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OCTOBER 30, 2009
Laura Brodie ~ In the Author's Own Words
Back in the 1990’s, when I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, I got interested in a strange subject: husbands who fake their deaths in order to spy on their wives. I had encountered several of these men while researching a dissertation on widows in English literature, and the husbands weren’t real people—they were characters in plays, mostly from the 17th century.
I thought it was pretty weird, all these playwrights imagining men who wanted to preview their deaths. The husbands were curious to see how their wives would behave, and inevitably the women behaved badly, taking new lovers and preparing to hand over the family property, until their "dead" husbands emerged from the wings to take vengeance. I didn’t like the punitive aspect of those plays, but I did enjoy the voyeurism. It got me thinking about ghosts in literature who watch their wives (like the dead King in Hamlet), and centuries of conduct books and educational treatises for women that instructed widows to imagine that their husbands’ ghosts were observing them.
I wrote a dissertation chapter on the subject, and there the topic would have rested, lost in obscurity, until one day, many years after graduate school, when the subject came up again. I had just published my first book, Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women, a nonfiction history of the transition to coeducation at the Virginia Military Institute (America’s last all-male military college). That book had been published by Pantheon and Vintage, so I had some assurance that I could become a professional writer. And yet, my only ambition when it came to writing about dead husbands was to turn my dissertation chapter into a scholarly article.
My living husband vetoed that idea. "A scholarly article?" he said. "Why don’t you write something that will make some money?" That might sound crude, but he had a point. With three daughters growing up quickly, I needed to think of ways to bolster our college savings plan. Unfortunately I had never written fiction—never published a short story—and I knew that most novels languish on their authors’ shelves, read only by family and friends. Still, I thought that if I could map out fifty pages of a novel in my head, I might as well write my ideas down, and soon enough I was immersed in the story that would become The Widow’s Season.
I didn’t want to create a husband who deliberately fakes his death; something more mysterious and haunting seemed better, with open-ended possibilities that blurred the line between life and death, imagination and reality. I also wanted to delve deeply into a widow’s mind, with respect for the grief and confusion that comes with the loss of a spouse. My mother and grandmother were both widowed at young ages, so I had first-hand knowledge of their experiences. As I began writing, the style I embarked upon seemed to fall under "Southern Gothic meets women’s fiction."
It took six years from the time I started the book, to its eventual publication last June, and now I am grateful to all of the readers who have been willing to give this debut novel a try. Because of them the book is now in its fifth printing, and my editor has asked me to write another novel. I also have a memoir coming out in April called Love in a Time of Homeschooling, about one year when I gave my oldest daughter, Julia, a break from her public school routine. A lot of parents dream of taking a year off with their children, to learn together as a family and study what they value most, and that’s what Julia and I tried when she was ten years old. So now I’m looking forward to that book’s release, and I’m busy plotting another novel set in southwestern Virginia. Any readers who want to sample excerpts from my books, or see pictures of the area where I live, should check out my website—http://laurabrodieauthor.com/. There’s a giveaway going on right now for free copies of The Widow’s Season.
Category: Meet the Author
OCTOBER 23, 2009
Oxygen ~ Carol Wiley Cassella
*****reviewed by CarolK
This is a book I will recommend to my friends and anyone else who will listen. I see Cassella has a new book coming out in July, 2010. It can’t be soon enough for me.
OCTOBER 20, 2009
In the Author's Own Words ~ Therese Walsh
Please welcome Guest Author, Therese Walsh.
The Story Behind the Story of
The Last Will of Moira Leahy
I had to write it.
If I were to write a memoir of my time with my debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, that is how that memoir would begin. All first lines should do a job, and if that one is working properly you are now wondering, “Why did you have to write it?”
Let me tell you.
I began writing this story in 2002 as almost a writing exercise. I’d been writing children’s picture book manuscripts, but I’d become increasingly enamored of longer words and meatier stories. I decided to give myself a bigger canvas: adult fiction. I thought, at first, that I would write a romance, a traditional love story, but as I wrote my story veered off into unromantic territory.
Originally, the main character, Maeve Leahy, did not have a twin. But one day, Moira was just there, explaining her sister’s behaviors and trauma. And there was a Javanese keris involved in the story, demanding its fair share of attention.
You can see the problem, I’m sure: When I submitted the book, it was rejected by agents—not for lack of voice or unique content, but because it was too much of a square peg. It was structured like a romance, but the breadth of the novel didn’t fit the genre. One agent suggested I should be writing women’s fiction. Deep down, I realized that agent was right. What was I going to do? Begin a new book? Quit entirely?
The timeline is a little fuzzy, but 2004 was a big year for mulling over my options. I did a lot of thinking, a lot of reading in the genre of women’s fiction, and a lot of craft work. All the while, my rejected project writhed in the “unfinished business” category of my mind. There was no use fighting it.
I had to write it.
I salvaged one critical scene from the old draft and started over again in 2005. Then I scrapped everything again in 2006 and started over for a third time.
Maybe I would’ve quit but my characters refused to leave me alone. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, that disquiet you feel when you know something needs to be done and it’s important and you’re messing up? That’s how I felt whenever I wasn’t working on this project. When I was at least actively thinking about it, the anxiety eased. And so, little by little, I worked through the last draft.
In 2008, I finished polishing the women’s fiction version of The Last Will of Moira Leahy and found an agent, Elisabeth Weed. Shortly thereafter, she sold the book to Shaye Areheart, an imprint of Random House, in a two-book deal.
How do I feel about my second book, my work in progress?
I have to write it.
Category: Meet the Author
OCTOBER 15, 2009
Chameleon's Shadow ~ Minetter Walters
****reviewed by CarolK
I'm a latecomer and new fan of Minette Walters. I don't know how I missed her many award winning crime novels, but in the short time since I discovered them, all I can say is I'm hooked. Lucky for me Walters has written thirteen novels thus far so I've got lots to choose from. The latest, Chameleon's Shadow is a winner. It all begins when Lieutenant Charles Acland is sent home from Iraq after a bombing in which two of his friends are killed in action. Prior to his tour he broke up with his girlfriend Jen, who bears a striking resemblance to Uma Thurman As if these events are not enough to alter his life, the bombing has left him horribly disfigured and he is suffering from amnesia as well. It soon becomes apparent to the hospital staff and his psychiatrist that Ackland has problems with his parents, women, is experiencing guilt over the loss of his friends and sports a violent temper to boot. To add to the misery of his life, when he is finally released from the hospital the London newspapers begin reporting the deaths of several gay men. As Acland recovers he becomes a person of interest in the deaths and the reader must decide whether he is responsible. Walter's provides lots of other well drawn suspects who could be the murderer. The dialog between the main characters is tops and the location is right on. Acland is an excellently fleshed out character and the term chameleon fits him perfectly.
OCTOBER 6, 2009
Godmother ~ Carolym Turgeon
***reviewed by Mercedes
I'm on the shelf as to whether I want to put three stars or four. I give it four stars for originality and lyricism but three stars for the ending...It wasn't bad, simply confusing. I like books that have definitive endings. Endings that make me wonder was that real or was this real, what just happened, are frustrating. I think that they can be fun and it is a mark of a good storyteller as well, but when I've been sucked into a story, I want to have a good idea of where everyone's going. Still, this was a beautifully written story. The descriptions of the characters feelings and the settings were very evocative and powerful. It did take me a while to sink into the story, partly because it is full of sadness and desire and loss and personally, I'm just too stressed to handle those feelings, but once I did get into the story, it was too enticing to put down. Simply put, it read like a dream but I wish there was a sequel.
OCTOBER 2, 2009
In the Author's Own Words ~ Emyl Jenkins
photo courtesy of author
Welcome Guest Blooger Emyl Jenkins...
Emyl Jenkins’s Sterling Glass series centers around antiques and the mysteries they hold. Her books, Stealing with Style and The Big Steal, have received starred reviews from BookList and been compared to Alexander McCall Smith’s stories.
When asked what kind of books I write, I know I’m supposed to say "mysteries"—and I do. But in truth, I also want to add: I write gentle books where there may, or may not be, a body lying around.
It all goes back to the books I loved when first discovering that pages could take me places I wanted to go—into dark, shadowy attics, behind curtained windows, down treacherous stair steps, through overgrown thickets, along forgotten paths.
Looking back, I think the most frightened I ever was came while reading the graveyard scene in Dickens’ great novel, Great Expectations. There I met "A man… soaked in water, smothered in mud… who limped and shivered and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin."
Of course the "me" Dickens was writing about was Pip, the protagonist of his novel, but to this twelve year-old girl, I was the one being seized by the chin.
And so my love for mysteries began. Who cared that there wasn’t a body in the graveyard, or in the book, for that matter. Great Expectations was and is a great thriller, a mystery of the first order.
My love for old houses and the treasures they hold had already begun by then. I was a child in the 1940s and ‘50s, and in those days people went visiting on Sunday afternoons. To me, nothing was more thrilling than going to an old house. Who cared if there weren’t children to play with. I had my imagination.
And if the houses were ramshackled and dark, the furniture worn and shabby, and the garden overgrown, it was all the better. It was scary and romantic. It was thrilling.
Thus, long ago, without my even knowing it, I was laying the groundwork for the sort of setting where my protagonist, antiques appraiser Sterling Glass, finds herself these days.
Of course it helps that I, too, was an appraiser, and while working for insurance companies, private clients, world-famous museums, and even law agencies, I, too, found myself in those very same places.
"So," my readers ask, "is Sterling Glass you?" Oh no. I’m writing fiction, not a memoir. You see, when I sit down to write a story, I become Sterling Glass, and like that little girl of years ago, I step into romantic and scary places for the fun of discovering what happens.
In fact, one of my biggest surprises came when writing my most recent book, The Big Steal. Sure, like Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, says about my book, "There’s a dash of danger, a hint of romance, and a pinch of international intrigue." But there’s also another story going on that I didn’t even realize until I’d finished writing the book. It’s the story of four women—Mazie, Miss Mary Sophie, Tracy, and Michelle—and how the times in which they lived shaped their views of the world and led them to make the choices they did in life.
Such is the fun of being a novelist and learning all over again what every child instinctively knows: Nothing beats the fun of discovering the adventures that lie between the covers of a book.