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.

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“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!

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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.
comebackforme

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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Interview with Devin Murphy, author of The Boat Runner

We’re chatting with Devin Murphy today. His novel The Boat Runner debuts in September!

What’s your book about?

The Boat Runner is about a wealthy Dutch family whose world is upended over the course of four years during the WWII Nazi occupation. As the family struggles to stay whole, we follow the youngest son through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life forever.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“I allowed myself a small, transcendent moment of feeling alive again. As I watched them, I had a deep and swelling love of trees, their sway and dance, and thought how goddamn beautiful this world would be if we’d never been allowed to touch it.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

I wrote this book because I was fascinated by how Nazi Germany used controlled information, news, and propaganda to establish power, and how storytelling cut through all that into the truth of what really mattered.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned I needed to be patient and trust my instincts with research, as the more I dug into a topic the odder and more unique details arose to help guide this story to new and interesting places.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

About 8 years. Though I did lots of other writing and family making during that time as well.

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

I love the wild first jolt of drafting new work. It’s exciting. I don’t know where it will lead or what it will demand of me, yet everything I see, think, feel, and read winds up becoming relevant when my imagination is delving into a new project. I love how my own life gets stitched right into process as I go. This process makes me feel attuned to my days at a deeper level and I wish that first draft feeling could go on much longer, as when it stops, then it’s time to turn back and look at what a glorious mess I’ve made and now have to fix.

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

My mother’s father was an engineer in the Netherlands who had to go into hiding during WWII. I never met him, but his story was so interesting it wound up finding its way into my writing and got me started on this book.

How do you feel now that you’re done with this book?

Relieved. Joyful. Excited. I get to share this story with others now. The novel is going to be translated into Dutch, so I get to give it to my mother in her native language. I love that.

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

At the computer. I’m not sure when it happened but I think best while typing and watching the screen, the click-clack lets me access a dream space better where I can see and then do what W.B. Yeats once wrote as his To Do List for the day, “Hammer thoughts into unison.”

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

I once heard a writing hero of mine, Richard Bausch, tell a room of writers something along the lines of, “When you’re stuck, lower your standards and keep going.” I like that a lot. It takes the pressure off. I can always write through a tough spot to get to something good, then come back and fix what wasn’t so good.

What’s next?

I’m currently finishing a second novel and short story collection and when those are done, I’ll start another book and keep going. That’s the plan. Those first drafts are too much fun.

“Murphy is a rare writer whose prose rings with authority and beauty as it weaves the devastating story of children coming of age in the darkest hours of the twentieth century. Every page is alive with discovery, surprise, and ultimately, the mystery of what drives the human heart. The electricity which sets this story on its journey continues to crackle and spark long after the lights begin to go out across Europe, one after another, until we finally understand the cost and meaning of resistance, our only weapon against the tyranny that threatens to destroy civilization. This is an unforgettable tale of human triumph.” — Jonis Agee, author of The Bones of Paradise

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Interview with Patricia Beal, Author of A Season to Dance

Please describe what the story is about.  

A Season to Dance is the heart wrenching love story of a small town professional ballerina who dreams of dancing at the Met in New York, of the two men who love her and of the forbidden kiss that changed everything.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

This is for them. This is for the magic. This is for every little dreamer in the room.

What do you want people to know about your book?

A Season to Dance is a journey. From hard to better. From striving to being. A story of love lost and found, broken dreams, and second chances.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

That I had to find spiritual balance first. Only then could I engage in career and romantic pursuits healthily.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

I wrote the first chapter in January of 2011 and wrote a chapter per Saturday until the novel was complete. I spent the rest of the year polishing. Then I spent 2012 getting rejected and 2013 rewriting the whole thing. Then in 2014 I got an agent, and we sold the novel on February 4, 2016.

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

My favorite part of writing? Making up scenes. What a power trip, no?

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

Writing a novel was an old dream. It first crossed my mind in 1987, when growing up in Brazil, I read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. But for years I didn’t have a good idea.

In January of 2011, on I-40 (somewhere between Nashville and Winston-Salem), I had an idea that wouldn’t let go of me. A young woman, a ballerina, stuck on top of a wall for behaving badly.

Then came the questions: Who put her there? What exactly did she do? Why did she do it? Where did he go? Is he coming back?

That’s how it all started.

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

In the morning, when walking, and when on Pinterest ?

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

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

If you have a great novel that’s not selling because of the market, write a different novel. If you have a great novel that’s not selling because the writing is not as mature as it needs to be, keep improving the same novel, or you’ll repeat the same mistakes in the next one.

What’s next?

I wrote a second book, but I’m still editing it. It’s called The Song of the Desert Willow, and it’s a split-time military romance. The contemporary and central part of the novel is the story of a college graduate (Clara) who thought she’d sworn off soldiers forever and of a young Army captain (Andrew) whose first shot at love and marriage imploded on the steps of a West Point chapel on graduation week.

She takes a break from a long and unfruitful job search to travel to Fort Bliss, Texas, to deliver her grandmother’s last love letter, a letter to a retired general Clara has heard about since she was born. When he is delayed in Germany with a weak heart, Clara’s stuck in Texas and Andrew is put in charge of her well-being.

The story has a lot of my grandma’s history in it—life in the German colonies of the south of Brazil before WWII, the beginning of the shoe industry there (still famous worldwide, with women’s shoes always available at stores like Neiman Marcus), the life of the richest family in town, the most influential man (my great grandfather), his death, loss, change. It’s fascinating to me, and I pray I can paint a vivid picture of this most unusual slice of history and get people to care.

If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play them?

The story is a love triangle. “Ana Brassfield has her path to the stage of the Met all figured out until her first love, renowned German dancer Claus Gert, returns to Georgia to win her back. Despite a promising start towards her ballet career and pending marriage to landscape architect, Peter Engberg, Ana wonders if her dreams of dancing at the Met are as impossible as her previous romantic relationship with Claus. Then, an on-stage kiss between Ana and Claus changes everything.”

Peter would be Blake Shelton. Claus would be Mikhail Baryshnikov, a young Mikhail Baryshnikov—I’m thinking late eighties, when the movie White Nights was really popular. And Ana would be me and you. I think there’s a bit of Ana in each of us ❤

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Interview with Orly Konig, Author of The Distance Home

Today we’re talking to Orly Konig, author of women’s fiction novel, The Distance Home.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

The Distance Home is a story about second chances, knowing when to walk away, and learning how to heal.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

Jumping Frog Farm.
The First time I saw that sign I was eight, and believed, with the certainty that allows reindeer to fly and little girls to heal, that this place would save me.

What do you want people to know about your book?

Horses may play an important role in the book, but it’s not necessarily a “horse” book. The themes of family and friendship, hope and heartbreak reach far beyond the fences of a stable.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned that I have far more reserves in me than I imagined. Every time I thought I was creatively, emotionally, mentally done, an idea would poke at me and I’d sit right back down and keep writing.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

I think the timeline for drafting and revising a book is similar to having a baby … as soon as it’s over, you forget what it was like. Otherwise, would we really do it again and again? Joking aside, it was about 3 years – one and a half for writing, revising, querying, and then another year and a half from contract signing until launch.

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

My favorite part of writing is in the revision stage when I’m adding those small details that bring the characters and setting to life.

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

I wanted to write a book about the lengths we go to feel accepted. Horses have always been my safe place, where I felt like I belonged. The more I noodled the various themes for this book, the clearer it became that horses needed to play a role in the telling of this story.

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

When I’m in first draft mode, it’s usually on the treadmill or rowing machine. That’s when I work through what the scene will be about before I sit to write.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I was horrible at creative writing in school. Even had a professor in grad school tell me to stick with non-fiction.

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

Write. Seriously! That was the simplest and best advice ever. We all know people who’ve said they’d love to write a book, someday. You have to make your “someday,” not wait for it to happen.

What’s next?

My next book is about family secrets and a historic merry-go-round.

thedistancehome

THE DISTANCE HOME

Sixteen years ago, a tragic accident cost Emma Metz her two best friends—one human and one equine. Now, following her father’s death, Emma has reluctantly returned to the Maryland hometown she left under a cloud of guilt.

Sorting through her father’s affairs, Emma uncovers a history of lies tying her broken family to the one place she thought she could never return—her girlhood sanctuary, Jumping Frog Farm.

Emma finds herself drawn back to the stable after all these years. It’s easy to win forgiveness from a horse, but less so from her former friend Jillian, their once-strong bond has been destroyed by secrets and betrayals. But despite Jillian’s cold reception, for the first time in years, Emma feels at home.

To exorcise the past, Emma will have to release her guilt, embrace an uncertain future, and trust again in the healing power of horses.

“Orly Konig’s first novel wins a blue ribbon for delving into the meaning of family and friendships, and how both bring joy and sorrow.” – Susan Wilson, New York Times bestselling author

“Lovely and evocative … Konig’s writing is captivating from beginning to end.” – Shelley Noble, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

The Distance Home marks the arrival of an extremely talented new voice in women’s fiction.” – Lori Nelson Spielman, internationally bestselling author of The Life List

Available May 2, 2017 from Forge

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