Immigrants and “The Edge of Lost”

Today’s post by Kristina McMorris | @KrisMcMorris

Kristina McMorris

Kristina McMorris

From the very start, I knew the story would begin on a foggy night on Alcatraz Island, where the young daughter of a prison guard had gone missing. Only after I’d put the scene on paper did I wonder what circumstances had led the characters to that moment, and suddenly I envisioned a ship. It was a steamer, I realized, packed with Irish immigrants, along with some Italians, all bound for Ellis Island in a desperate search for opportunity.

As had been the case with my previous novels, various aspects of my family’s history were already finding their way onto the pages. You see, my maternal grandfather was a dark-Irishman with a penchant for reciting limericks (not all of them kid-appropriate) and whose olive complexion and black, wavy hair could pass, it was often said, as those of an Italian. While it seemed natural to borrow from such memories when creating my protagonist’s journey, I didn’t foresee how much I would also come to rely on my personal perspective as the daughter of an immigrant from Japan.

From historical memoirs recounting the experiences of Italian and Irish families in America, I soon discovered the similarities we shared regardless of time period or ethnicity. More often than not, there was a clash between the old world and the new, the deep pride of being “American” while still clinging to one’s roots, and, above all, the parents’ yearning to provide their children with a better life in an unpredictable, foreign world.

All of these elements gradually came together in The Edge of Lost, a story largely about culture and family—whether by blood or happenstance—and the sacrifices we’re willing to make for those we care about most.

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The Edge of LostFrom New York Times bestselling author Kristina McMorris comes an ambitious and heartrending story of immigrants, deception, and second chances.

On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard’s only daughter–one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island–has gone missing. Tending the warden’s greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl’s whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search’s outcome.Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

Skillfully weaving these two stories, Kristina McMorris delivers a compelling novel that moves from Ireland to New York to San Francisco Bay. As her finely crafted characters discover the true nature of loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal, they are forced to confront the lies we tell–and believe–in order to survive.

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Book, Meet Book

Today’s post by Marieke Nijkamp and Katarina Bivald | @Mariekeyn and @Katarina Bivald

Have you ever wanted to play matchmaker? Maybe you have friends with a lot in common and you’ve got this hunch they would really like each other if you could just get them in the same room? Sometimes we feel that way about books and authors. Occasionally, as in our post today, two authors have striking similarities (foreign writers publishing debut novels in a U.S. market–and with the same publisher no less) or the novels themselves tackle the same subject or theme. So we’ve decided to do a bit of literary matchmaking and begin a new series called “Book, Meet Book” where we introduce two novels (and sometimes the authors themselves) to one another and hope they hit it off. We begin with Katarina Bilvald, author of THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND, and Marieke Nijkamp, author of THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS.

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This Is Where It EndsEveryone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun.

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told from four perspectives over the span of 54 harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

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Katarina: I love your book, THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS. Such a powerful story, and in a way both infinitely sad and stubbornly hopeful. How did you feel when writing it? Were you caught up in the emotions of the story unfolding it? 

Marieke: Thank you so much! I love it when people call THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS hopeful, because that was so important to me when I set out to write it. I’ve never been big on happy endings—a great one is fantastic—but I love love love a good hopeful ending. Isn’t hope what we all need in life? And to answer your question, I definitely went through all the emotions my characters were feeling while writing it. There were many scenes that made me tear up and I definitely mourned the characters (though it was mainly the research that made me cry uncontrollably) and there were quite a few moments when I had to step back from my computer and go out into the sunlight for a bit, or do something happy.

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The Readers of Broken WheelOnce you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor–there’s not much else to do in a dying small town that’s almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are book lovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.

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Marieke: If you were to move to small-town Iowa and start a bookstore… what would you call it?

Katarina: That’s a great question. I’d probably have to rename it every six months or so because I wouldn’t be able to make up my mind, which might not be too good from a business-perspective. It would have to be called Oak Tree Bookstore for a while, for sentimental reasons and because I really do love trees. But then I think – maybe Books and Dreams? After all, that’s what a bookshop is all about, I think.

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About the authors:

Katarina Bivald lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her sister and as many book shelves that she can squeeze in. She still hasn’t decided whether she prefer books or people. Her debut novel is THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND.

Marieke Nijkamp lives in the Netherlands. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a time traveler. Her debut young adult novel is THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS.

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Why We Love Unexpected Endings

Today’s post by Helen Klein Ross | @HelenKleinRoss

We’re delighted to welcome Helen Klein Ross to the blog today. She’s the author of WHAT WAS MINE, one of our winter book club selections, and has a very interesting take on why we love a good unexpected ending. Give her a warm welcome, and tell us about a book or movie with an unexpected ending that you loved.

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Helen Klein Ross

Helen Klein Ross

When I was in grade school, the nun who taught English read us The Lady and the Tiger, a story remarkable in that it is a forerunner to today’s interactive fiction, although it was written in 1882. It is a story in which the ending must be resolved by the reader. “And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door ­—the lady, or the tiger?” My classmates and I were left to decide for ourselves which sort of death the princess chose for her lover: death by tiger, or death to their love by his marriage to someone else. Many enjoyed guessing, but I resented the author (Frank R. Stockton) for falling down on the job. He’d signed on to tell us a story and now he was bowing out just as his input was most critical.

Years later, however, when it came to ending my novel, I found myself doing almost the same thing. I don’t leave readers hanging as Stockton did–all my novel’s important questions are addressed and resolved by the last page. But I end the novel before most readers expect it to end, by asking readers to imagine what happens when a certain character walks out a door. I leave that up to readers to decide, depending on their life experience and point of view. Point of view is key to my story. The story is told from the perspective of many whose lives were affected by one split-second decision. The last point of view I allow for is the reader’s because I hope to keep readers thinking and talking about what happens next.

I went to a party last night where a friend couldn’t stop raving about a ballet she’d seen the week before. Glass Pieces portrays in dance the relentless beat of metropolitan life. Instead of concluding with a conventional finale, it ends with the entire ballet corps racing across stage, then­­—stopping short. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The audience gasped. We didn’t expect it to end like that.” But would she still be thinking about it a week later if it had ended as she’d expected it to?

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What Was MineSimply told but deeply affecting, in the bestselling tradition of Alice McDermott and Tom Perrotta, this urgent novel unravels the heartrending yet unsentimental tale of a woman who kidnaps a baby in a superstore—and gets away with it for twenty-one years.

Lucy Wakefield is a seemingly ordinary woman who does something extraordinary in a desperate moment: she takes a baby girl from a shopping cart and raises her as her own. It’s a secret she manages to keep for over two decades—from her daughter, the babysitter who helped raise her, family, coworkers, and friends.

When Lucy’s now-grown daughter Mia discovers the devastating truth of her origins, she is overwhelmed by confusion and anger and determines not to speak again to the mother who raised her. She reaches out to her birth mother for a tearful reunion, and Lucy is forced to flee to China to avoid prosecution. What follows is a ripple effect that alters the lives of many and challenges our understanding of the very meaning of motherhood.

Author Helen Klein Ross, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, weaves a powerful story of upheaval and resilience told from the alternating perspectives of Lucy, Mia, Mia’s birth mother, and others intimately involved in the kidnapping. What Was Mine is a compelling tale of motherhood and loss, of grief and hope, and the life-shattering effects of a single, irrevocable moment.

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The Things That Are Saving Our Lives Right Now

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

Our friend Anne Bogel says that most of us know what is killing us right now but we don’t often pay attention to what’s giving us life. This thought led her to begin a yearly series on the things that are saving her life at that particular moment and she has invited others to join her. It’s a fabulous idea and one that Marybeth and I embraced immediately. Because who doesn’t love practical ideas to make life easier? So, inspired by Anne, we thought we’d share a few things that are allowing us to function during these bleak winter months.

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Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

Winter is decidedly NOT my favorite season. So I have to find ways to brighten up what proves to be the bleaker months of the year. Here are ways I am doing that…

THE YEAR OF YES by Shonda Rhimes: I listened to most of this, read by the author, which brought the book to life. It is filled with encouragement, wisdom, and laughs. I love that Shonda Rhimes doesn’t take herself too seriously, and freely passes along what she has learned in her years as the woman behind the Shondaland tv dynasty.

 

This book is great for writers, but it is not just about being a writer. It’s about being a woman, a mom, and a creative person. Just the parts about realizing she’d made one of her friends into a character instead of really seeing her for who she was, and Whitney Houston’s wig (I’m not going to say more– you have to read the book) is worth the cost of admission.

Blistex Lip Medex: I am addicted to this stuff. It heals those constant chapped lips that seem to occur during the dryer winter months. I buy it by the case and all of my kids have their own to keep in their backpacks/purses. It’s an unwritten, but understood, rule: If you’re one of my people, you will carry Blistex.

Day Designer Planner: I have a planner obsession. There, I admitted it. I use several planners for various functions but I have to say the one I can’t live without is the Day Designer. I love having a daily page to schedule out my day and keep a running to-do list. (Each page also has a space for notes, what you’re having for dinner, expenses, and gratitude!) Plus, it’s just pretty. It brightens my day just to see it on my desk.

Constant Comment tea: This was my favorite tea when I was younger, but I had kind of forgotten about it. In a fit of nostalgia, I recently bought a box and it is now my nightly treat. After everyone gets tucked away for the evening, I make a cup to sip on while I am reading or watching tv. The other day my older daughter asked if she could have a cup “of whatever that is that smells like heaven.” I have to agree!

Saving our lives

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Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

My mother has always said that January is the worst month. And I tend to agree, but February has been giving it a run for its money the last few years. Especially here in Tennessee. Last year we had a major ice storm and the boys were trapped inside for three weeks. This year we had a major blizzard and while they only lost a couple days of school, it was still an ordeal to keep everyone warm and happy and occupied. Not to mention fed. Bad weather tends to make my people hungry. Okay, the truth is they’re bored. Whatever. They still wipe out the pantry like a swarm of locusts which means I have to prepare in advance and keep the house well stocked.

 

Z Pack: Every couple of years I get a raging sinus infection. And while I typically prefer to let my immune system do the work, I can not seem to kick a sinus infection on my own. This time, after ten grueling days of the plague and no sign of feeling better in sight I finally broke down and started taking antibiotics. I will never wait that long again. Lesson learned.

Electric Blanket: I dislike winter. I hate being cold. Especially while I sleep. So this year I bought a plush electric blanket at Costco and I swear this one thing has turned my husband and I into a giddy old couple who can’t wait to go to bed at nine o’clock. It’s heavy so the extra weight makes me feel bundled up. And if I remember to turn it on before I get in bed it’s like a massive fuzzy hug that knocks me right out. I think I might actually be a little sad when spring rolls around and we don’t need it anymore.

Short Stories: Life is absolutely crazy at the moment and I’m really struggling to read at my normal pace. (I’ll write more on this soon) I typically love big books–the bigger the better–but for some reason the thought of committing to a novel is really overwhelming at the moment. So I’ve turned to short story collections instead and I’ve found them to be so refreshing. I can read one story in a sitting and feel very accomplished. I need that right now. I just finished AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Helen Ellis and plan to start OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout this week.

Zoe’s Kitchen: There are few foods that I don’t get tired of easily but Greek salad is one of them. Zoe’s Kitchen makes a really large, fresh version that has become my go-to lunch. For some reason I regularly forget to include lunches in my meal planning and find myself craving something quick and healthy. It’s not uncommon for me to swing by and pick up a Greek salad several times a week. Mmmm, feta.

So, what’s saving your life right now?

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Young Adult Book Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Today’s book review by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

All the bright placesWhile Jennifer Niven is not new to the writing world, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES, published in 2015, was her first novel published in the YA genre. I had the pleasure of getting to read this last year, and it’s still with me. It’s a story that lingers beautifully.

Since its publication, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES has been a New York Times Bestseller and has garnered the attention of Hollywood. Actress Elle Fanning and director Miguel Arteta have already signed on for a movie adaptation set to release in 2017. In fact, Elle Fanning was on board with this project five months before the book even released. So, how has this one little book gotten so much attention? It’s honestly beautifully written, and, as I said, it sticks with you.

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES is the story of Violet and Finch, who meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower. Finch is a quirky, oddball kind of a guy who’s not well-liked by Violet and her group of friends. He thinks about suicide and often gets right to the brink of an attempt just to see how it feels and if he’ll follow through. Violet is still recovering from a trauma that took her sister’s life the previous year, and sometimes thinks about escaping it all. And so, when they meet on the bell tower ledge, it’s sort of muddy who was doing the rescuing and who was actually close to taking their own life this time.

Now, I know that all sounds pretty serious, and it is. But I promise, this book is not really depressing, and any sadness is well worth it once you finish. After the bell tower incident, Violet and Finch are assigned to a partner project in which they have to explore local landmarks together and write about them. What results from their assignment is a series of adventures in which we see healing, and friendship, and love… It’s really, truly something special. It wrecked me and filled my heart all at the same time.

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES has been compared to John Green’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and Rainbow Rowell’s ELEANOR AND PARK, and I do see those comparisons, but ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES is really something new and different and lovely even without the comparisons. In fact, I think it’s even better than the comparisons.

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Introducing Flight of Dreams

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

I spent the entirety of last year writing a new novel. And while I talked about that process some here, for the most part I kept my thoughts and fears and excitement to myself. I wanted to keep the novel close for that short amount of time that it belonged solely to me. I wanted to pour my energy into the book itself (sometimes this is the hardest part of writing) instead of talking about the book. But it’s now a completed thing with a life of it’s own and will be published exactly four weeks from today. So I wanted to take a minute to officially introduce FLIGHT OF DREAMS and let you know how you can win an early copy, along with some other goodies, from my wonderful friends at Doubleday.

My lovely publisher is running a Chatterbox giveaway from now until the end of January and has graciously offered to let one of you fine readers win one of the limited book boxes. See the photo and details below for entry.

And without further ado, I present to you, FLIGHT OF DREAMS.

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Flight Cover RevealFrom a dazzling new voice in historical fiction, FLIGHT OF DREAMS is an utterly suspenseful, heart-wrenching novel that vividly brings the last voyage of the Hindenburg to life.

On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.

FLIGHT OF DREAMS is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, FLIGHT OF DREAMS is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

You can pre-order a signed copy of FLIGHT OF DREAMS from my friends at Parnassus Books.

You can read an excerpt of the novel here.

Or, if you’re an audiobook fan, you can listen to the AMAZING John Lee read the first chapter here.

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Chatterbox Giveaway

Giveaway includes:

  • Hardcover copy
  • Discussion Guide
  • Travel notebook and pen
  • Travel cosmetics case
  • Set of 4 coasters with drink recipe

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The Truth About Imagined Circumstances

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Lisa Genova | @LisaGenova

We’re delighted to visit with Lisa Genova today as she shares about her latest novel, INSIDE THE O’BRIENS. Newly released in paperback, it is another heartbreaking, illuminating, beautiful look at a life-altering disease. If you loved STILL ALICE, you’ll adore this one as well.

Author Photo - Lisa GenovaMy first year out of college, I worked as a lab technician in a neurobiology lab researching drug addiction.  I was 22 years old in February 1993 when the scientists down the hall began celebrating.  They had just isolated the genetic mutation that causes Huntington’s Disease.  I remember getting very still, with goose bumps on my arms, knowing I was witnessing a historic moment in all of neuroscience. Only one thing causes HD, and these scientists had just discovered it. Surely, there would be a cure for HD. We are now 23 years later, and we still don’t have a treatment or a cure.

I believe that fiction is a powerful way in.  Stories are accessible. Unless you’re a geeky neuroscientist like me, you’re probably not going to read the Journal of Neuroscience to learn about Huntington’s disease. But you might read a novel called Inside the O’Briens (and I hope you do!). My role is to tell the truth under the imagined circumstances of my novels, to write informed fiction, to give you real medical information, but to package it in a human story that we can all relate to.  I wrote Inside the O’Briens to hopefully create some much needed awareness about a disease most people know little about.

And I’ve found that awareness and conversation are critically necessary steps in the march toward treatments and survivors. Historically, we’ve seen this with cancer and HIV.  Awareness, open conversation, lifting the shame, secrecy, and stigma, acknowledging that the disease exists are essential to developing treatments that lead to survivors. It’s impossible to cure something that seemingly doesn’t exist. A sense of urgency is needed. We’re seeing this urgency happen with Alzheimer’s, a disease we’ve all been terrified to openly talk about. Still Alice is playing a role in this, acting as a vehicle for conversation, for breaking down isolation and fear.

Inside the O’Briens is about Huntington’s, but it’s also about what’s inside us and what gets passed down through the generations—not just our DNA, but also our faith, humor, resilience, love, gratitude.  It’s about how to find hope in a situation that appears hopeless. It’s about finding courage when you’re completely vulnerable. It’s about learning to live in the moment. The future is a fantasy—the present moment is what is real.

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Inside the OBriensFrom award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a “heartbreaking…very human novel” (Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves) that does for Huntington’s disease what her debut novel Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-three-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure, and each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

Praised for writing that “explores the resilience of the human spirit” (The San Francisco Chronicle), Lisa Genova has once again delivered a novel as powerful and unforgettable as the human insights at its core.

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Author to Author Interview: Natasha Solomons and Alyssa Palombo, Part Two

Today’s post by Natasha Solomon and Alyssa Palombo | @NatashaSolomons and @AlyssInWnderlnd

Natasha Solomon Collage

Natasha: The challenge for me while writing ‘The Song of Hartgrove Hall’ was depicting music as a non-musician – I had to read everything and anything I could. I wanted readers to be able to imagine Fox’s music. Alyssa, you on the other hand are a renaissance woman – a musician and a writer. Was that a help or a hindrance while writing about music? Oh yes, and what instrument do you play?

Alyssa: As a musician I related to Fox intensely, so I would certainly say you succeeded! It was definitely a help – I didn’t have to research terminology or music theory, but even more than that I know what it feels like to connect deeply with a piece of music that you are practicing or performing, and I know what it feels like to be in a music lesson with a teacher who just says “Do it again” until you get it right, and I drew on that so much while writing this novel. I didn’t know very much about Venice or Vivaldi when I first started writing this – I researched as I went – but I do know music, so that was my initial way in to these characters and their story. Adriana’s love of music and her feelings about it ended up being the most autobiographical aspect of the novel and of her character. I don’t write music myself, though, so to write those parts of the novel I thought a lot about my own experiences with the creative process and how that might translate to writing music.

I myself am a classically trained mezzo soprano – and so the only part of writing about music in this novel that was a hindrance was when Adriana talks about singing and vocal music. She doesn’t know anything about it from a technical perspective, so I had to sort of “forget” my knowledge to write those parts. I also play a little piano, and as part of my research for this novel I did take violin lessons. I was rather terrible at it, but had a ton of fun and learned a lot!

Natasha: Venice is a character in your novel as much as Vivaldi and Adriana. Have you ever been to Venice? It’s a city that has inspired artists, musicians and writers for centuries. I can imagine that sometimes it must have felt rather intimidating. I live in Wessex and sometimes I write about the same places as Thomas Hardy which can be a joy and also a little overwhelming. How did Venice’s creative history inspire you?

Alyssa: I’ve been to Venice twice now; I went for the first time before starting the last full draft of the novel. I had gotten to the point where I knew that I had to see it for myself to accurately depict it in the novel, because there’s simply no other place like it in the world. It was a challenge to write about it just for that reason – I wanted to get a strong sense of it across on the page without bogging down the story with too much description, and I hope I’ve succeeded! And I think it makes sense that Vivaldi’s music, which to me is so distinctive, was created in such a unique place.

As you say, Venice’s creative history is daunting at times. I remember at one point while I was there thinking of Lord Byron visiting Venice and feeling a bit intimidated that I was drawing inspiration from the same place as such a great writer.

Natasha: Was Adriana based on a real person or is she purely imaginary?

Alyssa: Adriana is my own invention. I had come across the idea in a few places that Anna Giró (the opera singer with whom Vivaldi was close in his later years, and who was a real person) was actually his daughter and not his mistress, as was supposed at the time. This, to me, begged the question of who her mother would have been. So The Violinist of Venice is a “what if?” novel. And in truth it was nice having a fictional character for my protagonist, because I could have her life take whatever course I chose – although once she was on the page Adriana pretty much charted her own path!

Natasha: How did you create the character of Vivaldi? Of course he was a real person but you still needed to find your Vivaldi, the man you could write about. How much do historians know about the man beyond his remarkable music?

Alyssa: Vivaldi’s biography is still rather spotty. Part of this is due to the fact that his music fell quite out of fashion not long after his death and more or less became buried. He was “rediscovered”, so to speak, many years later once music historians noted his influence on J.S. Bach. As such, a lot of information about him wasn’t preserved as it might have been, and some of his music remains lost to this day. There are certain years in his life that we have very few details about – such as the window of time during which he and Adriana have their affair in the novel. With that said, I still had plenty of information to work with, and was able to structure the novel around certain events in his life – when he was reinstated as maestro at the Pietà, for instance, or the date that Orlando furioso premiered at the Teatro Sant’ Angelo.

This is a completely flawed method of characterization and I own that, but I also listened to a great deal of his music and tried to imagine what sort of man I thought would write such beautiful and passionate works. Any artist puts something of him- or herself into their creations, so I combined these imaginings with what history told me about the man – that he was mercurial and had a temper, that he didn’t take his responsibilities as a priest very seriously, and that he could be a grasping businessman, among other things – and created the character that I wrote about.

Natasha: Adriana is a very modern woman in her ambition, desires and also in her boldness and willingness to take risks, but she’s trapped by the restrictive mores of eighteenth-century Venice. Is this how you see her?

Alyssa: Yes, very much so. Eighteen century Venice was a society on the brink of change – or, really, on the brink of collapse – and I think that in a lot of ways Adriana is aware of that and is frustrated that things aren’t changing fast enough. It was an interesting time in music history for women: there were female singers in the opera, of course, and Venice had the ospedali where orphan girls were taught music, but could only perform from behind a screen where they could not be seen by the public. And convents throughout Europe, of course, have a long and rich musical history. Beyond these two extremes of the sacred world of the convent and the profane world of the public theatre, there were really no professional performance opportunities for women. But that even those opportunities existed shows that things were moving in the right direction for female musicians – just not fast or soon enough for Adriana. I often like to think that if Adriana was around today she would be playing electric violin in a symphonic heavy metal band.

On the social side of things, Venice at that time was extremely decadent and had rather loose morals; something that really interested and surprised me was how much sexual freedom women were occasionally permitted – not as much as the men, of course, but still. Adriana’s friend Giulietta is an example of this. But pushing back against all this was, of course, the Catholic Church and its influence over how society saw and treated women, and those more traditional values. Adriana gets trapped in the middle of this conflict and is, I would argue, also trapped by some of the same double standards that still affect women today.

Natasha: What are you working on now? Will it feature music?

Alyssa: The novel I’m working on now, which I hope will be my third, is a bit of a jump from Italy: it’s set in the young United States in the late 1700s. It does, indeed, feature music in that music is again something my heroine and hero share, but it is not so heavily a part of their relationship or of the story as in Violinist. I think I’ll be including music in my work as much as possible for my whole life, as other than writing it is my biggest passion.

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The Violinist of Venice (1)Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d’Amato adores music—except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family’s palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.

Adriana’s father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice’s patrician class—and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters—but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana’s marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice—and of Adriana’s own choices—will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.

Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana’s life, Alyssa Palombo’s The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.

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On Alcatraz And Its Evergreen Allure

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Kristina McMorris | @KrisMcMorris

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kristina-mcmorris-hi-resI’m not sure just how young I was when I first watched the movie Escape from Alcatraz—only that HBO was quite possibly the sole cable station in existence at the time. (So yes, it’s been a little while!) To this day, however, a vivid memory of Clint Eastwood fleeing that notorious island on a raft in the dark of night has stayed with me. Naturally this made my visit to the prison even more fascinating when I first took a tour several years ago. Still, I never considered using Alcatraz as a setting for a novel—mostly, I suppose, since my stories are typically set during WWII—until the day an online search led me to a documentary titled Children of Alcatraz.

The compilation of interviews in the video featured people who had grown up on “the Rock” as family members of the prison staff. While I was surprised to discover that as many as 300 civilians lived there at one time, what truly shocked me were claims that some of the children had secretly befriended inmates despite rules to prevent any contact. In fact, one gentleman recalled playing checkers with Robert Stroud, commonly known as “The Birdman of Alcatraz.” By the end of the documentary I knew I had a story to tell, one of a hardened prisoner whose acquaintance with the young daughter of a guard would lead to irreversible consequences.

As I delved further into research, I also learned about a particular prisoner at Alcatraz named Elliot Michener. As an entrusted “passman,” he had been assigned to work in the warden’s mansion, where he later built and tended a greenhouse. Eventually he was even granted special permission to work outdoors seven days a week under limited supervision. I was amazed by the dichotomy. Not only was there a colorful, peaceful haven meant for nurturing and growth set next to a bleak concrete prison where lives often withered, but also innocent young children living next door to the likes of Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly.

From this starting point, I found myself following characters across continents and over decades in a journey somehow bound for Alcatraz. Irish and Italian immigrants, mobsters and Prohibition, vaudeville and burlesque—they all gradually filled the pages of The Edge of Lost, a novel peppered with true historical and personal accounts, which I’m thrilled to now share with readers.

So, thank you, Mr. Eastwood, for the inspiration—and my mom, too, for allowing me to see a PG-rated movie back when I probably should have been watching cartoons.

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The Edge of LostFrom New York Times bestselling author Kristina McMorris comes an ambitious and heartrending story of immigrants, deception, and second chances.

On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard’s only daughter–one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island–has gone missing. Tending the warden’s greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl’s whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search’s outcome.

Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

Skillfully weaving these two stories, Kristina McMorris delivers a compelling novel that moves from Ireland to New York to San Francisco Bay. As her finely crafted characters discover the true nature of loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal, they are forced to confront the lies we tell–and believe–in order to survive.

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Author to Author Interview: Natasha Solomons and Alyssa Palombo

Today’s post by Natasha Solomon and Alyssa Palombo | @NatashaSolomons and @AlyssInWnderlnd

We’re delighted to return this year with our ongoing “Author to Author” interview series. And today we feature my (Ariel) favorite genre: historical fiction. To kick us off we have Alyssa Palombo interviewing Natasha Solomons about her new novel, THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL. We’ll be back on Thursday with part two of this interview.

Natasha Solomon Collage

Alyssa: I’m always struck by really great first lines, and The Song of Hartgrove Hall definitely has one. Did this line come to you right away, or did it take some work to get just so?

Natasha: The line is “Edie sang at her own funeral.” I think the line simply appeared and for me it was the way into Fox’s character. My grandfather made tapes where he talked about his life and after he died it took years before I could listen to them – I still find it a very strange experience. It makes the dead much more present than any photograph or even video. Fox loved Edie for her voice first, and even after her death, her voice remains – I wanted to emphasize the poignancy of this.

Alyssa: So much of The Song of Hartgrove Hall is about having an intimate connection to music. As a musician myself, I could relate to so much of what Fox said and felt and thought. I have to ask: what is your own background in regards to music? What prompted you to explore this wonderful topic?

Natasha: I’m a distinctly average musician. I used to sing at university in a choir called the ‘Madrigirls’ — I never can resist a choir with a bad pun in the name. Tim Laycock, the celebrated folk musician, taught me to sing folk songs. The plan was that I sang at all my book events, but by the time the book was published in the UK, I was heavily pregnant with my second child and had no room to breathe!

I also play the flute very badly. Whenever I take my flute out, my three-year-old son says ‘No mummy, put the flute back in the flute house.’

Yet, I think it’s because I’m a poor musician that I’m fascinated by musicality in others. As a writer I’m intrigued by different forms of creativity – I’ve written about painters, sculptors, singers but this time I wanted to focus on a composer, and in particular his relationship to landscape. While Vivaldi creates the music of Venice, Fox writes the music of the English countryside.

Alyssa: Fox is such a rich, vivid character, and I just loved his voice. Were there any challenges for you in writing from a man’s perspective?

Natasha: The greatest challenge was writing not only as man but as a man at two very different times of life. Fox narrates the novel at nineteen and then again as an older man in his seventies and beyond. The voices had to be different but the reader needed to absolutely believe that it was still the same person. I think you can detect the slight tendency toward self-aggrandising and, dare I say it, pomposity at nineteen that Fox later displays as a grand old man. His sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself punctures this and remains the same at the various stages of life. I really loved writing as a man. It’s one of the tremendous freedoms of being a writer as opposed to say an actor – one can imagine and transform oneself into anyone else, unlimited by gender, age, race or nationality. As long as you can imagine it, you can write it.

Alyssa: Music is such a powerful tool to awaken memory, and in both The Song of Hartgrove Hall and The Violinist of Venice there are pieces of music that evoke certain memories and emotions in the characters each time they hear or perform them, even as who they are has changed. Is there a certain piece of music that has had this effect in your own life?

Natasha: At the moment I can’t listen to anything by Alexandre Desplat. His film scores are so emotional and infused with charm and melancholy. Yet, somehow when I listen – I can feel time telescope and I’m old and my small children are grown. It makes me unbearably nostalgic for the present. I’m not sure why his music has this specific effect…

Alyssa: The past and present narratives in the novel are both equally compelling to me. What difficulties did you face in juggling the two timelines, if any? Was one easier for you to write than the other?

Natasha: I was actually most anxious at writing the contemporary story as I’d never written a novel with such a significant modern component. Yet, as soon as I found the character of Robin, Fox’s recalcitrant and brilliant young grandson, I was fine. I’m relieved that you found both narratives equally compelling, as I wanted them to feel like all part of the same story. A question raised in one section is continued in the next.

Alyssa: I loved the last chapter of the book. How did you decide to end with that scene?

Natasha: I wanted the novel to end in the glow of love and summer – when the characters are still young and taking pleasure in their best days. Yet, the reader knows what is to come and that suffuses their reading of the chapter with a sense of sadness. It makes me think of those Thomas Hardy lines from ‘The Self-Unseeing’: ‘Blessings emblazoned that day,/ Everything glowed with a gleam/ But we were looking away.’ The characters are looking away, lost in the glorious present but the reader is not.

Alyssa: Who is your favorite classical composer, and what is your favorite classical piece? Who is your favorite modern musician, and what is your favorite song?

Natasha: Oh, I don’t know how to choose. I love Mozart – who can’t? His requiem is one of my favourite pieces of all time. I also adore Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ – in ‘The Song of Hartgrove Hall’ Fox and his friends attempt to perform a version of it on the beach at Ardnamurchan in the Highlands of Scotland. I also love Verdi’s storytelling – his operas are novelistic in their scale and emotion. I think I’ve secretly always wanted to be Violetta. But without the consumption and the dying bit…

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The Song of Hartgrove HallNatasha Solomons’s breathtaking new novel has it all: a love triangle, family obligations, and rediscovering joy in the face of grief, all set against the alluring backdrop of an English country estate perfect for fans of Downton Abbey

It’s a terrible thing to covet your brother’s girl

New Year’s Eve, Dorset, England, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from World War II determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful Jewish wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson – a music prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness?

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