Interview with Callie Bates, Author of The Waking Land

We’re so excited today to be talking with Callie Bates about her upcoming debut novel, The Waking Land.

Please describe what your book is about.

THE WAKING LAND is about a young woman, raised as a hostage, who is pressured by the father she barely remembers to lead a rebellion against the king who virtually raised her, using a magic she’s spent her life repressing.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“The plants sit about me in their pots, a collision of greens; if I listen hard I can hear them breathing, hear the sturdy effort of drinking sunlight.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

That it has powerful, earthy, forbidden magic and daring escapes and ancient stone circles and revolution. That I was going to put it away, but the heroine’s voice kept me awake at night, demanding I write it again. So I did!

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned that I am very, very stubborn. OK, to be honest, that was not really a revelation…

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

It’s going to be about four years, if you count it from the very first draft with no breaks in between. I actually wrote an initial version in 9 months in 2013, received an R&R from the agent I now work with, and eventually ended up doing a 2-3 month complete overhaul of the book (so, I didn’t work on it continuously). We accepted the publisher’s offer in spring 2015, and the book is slated to come out summer 2017.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I’ve learned to really love revision. I love clarifying my ideas and themes from the rough draft, but the most satisfying moments come from really digging into the characters’ emotional arcs and evolution. As a reader, I strongly connect to emotion, so I’m trying to be more “vulnerable” as a writer. But I also have lots of fun building a pacey plot and, particularly, developing a sense of place on the page. Of course, the best part of writing is when all these elements come together—that’s the magic!

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

In a very broad sense, the book emerged from the (perhaps unlikely) intersection of climate change, Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, Jacobite rebellions, and Neolithic monuments—all united by a female narrator struggling to understand her own power and place in the world. Oh, and poisonous fungi…

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

I think best outside while hiking or running, or while taking a bath, or just before I fall asleep. Occasionally I have to talk aloud to myself like a crazy person. But sometimes ideas do come to me while I’m staring in mounting anxiety at my outline, thank goodness!

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I have the same birthday as Harry Potter. But I think I’m more of the Hermione sort of Gryffindor… Gryffinclaw, perhaps?

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” That Picasso quote kicked me out of my endless loop of rather self-indulgent perfectionism (which was really tedious, btw), and continually reminds me that I don’t have to wait for “the muse” to speak. She speaks once I start working.

What’s next?

The sequel!
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THE WAKING LAND

In the lush and magical tradition of Naomi Novik’s award-winning Uprooted comes this riveting debut from brilliant young writer Callie Bates—whose boundless imagination places her among the finest authors of fantasy fiction, including Sarah J. Maas and Sabaa Tahir.

Lady Elanna is fiercely devoted to the king who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder—and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition—powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

Advance Praise:

“Callie Bates has written an exciting and involving first book, and she is clearly a writer of real talent.”—Terry Brooks

“A heartbreaking, enchanting, edge-of-the-seat read that held me captive from start to finish!”—Tamora Pierce

The Waking Land is all about rising to challenges, and it succeeds wonderfully.”—Charlaine Harris

“A simmering tale of magic that builds to a raging inferno, and hits like a cross between Brandon Sanderson and Pierce Brown.”—Scott Sigler

Available in June, 2017 from Del Rey.

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Interview with Haley Harrigan, Author of Secrets of Southern Girls

Today, we’re chatting with Haley Harrigan about her novel Secrets of Southern Girls.

Please describe what your book is about. 

Secrets of Southern Girls is about a woman who believes she killed her best friend when they were teenagers. When she learns there could be more to the story, she leaves her home in New York and returns to her Southern hometown to get to the truth of what really happened that night. But she finds more than she bargained for.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

It’s not your fault she’s dead. It’s the same thing Julie has told herself, over and over, for ten years. But it’s a lie, and she knows it.”

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

So many things! I learned that being a writer has nothing to do with whether or not your work is ever published. I learned that I have to write in order to feel complete. I also learned to be more comfortable with writing storylines and scenes that aren’t all hearts and unicorns and butterflies. Writing some of the grittier, more “grown-up” content (hello, sex scenes!) of SOSG pushed me way out of my comfort zone, and yet, I think the scenes I was less comfortable with writing turned out to be some of the best in the book.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

It’s complicated! I first started toying with the idea that became SECRETS OF SOUTHERN GIRLS about ten years ago, but I went through phases where I got distracted (or decided it was terrible) and put it away for months—even years—at a time. I finished an imperfect version about five years ago, polished from there, got my agent in spring of 2015, and sold my book in December of that year.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

Character interviews. I love getting to know my new (imaginary) friends!

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

Eavesdropping on my mother, who was gossiping with a friend of hers about a girl they’d known in high school who was involved in a scandalous relationship.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

On vacation or relaxing in the sunshine, when my day job and other distractions feel far away.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I’m a sucker for good fanfiction. I’m huge Joss Whedon fan, and I’ve even written a few Whedonverse fanfics. It’s a fun stress reliever.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Stop talking about it and do it. Put it on paper.

What’s next? 

My second novel is currently in the works. It’s about a woman who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a local college boy. It’s a little dark and creepy. That’s all I can say about it for now!

SECRETS OF SOUTHERN GIRLS

Ten years ago, Julie Portland accidentally killed her best friend, Reba. What’s worse is she got away with it. Consumed by guilt, she left the small town of Lawrence Mill, Mississippi, and swore nothing would ever drag her back. Now, raising her daughter and struggling to make ends meet in Manhattan, Julie still can’t forget the ghost of a girl with golden hair and a dangerous secret.

When August, Reba’s first love, begs Julie to come home to find the diary that Reba kept all those years ago, Julie’s past comes creeping back to haunt her. That diary could expose the shameful memories Julie has been running from, but it could also unearth the hidden truths that Reba left buried…and reveal that Julie isn’t the only one who feels responsible for Reba’s death.

Available June 6th from Sourcebooks Landmark.

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Interview with Ricki Schultz, Author of Mr. Right-Swipe

Today, Ricki Schultz discusses her debut novel, Mr. Right-Swipe.

Please describe what the story is about.

Boy meets Girl. Boy ghosts Girl. Girl decides to just die alone.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

It’s a Tale of #LeftSwipes, #NotMyTypes, and #Vodka.

What do you want people to know about your book?

It’s a wryly humorous take on the crazycakes world that is modern dating.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned that there is a reason I keep dating! To sell books!

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

The writing was spread out over the course of about nine months, but actual writing time was about four months total.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

My favorite part is the actual drafting of the novel, because I tend to plan things out pretty tightly at first. However, when I start getting the words down, the characters always end up taking different turns that surprise me!

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

It came out of a conversation I had with a bunch of married ladies during my friend’s book launch—one of those married ladies being my agent! They were asking me about the dating scene and I was telling them about online dating. I started firing up some apps and showing them the method behind my Left and Right Swipes. They were delighted and horrified. A few days later, my agent called and told me—This is what you should be writing!

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

There isn’t a particular time of day that’s better or worse for me. I just have to be focused. Some people write to music, and that’s not me AT ALL. I’ve got to have a coffee, a juice, and a water on hand; I’ve got to be sitting in my office; and the house needs to be pretty well silent. It’s there at my desk that I might stare into space for a while and think about my WIP. If I’m stuck, I might go for a walk with my dog, pace around my back yard, call someone and talk it through, etc. That all usually does the trick for me.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I spent most of high school and college wanting to be on General Hospital. I used to do a lot of community theatre, and soap opera acting was what I wanted to do when I got out. Now, I spend most of my time wanting to marry Jason Segel.

So I’ve always had big, offbeat, specific goals. Haha!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Read your work out loud. You can catch so many important issues, from errors to cadence and flow, from doing so.

What’s next?

I’m currently working on my next novel, which will also be with Grand Central Publishing. So excited! It’s called SWITCH AND BAIT, and it’s a humorous modern retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, wherein an online dating matchmaker/messaging ghostwriter starts falling for one of her clients’ matches, finding herself in an ethical dilemma.

Do any of the dating experiences in the book come from real life?

Yes, and no. Anyone who has done the online dating thing understands there are certain shared experiences we all have—the catfishing, the ghosting, the guys holding fish (Why are there so many dudes out there brandishing fish? Who are the women who want this??). There are kernels of truth to some of the dating experiences Rae experiences which come from my own personal online dating experiences, sure. But, at the same time, I don’t think any of those people would ever want to admit that! 😉

Website | Amazon

Interview with Kristin Rockaway, Author of The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World

So excited today today to be talking with Kristin Rockaway about her new novel!

Please describe what the story is about.

The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World is about a twenty-something New Yorker with a severe case of wanderlust who questions her prestigious career and perfectly ordered life after meeting a free-spirited American artist in Hong Kong.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“I firmly believe the travel bug isn’t something you catch, but something you’re born with. An inherent trait encoded in your genes, like the color of your eyes or your dominant hand.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

If you’re looking for a quick bit of escapism, The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World is the perfect way to indulge your wanderlust without getting out of your chair. It’s an easy, fun read that should appeal to fans of Sophie Kinsella or The Devil Wears Prada.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned that I’m far more patient and persistent than I’d ever given myself credit for. Publishing is a tough business; to succeed, you have to keep going despite repeated rejections and interminable waits.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

I started drafting this story during NaNoWriMo in 2013, got an offer of publication in February 2015, and my release date is June 6th, 2017. So from draft to pub, it’s been almost four years!

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I love the revision process. After I’ve defined the big picture of the story, it’s fun to get back in there to fine-tune it and make it stronger.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

Travel has always been one of my passions, and writing this story was a way for me to capture the excitement and wonder of exploring the globe. One day, I was flipping through some photos of a trip I took to Hong Kong, and I thought it would be the perfect setting for a whirlwind romance – a bustling city full of flavor and spirit.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

The best ideas inevitably come to me when I’m in the shower, driving my car, or drifting off to sleep. I keep my phone close at hand so I can record them before they float away.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I have a degree in Computer Science and spent fifteen years working as a software developer and IT manager before making the switch to writing fiction.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Use the advice that works for you and ignore the rest. It’s good to learn as much as possible, to attend workshops and read books to help you find new ways of approaching your craft. But there’s no one-size-fits-all piece of advice, and not everything is going feel right to you – and if it doesn’t, it’s okay to ignore it.

What’s next?

I’m torn between a couple of different ideas right now, but they’re both fun, female-focused stories with a chick lit vibe and a healthy dose of romance.

THE WILD WOMAN’S GUIDE TO TRAVELING THE WORLD

Fans of Sophie Kinsella and The Devil Wears Prada will love this smart, sexy debut novel of wanderlust.

Objectively, Sophie is a success: she’s got a coveted job at a top consulting firm, a Manhattan apartment, and a passport full of stamps. It isn’t quite what she dreamed of when she was a teenager dog-earing pages in exotic travel guides, but it’s secure. Then her best friend bails just hours after they arrive in Hong Kong for a girls’ trip, and Sophie meets Carson, a free-spirited, globetrotting American artist.

In the midst of their whirlwind vacation romance, Carson invites Sophie to join him on his haphazard journey around the world. While the brief international jaunts she sneaks in between business trips don’t feel like enough, Sophie is far too practical to throw away her five-year plan on a whim. Yet Carson’s offer forces her to question whether the reliable life she’s chosen is really what she wants–and she soon discovers that his feelings for her run deeper than she realized.

Available June 6, 2017 from Center Street Books

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Interview with Kelly Ford, Author of Cottonmouths

Please describe what the story is about.

In Cottonmouths, a college dropout returns to her hometown and reconnects with the woman she loved as a teen only to become entangled in a backwoods drug operation.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“Her nerves pricked as she drew closer to that familiar plot of land. She came to the end of the road and paused at the faded black mailbox and the metal farm gate that stood wide open. Knots that had begun to cramp her gut told her to turn around, best to let some things lie, but a stronger current of curiosity and what ifs overtook her and she made the turn.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

I’m fascinated by the impacts of class, desperation, and desire in little-seen locales. It’s a world I’m familiar with, having grown up in Arkansas. In Cottonmouths, I followed that obsession but also focused on how it doubly affects a queer woman. In a way, it’s me trying to understand how one person can survive a society that is hell-bent on crushing them. That lends itself to darkness, but that’s how I make sense of the world.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

The hardest lesson was not to shy away from my own discomfort. During the early years of drafting and revision, I struggled with being open about my protagonist’s sexuality – which mirrored my own experience as a queer writer – and buried it under so much nuance it was barely visible. My agent encouraged me to surface my protagonist’s sexuality in a revise and resubmit request. Once I had the courage to write my character more honestly, the story came alive for me.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

13 years. The final draft and the first draft are barely recognizable. Time – and hard work – also heals bad drafts.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I like to write hot, as the saying goes. First drafts are where I discover my story. I like to get messy in my sandbox. I don’t have to please anyone but myself. I can be as ridiculous as I want. That’s a lot of fun.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I had been circling around the idea of love and meth since about 2000. I was addicted to my grandma’s romance novels in junior high and high school, the more tragic the better. And, unfortunately, I’ve been around alcohol and substance abusers much of my life. These elements have always mixed in a lot of the real-life stories of people I know.

All those lovelorn thoughts and the drug and death conversations I’ve had over the years coalesced into a story that eventually became the genesis for Cottonmouths.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

I rely heavily on novel-specific music playlists to put me in the right frame of mind for a scene. Typically, I put one song on repeat and then set out to think. The exercise and fresh air is a nice benefit.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I was a huge choir geek in junior high. I still love to sing, much to the chagrin of my friends and neighbors. I’m a solid alto and have an extremely low singing voice. There are few female-fronted songs I can sing comfortably. But I can sing the hell out of Randy Travis.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

When I’m feeling lost and like my story will never come out on the page as vividly and amazing as it does in my head, I think about this section from James Scott Bell’s book, Revision and Self-Editing:

“Repeat this often: It can be fixed. Neil Simon was once watching a play of his in rehearsal. It was obvious something wasn’t working. The director of the play knew it, too. In the darkness Simon wrote something on a piece of paper and passed it to the director. The note said, I can fix it.

That’s a phrase worth putting up in your writer’s space. Because a writing problem can be fixed. All it takes is tools and experience. And you get both the more you write and revise. Remember that. Any problem can be fixed.”

What’s next?

I’m currently working on another novel and enjoying the debut author ride.

Website | Amazon | BN | Indiebound

“With prose as lyrical and languid as a hot Arkansas summer, Kelly J. Ford explores the myopia of desire―and its tragic aftermath. I found myself torn between wanting to rip through these pages to find out what would happen, and a need to slow down and savor Ford’s sentences. A remarkable debut.” ―Lisa Borders, author of The Fifty-First State

 

Interview with SJ Sindu, Author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies

We’re so happy today to be talking with SJ Sindu, author of the soon-to-be-released, Marriage of a Thousand Lies.

Please describe what the story is about.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is about a Sri-Lankan American lesbian named Lucky who is in a marriage of convenience—that is, she is married to a gay man so that they can both present as straight to their conservative South Asian families. But when Lucky’s girlfriend agrees to an arranged marriage, Lucky’s life of lies starts to unravel.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“The wind feels new, but then again Boston wind always feels new, solid and pregnant with the sea. Windows glow stark yellow against the painted blue of the buildings. The air wraps tight around me. Tomorrow everything will change, or maybe it’s already changed, and I’m just waiting for it to sprout like spring growth. Tomorrow I’ll bring Nisha home, and she’ll belong to no one.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

Marriages of convenience are one way that South Asians and South Asian Americans negotiate homophobia within the community, and even in 2016, it happens far more often that many would realize. This novel tries to capture the agony of living in the closet at a time when mainstream culture is becoming more and more accepting, meaning that more often than not, queer people with conservative families face a choice between leaving their families behind forever, or living a lie. This choice is even more complicated when the person, like Lucky, is dealing with intersecting identities of race, ethnicity and religion.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I was scared to write this book, because the backlash from my family and from the South Asian community at large will be just as dire as the kind of excommunication that Lucky faces in the novel. But something still drove me to write it. Like Lucky, I was tired of the oppressive silence around queerness in South Asian culture. I was tired of being scared. I learned from Lucky how to be braver.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

I started writing the novel during my Masters program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in 2009. I finished it in 2013, spent nine months finding an agent, then another 14 months finding a publisher. I signed the contract with Soho at the beginning of 2016, and the novel will come out in May 2017. So all together, 8 years.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I love being in the trance of voice. When I find the voice of a piece—it’s like everything else falls into place. I’m seduced by voice, as a reader and writer—I find it intoxicating.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

When I was in college, one of my best friends—a gay Indian man—asked me if I would marry him so that we could appease our families. I said no, but the idea kept nagging at me. I wondered, what kind of person would I have had to be to say yes? That’s how Lucky was born.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

I like thinking while doing some sort of physical exercise. Swimming, running, biking. Even just standing in the ocean waves. Some physical activity that is redundant and methodical so that I can tune out and think.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I wasn’t born in the U.S. I was actually born in Sri Lanka, and when I immigrated here at the age of seven, I knew absolutely no English at all. So I’m not as Americanized as my character Lucky, and I can sympathize with both Lucky and her mother in their intergenerational culture war.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Do the work. Put your butt in the chair, and write. Don’t just say you’re going to write, or plan to write, or think about writing. Actually write. Do the work.

What’s next?

Right now I’m revising what I hope will be my second novel (currently titled Blue-Skinned Gods), a faux-memoir about a young boy who becomes the center of a Hindu cult in India.

marriageofathousandlies

MARRIAGE OF A THOUSAND LIES

My parents are the kind of people who talk politics but never mention gay marriage, who watch the news but change the channel at the mention of gayness. Shame, dishonor, embarrassment. Five hundred Sri Lankan Tamil families in the greater Boston area, and not one of them has a gay kid…

Lakshmi, called Lucky, is an unemployed programmer. She likes to dance, to have a drink or two, and she does art on commission. Fifty bucks gets you high-resolution digital images of anything you want (Orcs, mermaids, fan couples in sexy boudoir scenes) and a nice frameable print. Lucky’s husband, Krishna, is an editor for a greeting card company. Both are secretly gay. They present their conservative Sri Lankan-American families with a heterosexual front, while each one secretly dates on the side. When Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her mother’s home to act as caretaker and unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood best friend and first lover, Nisha. Nisha has agreed to an arranged marriage with a man she doesn’t know… but she wants to hook up with Lucky again.

Lucky wants to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie—but does Nisha really want to be saved? And what does Lucky want, anyway? It doesn’t always get better. To live openly means that Lucky would lose most of the community she was born into—a community she loves, an irreplaceable home. As Lucky—an outsider no matter what choices she makes—is pushed to the breaking point, MARRIAGE OF A THOUSAND LIES offers a moving exploration of friendship, family, and love, shot through with humor and loss.

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I love Lucky, the unforgettable narrator of Marriage of a Thousand Lies. She has taken a place among my favorite misfits in literature, a young woman longing for love and tradition and celebration and family even as she defies expectations and navigates her own paths. I’m especially captivated by the novel’s honesty and tenderness – SJ Sindu is such an intuitive writer with such great insights into the complications of love and friendship. – Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola

Interview with Jill Hannah Anderson​, Author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club

 

Please describe what the story is about.

​ ​A newly-empty nester with a comatose marriage, loses her three friends in a car crash. Struggling on her own, she reaches out to women in the To-Hell-And-Back Club, hoping they’ll help resuscitate her life.

​ ​The To-Hell-And-Back Club is an inspiring book that reminds us that it’s never too late to start over, and that living a life of regrets is no life at all.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

​If you don’t understand the need for the “Hell Club”, then you just haven’t lived long enough.​

What do you want people to know about your book?

Most women will be able to relate to this book which focuses on the importance of friends who help get us through the rough spots in life.​

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

​How important my friends have been to me over the years. I have no sisters, so I am extra thankful for my girlfriends.​

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

About four years, working on it part-time off and on (but thinking about it full-time!), until the book was accepted for publication.​

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

​I really enjoy creating characters, thinking I’ve made them well-rounded people, and then finding out they end up doing things in the story that surprise me. Yes, I know, you’d think I had better control over them!​

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

My best friend had been struggling both health-wise and emotionally, and I  was “losing” her. Four of us women had done so much together over the years, and I asked myself what I’d do if I lost all three of them. ​She passed away the year after I started writing this book, which fueled my desire to see it through to publication.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

When I’m walking or running. ​Knowing my memory isn’t the best, I stop and send myself an email with my phone of my brilliant-at-the-time plot ideas.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

​I started playing the organ at our church when I was ten years old.​

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Network. Reach out to other like-minded writers and authors . Support them in their works. We’re all in this tough business together.​

What’s next?

​Book #2 is called Crazy Little Town Called Love. Molly is a character from the “Hell Club” in book #1, and this is her story.​

What personal touch did you give this story?

All fifteen of our grand-kids are named in this book!

Website | Amazon

Peyton Brooks, a newly-empty nester with a comatose marriage, loses her three friends in a car crash, and reaches out to women in the To-Hell-And-Back Club, hoping they’ll help resuscitate her life.

 

Through this club, Peyton learns it’s never too late to begin again. These been-there-felt-that women use their sense of humor, strength, and support to help her rebuild her life.

 

But when Peyton uncovers secrets about those she loved, she struggles to keep her own life-changing secret buried. The “Hell Club” reminds her it’s never too late to start over, and that living a life of regrets is no life at all.

 

Interview with Jessie Chaffee, author of Florence in Ecstasy

Today we’re chatting with Jesse Chaffee, author of the literary novel, Florence in Ecstasy.

Please describe what the story is about.

Hannah, a young American woman recently arrived in Florence, bears a painful secret—a harrowing illness that threatens her identity, as much as it does her health. Determined to rebuild her life in Italy, she joins a local rowing club, where she is drawn into Florence’s vibrant present—complex social dynamics, soccer mania, eating, drinking, sex, an insatiable insistence on life—but she is also rapt by the city’s past and the stories the Catholic mystical saints, women famous for their ecstatic visions and for starving themselves for God.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

I still cannot cross Piazza della Signoria at night without looking up to the golden lion at the top of the Palazzo Vecchio, to the harsh glare of Neptune who rules the fountain outside, to the writhing sculptures in the loggia at the piazza’s corner—lit from below, the Sabine woman twists and twists out of the grasp of her attacker, all that stone tapering from the massive base to the single point of her finger reaching toward the sky. There is something more, it says.

What do you want people to know about your book?

You could spend weeks in Florence and not get off the well-worn tourist routes, but there are many beautiful, hidden places in the city, and I wanted to capture those in the novel. One of those places is the rowing club that Hannah joins. Ironically, the club is located underneath the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most visited sites, but it is a different world, one dominated by Florentines. Hannah also discovers hidden stories in Florence—those of the Catholic mystical saints, whose ghosts are everywhere in the city.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned how important it is to cede control when I’m writing—to trust my instinct and my characters, and to allow the story to take me places I hadn’t planned on going. The philosopher Heraclitus had it right: “You must expect the unexpected, for it cannot be found by search or trail.” I could not have anticipated the moments of discovery that changed the novel, and yet they became the best parts of the book. 

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

It will be nine-and-a-half years from when I first began the book to when it is published. Part of that time was drafting and revising, and part of it was researching: I had the opportunity to spend a year in Florence on a Fulbright grant, which allowed me to explore the history of the saints in depth, and also helped me to bring Florence more vividly to life.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

One of my favorite parts of the writing process is researching—learning new things that change me and change the work. For this novel, I loved spending time with the writing of the Medieval and Renaissance women mystical saints. They were rebels of their time, determined to control their lives and tell their stories, in an era when both were unheard of.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I knew that I wanted to write a book about a woman struggling with the seduction of an eating disorder, and that I wanted to set it in Italy—a place filled with beauty, history, and, of course, food. But the saints were a surprise: I was writing a scene in Siena, where my protagonist Hannah encounters images of St. Catherine, along with Catherine’s mummified head, when I realized that that the novel wasn’t only about a contemporary woman’s relationship with her body and identity, but also about the longer history of women’s struggles for meaning and expression.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

I do my best thinking when I’m out in the world—sometimes that means taking a solitary walk to feel more centered, and sometimes it means attending a reading, a concert, any event that takes me outside of myself, inspires me, and gives me a new way of thinking about the work. And travel has always enriched and challenged me as a writer.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

Like Hannah, I also learned how to row on the Arno River in Florence, and while I haven’t done it in years, the experience helped me to capture that part of Hannah’s story, to evoke the feeling of being on the water and seeing the city from the inside.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

One of my writing mentors, Linsey Abrams, would say: “Tell the story only you can tell.” She meant that we each have a unique and valuable story to share—one that while not necessarily autobiographical is nevertheless true. Her advice gave me the confidence to follow my own truth.

What’s next?

Right now I’m working on creative nonfiction that delves into the history of the women of my own past, including my great-grandmother, who was ordained as a minister in the Congregational Church in the 1930s.
Who are your favorite saints?

I love St. Angela of Foligno, whose descriptions of spiritual ecstasy, and the relationship between love and pain, are beautiful, passionate, and also incredibly sensual. I’m also fascinated by St. Rita, the protector of victims of abuse—especially domestic abuse because she survived an abusive marriage before entering the church. St. Rita became incredibly popular among women, who connected with her story, and that inspired her canonization. She is also the saint of the impossible—impossible because on her deathbed, she asked one of her sisters to bring her a rose from her childhood garden in near Cascia in Umbria. It was the middle of winter, but still there was a fresh rose growing.

 

“Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel is an unflinching look at a woman’s attempt to outrun her demons . . . displaying not only diligent research but also an emotional intuition that brings Hannah to startling life.” — Publishers Weekly


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Interview with Sharon Hart-Green, Author of Come Back for Me: A Novel

We’re please today to be talking with Sharon Hart-Green about her debut novel, Come Back for Me.

Please describe what your book is about.

Artur Mandelkorn is a young Hungarian Holocaust survivor whose desperate quest to find his sister takes him to post-war Israel. Intersecting Artur’s tale is that of Suzy Kohn, a Toronto teenager whose seemingly tranquil life is shattered when her uncle’s sudden death tears her family apart, leading her into a troubled relationship with a charismatic musician. Their stories eventually come together in Israel following the Six-Day War, where love and understanding become the threads that bind the two narratives together.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

I saw it set in the hollows of his eyes: he was a man whose past had died. Along with everyone else who was part of it.

What do you want people to know about your book?

COME BACK FOR ME is a panoramic novel that crosses continents and spans several decades. Plot-driven and rich in characterization, it’s been described as a book that’s hard to put down.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

A lot! I learned that by listening carefully to suggestions from outside readers and editing partners, I can become a better writer.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

The first draft of my novel was started about seven years ago. However, that draft was totally different from the finished novel I have in my hands today. It took three or four substantive revisions (and a major structural change) before I finished the novel.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

On a good writing day, the process of creating something out of nothing is truly magical. But (alas) those days are few and far between. Most of the time, I write and delete, write and delete. As a rule, I do not enjoy plotting in advance, but prefer that my characters take me with them to places unknown and unplanned. To me that element of surprise is the best part of writing!

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I have always been intrigued by the fact that there are individuals who have endured unspeakable horrors in their lives, yet have managed to go on and lead productive lives. Many novels have been written about those who have been psychologically destroyed by tragedy. I wanted to write about individuals who seem to be able to transcend their own suffering. What is their secret?

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

My best thinking often takes place when I least expect it: in the shower, in the car during a traffic jam, or just before falling asleep at night. I suppose it must have something to do with letting one’s thoughts run free. Creativity is a strange brew of opposites: hard work and letting oneself be free to do nothing but daydream.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you.

Before I pursued an academic career, I was involved in theatre and acted in several plays when I was still a teenager. In fact, I was in a play in Toronto with Gilda Radner. Her kindness to me (someone much younger and less experienced) is something I will never forget.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Write a little bit every day, even if you despise what you put down on the page. You can always edit it!

What’s next?

I’m working on a novel about a young man with mystical inclinations who is searching for love.

What writer influenced you the most?

I think that the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer had the greatest influence on me. To me, his novels and short stories possess that rare combination of compelling storytelling, inventive prose, and deep insight into the human condition. Although he has set the bar extremely high, it is something I strive to achieve in my own writing.
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COME BACK FOR ME: A NOVEL

Loss, trauma, memory, and, above all, the ties of family are the elements that weave together this panoramic story. Artur Mandelkorn is a young Hungarian Holocaust survivor on a desperate quest to find his beloved sister, Manya. Intersecting Artur’s tale is that of Suzy Kohn, a Toronto teenager whose seemingly tranquil life is shattered by her uncle’s sudden death. Their stories come together in Israel following the Six-Day War, as the narrative travels through time and place to bring us, ultimately, to the connections between generations. Like SARAH’S KEY, Sharon Hart-Green’s debut novel COME BACK FOR ME deals evocatively with the scars left by tragedy and the possibilities for healing.

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Interview with Melodie Winawer, Author of The Scribe of Siena

Today we’re chatting with Melodie Winawer, author of the historical fiction novel, The Scribe of Siena.

Please describe what the story is about.

The Scribe of Siena connects the past and present through the story of Beatrice, a 21st century New York neurosurgeon. When her brother dies and leaves her his house in Siena, she puts her career on hold. Traveling to Italy, she discovers her brother’s unfinished research on a nearly 700-year old conspiracy. She also uncovers the writings of 14th-century fresco painter Gabriele Accorsi, and finds her own face in a painting attributed to the artist. As past and present blur together, Beatrice is thrown back in time to medieval Italy, shortly before the Plague hits, and in the midst of the conspiracy her brother had discovered. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll leave it at that!

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“I had often imagined that at some point in my life I would lose someone I loved, and I had. But I had never considered the possibility that I would lose my place in time.” 

What do you want people to know about your book?

I wanted my book to recreate medieval Italian life in such a vivid and intimate way that I (and my readers!) would not only be able to imagine the past, but walk right into it, as if it existed right now, with the door always open, next to our modern world. Writing the book became a vehicle for my own time travel.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

Writing this book was like driving in a snowstorm in the dark, with a rudimentary map and a lot of luck. Often I couldn’t see where I was going; I felt like I was travelling blind, and frequently I had no idea what would happen next. But when I sat down to write, the story would unfold in front of me, sometimes slowly and sometimes at top speed. I learned to trust that free fall of fiction, and even when it felt frightening, it was exhilarating, too.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

Seven years…wow, that is a long time. My kids were 5, 2, and 2 years old when I started; now they are 9, 9, and almost 12. The Scribe of Siena is my fourth baby.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I don’t think I can separate my writing into parts like that—it’s not really how I work. I love it when I get so lost in the story—the forward momentum and internal hum–that I lose track of the outside world. I often write on the subway though and have missed my stop several times—not ideal!

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I’m a neuroscientist and neurologist as well as a novelist. When I find an unanswered question in science, I create a research project to answer it systematically, carefully adhering to facts. When I find an unanswered question in fiction—I get to make up the answer! I learned that Siena had fared particularly badly in the great Plague of the 1340s—worse than many Tuscan cities, including Florence, Siena’s medieval arch-enemy. And a single clear answer didn’t exist to explain Siena’s decline during and after the Plague, a decline that eventually led to Siena’s loss of independence and subservience to Florentine rule under the Medici regime decades later. That unanswered question became the historical focus of the story.

Since I’m a doctor, I was also inspired by my firsthand experience of a physician’s empathy— experiencing a patient’s fear of illness, anguish, and in the best situations, relief. I know empathy can be a power for healing, but my work tests the boundaries between myself and those whose suffering I experience. I need to keep enough distance to do my job well, without losing myself in the process. I wondered how far it could go–that ability to feel what someone else is feeling. Could it extend to the written word, or even to words written hundreds of years ago? Could it, for example, blur the boundaries not only between self and other, but between two times?

My experience of a physician’s empathy, and its dangers, led me to create my protagonist Beatrice. For Beatrice, a neurosurgeon who enjoys the great privilege of working inside patients’ brains with her hands, empathy—and its consequences—come unbidden, and unravel her orderly life.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

While I’m doing yoga. I’ve done ashtanga yoga almost every day for 17 years and I usually practice alone. I get so many ideas when I’m on the mat and my body is busy with something else so my mind can range free—not just for fiction but for my scientific research too. I learned how to rehearse the ideas in my mind so I wouldn’t have to stop and write them down.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I can barely drive a car at all. I know how—but I’ve done it at most 25 times. I blame it on growing up in Manhattan, but it makes me feel a little bit medieval, too…

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

My daughter Chiara gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten—I was reading Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori. I put it down suddenly and said “I wish I could write like that!” Chiara, then 8 years old, came over and put her hand on my arm. “Mama,” she said, “you can only write the way you write.” So true and so wise.

What’s next?

I’m working on a novel set in late Byzantine Greece. It centers in the now-abandoned city of Mystras, in the southern Peloponnese. The city is mostly in ruins, but many buildings are still standing. I have walked through its streets, into the churches and crumbling houses, and it’s even more magical than it sounds. It has a mysterious, tumultuous history as the center of the late Byzantine Empire after the fall of Constantinople, with moments of great triumph and also great despair. The new book, like the Scribe of Siena, connects the past and the present, though in a different way.

The Scribe of Siena is full of fantastic food descriptions that sound quite authentic. Where did you get the recipes? Have you cooked the dishes in your book?

The recipes come from The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Françoise Sabban, Odile Redon, and Silvano Serventi, and many of the historically accurate recipes described there found their way into the book. I’ve made all of them, plus plenty of others I didn’t write about. Poratta bianca, a greenish-white leek soup dusted with cardamom and nutmeg, is the first dish that welcomes my protagonist to medieval life. I’ve made pumpkin and farmer cheese tart in a flaky pate brisée crust, and a startlingly memorable lasagne fermentatam, springy hand rolled squares of fresh pasta made from a yeasted dough layered with parmesan and spices. I learned the recipes well enough to make their flavors and execution convincing in the pages I was writing.  But more than that, cooking and eating medieval Italian cuisine gave me a connection to the past–an emotional, visceral connection that transcended what I read and went straight to the heart, soul, and belly of the era I not only tried to portray in writing, but actually longed to inhabit. Just like Beatrice.

“Winawer’s debut is a detailed historical novel, a multifaceted mystery, and a moving tale of improbable love…Winawer has created a prodigious, vibrant tale of past and present that transports readers and fills in the historical gaps. This is a marvelous work of research and invention.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

 

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