Author to Author Interview: The Paris Edition

Today’s post by Dana Gynther and Meg Waite Clayton | @MegWClayton

Ah, Paris! This city always has been–and always will be–magical in print. So we asked two novelists to  interview one another another about their new, Paris-centered novels. Up first Dana Gynther interviews Meg Waite Clayton about her novel, THE RACE FOR PARIS (and congratulations to Meg, by the way, as this book just became a national bestseller!) And don’t forget to check back on Thursday for the second half of this interview and learn about Dana’s novel, THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH.

Paris Collage

Dana: I was two-thirds through Dickens’ Bleak House when your book arrived in the mail. Contrary to custom, I left my current reading to gather dust on my bedside table and picked up your gorgeous novel. I was surprised to find that, for these two books, you and Dickens used the same, singular style: an omniscient narrator interspersed with a first-person one (a decision that caused quite a stir in 1852). Why did you decide to tell the story this way? Have you read many books that use this device? (which, btw, I will be stealing in the future).

Meg: The narrative point of view I use in The Race for Paris is the same I’ve used in several of my previous novels, including The Wednesday Sisters. I think of as 1st person retrospective.

In this case, Jane is telling the story of the years she spent as a journalist in France during WWII from the perspective of 50 years later, as she is returning to Paris for an exhibit of her dear friend Liv Harper’s photographs from the war.

Jane and Liv were in France, living and working 24/7 with British military photographer Fletcher Roebuck in very intense and intimate circumstances—covering the war together and hoping to be the first to report the liberation of Paris, which would make both history and their careers.

While Jane isn’t there at every moment of every scene of the novel, she knows the stories she tells the way we know the stories of our family and our closest friends. She was there, nearby if not in scene. She’s shared long, late-night conversations with Liv and Fletcher about the moments she wasn’t there—some at the time, and some in the intervening years.

It’s actually a pretty common narrative technique, with probably the best known example being The Great Gatsby. But the way I came to it was through my family. I grew up making weekend treks from Chicago to Iowa, where my dad grew up, and being regaled with stories of their youth by my Uncle Jim.

Dana: One of irresistible things about this novel is that it deals with a trio (two, in fact, but let’s concentrate on the central one): the three traveling companions, Fletcher, Liv and Jane. Did you have a favorite among them? Why?

Meg: I think you have to be able to identify with anyone to deliver them well, so I hope I identify with all of them. Fletcher, for example—my British military photographer—he’s this really lovely guy who has the habit of falling for the wrong person again and again. Who can’t identify with that?

But I’d say if I had to choose a favorite it would probably be my photojournalist, Liv Harper. And I should say that she was Harper long before Harper was my publisher, and I just realized about two days ago that the two were the same!

Liv comes to France intent on covering the liberation of Paris. She is ambitious in a way that Fletcher and Jane are not. She’s not uncomplicated, no one is. And she’s far from perfect. Perfect in a character is boring. But I think it’s a hard thing for women to embrace ambition. It ends up leaving us considered “bossy” or “unfeminine,” “undesirable.” But she does embrace it, much as she struggles with doing so and tries to balance her ambition and her family obligations, and that’s a struggle I’m quite familiar with.

But I also love Jane—my journalist with her lovely foldable Corona typewriter who narrates the novel. She’s single and in some danger of becoming an old maid, and I certainly remember those years! She’s a Nashville gal from the wrong side of the tracks, who sort of backs into being a war journalist—she’s a secretary at the Nashville Banner when the war breaks out, and she’s smart, and so when the boys go off to war and the editor needs more writers, he turns to her. She doesn’t imagine herself as a writer until someone helps her do so, which is very much how I came to writing.

Jane actually started as a bit player who disappeared after the early chapters, and was a small homage to my Aunt Annette, who was in Normandy with the Red Cross. When I asked my aunt why she chose to go to war, she said, in a southern accent I can’t replicate, that she was twenty-something, “and the boys were all over there and I was going to be an old maid before they came home if I wasn’t already, so I thought I’d better get on over to Europe and find me a beau!” As befitting any character inspired by my Aunt Annette, she eventually took over the telling of the story, and that’s when it all starting falling into place finally.

Dana: Although these characters are your own invention, we have quotes from real correspondents as well as many cameos (like Andy Rooney and Ernie Pyle). How much of the action here is real? Did you have any historical scenes that you wanted to include but were finally edited out?

Meg: There is so much real material from the war that is so interesting that much of the novel draws from the experiences of a whole collection of journalists (male and female), and others as well. The opening scene—the bit in the operating room, which was actually one of the last scenes I wrote—was inspired by a short passage in Margaret Bourke-White’s autobiography. The scene where Liv and Jane meet up with Fletcher was inspired by a Collier’s piece by Cornelius Ryan titled “The Major of St. Lô.” Ernie Pyle’s reporting from the St. Lô—Perriers Road was indispensible to the short-bombing scene.

What I wanted to do was compress a number of experiences of real journalists into one story. This was especially true of the women journalists. So Liv’s and Jane’s struggles are very much inspired by real women who covered WWII.

While the male correspondents went wherever they wanted, and returned to nice warm press rooms in chateaus and 5-star hotels, the women correspondents who managed to get accredited to France were largely confined to hospitals. They worked at tables they set up in fields when the weather wasn’t terrible, which it mostly was. While men were able to negotiate changes to copy with on site censors at the press camps and send work by wire, women journalists’ work went by pouch—much slower, so not as timely. Their work was censored in England, leaving them no ability to make changes to accommodate the censors. Whatever was left after the censors did their dirty deeds—often not quite the truth and sometimes pure gibberish… well, off it went to their editors anyway, with their names on it.

For many women, the only option if they wanted to cover the war in a meaningful way, was to go AWOL—absent without leave—leaving them without resources, often in danger, and with the added challenge of having to evade military police send to take them into custody. Several who did so, including Lee Miller, Catherine Coyne, and Dot Avery, were taken into custody and held at Rennes, and so missed covering the liberation of Paris.

When you just look at what these women did during the war, they seem daring and risk-taking and sort of superhuman. But if you peek behind the curtain… Well, let’s just say that as a child attending fortnightly dance classes, Martha Gellhorn hid with a friend in the coatroom rather than have to stand unselected by the boys.

One of the things I wanted to do in The Race for Paris was explore how very human and like the rest of us these women really are. I’m not saying they didn’t do extraordinary things—they did. But a lot of women in a lot of circumstances in WWII did, too, and I like to think that even if I might not have, many of my readers would.

Dana: For me, choosing the names of the characters is crucial as they can provide insight into personality and identity (which is a real downside when writing about real people. I would have never made up the name ‘Man Ray’!). Your fictional characters’ names are spot-on: the British aristocrat working as a military photographer: Fletcher Roebuck; the rich New Englander recently married to a newspaper magnate but working as photojournalist: Olivia Harper, better known as Liv (pronounced ‘live’—a war zone imperative); the southern working-class girl, making it as journalist: Jane Tyler. The one name choice that seemed more mysterious to me was Renny. What made you choose that name?

Meg: Renny is short for Renata. I chose it because it’s a bit unusual, and I needed that name in particular to be memorable. It’s Latin, and while not exactly French, is French-sounding, which I liked. But most importantly, it means “reborn,” and the role Renny plays in the novel is very much about looking to the future, and the hopefulness that comes with that.

Dana: In the Acknowledgements you mention the fact that this book was a slow train coming, that it took “more than a decade.” Why was that?

Meg: That is a very good question. There are a number of reason, there are always a number of reasons, aren’t there?

I started this one literally before the turn of the century, so by one measure it was 15 years in the making. But I struggled with it, and set it aside to write and publish three other novels over the course of that time.

Part of the struggle was that I wanted to do right by the real women journalists, so I just obsessed over every detail. And part of that was that I loved the research, so it was always a joy and never a chore.

Part of it was that I struggled to get Liv right. She was quite off-putting in early drafts, and I wanted readers to fall in love with her as surely as I did.

A big turning point for me—a turning point that came well into that 15 years—was changing the narrative point of view. I had been alternating third person close, with Liv and Fletcher, for years. When I had the idea to let Jane tell this story, it really did fall into place. I think that’s in part because Liv is a big character. If you tried to tell The Great Gatsby from Gatsby’s perspective, well, it just wouldn’t work, would it? And that’s what I was trying to do in those earlier drafts.

And then, to be honest, by the time it all began to line up, I was publishing with a Random House imprint—a team I adored and still do, but who saw me as a writer of contemporary fiction, and really wanted me to pursue a contemporary novel we all thought would be a good next step for me. But my amazing agent, Marly Rusoff, was incredibly enthusiastic about the Paris manuscript, and felt that it ought to be my next novel. But she also thought—insisted—that it needed to be in just the right hands. She introduced me to Claire Wachtel at HarperCollins, who was just the perfect editor for this book. (Perfect editor, period!) I feel like before I started working with Claire I was standing on one side of a door, writing well but not necessarily growing as a writer as much as I wanted to. Well, Claire effectively put a hatchet in my hands and told me to ignore the doorknob and break that door to bits and step right on through. I’ve grown tremendously as a writer in the process of working on this book with her, and now have a whole long path of writing growth ahead of me. And that is an amazing place to be, an amazing gift she has given me.

And of course part of the struggle was letting go of The Race for Paris, because I so enjoyed writing this book. Now that it’s done, I don’t get to return to it whenever I want. I have so loved writing this novel, and I’m absolutely delighted to be sharing it with readers.


The Race for ParisThe New York Times bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters returns with a moving and powerfully dynamic World War II novel about two American journalists and an Englishman, who together race the Allies to Occupied Paris for the scoop of their lives.

Normandy, 1944. To cover the fighting in France, Jane, a reporter for the Nashville Banner, and Liv, an Associated Press photographer, have endured enormous danger and frustrating obstacles—including strict military regulations limiting what women correspondents can. Even so, Liv wants more.

Encouraged by her husband, the editor of a New York newspaper, she’s determined to be the first photographer to reach Paris with the Allies, and capture its freedom from the Nazis.

However, her Commanding Officer has other ideas about the role of women in the press corps. To fulfill her ambitions, Liv must go AWOL. She persuades Jane to join her, and the two women find a guardian angel in Fletcher, a British military photographer who reluctantly agrees to escort them. As they race for Paris across the perilous French countryside, Liv, Jane, and Fletcher forge an indelible emotional bond that will transform them and reverberate long after the war is over.

Based on daring, real-life female reporters on the front lines of history like Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller, and Martha Gellhorn—and with cameos by other famous faces of the time—The Race for Parisis an absorbing, atmospheric saga full of drama, adventure, and passion. Combining riveting storytelling with expert literary craftsmanship and thorough research, Meg Waite Clayton crafts a compelling, resonant read.

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Fall’s Hottest Books For Young Readers

Today’s post by our very own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen


Maybe it’s because we have kids or maybe it’s because we enjoy a great YA or kids’ book as much as the kids, but we couldn’t keep our hands off these titles when we saw them during our recent trip to the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance trade show. See if you’re not drawn to the premises of these compelling new books too! Get them for your kids– or yourself!

What We SAwWhat We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Critically acclaimed memoirist Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice, takes an unflinching look at what happens to a small town when some of its residents commit a terrible crime. This honest, authentic debut novel—inspired by the events in the Steubenville rape case—will resonate with readers who’ve ever walked that razor-thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

The party at John Doone’s last Saturday night is a bit of a blur. Kate Weston can piece together most of the details: Stacey Stallard handing her shots, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early. . . . But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same questions: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey? And what responsibility do they have to speak up about what they saw?


The Shallow GravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

From Jennifer Donnelly, the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of A Northern Lightand Revolution, comes a mystery about dark secrets, dirty truths, and the lengths to which people will go for love and revenge. For fans of Elizabeth George and Libba Bray, These Shallow Graves is the story of how much a young woman is willing to risk and lose in order to find the truth.

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his pistol. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was a partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. Suicide is the only logical explanation, and of course people have started talking, but Jo’s father would never have resorted to that. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.


Until We Meet AgainUntil We Meet Again by Renee Collins

Country clubs and garden parties. The last thing Cassandra wants is to spend the summer before her senior year marooned in a snooty Massachusetts shore town. Cass craves drama and adventure, which is hard when she just feels stuck.

But when a dreamy stranger shows up on her family’s private beach, claiming that it is his property-and that the year is 1925-Cass is swept into a mystery a hundred years in the making. As she searches for answers in the present, Cass discovers a truth that thrusts Lawrence’s life into jeopardy. It won’t matter which century he is from if he won’t live to see tomorrow.

Desperate to save the boy who’s come to mean everything to her, Cassandra must find a way to change history…or risk losing Lawrence forever.


Serafina and the Black CloakSeraphina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

“Never go into the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s vast and oppulent home, but she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember. She has learned to prowl through the darkened corridors at night, to sneak and hide, using the mansion’s hidden doors and secret passageways.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows the clues to follow. A terrifying man in a black cloak stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear, where she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must not only face her darkest enemy, but delve into the strange mystery of her own identity.


The MarvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

From the Caldecott Medal-winning creator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck comes a breathtaking new voyage.

In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories-the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose-create a beguiling narrative puzzle.

The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage.

Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.

A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect, The Marvelsis a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation.

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Five Novels Guaranteed to Give You Chills This Fall

Today’s post by our own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Now that it’s fall you’ll probably find me reading a good thriller. Murder? Check. Mystery? Check. Page turning suspense? Check. I want to be riveted, enthralled, sucked into a gripping story. If that sounds about like you, today we offer some new titles you’ll want to add to your to-be-read list right away!

Second LifeSECOND LIFE by SJ Watson

How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia’s quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she’s losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

A tense and unrelenting novel that explores the secret lives people lead—and the dark places in which they can find themselves—Second Life is a masterwork of suspense from the acclaimed S. J. Watson.


Somebody I Used to KNowSOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW by David Bell

When Nick Hansen sees the young woman at the grocery store, his heart stops. She is the spitting image of his college girlfriend, Marissa Minor, who died in a campus house fire twenty years earlier. But when Nick tries to speak to her, she acts skittish and rushes off.

The next morning the police arrive at Nick’s house and show him a photo of the woman from the store. She’s been found dead, murdered in a local motel, with Nick’s name and address on a piece of paper in her pocket.

Convinced there’s a connection between the two women, Nick enlists the help of his college friend Laurel Davidson to investigate the events leading up to the night of Marissa’s death. But the young woman’s murder is only the beginning…and the truths Nick uncovers may make him wish he never doubted the lies.


The Book of YouTHE BOOK OF YOU by Claire Kendal

His name is Rafe, and he is everywhere Clarissa turns. At the university where she works. Her favorite sewing shop. The train station. Outside her apartment. His messages choke her voice mail; his gifts litter her mailbox. Since that one regrettable night, his obsession with her has grown, becoming more terrifying with each passing day. And as Rafe has made clear, he will never let her go.

Clarissa’s only escape from this harrowing nightmare is inside a courtroom—where she is a juror on a trial involving a victim whose experiences eerily parallel her own. There she finds some peace and even makes new friends, including an attractive widower named Robert, whose caring attentions make her feel desired and safe. But as a disturbingly violent crime unfolds in the courtroom, Clarissa realizes that to survive she must expose Rafe herself. Conceiving a plan, she begins collecting the evidence of Rafe’s madness to use against him—a record of terror that will force her to relive every excruciating moment she desperately wants to forget. Proof that will reveal the twisted, macabre fairy tale that Rafe has spun around them . . . with an ending more horrifying than her darkest fears.

Masterfully constructed, filled with exquisite tension and a pervasive sense of menace, The Book of You explores the lines between love and compulsion, fantasy and reality, and offers a heart-stopping portrait of a woman determined to survive. Claire Kendal’s extraordinary debut will haunt readers long after it reaches its terrifying, breathtaking conclusion.


DisclaimerDISCLAIMER by Renee Knight

A brilliantly conceived, deeply unsettling psychological thriller— already an international sensation—about a woman haunted by secrets, the consuming desire for revenge, and the terrible price we pay when we try to hide the truth.

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day she became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew—and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day . . . even if the shocking truth might destroy her.


The Bones of YouTHE BONES OF YOU by Debbie Howells

When Kate receives a phone call with news that Rosie Anderson is missing, she’s stunned and disturbed. Rosie is eighteen, the same age as Kate’s daughter, and a beautiful, quiet, and kind young woman. Though the locals are optimistic—girls like Rosie don’t get into real trouble—Kate’s sense of foreboding is confirmed when Rosie is found fatally beaten and stabbed.

Who would kill the perfect daughter, from the perfect family? Yet the more Kate entwines herself with the Andersons—graceful mother Jo, renowned journalist father Neal, watchful younger sister Delphine—the more she is convinced that not everything is as it seems. Anonymous notes arrive, urging Kate to unravel the tangled threads of Rosie’s life and death, though she has no idea where they will lead.

Weaving flashbacks from Rosie’s perspective into a tautly plotted narrative, The Bones of You is a gripping, haunting novel of sacrifices and lies, desperation and love.

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On Sympathy and Regret, Nina de Gramont discusses The Last September

Today’s post by Nina de Gramont, author of THE LAST SEPTEMBER | @NinaDeGramont

Nina de GramontTwo of my least favorite phrases are “I have no sympathy” and “I don’t believe in regrets.” The first tends to refer to someone who’s brought agony on herself through unwise action. The second? It’s usually a way to absolve oneself of doing precisely the same thing.

As if any of us always behave wisely! As if we have never suffered the particular pain of knowing our suffering is exactly and unavoidably our own fault, and then regretted it wildly.

Oh, the stupid things I’ve done. I could write about them for years. I could produce a thousand pages and still leave some out. Once, having discovered a boyfriend wrote a letter I considered a betrayal, I called him up and started screaming the moment he answered. It took me several minutes to realize it was not my boyfriend on the other end of the line, but his father. Many years later that embarrassment still stings, never mind that it was entirely my fault. And do I regret it? You bet I do. Along with a million other impulsive actions, some far milder, and some far worse.

Thankfully none of my regrets led to so disastrous a place as Brett finds herself in my novel, The Last September. In the throes of grief and shock after finding her husband murdered, Brett is certain she must have done something – had some hand in the pivotal event – that led to Charlie’s death. She lingers over every misstep, including loving him in the first place – and at the same time can’t help savoring the very emotions that led her to this unthinkable place. In so many ways their imperfect life – and his violent death – turn out to be Brett’s own fault. Which doesn’t diminish the exquisiteness of her memories, or the anguish she feels at losing Charlie.


The Last SeptemberSet against the desolate autumn beauty of Cape Cod, The Last September is a riveting emotional puzzle that takes readers inside the psyche of a woman facing the meaning of love and loyalty.

Brett has been in love with Charlie ever since he took her skiing on a lovely Colorado night fourteen years ago. And now, living in a seaside cottage on Cape Cod with their young daughter, it looks as if they have settled into the life they desired. However, Brett and Charlie’s marriage has been tenuous for quite some time. When Charlie’s unstable younger brother plans to move in with them, the tension simmering under the surface of their marriage boils over.

But what happened to Charlie next was unfathomable. Charlie was the golden boy so charismatic that he charmed everyone who crossed his path; who never shied away from a challenge; who saw life as one big adventure; who could always rescue his troubled brother, no matter how unpredictable the situation.

So who is to blame for the tragic turn of events? And why does Brett feel responsible?

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Triangle Reads: A Photo Journal

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Well, friends, it was amazing, and humbling, and a little unnerving all at once. But we did the thing we’ve been wanting to do for years. We hosted our first live event last weekend in conjunction with the Southern Bookseller’s Alliance and there is truly no better way to spend a long weekend than with a group of fellow book lovers. There were authors and booksellers and publishing professionals and readers. All in all, we couldn’t have asked for more. Since many of you have written to say that you wish you could have been there we thought we’d give you the next best thing, a walking tour of our weekend.

** A quick note to our email readers: please forgive us if some of these photos end up being sideways in your inbox. They have all been rotated and sized correctly in our system but there seems to be something wonky happening with our RSS feed. However, if everything looks normal then Yay! Ignore this and enjoy!

Flying into Raleigh. I had a 6:35 a.m. flight from Nashville. So if you do the math you too can be in pain at the thought of how early I had to wake up. Pretty view, though.

Flying into Raleigh. I had a 6:35 a.m. flight from Nashville. So if you do the math you too can be in pain at the thought of how early I had to wake up. Pretty view, though.


It's a good thing I'm used to wearing multiple hats or my duties over the weekend may have given me an identity crisis.

It’s a good thing I’m used to wearing multiple hats or my duties over the weekend may have given me an identity crisis.


On Saturday afternoon Marybeth, Anne Bogel, and Joshilyn Jackson paid a visit to Quail Ridge Rooks. There are few things that make me happier than a table full of books.

On Saturday afternoon Marybeth, Anne Bogel, and Joshilyn Jackson paid a visit to Quail Ridge Rooks. There are few things that make me happier than a table full of books.


Right around the corner from Quail Ridge was this amazing little wine bar that Marybeth and I have now visited twice. And each time it was one of the highlights of our trip. This time I sample the blackberry cider and fell in love.

Right around the corner from Quail Ridge was this amazing little wine bar that Marybeth and I have now visited twice. And each time it was one of the highlights of our trip. This time I sample the blackberry cider and fell in love. We loved the place so much we bought tee shirts. And wine. We also bought wine.


Marybeth and our lovely new friend, Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy).

Marybeth and our lovely new friend, Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy).


It was a long day. Marybeth had to put her feet up at the end.

It was a long day. Marybeth had to put her feet up at the end.


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Triangle Reads began with a Moveable Feast luncheon in conjunction with SIBA. Here, author Kim Wright discusses her new novel, THE CANTERBURY SISTERS.


Joshilyn Jackson discussing her upcoming novel, THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE. Have we mentioned yet that we adore Joshilyn? Because we do.

Joshilyn Jackson discussing her upcoming novel, THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE. Have we mentioned yet that we adore Joshilyn? Because we do.


Robert Beatty discussing his runaway bestseller, SERAPHINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK

Robert Beatty discussing his runaway bestseller, SERAPHINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK


The amazing and talented Lisa Wingate kindly moderated a panel for us. If you've not read her work yet, do yourself a favor and pick up one of her novels.

The amazing and talented Lisa Wingate kindly moderated a panel for us. If you’ve not read her work yet, do yourself a favor and pick up one of her novels.


Therese Anne Fowler kindly moderated our History-Mystery panel featuring Deanna Raybourn, Margaret Maron, and Diane Michael Cantor

Therese Anne Fowler kindly moderated our History-Mystery panel featuring Deanna Raybourn, Margaret Maron, and Diane Michael Cantor



Anne Bogel interviewing Elin Hilderbrand during our headline event.


Elin Hilderbrand signs a copy of THE RUMOR for Therese Anne Fowler

Elin Hilderbrand signs a copy of THE RUMOR for Therese Anne Fowler


The first part of Marybeth's book haul. Don't they all look amazing?

The first part of Marybeth’s book haul. Don’t they all look amazing?


The second part of Marybeth's book haul. I'd show mine but I still haven't taken a picture of them. Because that requires unpacking. And I'm just not there yet.

The second part of Marybeth’s book haul. I’d show mine but I still haven’t taken a picture of them. Because that requires unpacking. And I’m just not there yet.


And that's a wrap. A picture from my seat on the way home to Nashville.

And that’s a wrap. A picture from my seat on the way home to Nashville.

Question for you: who wants to join us in Savannah next year?

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Radio Silence

We’ve been silent this week and for good reason: we are, quite simply, exhausted. One week ago today Marybeth and I arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance yearly trade show. It is no exaggeration to say that this is our favorite event of the year. There is nothing like spending a weekend with hundreds of booksellers and authors and publishing professionals. And this year we had the immense pleasure of organizing Triangle Reads, our first ever live readers event, held in partnership with SIBA. It was, in a word, AMAZING. And there is so much we want to tell you about it. But first, friends, we must sleep. And do laundry. And find a semblance of normality at home and work. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programing on Monday. But until then, we’ll give this one small glimpse into Triangle Reads: Elin Hilderbrand being interviewed by our new friend, Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy).


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How ‘A Curious Beginning’ Came To Be

Today’s post by New York Times Bestselling author, Deanna Raybourn | @DeannaRaybourn

Deanna Raybourn’s new novel, A CURIOUS BEGINNING, is one of our fall book club selections. I read the story of Veronica Speedwell in two giant gulps earlier this summer and loved it so much that I went back and read most of Deanna’s previous books as well. Simply put, this novel is fun. And clever. And a delight to read. So I’m thrilled to have Deanna on the blog today sharing how this novel came to be.

Deanna RaybournOne of the questions I dread most as a writer is, “Where did you get your inspiration?” The answer is usually some strange alchemical reaction of research, imagination, and serendipity that I can’t quite define. But not this time. The inspiration for Veronica Speedwell is one very intrepid, very memorable Victorian explorer by the name of Margaret Fountaine. I have been casually studying the Victorian female explorers for decades; whenever I am between projects I always seem to end up reading whatever I can get my hands on about their travels—usually anthologies of their collective adventures. I have amassed a small collection on the subject, my favorite being journals written by the women themselves on their expeditions. With great affection and tongue firmly in cheek, I call them the parasol and petticoat brigade, but they were so much more! Most of their formative years were spent in very typical 19th-century households with music lessons and flower arranging their most demanding activities. But for each woman there came a tipping point, a crossroads at which the traveler realized she wanted much more than her narrow existence could offer. That’s when she packed her carpetbag and set off to see the world. I find their courage both extraordinary and incredibly inspiring; they faced obstacles and setbacks with astonishing equanimity, pushing forward across the next frontier, past the next horizon. They blazed new trails, sometimes forcing a path through lands their male counterparts dared not attempt. Luckily for me, many of them wrote about their experiences and those journals and letters make for fascinating reading.

Years ago, so long I don’t quite remember where I unearthed it, I was lucky enough to find a copy of Margaret Fountaine’s first journal, a nondescript, twee-looking volume entitled Love Among the Butterflies. (The second volume has an even more sentimental title–Butterflies and Late Loves.) Fountaine was a lepidopterist who hunted butterflies on six continents with a career that spanned over five decades, and I settled in to read, expecting the book would be about lepidoptery and the vagaries of foreign travel. Instead, it took a delightfully salacious turn as Fountaine described not only her butterfly hunts, but her numerous dalliances. It was utterly enthralling to read about her flirtations, and the more I read, the more I wanted to create a character with the same indefatigable energy, the same zest for life and adventure. Veronica is influenced by all of these unforgettable Victorian explorers, but I gave her Margaret’s butterflies as a particular homage. Like them, Veronica is forthright, dynamic, and uncowed by danger—in fact, she rather goes in search of it.


A Curious BeginningIn her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.


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Today’s post by Kim Boykin | @AuthorKimBoykin

Kim BoykinLast year, I was having a glass of wine with my editor who wanted to know what was next for me.

I wanted to wow her with another quirky tale and a great original title, so I pitched a story I’d started several years ago about two elderly spinster sisters called A Peach of a Pair. The idea for the story came from my great great aunt who traveled from the bottom of southwest Georgia to Arkansas to see a faith healer in the late 1940’s. Women didn’t travel alone, and there weren’t a lot of women on the busses. So, to be on the safe side, she rode the whole way to Little Rock with her arms crossed and a hatpin under each arm. If a man got too close to her or fell asleep and his head flopped onto her shoulder, she’d jab him with the pin. Unfortunately, when she got to her destination, she found out the faith healer had been run out of the state, and she got back on the bus and went home.

While the hatpin incident isn’t in A Peach of a Pair, the idea of traveling a great distance for healing is. I loved the idea of setting out on an arduous journey full of hope and faith that there is healing on the other end. That’s what happens to poor Lurleen, the eldest sister, who is dying of congestive heart failure, but not because she wants to go on this trip. Her sister Emily, took something from her when they were barely twenty.

As Emily says:

What happened to Teddy was Emily’s fault, and she’d paid for it a thousand times over, losing her mother to a broken heart. And the seven years Lurleen lived in the same house as Emily but didn’t speak to her, didn’t take anything from her hand. The shunning wasn’t a religious edict. Goodness no, they were raised Presbyterian. But Lurleen had taken right to the practice. Even with the gravity of events, Emily was sure it couldn’t last, but she’d been wrong.”

Even fifty years later, Emily wants to right the scales so badly, she badgers poor Lurleen into getting on a Greyhound bus and riding all the way from Camden, South Carolina to Palestine, Texas to see a faith healer.

My editor loved the title, loved the story so much, I thought she would buy it on the spot, but then she said, “Where’s your young protagonist?” The truth is, when you publish you’re put into a box. All authors are because it’s easier for publishers to sell us that way. We can’t just be storytellers, which is what I wanted to be. I was so excited about my pitch to her, I’d forgotten Penguin put me in the sweet Southern box complete with a young protagonist.

So I did what every author does; I made her up on the fly. “Uh. Her name is Nettie Gilbert and she’s a ‘Bama belle in her last semester at Columbia College, and, uh, she receives an invitation to her baby sister’s wedding back home. BUT her own fiancé is the groom. So she quits school and goes to work for two old maids in Camden, South Carolina and the bus trip for healing ensues.”

The interesting thing about this is, in the original version of the story, Nettie was a young girl on the bus, but she was also a plot device to hear the sister’s stories, to understand the riff, and their complex sisterhood. When I started to write, I was a little concerned that Nettie would be overpowered by Emily and Lurleen’s great big voices, but it turned out Nettie held her own and then some, even though Emily and Lurleen do hijack the story from time to time. But the story worked and turned out to be an examination of an indestructible sisterhood and a wild ride to forgiveness.


A Peach of a PairPalmetto Moon inspired The Huffington Post to rave, “It is always nice to discover a new talented author and Kim Boykin is quite a find.” Now, she delivers a novel of a woman picking up the pieces of her life with the help of two spirited, elderly sisters in South Carolina.

March, 1953. Nettie Gilbert has cherished her time studying to be a music teacher at Columbia College in South Carolina, but as graduation approaches, she can’t wait to return to her family—and her childhood sweetheart, Brooks—in Alabama. But just days before her senior recital, she gets a letter from her mama telling her that Brooks is getting married . . . to her own sister.

Devastated, Nettie drops out of school and takes a job as live-in help for two old-maid sisters, Emily and Lurleen Eldridge. Emily is fiercely protective of the ailing Lurleen, but their sisterhood has weathered many storms. And as Nettie learns more about their lives on a trip to see a faith healer halfway across the country, she’ll discover that love and forgiveness will one day lead her home . . .

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Triangle Reads Update

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

We’ve got a bit of great news for those of you hoping/planning to join us in Raleigh next weekend for Triangle Reads. There are only a couple of days left to register for Triangle Reads and only a handful of spots left. So our friends at the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance are running a short “buy one ticket, get one free” promotion. What that means for you? Invite a friend and have lunch with 24 authors, an afternoon of panels, and instead of one $20 voucher, you will now receive two $15 vouchers to spend at the indie on-site bookstore. This promotion will apply to those who have already purchased tickets as well!

We very much hope to see you there!




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Tell Me Something True: Meg Mitchell Moore on The Admissions

Today’s post by Meg Mitchell Moore, author of THE ADMISSIONS | @MMitchMoore

Please give a hearty welcome to Meg Mitchell Moore. She’s the author of THE ADMISSIONS (along with THE ARRIVALS and SO FAR AWAY) and is one of our featured authors this fall. Meg has kindly given us a glimpse into the inspiration behind her novel and what it’s like to write a book that draws on parts of her own life. We think you’ll love this novel and now is the time to grab your copy if you’ve not done so already!

Meg Mitchell MooreThree years ago my family and I moved from Massachusetts to California for my husband’s job. For many reasons with which I won’t bore you now, and as wonderful as many parts of California are, it wasn’t the right life for us and we moved back to Massachusetts after just one year. Soon after we returned I began writing The Admissions, a story about a striving, upper-middle-class California family trying to get their eldest daughter into Harvard while family secrets bubble to the surface.

Look at what I just did there! In just the second sentence of this piece I qualified our reasons for moving back to the east coast so the state of California wouldn’t be mad at me. “As wonderful as many parts of California are” is a clause that could definitely come out in revision, but I’m leaving it there because it illustrates something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: the inevitability of novelists drawing on their own lives for material, and the repercussions of that on both author and reader.

Writing fiction for a living is such an odd thing to do in many ways. We authors are constantly casting about for material; unavoidably we catch upon fragments from our own lives and build fictional worlds from those fragments, mixing in a good number of details that we just plain make up. In my latest novel, The Admissions, the family looks more like my actual family than any family I’ve written about. There’s a married couple living in the Bay area, both of whom came from places other than California, which my husband and I were for a time. There are three daughters, which we have. One daughter is a competitive Irish dancer, as my eldest daughter is. One daughter is a competitive runner, as both my husband and I have been. The insanely cutthroat Bay area real estate market did play a role in our lives for a time.

These things are different: I am not a real estate agent, as my character Nora is. My husband does not work as a business consultant. My eldest daughter is not yet in high school; she’s not applying to college. We’ve never owned a Newfoundland. My husband didn’t grow up on a ranch. My youngest daughter learned to read right on time, unlike the struggling second-grader in the book. There are many other details that have nothing whatsoever to do with my life or my family’s life (I won’t go into them now because they reveal certain plot points).

Now that the book is out in the world, I’ve noticed that people like to point out or ask about (or, worse, assume the existence of) resemblances. My instinct—one that many authors can understand—is to chafe at this. I want to say, Look! There are so many more differences than there are similarities! I want to say, Stop trying to find parallels! I want to say, This is fiction! I even want to say, I never owned a Newfoundland!

But you know what I’ve decided? Those parts of me need to sit for some time in the back seat. If I write fiction for a living, and if I’m hoping for readers to pay a good chunk of money to read what I wrote, and if I want to entertain them and perhaps illuminate something about the world we live in, the questions about where I get my material and how much of it came from my own life are legitimate. They come with the trade; they’re as much a part of the job as scrubbing in is for a surgeon or patient privacy is for a therapist or late nights are for a chef. Readers are looking for comparisons between a work of fiction and an author’s life not to annoy the author but because the creative process is opaque and mysterious and readers want to find a window into it.

I recently heard a radio interview with Jonathan Franzen in which he talked about a character in The Corrections who liked to concoct “mixed grill” creations for his family’s dinner. “I thought [my brother] might just permanently hate me for taking some of his pet activities like mixed grill and putting them in a novel,” said Franzen. For a while, by the way, the brother wasn’t too happy about it. But every time I think about The Corrections, which I haven’t read in many years, the oldest brother and his mixed-grill creations are one of the elements that I always remember: it’s the kind of poignant, hilarious, specific detail that makes a character come alive. The brother might not have been happy about it, but as a reader I am delighted.

Franzen’s brother has come to terms with the reality of being related to a well-known novelist. “You have to be allowed to do what a writer does,” says Franzen. I agree, and I hope readers do too.

I just really, really hope California isn’t mad at me.

* * *

The AdmissionsThe Admissions brilliantly captures the frazzled pressure cooker of modern life as a seemingly perfect family comes undone by a few desperate measures, long-buried secrets—and college applications!

The Hawthorne family has it all. Great jobs, a beautiful house in one of the most affluent areas of northern California, and three charming kids with perfectly straight teeth. And then comes their eldest daughter’s senior year of high school…

Firstborn Angela Hawthorne is a straight-A student and star athlete, with extracurricular activities coming out of her ears and a college application that’s not going to write itself. She’s set her sights on Harvard, her father’s alma mater, and like a dog with a chew toy, Angela won’t let up until she’s basking in crimson-colored glory. Except her class rank as valedictorian is under attack, she’s suddenly losing her edge at cross-country, and she can’t help but daydream about the cute baseball player in English class. Of course Angela knows the time put into her schoolgirl crush would be better spent coming up with a subject for her term paper—which, along with her college essay and community service hours has a rapidly approaching deadline.

Angela’s mother, Nora, is similarly stretched to the limit, juggling parent-teacher meetings, carpool, and a real-estate career where she caters to the mega rich and super-picky buyers and sellers of the Bay Area. The youngest daughter, Maya, still can’t read at the age of eight; the middle-child, Cecily, is no longer the happy-go-lucky kid she once was; and the dad, Gabe, seems oblivious to the mounting pressures at home because a devastating secret of his own might be exposed. A few ill-advised moves put the Hawthorne family on a heedless collision course that’s equal parts achingly real and delightfully screwball.

Sharp and topical, The Admissions shows that if you pull at a loose thread, even the sturdiest of lives start to unravel at the seams of high achievement.

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