrets Deam Tream?

In just three months Secrets of a Charmed Life will hit bookstore shelves. The release of a new book into the wild is always a thrilling time –for lots of reasons. I am always eager to hear back from readers, hopeful that they will tell me they like what I’ve written, and I’m always anxious that the book will do well out there in the big, wide world of other books!

coverface_edited-1After ten years at this, I’ve seen that one of the best ways to promote a new book is by direct word-of-mouth. People trust the people they know. And booklovers especially trust the opinions of other booklovers. Which is why I am looking to form a Dream Team of ten of my reading community members who will help get the word out on this book, starting in January and continuing on into the first part of February.

Dream Team members will receive an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Secrets of Charmed Life two months ahead of the general public, plus already-prepared content for Facebook and Twitter posts, as well as a signed, final copy of the book when it releases February 3, and a special gift from me that will include British tea, scones and jam (the book is set in London during World War II), plus my heartfelt thanks.

Dream Team members will agree to read the advance copy of the book (so that you can adequately share about it), post a short or long review to GoodReads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, commit to six or more social media posts on Facebook and/or Twitter between January 1 and February 15 related to the book (content can be provided if you wish). If you are a Dream Team member who blogs, I’d like to be your guest for a Q and A and to give away a copy of the book to one of your followers.

To apply to be on the team, just email me at susanlmeissner at gmail dot com with your name, where you live, how many Twitter followers and Facebook connections you have, your blog address if you have one, and just a sentence or two about why you would like to be on the Secrets of a Charmed Life Dream Team. I need to hear from you by Saturday, Nov 29. I will make the selections right away and let you know by Monday, Dec. 1. The ARCs will go out that week. I am open to having to dream members residing in Canada and Great Britain as well as the USA.

I hope this sounds like fun and that you will consider throwing your name into the ring! As always, I am so grateful to have you in my life and reading community!

All the best,

Susan

Time is a slippery thing…

I’ve a fondness for stories about ordinary people facing the extraordinary crucible that was World War II. Some of the novels that have left the biggest impression on me have been set in this time period; which is perhaps why my next novel, out in February has as its primary setting London in 1940.  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr may well be my new favorite.

Malo

St. Malo on the Brittany coast today…

Marie Laure, blind since she was six, lives with her father in Paris, where he is keeper of the locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her father builds her a model of their neighborhood so that can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her cane. But when the Germans occupy Paris, Marie and father flee to the home of a great-uncle on the Brittany coast and her father builds a new model village of their temporary home in St. Malo. Meanwhile in Germany, an orphan named Werner becomes adept at building and fixing radios, earning him a place at a military academy to train young Nazi soldiers, and eventually a skilled hunter of Resistance fighters.

The composition of this novel in short, alternating chapters that were sometimes interspersed with obvious interludes from the coming finale, was masterful. I couldn’t wait for the day to end so that I could crawl into bed with it and read before turning in.

When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking on it. It’s that kind of book. Hauntingly sad and yet beautiful. I’ve read a number of World War II books that still resonate with me long after I’ve read them – books like Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, Stones From the River by Ursula Hegy, and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is definitely in the company of these other books. Not every novel about war can leave you feeling completely satisfied – it’s war – but I can say that this book left me breathless with its stellar and intoxicating prose.

Here are a few quotes to leave you with:

“Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.”

“We rise again in the grass. In the flowers. In songs.”

“A line comes back to Marie-Laure from Jules Verne: Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”

“To really touch something, she is learning—the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Etymology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr. Geffard’s workshop—is to love it.”

What a decade!

WTSIB_edited-1

Ten years ago, I went from having a dream to living it. From the time I was a teenager, I had dreamed of writing novels, but surprisingly what I wanted to do most became the most easy thing to put off doing. The list of reasons was endless. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know enough. I was too busy raising kids. And then I was too busy at the newspaper where I was editor. It took the death of my Papa, my dad’s dad and every kid’s dream of grandpa, to shake me up enough to stop making excuses. He died in 2002 at the age 0f 84. I was 42. My life felt half-over because it was. I didn’t want to come to the end of my days having never even tried to write a novel.  I wrote Why the Sky is Blue in 2002, searched for a publisher for a year, got picked up by Harvest House Publishers in 2003, and in 2004 – ten years ago – my first book was published. I have been writing them ever since.

This book about a mother and her two daughters (the first being a much-loved, wanted child, and the second, the surprise result of a brutal assault), sadly didn’t stay in print as the years went by. Since it was published before the true advent of e-books, when it disappeared from the marketplace, it ceased to exist outside of personal libraries and secondhand bookstores.

But two days ago, this sleeping book was resurrected.  For the first time in its ten-year history it became available as an e-book exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle Select, with a beautiful new cover. (I loved the original cover by the way, but it was not mine to continue using, only the words inside still belong to me).Why the Sky is Blue sm final

I knew from the get-go people would wonder why I chose Kindle Select. I did this for a couple reasons, the key one being discoverability. Kindle Select will allow me to host special promotions from time to tome that will highly increase my visibility in the netherworld of indie-published e-books. I am hoping that having Why the Sky is Blue for a great price on a very visible platform, including Kindle Unlimited, will mean more readers will discover me and my other novels.

And the cool thing is, anyone with a smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer can read a Kindle book because the Kindle app is free.  You can get the Kindle app for your iPhone or iPad in seconds! I may choose at a later date to dis-enroll the book from this program and publish to all the other formats, which is another benefit. I am not locked into it. My hope is I will gain many, many new readers by using Kindle Select at this time for this book.

I made very few changes in the book as I prepared the old file for its new life as an e-book. Reading this book again for this first time in probably nine years was sentimental, and I was reminded how scary and wonderful it was to attempt to weave 80,000 words of story together.  Coming across quotes like these was nostalgic in all kinds of good ways.

“Sometimes asking God for a reason for something is like asking Him why the sky is blue. There is a complex, scientific reason for it, Claire, but most children, including you, are content with knowing it is blue because it is. If we understood everything about everything, we would have no need for faith.”

I hope you will avail yourself of the opportunity to read it again or read it for the first time.  Perhaps you remember reading it way back when and can tell me what it was about it that made you want to keep hanging out with me! Because I am so glad you did. THANK YOU, thank you for being a part of my writing life. You really are the reason I love to tell a story…

Not your average mystery

gone-girl-book-cover-medI love a good mystery. Mysteries and me go way back. All the way back to adolescence and Nancy Drew.  I like trying to figure out whodunit before I get to the end of the book and I am always as thrilled as I am disappointed when I’ve gotten it wrong.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is quite possibly the most cleverly constructed mystery I’ve ever read.  It’s more than a mystery actually. It’s a study in human character, a look into the mind of a flawed genius.

Tana French, New York Times bestselling author of Into the Woods said of it: “Gone Girl is one of the best—and most frightening—portraits of psychopathy I’ve ever read. Nick and Amy manipulate each other—with savage, merciless and often darkly witty dexterity. This is a wonderful and terrifying book about how the happy surface normality and the underlying darkness can become too closely interwoven to separate.”

It’s hard to get wonderful and terrifying in the same sentence when you’re talking about a book.  But I would concur.  The writing is masterful, the plot is psychologically chilling.

The premise of Gone Girl is this:  “On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?”

The trailer for the movie looks wonderfully terrifying, as it were. My book club and I are already planning to go see it and then come come home to our normal lives and thank God in heaven none of us are married to a genius psychopath. If you read the book, be prepared for pervasive language. If you’re easily offended, it’s not the book for you.  I leave with the trailer so you can see for yourself hints of what the story on film will look like. It releases the first part of October. I am most interested to see how the screenplay will let us get into the heads of these characters. It was their inner thoughts that were most amazingly shocking. If you’ve read it, I’d like to hear what you thought…

 

New from Lisa Wingate & a giveaway

WingatecoverIt is my distinct pleasure to welcome my dear friend Lisa Wingate to the blog today to celebrate and chat about her new book, The Story Keeper. Lisa is a gifted storyteller, so believe me when I say you will want to read to the end to see how you can be in on the drawing for a signed copy of this wonderful book. Lisa’s books have held positions on many bestseller lists, both in the U.S. and internationally. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, an Oklahoma Book Award finalist, a Christianity Today Book Award nominee, an Inspy Award nominee, a two-time Carol Award winner, among others. Lisa can be found on her website and also as a regular contributer to the SouthernBelleView Daily blog. And now for the chat!

Lisa, every book has something for us in the way of a lesson. “The Story Keeper” is a powerful tale. What are the lessons behind the book?

In many ways, The Story Keeper is an examination of self-identity. It’s about the many masks we wear, where those masks come from, and whether we can leave them behind and become fully authentic. So often, in rejecting the roles our childhood experiences have taught us, we only put on other masks. In the story, Jen believes she has left behind the girl who was raised in poverty in Appalachia and forced to comply with the harsh and cultish practices of the tiny Church Of The Brethren Saints. But in reality, even hundreds of miles away in New York city working her dream job as an editor, Jen’s in hiding from her past and all the painful questions of her childhood.

When she discovers the partial manuscript of The Story Keeper on her desk, she comes face-to-face with the tale of a young girl living a similar life over 100 years ago. That discovery breaches the mask. What Jen really finds in that manuscript isn’t the story of a 16-year-old Melungeon girl trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the century; it’s her own story. That’s why Jen is compelled to go back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of the rest of the story. She’s looking for her own truth, for the self she abandoned due to the wounds of her childhood.

The Appalachian setting becomes almost a character in the book. Why did you set the book there?WingatePisgahMtnA

Appalachia is a place where the air fairly whispers with stories. So much of the world has grown too fast paced these days, too busy for sitting and listening, too preoccupied with the future to devote effort to retelling the past. But in Appalachian culture, there’s still a reverence for it. There are still storytellers who can entertain a crowd at a ramshackle café, on a back porch or at the kitchen table over coffee. That tradition of the passing down of stories is part of The Story Keeper.

Appalachia is filled with mist and mystery. It lends mood to a story. The mountains are dotted with isolated communities where people can live differently, undisturbed by outsiders. It’s also the place where mysterious “little races” like the Melungeons lived historically, and in some cases still do. I knew that the historical tale of Sarra would have to do with her Melungeon blood and the myths, legends and prejudices that sort of heritage would bring. Even today, the heritage of “blue-eyed Indians” discovered in the Appalachians by the first English and French explorers remains a mystery. What were the origins of their Caucasian blood? Were they descendants of shipwrecked sailors? Journeying Norsemen or Turks? The progeny of the Lost Colonists who vanished from Roanoke Island without a trace, decades before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock? The mystery fascinated me, and it pulled the story from me, and yes, the place became a character in itself in the book.

This new novel tells a story within a story, as did your last novel in the series, The Prayer Box. These are my favorite kinds of stories to read – and to write! Do you find dual-time frame novels a challenge to write?

It’s always a challenge to balance dual time frames and a story within a story. It falls in the category of double-the-work and double-the-risk, but also double-the-fascination and double-the-reward. There’s twice as much research, but in doubling the research, you also discover twice as many interesting historical facts, unanswered questions, and nearly-forgotten bits of history. Those things weave new threads into the story loom. For me, the biggest challenge was balancing the two stories, ensuring that both would be fully satisfying, and that the historical story would serve a purpose in modern-day characters’ lives.

WingatePubPic2014-3So, how did you write 20 books in 12 years with a family to take care of?

I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t get serious about freelance writing and selling until after I’d graduated college, married, and started a family. I wrote and sold various smaller projects in between naps, diapers, and playgroups. And when the boys were older, during soccer practices, in carpool lines, while helping with homework, and in all sorts of other situations.

People often ask me if I need quiet in order to write. With boys in the house, if I’d waited for quiet, the writing would never have happened. I learned to lose myself in a story amid the noise of life and I loved it that way. I asked myself what makes a story last, what really makes a story worth telling and worth reading? I wanted to write books that meant something, that explore the human soul.

One day, I came across a notebook in which I’d written some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d never known quite what to do with those stories, but I knew they were significant in my life. When I rediscovered the notebook, I had the idea of combining my grandmother’s real stories with a fictional family who is like and unlike my own family. That little germ of an idea became my first women’s fiction novel, Tending Roses.

Now that the boys are grown and the house is quiet, I’m redefining the writing routine again. Just as in books, life is a series of scenes and sequels, beginnings and endings, and new discoveries.

Can you give us a sample from the first page of the book?

This is the glory hour. This is the place the magic happens.

The thought fell quietly into place, like a photographer’s backdrop unfurling behind the subject of a portrait. Its shimmering folds caught my attention, bringing to mind a bit of advice from Wilda Culp, the person without whom I would’ve ended up somewhere completely different. Someplace tragic.

It’s strange how one person and a handful of stories can alter a life.WingateOldHomestead

The trick, Jennia Beth Gibbs, is to turn your face to the glory hours as they come. I heard it again, her deep-raspy Carolina drawl playing the unexpected music of a bygone day. The saddest thing in life is to see them only as they flit away.

They’re always a passing thing. . . .

My first afternoon in the war room at Vida House Publishing was a glory hour. I felt it, had an inexplicable knowing of it, even before George Vida shuffled in the door and took his place at the head of the table to begin the weekly pub board meeting—my first at Vida House. This meeting would be different from all other such gatherings I’d attended over the past ten years at a half-dozen companies, in a half-dozen skyscrapers, in and about Manhattan.

There was magic in the air here.

George Vida braced his hands on the table before taking his seat, his gaze strafing the room with the discernment of a leathery old goat sniffing for something to nibble on. His survey paused momentarily on the pile of aging envelopes, manuscript boxes, and rubber-band-wrapped papers at the far end of the conference room. The odd conglomeration, among so many other things, was Vida House’s claim to fame—a curiosity I’d only heard about until today. One of the few remaining actual slush piles in all of New York City, perhaps in all of publishing. In the age of e-mail communication, paper-and-print slush piles had quietly gone the way of the dinosaurs…

Delish! Readers, for a chance to win a signed copy of The Story Keeper, just leave a comment below by answering this question: Have you ever been in a place that seemed to whisper stories, like Lisa said of the Appalachians? Tell us where! Those that answer will have their names put in a hat and random.org will draw a winner at 10 AM Pacific on Sept. 12. Good luck and I can’t wait to hear your places. Mine is Ellis Island….

 

Driftwood Tides by Gina Holmes

driftwoodtidesI am so happy to welcome to the blog today, my good friend, fellow novelist, and blogger extraordinaire, Gina Holmes, to talk about her newest release, Driftwood Tides. Gina is the founder of popular literary site, novelrocket.com. She is a two-time Christy and ECPA Book of the Year finalist and winner of the INSPY, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award. Her books regularly appear on Christian bestseller lists.

Gina, tell us a little bit about your newest release, Driftwood Tides.

Driftwood Tides is the story of an aging, alcoholic driftwood artist turned beach bum, Holton Creary, and young Libby Slater. Libby grew up with an absent father and a loving but cold, socialite mother. Leading up to her wedding, Libby and her groom-to-be go through genetic testing and she learns her blood type doesn’t match either of her parents. She confronts her mother and is reluctantly told that she’s adopted. She goes searching for her mother, Adele, only to find her husband, Holton Creary lying face down on the carpet of his Nags Head beach shack.

She lies about her real identity until she is finally found out. Holton does not welcome the news. He never knew the wife he had given saint status to had given up a daughter for adoption. Together the two search to find the truth about Adele, Libby’s father and themselves.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

At its heart, Driftwood Tides is really about discovering who we are, whose we are, where we belong and the need to accept and bestow forgiveness.

Why did you set the novel in Nags Head?sunrise-over-the-dunes

Oh, how I love that place! I’m not sure there’s a more peaceful setting in all the world. And the further out I get from civilization, the happier I am. I love the sand dunes, the untouched nature, the quaint towns. Just everything! (Well, except sand in my bathing suit maybe J)

You seem to have a recurring theme in your novels about absent fathers, if it’s not too personal, why do you think that is?

 It is too personal, but I don’t mind answering (wink!) When I was 6 years old, I was packed up by my stepfather and driven to my father’s house. Overnight I had a new Mom, new sisters and brother, house and life. It was as traumatic an experience as I can imagine. There were few explanations that made sense to me and I missed my other family desperately. I think ever since I’ve been trying to settle some pretty deep-seated questions. Writing books is wonderful for that.

The first novel I read of yours, Crossing Oceans, is still a fan-favorite. Do you ever see yourself writing a sequel?

Crossing Oceans I love that book too. Makes me cry just thinking about certain scenes. I would love to write a sequel, prequel or off shoot stories. I love those characters dearly. I’m under contract for three different novels, so I’m not sure when I’ll have the time, but I’d love to explore Craig’s story and of course, Bella’s. I miss Mama Peg very much!

You’ve said that your favorite novel you’ve written is Wings of Glass – I loved that one, too. Why is that one your favorite?

Well, for storyline, I think Crossing Oceans is the strongest. I think my writing in Wings of Glass was my best, plus when I was very young I watched my mother in one abusive relationship after another, and then two of my sisters. I had been there too, despite thinking I was better than that. I know the mindset that keeps a woman (or man) in a relationship like that and I wanted to give insight to those who don’t understand. I’ve received enough letters to know I did what I set out to do.

You’re originally from NJ but write all your novels from the South, why do you set your novels down South if you’re from up North?

 Ha, you found me out! Yes, I was born and raised in NJ. As much as I love my friends and family, I am definitely more suited for the slower pace of the South. I’ve lived in Southern VA for half of my life and I plan to spend the rest of my life here if I can help it. I try to write books from settings that make me happy. So I write where I want to be. (Although, I’ve got to say, NJ food is amazing and you’ve got to love a boisterous NJ laugh!)

What do you like most about being a writer? Least?ginacolortiltsmall

Most, I like being able to have a platform to share lessons I’ve learned in my life that I know others would benefit from. And more than that, I just love to tell a good story.

Least, would be the unpredictability of the business. Sometimes it seems so random and the lack of control makes me uncomfortable sometimes. (Which is probably right where God wants me!)

 Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

My advice is pretty much always the same. 1. Write. So many people want to have written but don’t actually do the work. 2. Get to a writers conference because there’s so much you don’t know, that you don’t even know you don’t know. If you don’t you’ll be spinning your wheels for years, wasting valuable time. 3. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and buy yourself a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Then apply it. (Best money I ever spent!) 4. Join a good critique group and get a nice thick skin, ‘cause you’re sure going to need it!

If you could go back to the pre-published writer you were, knowing what you do now, what advice would you give her?

Well, I wouldn’t have told myself how many novels I’d write that would never see the light of day, because I would have given up. I wouldn’t have told myself how little money there is actually to be made or how lonely writing can sometimes be. I wouldn’t have told myself that I’d still have a day job with 4 novels out in stores, including 3 bestselling novels… okay, but that wasn’t your question… I would tell myself to relax. Some of this, most of this is, is out of your hands, and that’s okay. It’s not going to be at all what you think it is, but it’s going to be so much more. You won’t get rich, but you will touch lives. At the end of the day, that’s going to be exactly what will fulfill you.

Where can readers find your books and more about you?

Thanks for asking. My books are in B&N, BooksaMillion, Amazon, Lifeway, Parable, Family Christian and hopefully a good number of independent bookstores. You can find me at Ginaholmes.com. Thanks so much for hosting me!

Susan here: Thanks for being here, Gina!

 

When the past and present collide

ThiefofGLoryI’ve long been a fan of fiction that dovetails a historical story with a contemporary framework. I like reading books with this kind of construction and I like writing them.  When I was asked to read an advance copy of my friend Sigmund Brouwer’s THIEF OF GLORY, and was told that it was a WWII story framed by the current day, I said yes immediately. I’m a fan of Sigmund’s style, have been since his BROKEN ANGEL a few years back. It wasn’t hard to come up with glowing words for Thief of Glory. This one was unputdownable on so many levels.  Here’s just a bit about the book:

Jeremiah Prins was the 12-year-old son of a school headmaster in the Dutch East Indies when Holland declared war on the Japanese in 1941. In retaliation, the Japanese army invaded, and Jeremiah and his family were placed in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp; a hell on earth as all war camps are. After the war he finds himself in California, where he struggles with lingering anger and anguish from his experiences and the decisions he made.

In the present day, a now-elderly Jeremiah tries to make sense of his life by journaling all that his children do not know about his past, intending to leave his writings as an apology after he is gone. An online encounter puts Jeremiah in touch with his true love from the war years, Laura, and when they meet again, long-buried secrets are unearthed that will surprise and shock you, and ultimately endear this wounded soul to you.

Before reading Thief of Glory, I had no idea what the war was like for the Dutch residents living in what had been Dutch-occupied Indonesia. The novel was eye-opening to say the least. As with other books I’ve read with young protagonists dealing with the harsh realities of adults at war (The Book Thief, Sarah’s Key, Diary of A Young Girl, Stones from the River) this one yanked fiercely on my mother-heart and left me astonished at what war expects of the children swept up into its maelstrom.

The book won’t be released until mid-August but I suggest you put it on your To Be Bought list and then most definitely on your To Be Read pile. You will be moved, appalled, changed.

 

Simple voices, complex story

chinadollsI fell in love with Lisa See’s writing with Snowflower and the Secret Fan back when my book club read it in 2008. I’ve read every book she’s written since then and loved them all (even Peony in Love; a desperately sad story and yet still the prose delighted me). I compare all her books to Snowflower and have never come as close to saying I loved any new book of hers as much as that one until now. China Dolls, hot off the press, was a fascinating read, set in a time period I am currently researching for my own writing, and one that stayed with me long after I turned the last page. I wish I could give it 4 1/2 stars on the GoodReads system.

Here’s just a bit about it, from the novel’s BookList review: “The lives of three young Chinese-American women—Grace, Helen, and Ruby—intersect in valuable and often violent ways in pre-WWII San Francisco as they shed their drab former lives to become glamorous entertainers at the city’s rising hot spot, the Forbidden City nightclub. Despite their divergent backgrounds, a mutual desire to shatter the cultural stereotypes that doom them to lives of familial subservience feeds their ambition to prosper in a world in which the definition of success changes minute by minute. Though they’ve taken a ‘one for all’ vow of eternal loyalty, each harbors secrets that cause a pervasive atmosphere of distrust to simmer just below the surface. When Ruby is revealed to actually be of Japanese heritage and deported to an internment camp, their friendships and fortunes suffer a mortal blow, one that only deepens as the war rages on. In her impeccably researched and distinctive historical saga of desire and ambition… See again lavishly explores the thorny intricacies of female friendships.”

The book is written in first person point-of-view with alternating narrators, which I happen to love for story construction. The voices of Ruby, Grace, and Helen are distinctive and believable. I admit I was taken aback at first by the storytelling skills of these women, and the less-than-lyrical quality of their narration. I like to be whisked away by a character’s literary voice and these women possess what I can only describe as ordinary voices. I had to remind myself that they aren’t the Bronte sisters. They are showgirls and I would guess the voices Lisa See gave them to tell us their story had to be these. If these young women were to sit across from you in a coffee shop and tell you their story as they had lived it, this is how they would tell it.

Lisa at Warwicks. See the blonde chick on the right holding up a book with a yellow sticky note attached? I am pretty sure that's me...

Lisa at Warwicks. See the blonde chick on the right holding up a book with a yellow sticky note attached? I am pretty sure that’s me…

I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Lisa speak about China Dolls at Warwicks Books. Getting the background on how these characters were fleshed and formed in her creative mind was intensely interesting for me, not just as a reader but as a writer, too. In addition to peopling her books with multi-layered characters, Lisa is a master researcher; reading one of her books is like suddenly becoming smarter about culture and history. If you get the chance to hear Lisa speak about any of her books, you should take it.

Did I love it as much as Snowflower. Well, no. But is it up there among my top Lisa See books? Very much so.

Why the Sky is Still Blue

Me, ten years ago in the summer of 2004, when the first copies of Why the Sky is Blue arrived on my doorstep.

Me, ten years ago in the summer of 2004, when the first copies of Why the Sky is Blue arrived on my doorstep.

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2004, something big happened that changed the course of my life career-wise. My first novel, Why the Sky is Blue, was released by Harvest House Publishers. Up to that point I’d been a newspaper editor, even though I was in my forties and had dreamed of writing a novel since high school.

The euphoria of those early days of my life as a novelist (finally!)  are still fresh on my mind a decade later. I remember getting the email from an editorial assistant at Harvest House that one of the fiction editors had seen my proposal and wanted to see the full manuscript. I remember Nick Harrison emailing me around Labor Day of 2003, introducing himself to me and telling me he was going to be reading the manuscript for Why the Sky is Blue that weekend.  I remember the day he told me he was taking the book to the publishing committee and the day he told me that pubco said yes, and that I would be offered a two-book contract. I remember the heady moment when I did an Amazon search and found my name listed as an author before the book ever came out. And I remember this moment pictured above, when the street copies arrived on my doorstep and I opened the boxes and held the book in my hands for the first time.

I had never taken a writing class beyond high school, I hadn’t majored in writing in college, and I didn’t have an agent. Not then anyway. So much has changed since that day ten years ago. I do have an agent now, and I’ve not only taken some writing workshops, I have taught many. I’ve 16 books to my name and can’t see stopping. It’s been a wonderful, scary, thrilling, frustrating, humbling, affirming career-change. There’s nothing else I’d rather do with my work-day.

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WHY THE SKY IS BLUE was the book that started it all ten years ago…

Why the Sky is Blue was printed before the advent of ebooks and sadly went out of print before the advent of ebooks. There are a few print copies floating around but the book by and large is out of circulation and has been for quite awhile. I am happy to say that I’ve had the rights reverted to me and I am in the process of shaping up the very old Word doc that is this book and preparing it for a re-release later this year. A beautiful new e “cover” has been designed for it and I’m going through the sentences line by line, tightening up the prose here and there to make it the best I can without messing with the integrity of the original paragraphs. I will keep you informed of the progress and I hope to announce a soon-to-be-released date for the electronic version of Why the Sky is Blue very soon. In the meantime, raise a glass, grab some cake or a cookie or a carrot stick, and let’s toast to the ten-year-anniversary of a little novel that started something big.

And thanks for being alongside me on this journey. I wouldn’t have wanted to travel it without you…

Friday book recommendation

Still Alice coverI, like perhaps many others, have a mental list of a few of the ways I don’t want to Go Out.

I don’t want to be eaten by a shark. I don’t want to be inside a burning house. I don’t want to be buried in alive. I don’t want to drown. And I don’t want to slowly disappear courtesy of Alzheimer’s.

I really am not afraid of death, it’s the dying part that scares me. And to have my mortal life taken from me as slowly as Alzheimer’s does it? That is something I hope is not in my future.   Even so, I do recommend Lisa Genova’s stunning novel, STILL ALICE, about a brilliant university professor who is diagnosed with this disease. The story reads like the woman’s memoir; as if you are right there inside a mind that is slowly erasing itself.

The book is also being made into a movie with Julianne Moore staring in the title role. Filming began just a few months ago so the release is a ways off yet, but I am looking forward to seeing it, even though it will surely have a Jaws-like effect on me. If you’ve seen the movie Jaws – and really, who hasn’t? – then you will know what I mean about seeing a movie and wanting that to never, ever to happen to you.

Interestingly enough, Lisa is a Harvard-trained neuroscientist, not a writer. She self-pubbed STILL ALICE and  sold it out of the trunk of her car for almost a year before it was bought at auction by Simon & Schuster. It has gone on to win the 2008 Bronte Prize, was nominated for 2010 Indies Choice Debut Book of the Year, and spent over 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 25 languages. That it resonates with people is an understatement. None of us wants to feel ourselves being subtracted from life bit by agonizing bit.

Two of my favorite parts:

“You’re so beautiful,” said Alice. “I’m afraid of looking at you and not knowing who you are.”
“I think that even if you don’t know who I am someday, you’ll still know that I love you.”
“What if I see you, and I don’t know that you’re my daughter, and I don’t know that you love me?”
“Then, I’ll tell you that I do, and you’ll believe me.”

***

“I have no control over which yesterdays I keep and which ones get deleted. This disease will not be bargained with. I can’t offer it the names of the US presidents in exchange for the names of my children. I can’t give it the names of state capitals and keep the memories of my husband.
…My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I’ll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today doesn’t matter.”

This book will make you fall to your knees in gratitude that you can remember the why of everything that matters to you.