Book Club Recipe For The Magician’s Lie

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

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While handcuffed to a chair, Arden, the famous turn-of-the-century female illusionist, tells her story to a police officer whose own future depends on the ending, in Greer Macallister’s The Magician’s Lie. The Amazing Arden’s journey, which took her from a mountain farm, to a sojourn as a maid to one of the most notable families of the Gilded Era, the Vanderbilts, before she stole away to become the backbone of a traveling magician show, ends when her husband is found hacked to death at the close of one of her most astonishing acts. Virgil, the officer interviewing her through the night following the gruesome murder, must decide if the magician is telling the truth of her innocence, or if she was, in fact, the one who dealt the fatal blows.

I’m not usually a fan of books written in first person, but because The Magician’s Lie is told from the main character’s point of view, directly from her mouth as she answers Virgil’s questions, I was caught right up in the story and left pleasantly hanging at the end of every chapter, wondering what she’d have to say next. And because I lived the past decade of my life not far from the Biltmore Estate, and spent countless Sunday afternoons of those years exploring the house’s nooks and crannies, the period of time that Arden spent working there was my favorite part of the book. As tea and pastries have played such a large role in my visits to Biltmore, and most likely Arden’s role as a servant to guests and residents in the large home, I was inspired to create a recipe for tea cakes to go along with Macallister’s book. I was pleased when the little jam-filled cookies turned out so delicate and tasty that they disappeared right off the serving plate, not long after I dusted them with powdered sugar and served them up with tea. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. Ta-da!

Raspberry Lemon Tea Cakes

Ingredients:

1/2 c. salted butter

1/4 c. packed light brown sugar

2 c. all-purpose flour

The zest of 1 large lemon

1/4 tsp. pure lemon extract

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Approximately 1/4 c. raspberry preserves

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Method:

Heat oven to 350F.

Using a mixer, cream the butter.

 

Whip in the brown sugar.

Stir in the flour, lemon zest and extract, and vanilla until a dough forms.

 

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Scoop the dough by the tablespoon and shape into round balls.

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Make a depression in the center of each.

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Fill each with with raspberry preserves. I used raspberry vanilla jam.

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Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

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Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Mine happened to be lavender.

Serve with tea.

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Yield: Approximately 1 dozen.

 

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Author to Author: The Historical Fiction Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by your’s truly | @ArielLawhon

We’re glad to be back today with the second part of our historical fiction Author to Author series in which I (Ariel) am on the hot seat. Again, many thanks to Doubleday for supplying the questions and the books for the giveaway (see the entry form below). Make sure you toss your name in the hat to win a copy of Kate Alcott’s new novel, A TOUCH OF STARDUST, and mine, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS.

Historical Fiction Collage

Q: Did you ever have to leave a wonderful piece of research “on the cutting room floor” because it just didn’t fit into the story? If so, what was it?

Ariel: This happens all the time. And it always feels like a minor amputation. In THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, I cut entire characters and sections of New York City history. I’m still a little sad when I think about it but the novel is better as a result.

Q: What’s your process? Does research happen before writing? Or are they happening simultaneously?

Ariel: For me, a novel always begins by accidentally stumbling upon some historical mystery, usually unsolved. I’m drawn toward those moments that stick in the public consciousness for decades, even centuries. A missing judge. An epic disaster. That sort of thing. And I like creating my own version of what could have happened. Once I settle on the premise for a new novel I spend several months doing initial research before I begin writing. I need to know who the real people were, the central characters, and what they were like. I learn everything I can about them. After that I research as needed. Which usually means that I keep my research materials spread out on the table beside my desk for easy access.

Q: What’s the most interesting offline resource you’ve used in your work?

Ariel: I’d have to say that so far the most interesting resource I’ve found was Stella Crater’s memoir, THE EMPTY ROBE, about her missing husband. It’s not often that one of your characters has published their own account of the story you’re trying to tell. Reading that was like riding on a Mobius strip. Surreal and fascinating and a bit unsettling at times.

Q: Who is your first reader?

Ariel: Sometimes I let my sister read early chapters. She’s magically able to deliver criticism in a way that makes me laugh. And I have two writer-friends that I trust with my fledgling books—one tells me everything I’ve done right and the other tells me everything I’ve done wrong and together they are the perfect critique partner. But apart from that I keep my books close to the vest. My own agent and editor don’t even get to see my work until I’m confident that the story works and the writing is strong and that, for now, I can’t make it better.

Q: What inspired you to write historical fiction?

Ariel: My own over-active imagination, I suppose. And a profound love of history. Looking back this makes perfect sense. My best subjects were always Creative Writing and History. They were bound to collide sooner or later. As a reader I gravitate toward historical fiction. So I try to write the book I most want to read.

Q: Have you ever encountered a real-life “character” in the course of your research that you could devote a whole other novel to?

Ariel: Yes. Absolutely. It happens all the time. While writing THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS I spent weeks on a research tangent about notorious gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond. And then another few days obsessed with Mae West. Neither of them will ever get their own book (at least not written by me) but they should.

Q: What do you like to read while you’re writing?

Ariel: I cannot, under any circumstances, read historical fiction while I’m writing. It messes with my head. It makes me want to quit. I fall prey to that horrible thing where I compare my work-in-progress to someone else’s finished novel and I want to drink turpentine then swallow a lit match. So I read outside of my genre. I read a lot of contemporary. Mystery. Fantasy. YA. I read to my kids (we’re currently alternating between INKSPELL, WATERSHIP DOWN, and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS).

Q: Do you listen to music while you’re writing or do you need quiet?

Ariel: It’s rare that I don’t listen to music while I write. Total silence would be ideal, of course, but I have four boys and they are young and loud and one of them has a voice with such a high pitch that I’m certain bats can hear him. My husband’s studio-grade isolation headphones can’t even block it out. If I leave the house to work I always listen to my Mumford and Sons Pandora channel. But if I’m working at home I listen to my workout playlist while I write—I’m doing an experiment with my current novel to see if this tricks my brain into thinking that it’s time to perform at a high level. Results to come.

Q: Historical Dinner Party: Who would be at the top of your guest list?

Ariel: You know, I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a dinner party. So if I’m going to do this, I’d better do it right. C.S. Lewis would be there of course because Narnia changed my life. As would L.M. Montgomery—I still want to be a redhead because of her—and this old Scottish writer named George MacDonald (you’ve probably never heard of him but he’s my favorite) if for no other reason than his accent and ability to speak Gaelic. I’m a sucker for Scotsmen and this one wrote some of the truest most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. I’d invite Dick Francis because I loved all of his novels and he makes me want to own a horse and I wish he were still alive. Madeleine L’Engle because of her brain and to thank her for writing WALKING ON WATER, which I read at exactly the moment I needed it. Mark Twain because we need someone with swagger and wit and bravado. Ellen Raskin because I still adore THE WESTING GAME. And finally, my grandmother (she died when my dad was sixteen) because people say you could feel it when she walked into a room and I’d like to see all those formidable men struck dumb. I’m mean that way.

Q: You both are fortunate to work with one of the most dedicated editors in the business. Talk a bit about the editor’s role in your work and how your books have been enhanced through the editorial process.

Ariel: I feel like I hit the editor jackpot with Melissa. And I’m so thankful that she likes my novels and understands my guarded writing process. Under her care WIFE MAID MISTRESS went from a book that was “almost there” to something I’m very proud of. I’m currently in the middle of my second book with her and it’s proving to be even more enjoyable this time around. She helped me land on an idea and has provided critical feedback as I’ve written and I’m really looking forward to giving her the finished manuscript in a few weeks. I hope she shows me no mercy.

* * *

Wife Maid Mistress“Inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery, this mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression.”–PEOPLE MAGAZINE

“More meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”–THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three.
Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

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Author to Author: The Historical Fiction Edition, Part One

Today’s post by yours truly and Kate Alcott | @ArielLawhon

It is my pleasure to introduce you to New York Times Bestselling author, Kate Alcott, today. Along with being a fellow historical fiction author, Kate and I also share a publishing team at Doubleday. And while I’ve never met her in person, I’ve heard wonderful things about her and highly respect her as an author. (Her new novel is fantastic, by the way!)  But since we have so much in common we decided to do something a little different for this Author-to-Author interview. Kate and I will be answering the same questions, written by one of our Doubleday colleagues. Kate is up today but my turn will come on Thursday. And in the meantime, we’re giving away copies of both novels to lucky winners both today and Thursday. See the entry form below to win your copy of A TOUCH OF STARDUST and THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS.

Historical Fiction Collage

Q: Did you ever have to leave a wonderful piece of research “on the cutting room floor” because it just didn’t fit into the story? If so, what was it?

Kate: Oh yes. I’ve had to dump treasured fragments of history many times. When I was writing The Dressmaker, I had a rich lode of information from the official testimony given by passengers and crew who survived the sinking of the Titanic. I had to choose just a few of their harrowing experiences – ones that I could weave into the fabric of my story. I still think that these wonderful tales deserve to be heard. But I keep my notes. Who knows? Perhaps they’ll appear in some future tale….

Q: What’s your process? Does research happen before writing? Or are they happening simultaneously?

Kate: I start with research – roaming through books and articles, looking for the spine of my story. Then I look for details that will give the story a unique flavor and mood. And the best place to get that is by reading the letters, newspaper clippings, and other material of the era. I prefer reading IN an era rather than ABOUT it. For A Touch of Stardust, the old movie magazines and newspapers – plus film clips of auditions that showed stars at their most vulnerable–were a great source. That said, I don’t have a heavy dividing line between research and writing. I will pull back from writing to spend a few days roaming source material whenever I feel I need something “more.”

Q: What’s the most interesting offline resource you’ve used in your work?

Kate: Whatever book I am writing, I most value some tangible connection with physical substance. For The Daring Ladies of Lowell, it was visiting the site in Lowell, Massachusetts where the young girls recruited from the New England farms of the early 1800’s lived and worked long hours at the cotton looms. For A Touch of Stardust, I think I must say the most interesting offline resource was my husband. He grew up in Beverly Hills, the son of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, and knew some of the fabled names of Hollywood. Once he took me to what had been his home and he shared his stories as we walked through the rooms. It all came so alive, I took my fictional characters to a party there!

Q: Who is your first reader?

Kate: My first reader has always been my husband, Frank Mankiewicz. He is no longer here, but I have a very few dear friends who have taken on that job.

Q: What inspired you to write historical fiction?

Kate: I felt for years that much of my knowledge of history was confined to dry recountings filled with dates – and as I became more curious, I would read and wonder, what happened here that we will never know? I saw there was room to explore – to fill in the stories that draw us most, whether they are from the Civil War or the world of Hollywood. I realized that a writer could explore the unknown with her or his imagination. Look what masters of the genre, such as Hilary Mantel and Wallace Stegner, have opened up for us.

Q: Have you ever encountered a real-life “character” in the course of your research that you could devote a whole other novel to?

Kate: I fell in love with Carole Lombard, the Queen of Screwball Comedies, when I was writing A Touch of Stardust. She bounced out of the books and papers and took over my computer keys as I wrote about her romance with Clark Gable. Yes, I could easily wrap a novel around Carole. She was funny, raunchy, honest and kind, and spending more time in her company would be a pleasure.

Q: What do you like to read while you’re writing?

Kate: That’s hard to answer. I read fiction and nonfiction, but steer away from anything set in the same era of whatever book I’m writing at the time. Near the end, when everything is in a frenzy, I read People magazine…and the Sunday comics.

Q: Do you listen to music while you’re writing or do you need quiet?

Kate: No, I don’t listen to music when I’m writing. I wish I could, but when I try it, I get distracted.

Q: Historical Dinner Party: Who would be at the top of your guest list?

Kate: At the top of my guest list for dinner? Carole Lombard, of course. And I would invite Edith Wharton–I’ll bet they would get along famously.

Q: You both are fortunate to work with one of the most dedicated editors in the business. Talk a bit about the editor’s role in your work and how your books have been enhanced through the editorial process.

Kate: My editor’s role is crucial. She is my ultimate GPS – when I give her a manuscript to read I know she won’t do cursory reading. I always know I’ve got her full attention and that she will ask the right, thoughtful questions. And I’d invite her to that dinner too. In fact, I would seat her directly opposite Carole and Edith – and I’m quite sure she would have them both engaged in a good conversation immediately.

* * *

A Touch of StardustFrom the New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker comes a blockbuster novel that takes you behind the scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind, while turning the spotlight on the passionate romance between its dashing leading man, Clark Gable, and the blithe, free-spirited actress Carole Lombard. 

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Hollywood, she never imagines she’ll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress fromJulie’s provincial Midwestern hometown. The young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, but the only job Julie’s able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick, who is busy burning through directors, writers, and money as he films Gone with the Wind.

Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie’s access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable, who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler.
Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio because Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blond employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole’s mouth, and—as their friendship grows—Julie soon finds she doesn’t want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie’s model for breaking free of the past.
In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and offscreen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance her career aspirations and her own budding romance with the outsized personalities and overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight.
Kate AlcottAbout Kate Alcott:
Kate Alcott is the pseudonym for journalist Patricia O’Brien, who has written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. As Kate Alcott, she is the author of The Dressmaker, a New York Times bestseller. She lives in Washington, D.C. 

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You Must Read This

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

My biggest reading surprise in recent years came in the form of Diane Setterfield’s gothic masterpiece, The Thirteenth Tale. Though published in 2008 to great acclaim, I somehow missed this book until my family took a 1,500 mile road trip in 2011. I packed five novels in the hope that one of them would be good. I never made it past the first. And I’m not entirely sure if I spoke to my husband at all during that trip. I was consumed.

In her novel Diane Setterfield introduces us to Vida Winter, a prolific, reclusive author who chooses to finally tell her life story to a young biographer by the name of Margaret Lea. Unfortunately, Vida has given a different version of her story to every writer she’s ever spoken to. Interviewing her has become a rite of passage for young journalists, an errand failed before it’s begun. Margaret does not trust her, but she is fascinated by her. And for good reason. Vida Winter is one of the most memorable literary characters, and certainly the strongest female character I have ever read. She is terrifying in the way that only the fiercely intelligent can be. Unforgiving. Perceptive. Relentless. Yet she also possesses a tender form of insight that gives her an immediate humanity. Not likeable. No, Vida Winter could never be likeable. But she is immensely compelling. And she has finally met her match in the young, quiet, shrewd Margaret Lea. A lover of books and stories and writers, Margaret is the only person that Vida has ever invited into her world, and the only person capable of ferreting out the dark, twisted truth of Vida’s past. Although, as Vida says early on, “A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” Lucky for us, The Thirteenth Tale is both.

The Thirteenth TaleVida is a writer’s writer. And Margaret exudes what it truly means to be a reader as she picks through the bones of Vida’s narrative searching for the hidden but still-beating heart. These two women understand each other. And they speak the language of books in a way that the rest of us immediately recognize. One morning, early in what is to become a great friendship, Vida tells Margaret what it’s like to write the novels for which she has become so famous. But really she is simply voicing the thoughts every reader has had at some point:

“I have eavesdropped with impunity on the lives of people who do not exist. I have peeped shamelessly into hearts and bathroom closets. I have leaned over shoulders to follow the movements of quills as they write love letters, wills and confessions. I have watched as lovers love, murderers murder and children play their make-believe. Prisons and brothels have opened their doors to me; galleons and camel trains have transported me across sea and sand; centuries and continents have fallen away at my bidding. I have spied upon the misdeeds of the mighty and witnessed the nobility of the meek. I have bent so low over sleepers in their beds that they might have felt my breath on their faces. I have seen their dreams.”

This is what we do as Vida tells her story. We bend low and soak it all in. The Thirteenth Tale is everything I love in a novel: dark, unsettling, mysterious, captivating. And in it Diane Setterfield has mastered the art of restraint. No word, no scene, no character is wasted. Nothing is extraneous or out of place. And as the story unfolds, and we learn the truth of who Vida Winter really is, we are left startled. Amazed. And in awe of this author who can tell a story within a story, all the while blurring the lines between reader and character, between writer and participant. Diane Setterfield has given us a story for the ages.

I read old novels,” Vida says toward the end. “The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nice and neatly. Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels.”

Though published not so long ago, Diane Setterfield has written an old novel. The proper sort. The kind that stays in libraries and on bookshelves for generations.

So. Your turn. Tell me the name of a novel I simply must read.

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Quick Lit Roundup

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

It’s always fun to take a peak at someone else’s nightstand and see what books they’ve been reading. So I though I’d give you a look at mine, along with a few thoughts I had on each book. That said, here is my quick lit roundup for what I’ve been reading this month.

Quick Lit Roundup

Deadly Little Secrets by Kathryn Casey: I used to read true crime novels a lot in my late teens/early 20’s, but somehow forgot about them along the way. I bought this on a whim when the ebook was on special, and started it on a long car ride. Even though it was a long book, I read it in just 2 days! The story of the death of Kari Dulin Baker was both gripping and heartbreaking and I respect her family’s fight for justice.

On Writing by Stephen King: This was a re-read for me, but the last time I read it, I hadn’t actually written a novel. It was so much better this time. I underlined a lot.

See How Small by Scott Blackwood: This short, gripping novel is about a shooting in an ice cream shop that left 3 teenage girls dead– and the ripple effects in the lives of those who were suspects, witnesses and loved ones. The writing was powerful but I found the resolution lacking.

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon (audio– performed by George Newbern): While the premise of this novel is gripping (a father finds out that there’s been a shooting at his son’s school and now his son is a suspect who’s gone missing), I found the now/then structure of the novel slowed the pace of the story down. I also found the father’s absolute involvement in his son’s life to be a bit overbearing. I kept saying out loud, “Dude. Get a hobby!”

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle (audio– performed by Holly Fielding) This is one of those books I tried in print and just couldn’t get into, yet on audio it shone. I loved each and every one of these quirky, faceted characters and won’t soon forget the residents of Pine Haven retirement center. I decided that if I could write like just one writer, it would be Jill McCorkle. Love.

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Author to Author: The Dog Lover’s Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by Sonja Yoerg and Meg Donohue | @SonjaYoerg @MegDonohue

Welcome back to this week’s “Author to Author” series. If you missed part one, you can read it here. Based on the response we’ve gotten so far, I’d say that the human-animal bond is deep and complex and something most people feel very strongly about. And it also seems to parallel many human relationships, which makes it a perfect literary device. So we’re thrilled to have Sonja Yoerg and Meg Donohue back on the blog today to discuss Sonja’s debut novel, HOUSE BROKEN. Enjoy!

 

Dog Collage

Meg: Your book’s title is HOUSE BROKEN, it has a dog on the cover, and the main character is a veterinarian. My book’s title is DOG CRAZY, it has puppies on the cover, and the main character is a pet bereavement therapist. Clearly, we need to talk dogs! What role have animals played in your life and how did those relationships inspire and inform HOUSE BROKEN?

Sonja: My first career was as an animal behaviorist. I have a Ph.D. in Biological Psychology and studied learning in a variety of creatures, including blue jays, kangaroo rats and spotted hyenas. Funny enough, I grew up with cats, not dogs, and was actually afraid of dogs for most of my life. I know, how can a person who cuddles with hyenas be afraid of dogs? Humans are not rational! But my husband insisted we get a dog for our girls to grow up with, and we ended up having three, all rescue dogs. The first was Cassie, a pit bull/Rhodesian ridgeback mix. I picked her out at the pound and she won me over within minutes.

Geneva, the main character in HOUSE BROKEN, is not only a vet, but also an expert in animal behavior. She’s exceptionally logical and pragmatic, and believes behavior, both animal and human, occurs for a reason. This belief makes her dig for reasons for her mother’s self-destructive tendencies, and leads her deep into her family’s dark history.

And although the book is primarily about a dysfunctional family, dogs play an important role, both in the plot and allegorically. There are six named dogs, including Geneva’s Great Dane/chocolate Lab mix, Diesel, who is never far from her side.

Meg: I find I begin writing some books with a strong idea of plot and a sketchier idea of character(s), and others vice-versa. What was your earliest glimpse of this novel — a character or a plot? Or were they intertwined from first spark?

Sonja: I definitely started with Geneva, a professional who, like so many woman these days, has to juggle work, kids, marriage, and an aging parent. Given her personality, she wants to do everything to a high standard, and worries constantly she is falling short. Life is hard on perfectionists, and people who believe in absolutes. Geneva’s husband isn’t parenting from the same manual, she suspects her teenagers are up to no good, and her mother is an abject disaster. She’s one crisis away from a total meltdown; it’s a situation many of us can relate to.

I had no idea where the story was going when I began. For someone who is an awful lot like Geneva, it was hard to trust the process, especially as I’d never written a novel before. Talk about groping in the dark! But Geneva was alive in my head and I could imagine how she would react to the obstacles I threw in front of her. After a few chapters, I added two other points-of view: her mother’s and her sixteen-year-old daughter’s. Now I had three generations speaking up, and I could begin to braid their stories with Geneva’s. The family secrets and ultimate revelations were a complete surprise to all of us!

Meg: While HOUSE BROKEN is told from three points of view, your next novel, MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, has a single point of view. DOG CRAZY was the first novel I’ve written that is told from only one character’s point of view and I must say it was much more challenging than writing a novel with multiple voices driving the story! Did you find one book more difficult to write than the other? 

Sonja: MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE was definitely more difficult, and part of it was, as you say, because I used a single point of view. Liz, the main character, is a troubled twenty-nine-year old widow who sets off to hike the John Muir trail in California’s Sierra Mountains. Her boyfriend, Dante, decides to tag along, and the two of them are stalked by a pair of peculiar brothers. I found it particularly challenging to convey Dante’s history in a seamless and elegant way.

In HOUSE BROKEN, writing from the point-of-view of the daughter or the mother provided some relief for me. After all, Geneva is the one with all the balls in the air. By comparison, the life of a teenager or a retired woman is simpler—and they are more selfish characters, so their motivation is more straightforward. Geneva is torn in many directions, and I had to exercise more care in shaping her story.

But in my second book, there is only Liz’s story. Not only that, but the whole book takes place along a backpacking trail! I was determined to stay true to the real trail and not move mountains (and rivers and ranger stations) for my convenience. It was like dancing in a broom closet. And, as you might expect, it took a while to get it right.

I don’t know about you, Meg, but I think I might consider omniscience for my next one!

* * *

House BrokenPublisher description:

In this compelling and poignant debut novel, a woman skilled at caring for animals must learn to mend the broken relationships in her family.…

For veterinarian Geneva Novak, animals can be easier to understand than people. They’re also easier to forgive. But when her mother, Helen, is injured in a vodka-fueled accident, it’s up to Geneva to give her the care she needs.

Since her teens, Geneva has kept her self-destructive mother at arm’s length. Now, with two slippery teenagers of her own at home, the last thing she wants is to add Helen to the mix. But Geneva’s husband convinces her that letting Helen live with them could be her golden chance to repair their relationship.

Geneva isn’t expecting her mother to change anytime soon, but she may finally get answers to the questions she’s been asking for so long. As the truth about her family unfolds, however, Geneva may find secrets too painful to bear and too terrible to forgive.

 

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Author to Author: The Dog Lover’s Edition, Part One

Today’s post by Sonja Yoerg and Meg Donohue | @SonjaYoerg @MegDonohue

It’s no secret that I have become a dog lover. I didn’t start life that way but there is nothing like the wild, undeserved love of an animal. It makes us human, I believe. It certainly make us better. So it is with great delight that we welcome Sonja Yoerg and Meg Donohue to the blog this week to discuss their new novels, DOG CRAZY and HOUSE BROKEN. Having a lab myself, I couldn’t help but stop and pet these covers. And what lies between the covers? Beautiful stories. Well told. And guaranteed to speak to the animal lover in all of us. And yes, I do believe that we are all animal lovers. Even if we don’t know it yet. So please welcome Sonja Yoerg as she interviews Meg Donohue. We’ll be back with the other half of this interview on Thursday.

Dog Collage

Sonja: Your main character, Maggie, has an unusual job: she’s a counselor specializing in pet bereavement. I had no idea such a profession existed, although it makes perfect sense, since our pets are part of the family. How did you come to give Maggie this job, and how did that process shape the story?

Meg: I knew that I wanted to write about the human-canine bond through the lens of a fictional story, and I think that loving a dog—sadly, profoundly—comes hand-in-hand (paw-in-hand?) with losing a dog. The only bad thing about dogs, it’s been said many times, is their too-short lifespans. I figured there must be therapists that help people through the grief of losing an animal companion, and sure enough a quick Google search presented me with the profession of pet bereavement counseling. I met with a local counselor for further research and was fascinated by our discussion. It seems only natural that someone drawn to a career in animal-related therapy would love animals, and also that no matter how much expertise one has in the field of grief, one is never impervious to the pain of loss. What happens when a bereavement counselor—quite capable and strong in her professional life—comes undone by a loss of her own? DOG CRAZY sprouted legs from there.

Sonja: What an intriguing premise, Meg. Can you tell us how helping people deal with the loss of a pet differs from what typical grief counselors do?

Meg: I’ve learned that one of the ways pet bereavement differs from other forms of bereavement is that people don’t always feel comfortable openly mourning the loss of a pet—there aren’t society-approved mourning rites such as memorials and funerals for pets. Sometimes people who mourn the death of a pet are embarrassed by their grief and fear others won’t understand or sympathize with the depth of their loss. Pet bereavement counselors offer, among other things, a safe and accepting environment and time in which to mourn.

Sonja: Both of our books take place in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve since moved to Virginia, but San Francisco will always have a special place in my heart. The city is beautiful, of course, and has its own unique style—and quirky inhabitants.  How does this setting feature in DOG CRAZY? What is it about San Francisco that makes it THE right place for your story?

Meg Donohue, photo credit Alex Wang

Meg Donohue, photo credit Alex Wang

Meg: I live in San Francisco and from my earliest moments thinking about this book, I pictured Maggie Brennan and her little office-slash-apartment nestled right in the middle of the city. In addition to being, well, kind of obsessed with dogs, I’m also really into urban parks, and San Francisco has a wealth of them—many of which are under the radar of San Francisco tourists. It’s urban dog heaven, really; enchanting, rugged mini-hikes abound in this city. I wanted to take readers on a tour of some of these hidden gems. Also, as you say, the city is populated with delightfully quirky and empathetic people, and knowing this allowed me to build a fun cast of characters to support Maggie on her journey.

Sonja: HOUSE BROKEN is my first novel, while DOG CRAZY is your third. Any advice for a newbie on how to weather the wacky world of publishing? I figure you must have the answers because you’re writing with three young children underfoot!

Meg: With two books published in the course of one year, it doesn’t seem that you need any advice from me! Congratulations to you! I think the best way to not get too mired in the publishing side of things—and it seems to me that you’ve already mastered this—is to always be working on the next book. It can be hard to keep stress in check, especially in the whir around on-sale dates, but if you keep your focus on writing then you’re always a bit more excited about your next story than your last story, which I think is a good thing. As to writing with three young children underfoot, my not-at-all-guarded secret is … childcare!

* * *

Dog Crazy

Publisher’s description:

The USA Today bestselling author of How to Eat a Cupcake and All the Summer Girls returns with an unforgettably poignant and funny tale of love and loss, confronting our fears, and moving on . . . with the help of a poodle, a mutt, and a Basset retriever named Seymour.

As a pet bereavement counselor, Maggie Brennan uses a combination of empathy, insight, and humor to help patients cope with the anguish of losing their beloved four-legged friends. Though she has a gift for guiding others through difficult situations, Maggie has major troubles of her own that threaten the success of her counseling practice and her volunteer work with a dog rescue organization.

Everything changes when a distraught woman shows up at Maggie’s office and claims that her dog has been stolen. Searching the streets of San Francisco for the missing pooch, Maggie finds herself entangled in a mystery that forces her to finally face her biggest fear-and to open her heart to new love.

Packed with deep emotion and charming surprises, Dog Crazy is a bighearted and entertaining story that skillfully captures the bonds of love, the pain of separation, and the power of our dogs to heal us.

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Mary Kubica

Today’s post by Mary Kubica | @MaryKubica

This always seems to be one of our most popular series. There’s just something about seeing the space in which an author wrote one of your favorite books, about seeing their shelves and windows and desk. You can envision the book being written in that space. It all makes sense. The paint color and the curtains and the pictures on the wall. So we are delighted that bestselling author Mary Kubica has shared a couple pictures of her office with us today. What do you think, can you see THE GOOD GIRL being written in this room?

Kubica Writing Space(1)

 

Kubica Writing Space(2)

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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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