What We’re Into: January/February Edition

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and yours truly | @MarybethWhalen @ArielLawhon

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

I’ve been into organization, healthy eating, productivity and all the other typical things people are into at the beginning of the year. I jumped on the bandwagon for Modern Mrs Darcy’s 2015 Reading Challengand created a Pinterest board of my specific books for each category.

I binged on the new episodes of Criminal Minds and Law and Order SVU that were added to Netflix. Yay for that!

I counseled my adult children on everything from how to cook crockpot meals to internships to theological issues. Parenting, I am learning, does not end at 18. It’s really only getting started.

On my personal blog, I started a series each Wednesday of sharing what worked for me that week– little things that made my life better. It was nice to think in terms of what worked… instead of what didn’t.

My son and I saw Paddington and both loved it. Very cute film to take the kids to. Put it on your radar if you haven’t already.

I’ve enjoyed (and learned from) these blog posts this month:

5 Tips for Being a Better Listener by Gretchen Rubin. Her books on happiness, and her new one on habit are on my TBR list for 2015. I am late to her party.

I like seeing more and more information coming out that print books are superior to ebooks. Here’s one: Do You Get The Same Experience From Audiobooks and Print?  And  this post about how ebooks are bad for you. I knew it!

I’m stalking this daily page notepad as a means of organizing my day to day. January was definitely a month where such thoughts featured prominently in my mind.

And along those lines, this post about The Ten Things Organized People Do Everyday was a good one with some tips we can all use without a lot of fuss.

And here’s 21 Books To Read Before They Hit The Big Screen in 2015As if I needed MORE books to read. My list is depressingly long already. While not all these will make it to my list (no thank you Fifty Shades), several of these looked good. If nothing else, I want to see the movies.

And finally, because I’m sharing these posts with you, I will finish with this bit of wisdom from Seth Godin. “The culture we will live in next month is a direct result of what people like us share today.”

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

We’ll call this the “What I’m Into — Instagram Version” since I am (apparently) quite into Instagram these days. It feels safer than other forms of social media to me right now. Maybe because you have to tell a story with a picture? Maybe because it’s less frantic and opinionated? Or maybe just because it’s on my pone and I spend a lot of time in car pool lines waiting for children. Regardless, if you happen to kill as much time on that app I do, you can find me here.

So here’s the deal. Life has been really hard/strange/wonderful/exhausting the last few months and I’m the kind of person who only feels comfortable sharing something once it’s already passed. I need the perspective that distance can give. So I thought it fitting to share these moments with you now that they are in the rear view mirror. Moments captured on Instagram. Some of them filtered. Some of them not. But these are the things I’ve been into recently.

My Stuff

Left: I have been growing out a pixie cut for exactly one year now. If not for the coolest hair stylest in the world I would have just shaved my head and gone for bald. But he has somehow made the process fun. I call him the Magic Hair Ninja Wizard and thanks to his skills I can now get this sad hair of mine into two tiny pig tails. So, I am into those clear little plastic baby hair ties. (I borrowed these from my niece)

Center: Two years ago for Christmas my sister gave me these red rain boots. Given the amount of snow and slush and ice we’ve gotten lately I have put them to good use. But I also wear them in the summer. And the spring. And the fall. Also, my sister and I have a standing agreement that we wear our “big rubba boots” (name that film) every time we go see a movie.

Right: Here’s the deal. I’m 36 years old and I ought to be able to wear red lipstick with a straight face. 2015 is the year I am determined to conquer this skill. Results so far: fair to middling. I’m experimenting with shades (almost everything turns hot pink on me) and I’m forcing myself to wear it out in public. But, for the most part, I’m totally into red lipstick right now.

Mamaw

Left: My beautiful, kind, classy, amazing grandmother. She passed away in January and I will spend the rest of my life feeling gutted by her loss. Even now I’m struggling to find the right words to express what she means to me. For a woman who makes her living with words I just can’t find them right now. Maybe soon. So I will simply say this: at the moment I am very much into looking through old pictures of her. Remembering. Laughing. Crying. Marveling at how shockingly pretty she was, even into her eighties.

Center: When we went back for Mamaw’s funeral, I found these old croquet balls in the barn behind her house. I remember playing with them as I child. And there they were, lying in a tattered box, covered with dust. So I brought them home and washed them off and set them in a bowl on my coffee table. I don’t think I’ll ever move them. I am very, very into these old battered croquet balls at the moment.

Right: A candid photo of my grandparents snapped by a street photographer on one of their first dates. She is so happy and he is so dashing and I look at this photo when I feel that life has gotten heavy or unmanageable. Because what a miracle that two people met and fell in love in the 40’s and that I exist today because of them.

Road Trips

Left: I’m totally into road trips with my sister, Abby, right now. As you can see, we started early. I believe this was on a motorized car outside a grocery store in Lubbock, TX circa 1986.

Center: Abby and I drove back to Lubbock for our grandmother’s funeral last month. She lived on a cotton farm “out yonder.” And that farm is populated by more than one John Deere tractor. So, when in Lubbock, drink coffee like a farmer. I really wish I’d brought this mug home with me. I’m into it.

Right: The drive home from the funeral was a butt-numbing sixteen hours that we covered in one day. And it took us five days but we finally instituted the “French Fry Clause” established on day one. It goes something like this: “I’m a grown woman and even though there are no children with me right now I will have french fries if I want them.” I suggest you try it sometime. And if you do, go for the ones at Smashburger. Totally worth the calories.

The Boys

Left: My oldest child is dancing on the edge of adolescence and the closer he gets the curlier his hair gets. He hates it and makes us cut it often. But every once in a while the haircuts grow few and far between and his hair starts to flip behind his ears like it did when he was a baby and I am reminded that no matter how big he gets he’ll always be the boy that turned me into a mother. I am so grateful for this. And I wish he’d just go for the curly surfer dude look.

Center: There is a forty-five minute stretch of time between carpool runs every day when my oldest and I are home alone. We sit on the couches and read during this time. It is precious to me

Right: This one is hard. My youngest son had surgery earlier this month. He is fine. Thank God, he is fine. But there were a few weeks when we didn’t know if he would be and I’m telling you this did something permanent and terrifying and holy to my heart. But that little health detour is now part of his story and we’re deeply aware of what a gift it is to have healthy children. It’s not something I’ll ever take for granted again. Also, aren’t those kid-sized scrubs the cutest thing you have ever seen? I wish the hospital had let us keep them. But no, they are washed and dried and folded and put on the next precious little body that needs the sure and steady hand of a surgeon. I just never knew how many of them there were until we stood in a hallway watching this one be wheeled away on a stretcher.

So, in case it isn’t obvious from all these little snapshots of my life, I am into my family. Relationships. My home. I am into the small moments–the vast majority of which I will never photograph–that make up a life. I’m trying to be online less because I’m trying to be with these people. I am trying to be present and accounted for.

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Three Kinds Of Magic

Today’s post by Greer Macalister | @TheLadyGreer

The Magician's LieTHE MAGICIAN’S LIE is about three kinds of magic.

The first is stage magic. The Amazing Arden is a female illusionist, the most famous of her day – 1905. She does all the usual illusions – making cards and coins fly through the air, disappearing and reappearing scarves, producing something out of nothing – but she’s most famous for The Halved Man, in which she saws a man in half on stage. As you might imagine, this is controversial stuff.

The second is real magic. There’s a question of whether Arden herself might have true magical powers – maybe something that might help her escape the predicament she’s in at the beginning of the book. She’s handcuffed to a chair by a small-town policeman who catches her running from the scene of a murder. She’s not an escape artist, so she’s going to need some other skill to get free. Will her words alone be enough? Or does she have other powers, something supernatural, that might make the difference?

The third type of magic in this book is love. In the middle of all this is a love story. It’s about two people who find each other, against all odds, and share a burning, all-consuming passion. But does this passion complete them or destroy them? Love is an incredibly powerful force, and one of the questions of The Magician’s Lie is whether that power, in Arden’s case, is her doom or her salvation.

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Four Domestic Thrillers To Give You Chills This Winter

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

After the success of domestic thrillers like GONE GIRL, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, and BIG LITTLE LIES, more and more of us are finding the thrill of a good thriller. We thought we’d spotlight four new titles to put on your winter “to be read” list if you, like us, enjoy a big dose of suspense.

How to be A Good WifeHOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE by Emma Chapman

Publisher description:

In the tradition of Emma Donoghue’s ROOM and S.J. Watson’s BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, HOW T BE A GOOD WIFE by Emma Chapman is a haunting literary debut about a woman who begins having visions that make her question everything she knows.

Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after college. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.

But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.

THE CARRIERTHE CARRIER by Sophie Hannah

Publisher description:

The latest in Sophie Hannah’s internationally bestselling Zailer & Waterhouse series, named byThe Sunday Times as one of the 50 Best Thrillers of the Last Five Years

When Gaby’s plane is delayed, she’s forced to share a hotel room with a stranger: Lauren, who is terrified of her. But why is she scared of Gaby in particular? Lauren won’t explain. Instead, she blurts out something about an innocent man going to prison for murder. Gaby soon suspects that Lauren’s presence on her flight isn’t a coincidence, because the murder victim is Francine Breary, the wife of the only man Gaby has ever truly loved.

Tim Breary has confessed. He’s even provided the police with evidence. The only thing he hasn’t given them is a motive. He claims to have no idea why he murdered his wife…

One Step Too FarONE STEP TOO FAR by Tina Seskis

Publisher Description:

The #1 international bestseller reminiscent of AFTER I’M GONE, SISTER, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, and THE SILENT WIFE—an intricately plotted, thoroughly addictive thriller that introduces a major new voice in suspense fiction—a mesmerizing and powerful novel that will keep you guessing to the very end.

No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret.

Will you?

A happy marriage. A beautiful family. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life—to start again as someone new?

Now, Emily has become Cat, working at a hip advertising agency in London and living on the edge with her inseparable new friend, Angel. Cat’s buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can’t bury the past—or her own memories.

And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she’s done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far. . . 

House of EchoesHOUSE OF ECHOES by Brendan DUFFY

Publisher Description:

In this enthralling and atmospheric thriller, one young family’s dream of a better life is about to become a nightmare.

Ben and Caroline Tierney and their two young boys are hoping to start over. Ben has hit a dead end with his new novel, Caroline has lost her banking job, and eight-year-old Charlie is being bullied at his Manhattan school.

When Ben inherits land in the village of Swannhaven, in a remote corner of upstate New York, the Tierneys believe it’s just the break they need, and they leave behind all they know to restore a sprawling estate. But as Ben uncovers Swannhaven’s chilling secrets and Charlie ventures deeper into the surrounding forest, strange things begin to happen. The Tierneys realize that their new home isn’t the fresh start they needed . . . and that the village’s haunting saga is far from over.

House of Echoes is a novel that shows how sometimes the ties that bind us are the only things that can keep us whole.

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Menna Van Praag

Today’s post by Menna van Praag | @MennavanPraag

Today Menna van Praag, one of our featured winter authors, gives a peek inside her office and also the inspiration for THE DRESS SHOP OF DREAMS.

My Writing Desk

I’m given – by the creative writing gods – about one great idea a year. Which is fine, since I write a book a year. But the way the idea for The Dress Shop of Dreams came was my favorite so far. I was talking with my mom who’d seen a news piece on the BBC about workers in a Cuban cigar factory who gave a little of their wages everyday to employ a reader, someone who read them novels and plays while they rolled the cigars. Sometimes, they’d name the cigars after their favorites stories: Romeo and Juliet or The Count of Monte Cristo. While my mom was talking, I got that special feeling: a new book was being born. Immediately, I began imagining this world. I thought, what if this reader had a magical voice, one that enchanted the workers who heard him and transformed their lives? And what if he fell so in love with one of the workers that his love rendered him mute? And what if she was illiterate? Now, the finished novel, is very different from these beginnings. For example, I knew I’d relocated the setting to Cambridge, England, because this is where all my books take place. And, since we don’t have any cigar-rolling factories here, that too would have to change. In fact, a great deal changed as I was writing, as it usually does. But it was the passion I had for the initial idea kept bringing me back to the blank page everyday. And it’s an idea I’m still extremely grateful to the creative writing gods for bringing me. Now, I only hope they don’t wait too long to give me the next one!

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Book Club Recipe for Mercy Snow

Today’s post by Ingrid of Edible Tapestry | @EdibleTapestry

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June McCallister is the kind of character you love to hate. At first because she simply seems too good to be true, but as the tale of Mercy Snow unfolds in Tiffany Baker’s novel, it’s June’s underlying self-serving nature that makes her unlikable. It was her need for perfection and desire to maintain a certain image as the small New Hampshire town mill owner’s wife that inspired me to create this dish. It’s just the type of frou-frou entree she would force upon her husband and son at the dinner table, along with her green bean amandine and a lavish dessert, when they’d probably rather have fried chicken and mashed potatoes with milk gravy and corn straight from a can. But it was Mercy’s miracle-working that made me want to allow her magical ingredients from the earth to outshine June’s imposing gestures, even when they included a budding affection for Mercy’s little sister, Hannah. And so my simple roast pork loin with maple syrup, fancy dijon, and wildflower mead was born to marry the two women’s ideas.

Maple Dijon Glazed Roast Pork with Wildflower Mead

Ingredients:

1 (5lb.) pork loin

Salt & pepper

1/2 cup wildflower mead, or white wine

2 T dijon mustard

2 T pure maple syrup

1/2 c. water

Method:

Heat oven to 350F.

Combine the maple syrup and mustard in a small dish.

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Season the entire surface of the pork loin with salt and pepper.

Heat a large Dutch oven or roasting pan over high heat. Sear the roast in the pan to brown it on all sides.

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Deglaze the pan with mead.

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Spoon or brush the maple dijon glaze over the entire exposed surface.

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Place the entire pan, uncovered, into the hot oven.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 145F and the glaze has browned to golden, approximately one hour.

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Transfer the pork roast to a platter or cutting board and allow it to rest for a few minutes so it will retain it’s juices when sliced.

Place the roasting pan on a burner over medium to high heat. Add water to the pan drippings to deglaze. Whisk and reduced the liquids in the pan until they are glossy and slightly thickened.

 

 

Thinly slice the pork and serve it with the juice from the pan.

 

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The sliced pork can be held in the pan with its juices in a warm oven.

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Yield: approximately 12 servings

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On Grief And Writing

Today’s post by Tina Seskis | @TinaSeskis

Tina Seskis

Tina Seskis

“I’ve got a problem with my leg,” my mum said, during one of our regular phone conversations.  My mother rarely had issues with anything physical, and if she did she certainly didn’t share them in a hurry.

“What do you mean?” I said, and when she told me she was beginning to find it more difficult to walk I could hardly believe it.  She was a young 73, into yoga and dancing, and just two weeks beforehand had been in the gym doing weights and using the running machine on a spa day I’d bought her for Xmas; and we’d laughed at how she was keeping up with all these handsome muscly men twice the size of her.

And although now I tried to convince myself that she’d just pulled something, it was at this point that everything changed. I didn’t know how or why, but I had a strange nagging doubt in my mind that never went away.  When she’d had cancer ten years earlier I had been sunny and optimistic, had known she would live, and although this time it didn’t even occur to me that it would turn out to be cancer again (secondary this time, and brutal: our conversation was at the end of February, she died on the 3rd July) her news felt ominous, like the sun had gone behind a cloud forever.

I won’t bore or depress you with the details, but there were some points when my mother was dying that were strangely happy for me.  I was busy: working for an Irish company and commuting every two or three weeks to Dublin in a job I enjoyed, looking after my son, who was seven at the time, walking the dog, rushing down to Hampshire to see my mum, writing a novel at night.  I barely slept, looking back.  I felt so close to my mother, realizing at last I was so lucky to have had her in my life, and despite the arguments we had as a family (should she go to a hospice or come home?  Neither, said my poor dad, she’s ill, she needs to be in a hospital, where she’ll get better…) my mum put his needs before hers – he was the one being left behind, she said.  And so against the backdrop of trauma we mostly came together as a family, and after the funeral (agony, fun, drunken, in that order) life marched on.

I had bereavement counseling, but it didn’t help.  I didn’t feel sad enough. So when the lovely man came round each week I felt like I was putting it on.  The first Christmas passed and was peaceful, lovely.  I felt so guilty making the gravy and not having to bicker with my mum or ignore her instructions, saying I knew perfectly well how to make gravy, thank you very much.  I gave up my work contract around that time, and somehow I never went back to work again.

The next summer our washing machine broke.  My husband ordered a new one at 5:30 the same evening.  The next morning at 7:15 the delivery men woke me up (how’s that for service, I hear you say).  I was bleary-eyed, without my glasses; it happened to be the anniversary of my mother’s funeral. I watched them take the (working) tumble drier away instead of the (broken) washing machine.  When I realized my/their error ten minutes later, I rang my husband in a panic; he told me not to worry, that he’d ring them and ask them to bring it back.  Again, long story short, this high-tech company who could process and deliver an order in just over 12 hours, who offered hourly delivery slots due to their “constant contact” with their drivers, apparently couldn’t contact my driver at all, all day, even though I live in London, and so when I rang them for the umpteenth time the next afternoon they said it was too late, my tumble drier had been destroyed.  But hey, never mind, they said, they could offer me a discount off a new one, and when I asked how much they said 5%.

What transpired was a David and Goliath battle that I refused to give up on.  As I had freely taken responsibility, said I’d watched them take my tumble drier away, they insisted it was completely my fault. The manager spent hours and hours on the phone to me arguing the toss over £20, as if baiting me were a game, and I became obsessed with getting back my “stolen” tumble drier, as I had once called it in exasperation.  One of my best friends finally confronted me, saying it wasn’t the tumble drier I was mourning, and offered to go to the doctor’s with me.  Eventually I wrote a letter (I’m good at letters) quoting Citizen’s Rights, Internet Code of Conduct etc, and, thank God, went on holiday and refused to take their daily calls (honestly), and funnily enough when I got home they gave me a new one.

Another year rumbled on.  In July 2012 I had a new problem – not a loss but an unwelcome gain this time.  We had moths, everywhere.  I became like a woman possessed (again), and was even spotted on the street in a full chemical suit and mask (my friend had misplaced my child, in my defense).  My husband was working pretty much constantly at the Olympics, and it became my whole-hearted mission to rid myself of these ghastly creatures who were eating my 100% wool carpets. (I failed.)

The third Christmas after my mother’s death was when I finally properly missed her.  My grief crystallized into the most tremendous row with my father, over the turkey, of course, that afterwards made me sob my heart out (yes, you really can) for my mother.  That was it, something had to be done.

I had been waiting around for years trying to get a literary agent, but had still got nowhere.  On January 3rd 2013 I decided to publish One Step Too Far myself, and I threw the energy of my grief into that now, launching in April of the same year, breezing through the third anniversary of my mother’s death in July in a publishing whirlwind, reaching Number One on Amazon in September.  Within weeks of that the book had been sold to 15 publishers, covering virtually every country in the world.  All my dreams had come true.

And that was when I really did fall apart (the moths and the tumble drier had been a mere prelude to the madness of my despair).  This summer was the worst of my life, made yet more dismal by everyone expecting me to be happy, by my pretending to be happy, when I wasn’t locked away crying.  But when you’ve written a book for a mother you adored and then you sell it and lose all (perceived) control it felt like a death all over again.

So what to do?  I went back to a grief counselor.  She helped me see my rage and grief about moths and tumble driers and books for what it was – misplaced anger about the dreadful death of my mother.  Something shifted inside me this summer, four years later, and I am through to the other side.  Only those of you who have lost a parent or a child or a partner will know what I mean – everyone else thinks they do but, trust me, you don’t, and sometimes you don’t reach that other side for years and years, when something else happens to finally make you confront your loss.  So now I am proud to talk about my mother and my grief for her, without seeing it as something I shouldn’t feel, that I should have got over by now, and if I have helped even one person through the bewilderment of their bereavement then I am glad I have written this piece.

* * *

One Step Too FarThe #1 international bestseller reminiscent of After I’m Gone, Sister, Before I Go to Sleep, and The Silent Wife—an intricately plotted, thoroughly addictive thriller that introduces a major new voice in suspense fiction—a mesmerizing and powerful novel that will keep you guessing to the very end.

No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret.

Will you?

A happy marriage. A beautiful family. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life—to start again as someone new?

Now, Emily has become Cat, working at a hip advertising agency in London and living on the edge with her inseparable new friend, Angel. Cat’s buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can’t bury the past—or her own memories.

And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she’s done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far. . . .

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An Old Story Made New

Today’s post by Tiffany Baker | @TiffBaker

Tiffany Baker

Tiffany Baker

Mercy Snow is actually an old story made new. One thing most readers don’t know is that the novel is loosely based on the Antigone myth, where Oedipus’s daughter buries her brother against the wishes of the king of Thebes, and in doing so, brings a death sentence on herself. It’s a story about public authority versus private conviction, inner morality versus social convention, the will of an outsider versus the might of a ruler.

Old stories don’t go away. They just change. What would happen, I wondered, if that tale took place in a dying paper mill town in New Hampshire? And what would happen if it was a story about three very different women who, like it or not, found they had strings connecting them? Antigone has always seemed to me to be the narrative of a woman fighting against the rules of a man’s world, and that is an interesting story to me.

Mercy Snow can be read as a mystery, or as a morality tale, or as an ecological warning. It is all of those things, but the heart of the novel—I hope—is the knot of these three women who do not like each other, who are so different, and yet who find themselves to be vitally necessary to one another. I had so much fun reworking an old myth and inventing a brand new setting for it. I hope it is as much fun to read. Enjoy!

* * *

Mercy SnowIn the tiny town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, the paper mill dictates a quiet, steady rhythm of life. But one day a tragic bus accident sets two families on a course toward destruction, irrevocably altering the lives of everyone in their wake.

June McAllister is the wife of the local mill owner and undisputed first lady in town. But the Snow family, a group of itinerant ne’er-do-wells who live on a decrepit and cursed property, have brought her–and the town–nothing but grief.

June will do anything to cover up a dark secret she discovers after the crash, one that threatens to upend her picture-perfect life, even if it means driving the Snow family out of town. But she has never gone up against a force as fierce as the young Mercy Snow. Mercy is determined to protect her rebellious brother, whom the town blames for the accident, despite his innocence. And she has a secret of her own. When an old skeleton is discovered not far from the crash, it beckons Mercy to solve a mystery buried deep within the town’s past.

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Why No One Wants You To Be Happy

Today’s post by Liza Palmer | @LizaPalmer

Liza Palmer is the internationaly best-selling author of CONVERSATIONS WITH THE FAT GIRL which was optioned for series by HBO. She’s here today to speak a little truth and to tell us about her new novel, GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR.

Liza Palmer

Liza Palmer

I am on a group text with four other girlfriends. It’s become this ongoing chat room where we talk about everything and nothing; a safe haven for each of us to vent and check in with people we know will understand. Today, one of us texted:

I just opened a “free gift” from Sephora and it contains: Pre-cleanse, Special cleansing gel, Overnight repair serum. Um…WTF is “pre-cleanse”?!?  Shouldn’t the “special cleansing gel” do the cleansing job?!”

As far as I’m concerned, Sephora’s Pre-Cleanse can go in the same bin as the BIC Cristal For Her Ball pen, the innumerable miracle weight loss pills and anti-aging snake oils, as well as the myth that women are orgasmic at the thought of cleaning up after their messy, thoughtless families.

The most dangerous thing in the world a woman can be is happy. Happy with the way she looks. Happy with the way she’s aging. Happy with her home. Happy with or without a partner.

If we were all happy and contented, we wouldn’t buy into the fact that we need to use a soap BEFORE a soap to wash our dirty, wrinkly, fat faces. I picture some poor teenager out there, at the beginning of her journey as a woman. She’s learning the ropes of skin care and in a moment of wide-eyed inexperience she buys into the fact that she needs to use a soap before a soap.

Back in the day, I remember a magazine editor saying the airbrushed photos they use of celebrities and models aren’t meant to be realistic, they’re meant to be “aspirational.”

The really sad part is that the photos we see of celebrities in magazines are aspirational even to the celebrities themselves. Not even they can achieve the perfection demanded of them by society.

So why do we do it? Why do we play along? Why do we aspire, like the magazine editor said, to be airbrushed versions of ourselves? Why do we keep thinking that something out there is going to make us happy, when we all know that happiness is an inside job?

Because it’s easier.

Being happy is neither a one-time epiphany nor something that can it be attained with the right dress, the right man or the right number on the scale. It is an uncomfortable, labyrinthine series of choices we make day in and day out. Choices rooted in one simple question: WHAT DO I WANT?

In my novel, GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR, my main character Anna asks herself this very question. Her answer:

I want to be happy and not feel guilty about it. I want to be curious, without being called indulgent. I want to be accepted regardless of what I look like, what I do for a living, my marital status, whether I have kids, or whether you think I was nice enough, hospitable enough or humble enough to measure up to your impossible standards. I want purpose. I want contentment. I want to be loved and give love unreservedly in return. I want to be seen. I want to matter. I want freedom. I want to Just Be.

And like Anna, finally saying out loud what we want is met with its own set of pitfalls. A woman being happy on her own terms threatens those who have a stake in us “knowing our place.” True happiness threatens those who would rather we stay small and apologetic.

Society is not going to applaud as you decide once and for all you don’t have ten more pounds to lose. There will be no ticker tape parade when you say no to an event and have the nerve not to offer an excuse as to why. Products aimed at women rely on us buying into the belief that we are deeply and intrinsically flawed.

I am here to offer you another option. What if we started defining ‘perfect’ as ‘authentic?’ And achieving perfection means being absolutely aligned with our truest selves. Do we even remember who we really are?

What if we get to be happy because each one of us is inherently deserving of it. Just as we are.

Say it with me. Dear World: We don’t need your stinking pre-cleanses.

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Girl Before a Mirror jpegThe author of Conversations with a Fat Girl—optioned for HBO—returns with the hilarious and heartfelt story of a woman who must learn how to be the heroine of her own life—a journey that will teach her priceless lessons about love, friendship, family, work, and her own heart.

An account executive in a Mad Men world, Anna Wyatt is at a crossroads. Recently divorced, she’s done a lot of emotional housecleaning, including a self-imposed dating sabbatical. But now that she’s turned forty, she’s struggling to figure out what her life needs. Brainstorming to win over an important new client, she discovers a self-help book—Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero—that offers her unexpected insights and leads her to a most unlikely place: a romance writers’ conference. If she can sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year Pageant winner for her campaign—and meet the author who has inspired her to take control of her life—she’ll win the account.

For Anna, taking control means taking chances, including getting to know Sasha, her pretty young colleague on the project, and indulging in a steamy elevator ride with Lincoln Mallory, a dashing financial consultant she meets in the hotel. When the conference ends, Anna and Lincoln must decide if their intense connection is strong enough to survive outside the romantic fantasy they’ve created. Yet Lincoln is only one of Anna’s dilemmas. Now that her campaign is off the ground, others in the office want to steal her success, and her alcoholic brother, Ferdie, is spiraling out of control.

To have the life she wants—to be happy without guilt, to be accepted for herself, to love and to be loved, to just be—she has to put herself first, accept her imperfections, embrace her passions, and finally be the heroine of her own story.

 

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A Balancing Act: Mary Kubica On The Writing Life

Today’s post by bestselling debut author, Mary Kubica | @MaryKubica

We’re thrilled to have Mary Kubica, one of our Books of Winter authors, with us today to share a bit about THE GOOD GIRL and how it came to be. Enjoy!

Mary Kubica

Mary Kubica

In hindsight, I don’t know how I did it. I had a daughter who’d just turned one, and a few months later I was pregnant again with another little one on the way. It was then that I got a random plot line about a Chicago woman who gets abducted and whisked off to the Minnesota wilderness – a story that would one day be known as THE GOOD GIRL – right at a time when I was lucky to get in a shower each day or to make it through the afternoon without the need for a nap. And then, before long, I was beleaguered by morning sickness and suddenly I had two children at home under the age of two, one who could not yet sleep through the night and another who was starting to toddle around and get into anything and everything.

Growing up, I loved to write, though it was always a hobby and never something I pursued professionally. I worked as a high school history teacher until my daughter was born, and it was then that I decided to stay home and raise her, opening the door to a brand new career: writing.

THE GOOD GIRL was written frantically in the hours when my children napped, or sometimes very early in the morning, or sometimes very late at night. It was written with my infant son strewn across my lap, sometimes – sharing the space with the laptop, of course – or sometimes while sitting on the playroom floor playing Little People or Barbie dolls with my daughter while typing with the other hand. Sometimes it was written with my children perched in front of the TV watching Sesame Street.

Now my children are 9 and 7 years old, and go to school all day. I have plenty of time to write, and whether this is a blessing or a curse, I’m still undecided. For me, being a mother is my foremost priority. When my children are home, I pack the writing away and take on the role of ‘mom’. I concede that spring and summer breaks will not be very productive, but the rest of the nine months will. Travel has proven to be the trickiest part, as I’m still the primary caregiver in our family. For this I thank all the family and friends who have stepped up to help – and my husband who spent all of his 2014 vacation time at home with our kids so that I could travel to promote THE GOOD GIRL.

There are limits to what I can do as a stay-at-home mom and also a working mom: I cannot be active in the PTO or volunteer in my children’s classrooms as much as they might like me to. There are nights I’m at a signing event or a book club and cannot be home for dinner. And then there is the travel, which takes its toll on my youngest, in particular, who is indeed a mama’s boy. Thank goodness for Skype and FaceTime.

Shortly after the finished copies of THE GOOD GIRL arrived, my daughter held up a copy for her friend to see. “My mom wrote this,” she said, “and it’s going to be for sale in book stores,” and I knew that she was proud. That alone makes every single moment of this experience worth it. I’m very honored to be able to call myself an author and a mother.

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9780778316558_RHC_SMP.indd“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.

Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a propulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems….

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Author to Author: The “Unconventional Love Story” Interview, Part Two

Today’s post by Colleen Oakley and Kristin Harmel | @ColleenOakley @KristinHarmel

We’re thrilled to round out our author-to-author interview today as Colleen Oakley shares a bit about her debut novel, BEFORE I GO. And many thanks to Kristin Harmel for the thoughtful, fascinating questions. If you missed part one of this interview you can read it here.

Unconventional Love Story Collage

Kristin: Wow. Just wow. I can’t believe this incredible novel is actually your debut! I know you have quite a journalism track record – former editor-in-chief of Women’s Health & Fitness, senior editor at Marie Claire, lots of freelancing, etc. – but fiction is a different beast. Yet you seemed to hit every note, and your storytelling rhythm was just perfect. How did you manage to craft such a wonderful novel right out of the gate, and what made you decide to tackle the heavy subject of terminal cancer?

Colleen: Um… excuse me while I finish blushing! It’s terrifying to have anyone read your novel, but especially someone who is an accomplished author like yourself, so I’m thrilled that you liked it. Let’s see… to answer your question — I didn’t craft a wonderful novel right out of the gate! I crafted a mediocre novel that never sold. I cried, and drank a lot of tequila, and THEN I wrote this novel. It was hard at the time, getting those rejections for my first novel, but now I’m so glad it happened this way. That first novel was practice —practice that I desperately needed before tackling this novel, and yes, the heavy subject of terminal cancer.

Kristin: It makes absolute sense to me that someone whose body is betraying her the way Daisy’s is would want to have control over some aspect of her final months. I found it really interesting that the main thing she seizes on is the idea of finding her husband, Jack, a new wife, which makes for quite a bittersweet story. What made you decide to make this the focus of her energy?

Colleen: About six years ago, I interviewed a young woman who was dying of terminal cancer. We were about the same age (late 20s at the time) and we were both newlyweds, so I instantly connected with her, and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after we chatted on the phone. I wondered what I would do in her position, but interestingly — and perhaps exactly because I was a newlywed — my thoughts kept coming back to my husband Fred and what he would do if I died. Would he remarry? What would she be like? What would I want her to be like? The idea snowballed from there — what if a young woman who was dying decided to pick who her husband remarried; someone who would love him and be there for him after she was gone? It intrigued me from the get-go, but I also knew it was kind of an outlandish prospect. And because of that, I knew I needed to create a character and background where that conclusion would not only be plausible, but utterly believable. Enter Daisy! She’s kind of a control freak in her own right — a list-maker, caretaker and cross-every-T kind of person. So when she gets her tragic diagnosis — something she can’t control — it makes sense that she would get hyper-focused on one thing she thinks she may be able to have some control over — and that’s choosing who would be there for her husband after she’s gone.

Kristin: I’ve discovered over the years that without intending to, I often tackle issues or questions in my own life each time I write a novel. Did BEFORE I GO help you to tackle any internal questions? Or did it change your perspective on life in any way? In other words, what did your main character’s beautiful journey teach you?

Colleen: This is such a great question, because yes!, when I realized writing this novel was kind of a catharsis for me, I was shocked. I went into this book thinking I’d write an unorthodox— and somewhat funny— love story about a dying woman trying to find her husband a new wife. But when I was done, I realized that it was really about a dying woman coming to terms with her mortality — and that I had been working through my own fear of death. To resort to a cliché: Life is short. And you have to really make the most of each moment, especially with the ones you love, because none of us really know how much time we have left. Daisy doesn’t come to that conclusion until it’s almost too late. But writing her story really drove that point home for me. I’m not all Pollyanna now — I still get impatient with my kids for taking 10 minutes to tie their shoes, or annoyed with my husband for not putting the clothes in the dryer like I asked — but I think I also relish tiny moments more: a snuggle with my son during reading time, my daughter’s infectious giggle, waking up next to my husband every morning. Perspective. That’s what writing this novel gave me— and I’m grateful for it.

* * *

Before I Go“An impressive feat…an immensely entertaining, moving and believable read” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), this debut novel in the bestselling tradition of P.S. I Love You revolves around a young woman with breast cancer who undertakes a mission to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away.

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

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