Author to Author Interview: Melissa DeCarlo and Leah Ferguson

Today’s post by Melissa DeCarlo and Leah Ferguson | @meldecarlo and @onevignette

Our final author-to-author interview for the year comes from two debut writers who have penned stories with remarkable similarities. Both THE ART OF CRASH LANDING and ALL THE DIFFERENCE are about young women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. Both are desperately trying to find the right path for their lives. And both face decisions that will change everything. So on this last day of November maybe order these two novels online from your favorite bookstore? It is Cyber Monday after all!

author intervew 26 collage

Leah: Melissa, I absolutely loved THE ART OF CRASH LANDING. This novel is so expertly crafted, I couldn’t believe that this was your debut. Can you tell us how your writing before this influenced your work on the book? Is there any method or experience you brought to this story that specifically helped make it stand out from anything else you’ve written?

Melissa: I’ve been writing off and on for many years, and like most writers I’ve got several short stories and a couple of early novels living in a drawer. I don’t look at them as wasted efforts however, because I do think that like every other skill writing improves with practice. Plus they taught me an important lesson in persistence. See, with those early stories and books I had the same pattern: I’d write a draft, clean it up a little and call it done. Then at some point I’d take an objective look at the resulting work and discover that it sucked. (AKA fell far short of what I’d been trying to write.) So I would sulk a little and then put that story or novel away and start something else. With THE ART OF CRASH LANDING, however, after I finished that first draft, I didn’t give up on it. I spent three years taking the novel apart and putting it back together, trashing scenes, writing new scenes, and then trashing some of those. It took time to find the heart of this story, but it was worth it. If I were to give one piece of advice to other writers it would be: don’t get in a hurry. If you believe in your story, you need to be willing to be diligent and ruthless in your editing so that you can find the story you were trying to tell all along.

Leah: You excelled at making Mattie—a troubled, damaged, directionless young woman—almost instantly likeable, which is really difficult, I think, to pull off without making the reader feel sorry for her first. I didn’t feel sorry for Mattie: I respected her frankness, her sense of humor, and her absolute love for her family members, even if she was terrible at showing it. Was it difficult to develop her this way? How did you manage to make your readers root for her before you really showed us the sad story behind her actions?

Melissa: I had such a great time living in Mattie’s head. She was willing to say and do all the obnoxious things I might fantasize about but would never actually do. I think readers with a mischievous streak, who appreciate a little sarcasm and occasional dark humor will enjoy hanging out with Mattie throughout her misadventures. But let’s be honest—she’s no angel and she does some things that aren’t nice. I probably took a bit of a risk making Mattie so rough around the edges, but I’d rather read a book with a complicated and sometimes difficult main character than one with a sweet, perfect protagonist. Perfect is boring.

Leah: As in my own debut, ALL THE DIFFERENCE, your main character is unexpectantly pregnant, with a slightly different outcome. Mattie has a very tough road ahead of her, baby or no baby: why was it important to have Mattie face potential motherhood, too? What did this mean for you in terms of character development, and what it says about Mattie’s growth through the story?

Melissa: There was something I loved about the symmetry of an unhappily pregnant main character in a story about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. The pregnancy also does a nice job of increasing the pressure on Mattie, giving her a deadline, a time by which she needs to have some decisions made. Like Vladimir Nabokov advised, “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.” For Mattie, a pregnancy was a meaningful rock to throw.

Leah: Your sense of humor on the page is immediate—your writing voice is distinctive and intelligent, which just makes the frank humor even more standout. I was laughing out loud during much of my reading (much to the chagrin to my fellow passengers on a recent cross-country flight!), from Mattie’s narrative to Tawny’s, um, colorful name-calling. It’s such a deep, soul-searching story to begin with, but the sense of humor you weave throughout it kicks this book into a whole other level of cleverness. Tell me, are you like this in real life? Are you sarcastic and smart-alecky and super colorful with your language (ha!), or were your characters’ voices plucked solely from your imagination?

Melissa: That’s a f***ing good question. Ha! Sorry. Okay, I can be sarcastic, and I am pretty goofy so I can’t deny that there’s a little Mattie in me. In fact, on more than one occasion when I told someone that my book had my main character who was a pain in the ass, that person immediately quipped, “So it’s autobiographical.” Hardy har har. But that being said, I promise I am nowhere near Mattie’s level when it comes to obnoxiousness or colorfulness of language.

Leah: In Chapter 39, Mr. Hambly tells Luke, “I knew that as much as I loved Gene, until I let go of him, I’d never be able to grab ahold of anything else.” What made you want to write a story about the need for letting go?

Melissa: I think most of us have our dark moments when we look at things we did in the past, or things that were done to us, and wish for a way to go back and make things better. But I’ve come to understand that every minute we spend looking back is a minute of our lives we’re giving away, and those minutes add up. As the great philosopher Lily Tomlin once said, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”  We can spend our time looking in the rearview mirror or we can put our foot on the gas pedal and live our lives. We each make that choice every day.

Leah: I noticed so many little tidbits in your book that popped up toward the end—it was obvious that you carefully crafted the story so that the symbolism was consistent and echoed throughout (for instance, drowning and swimming references, the lemons and lemonade, the images of open doors). Did you outline the story very heavily before you began writing, or are you simply a very careful editor?

Melissa: Oh, that’s an easy question. Editing. Absolutely. I know me and if I planned symbolism at the outset I’d end up using too heavy a hand. It wasn’t until I neared the end of my first draft that I noticed all the references to birds and the ocean and swimming (or sinking) and that’s when something clicked. This allowed me to be intentional with it in later drafts. It sounds a little odd, but I’m not sure I really know what a book is about until after I’ve written it. I mean, I do generally know the shape of the story and where it’s going. But it’s not until I have a beginning, a middle and an end that I can look underneath the surface and understand what I’ve been trying to say. I’m starting to wonder if my writing isn’t all about telling myself what I need to hear at that point in my life.


ArtofCrashLanding pb cFrom a bright new talent comes this debut novel about a young woman who travels for the first time to her mother’s hometown, and gets sucked into the mystery that changed her family forever

Mattie Wallace has really screwed up this time. Broke and knocked up, she’s got all her worldly possessions crammed into six giant trash bags, and nowhere to go. Try as she might, Mattie can no longer deny that she really is turning into her mother, a broken alcoholic who never met a bad choice she didn’t make.

When Mattie gets news of a possible inheritance left by a grandmother she’s never met, she jumps at this one last chance to turn things around. Leaving the Florida Panhandle, she drives eight hundred miles to her mother’s birthplace—the tiny town of Gandy, Oklahoma. There, she soon learns that her mother remains a local mystery—a happy, talented teenager who inexplicably skipped town thirty-five years ago with nothing but the clothes on her back. But the girl they describe bears little resemblance to the damaged woman Mattie knew, and before long it becomes clear that something terrible happened to her mother, and it happened here. The harder Mattie digs for answers, the more obstacles she encounters. Giving up, however, isn’t an option. Uncovering what started her mother’s downward spiral might be the only way to stop her own.

Hilarious, gripping, and unexpectedly wise, The Art of Crash Landing is a poignant novel from an assured new voice.

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Deanna Raybourn

Today’s post by Deanna Raybourn | @DeannaRaybourn

We’re nosy. We can admit this. And we’re especially nosy when it comes to wanting a glimpse into the writing spaces of our favorite writers. When I read A CURIOUS BEGINNING last summer I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of room Deanna Raybourn wrote it in. Thankfully she’s solved that mystery and opened the door for us today. And you know what? I can totally see Veronica Speedwell coming to life in this room. What about you, do you like taking a peek inside a writer’s work space?

Study Raybourn (1)


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“But When” The Moment That Changes Everything

Today’s post by Catherine McKenzie | @CEMcKenzie

Pay attention and you’ll notice something. It’s a phrase, often used in book descriptions or back cover copy: “But When.” It sounds simple enough but it changes everything. “But when an old friend comes to visit…” Or, “But when her son goes missing…” That single phrase is the beginning of everything going wrong for a character (and, let’s face it, for us as well). When we really began to pay attention to this phrase we thought it was time to begin a new series. So we have invited Catherin McKenzie to share a bit about her new novel, SMOKE in the latest installment of “But When.” 

Catherine McKenzie

Catherine McKenzie

My new novel, SMOKE, is about a small town threatened by a wildfire. One of the main characters, Elizabeth, is an arson investigator who has to determine the cause of the fire. She is under a lot of pressure to come to the conclusion that an old widower named John started the fire on his property. But she thinks there must be another explanation. Enter Mindy, Elizabeth’s ex-best friend, who’s taken an interest in John’s welfare, organizing a fundraiser to replace the house he’s lost.

But when Mindy’s son comes under suspicion for having started the fire, things get complicated.

That’s my “but when” moment in SMOKE. So many things in Smoke flow from the fact that Mindy’s son comes under suspicion. Mindy’s a bit lost at the beginning of the book—she helicopters over her kids, though they’re not in danger. She doesn’t recognize herself. Her dreams were tucked away long ago. But when (there’s that term again!) a shadow of actual danger falls across her son, she wakes up. She finds herself.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, has a personal life that’s a mess. She’s on the brink of divorce. She gave up what she loved doing—fighting fires—to come home and concentrate on having a family. Arson investigation is what she’s doing to pass the time until she gets what she wants—a baby. And in the process, in her absolute focus, she starts to lose everything that’s important to her—her husband, her best friend, her sense of purpose. Angus (Mindy’s son) is someone she loves and helped raise. The last thing she wants is for her defense of John to put Angus’s freedom in jeopardy. But when that occurs, it forces her to confront the things she’s messed up. Like the threat of the fire, it focuses her on what’s important.

So that’s my but when moment in Smoke. It’s like a crest on a mountain. The story builds to there and then slides downhill to its conclusion—just like the forest fire that’s threatening the town.


smokeFrom the internationally bestselling author Catherine McKenzie comes an evocative tale of two women navigating the secrets and lies at the heart of a wildfire threatening their town.

After a decade long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in her former life for a quieter one with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce and a fire in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who has lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.

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Blog Network Open Enrollment

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

photo courtesy of stock.xchng

photo courtesy of stock.xchng


Three and a half years ago we announced the formation of our Blog Network. And it has been our great pleasure to work with some of the most intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, savvy bloggers ever since. We love this community and it is with great delight that we can announce that we are finally able to accept new members. If you would like to join the She Reads Blog Network, read on!

How It Works:

We pick a handful of books each quarter as official book club selections.

You choose at least one of them to read and review.

We all have a great time chatting about the book and socializing with the author online.

The end.


You must have a blog and/or website. (It does NOT have to be a site that primarily focuses on books. Lifestyle, food, parenting, and other types of blogs are welcome to apply as well.)

You must be on at least one form of social media.

You must be willing to review at least one She Reads selection per quarter. (Books will be provided for free to all official Blog Network members).

How To Apply:

Fill out this contact form on our website with the following information:

  1. Name.
  2. Blog/Website.
  3. Why you’d like to be part of the Blog Network.

When You’ll Hear Back:

We won’t be around much this week since it’s Thanksgiving and we’ll be with our families, but Marybeth and I will begin looking through applicants in December.

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A Word On Words. And Why You Should Be A Regular Viewer.

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

One of the coolest things about living in Nashville is the rich literary community. And one of the most unexpected things about moving back to Nashville has been getting to know some rather amazing writers. One of those writers, who I now count as a dear friend, is J.T. Ellison. She’s the award-winning, best-selling author of fourteen novels and she has been a lifeline to me over the last three years. I call her Sensei. J.T. is brilliant, fierce, thoughtful, and filled with the best kind of sass. The woman is also handy with a plunger but that’s a story for another day.

Early this summer J.T. told me that Nashville Public Television planned on revamping John Seigenthaler’s longtime show, A WORD ON WORDS, and that they had asked her to be one of the hosts. (The other is Mary Laura Philpott who is charming and funny and an total firecracker) I thought it was a fabulous idea and I was thrilled that she accepted the invitation. After many months of hard work the first episode debuted several weeks ago. The fact that it contains our beloved Patti Callahan Henry only cemented my devotion to this show. To get an idea of what A WORD ON WORDS is up to, I thought I’d show you the first episode (Don’t worry it’s only three minutes long. You’ll still have coffee in your cup by the time it’s done). So take a look and then bookmark the site. I’d be willing to bet that you’ll want to come back and see what they have up their sleeve next. Hint: it involves some of the biggest names in literature.

Email readers can view the video by clicking here.

For more episodes of A Word On Words click here.


J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of fourteen critically acclaimed novels, including WHAT LIES BEHIND, WHEN SHADOWS FALL and ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, and is the co-author of the A Brit in the FBI series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, her work has been published in twenty-five countries and has been translated into thirteen languages. Her novel THE COLD ROOM won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens, where she enjoys fine wine and good notebooks. Visit for more insight into her wicked imagination, or follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or



Mary Laura Philpott

Mary Laura Philpott is the social media director of Nashville’s independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, as well as the founding editor of its online magazine, Musing. She is the author and illustrator of the quirky book about modern adulthood, PENGUINS WITH PEOPLE PROBLEMS, as well as a speaker and columnist whose writing has appeared in media outlets includingThe New York Times, The Tennessean, The Huffington Post, and USA Today. She lives in Nashville with her husband, two children, and two ill-behaved little dogs. Website:

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When You Fall In Love With A Place

Today’s post by Nina de Gramont | @NinaDeGramont

Nina de GramontThis morning I saw a Facebook post by an old college crush. He’s heading to Massachusetts for a few weeks to star in a production at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis. Reading this, I felt a pang of longing that made me actually, physically list northward. The longing wasn’t for the man – though according to his photos he’s still very handsome – but for the place. I lived in East Dennis, on Cape Cod, for seven years before moving to North Carolina in 2003. This summer is the first since then that I haven’t gone back. For me, fall is the most romantic time on Cape Cod, but my twelve year old daughter has known it mostly as a summer visitor. When she rhapsodizes about the Cape, it’s the lobster rolls at Sesuit Harbor Café, and the jetty at Harborview Beach. The last couple times we were there, I let her walk all the way to the end of that jetty by herself. She did it again and again while I pretended not to watch from the sand, nervously allowing her the inexplicable joy of hopping rocks until you’re standing smack out in the bay, sailboats floating inches away and large shadows moving beneath their wake. We’ve seen right whales breach not far from the edge, and ospreys dive close enough to spray us with their salty splash as they close talons around a fish and then return to the sky.

I’ve always been the sort of person who falls in love hard, not just with places, but with people. This makes it hard to let go. Once, weeks after we had broken up, I drove fourteen hours through heavy rain to show up on my first love’s doorstep. Not until I was about to knock did I consider that arriving without warning might be a mistake. But he opened the door right away and let me in. We didn’t get back together, but we did manage a few final, intense days. On our last night the weather cleared, and we lay together in the grass staring up at the stars.

“Will we ever feel this way again?” I asked him. “About anybody?”

“No,” he said. His voice was flat and definite. “We will never feel this way again.”

And he was right – though both of us have gone on to have families, and children. We have formed relationships with people whom we certainly love far more than we ever loved each other. But that first, dizzying instance of falling in love carries with it a particular kind of revelatory hope. It’s hard to let go of, and impossible to return to except in memory.

In my novel The Last September, Brett returns not only to Cape Cod but to her first love — against all best and obvious reason. And even though this leads to disaster, when I think of the sunset over Cape Cod Bay, or that endless and dangerous drive, I can’t help but understand her choices.


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

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

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

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

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In Conversation: Kim van Alkemade and Lauren Fox

Today’s post by Kim van Alkemade and Lauren Fox | @KimVanAlkemade

Today we have Kim van Alkemade and Lauren Fox discussing their new novels, ORPHAN #8 and DAYS OF AWE. Instead of our typical author to author interview, Kim and Lauren have done something a little different–and we love it. They’ve allowed us to listen in on their conversation. Their novels have a number of similar themes and we think you’ll be fascinated by the myriad ways they intersect–and also by these talented, erudite authors.

Kim and Lauren Collage

Lauren: Our novels are so different, but some of our themes – Jewish history and the legacy of trauma – overlap. Having read your descriptions of the research process and your own family’s history, I’m wondering how you felt learning about the setting and the events that hit so close to home, and how that intimate knowledge informed your writing. Did researching things you’d heard about your whole life, in the form of stories from your grandmother, give you any new insights into your family or your own psyche or the idea (one that I personally think about a lot) that trauma can be inherited?

Kim: My grandfather wasn’t subjected to any medical experiments, so there wasn’t that level of trauma, but yes, learning more about the orphanage and how it was run really helped my whole family better understand Victor’s personality. He was impatient and obsessive about time; he wanted meals to be at exactly the same time every day and everyone ate quickly without much talking. He could be abrasive, even scary. Yet, he’d do anything to help you—I remember him sewing a rip in my nightgown, combing a tangle out of my hair, tying on an apron to help my grandma clean up in the kitchen. I think part of the way he dealt with it was to not speak much about his childhood. He never spoke his father’s name—wouldn’t even let the rabbi say his father’s name at his wedding. My mom and her brothers didn’t even know their grandfather Harry’s name until I did this research.


Orphan Number EightIn this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before.

In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had.

Though Rachel believes she’s shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person’s fate—to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals—is not always set in stone.

Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.


Kim: As I read about Josie’s art and how important her paintings were to her self-expression, and also to the way she related to Isabel in particular, gifting her paintings, I wondered if you had an image in mind or an artist who inspired your idea for what Josie’s painting looked like? It’s such a risk to describe visual art with words, did you struggle with that at all?

Lauren: Because I have no actual knowledge of the art world, Josie’s artistic talent was pure fun for me. Ignorance really is bliss! I had no artistic models or precursors in mind when I conceived of Josie as a strangely striving, oddly ambitious painter and sculptor, so I was able to use her personality (as I constructed it) as the only basis for her artwork. I tried to make her artistic sensibility as frantic and sincere and endearing and potentially borderline as she was – hence the Hello Kitty Mount Rushmore and the Last Tupperware Party.


days of aweCelebrated for her irresistibly witty, strikingly intelligent examinations of friendship and marriage, Lauren Fox (“An immensely gifted writer—a writer adept at capturing the sad-funny mess that happens to be one woman’s life” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times) has written her most powerful novel to date. Days of Awe is the story of a woman who, in the wake of her best friend’s sudden death, must face the crisis in her marriage, the fury of her almost-teenage daughter, and the possibility of opening her cantankerous heart to someone new.

Only a year ago Isabel Moore was married, was the object of adoration for her ten-year-old daughter, and thought she knew everything about her wild, extravagant, beloved best friend, Josie. But in that one short year her husband moved out and rented his own apartment; her daughter grew into a moody insomniac; and Josie—impulsive, funny, secretive Josie—was killed behind the wheel in a single-car accident. As the relationships that long defined Isabel—wife, mother, daughter, best friend—change before her eyes, Isabel must try to understand who she really is.

Teeming with longing, grief, and occasional moments of wild, unexpected joy, Days of Awe is a daring, dazzling book—a luminous exploration of marriage, motherhood, and the often surprising shape of new love.


Lauren: That in mind, I always find the process of historical research daunting. I’m scared I would get some small but crucial detail wrong (and only find out about it much too late). But you create an utterly believable landscape of two historical periods. Was it a scary or difficult undertaking for you? Did you have readers who could give you a personal take on New York in the 1950s (if not New York in the early 1900s)?

Kim: The most important person in my research was Hy Bogan, who wrote The Luckiest Orphans. I was lucky myself to have had the chance to meet him on a few occasions. Once, we went to the site of the old Hebrew Orphan Asylum together and he gave me a tour (it’s a playground now) and shared his memories. Many of the details in the novel come from those conversations. In the archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, I read the original hand-written architect’s proposal for the orphanage, and that also provided many details. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum was hugely inspirational, as well as Anzia Yezierska’s novel Bread Givers, which I bought in the museum gift shop. After a while, though, all of the research started to feel like memories to me, and I could imagine myself in these places.


Kim: I was so impressed with the way you managed the shifts in time, moving back and forth over the year since Josie’s death. I never felt the need to actually keep track of the time, I just trusted that you were leading me through the year. Using the present tense helped anchor me in the now of the novel, but it didn’t even appear until 16—did that feel like a risk for you?

Lauren: I started with both the visceral understanding that grief is not linear, as well the ambition to try something with this novel that would be different from what I’d done before, structurally. I had the idea of this novel as moving forward in time on the surface – so, the book is more or less the year in Isabel’s life after Josie dies – and then I thought that the deeper structure of the novel would be a spiraling back in time. (When I put it that way, it sounds a little nuts.) I kept a tight rein on the timeline, that’s for sure. I was constantly worried I’d screw up a small detail, and the reader would say, “What? Hannah was twelve in the last paragraph, and now, five minutes later, she’s ten-and-a-half?” My editor and I both worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen.



Kim van Alkemade

Kim van Alkemade is the author of the historical fiction novel Orphan. Her creative nonfiction essays have appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, CutBank, and So To Speak. Born in New York, NY, she earned a BA in English and History from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is a Professor in the English Department at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania where she teaches writing. She lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

She spent eight years researching and writing Orphan #8. It all began with her interest in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, the institution in which her grandfather, Victor Berger, and his brothers, Charlie and Seymour, grew up. Her great­grandmother, Fannie Berger, worked at the orphanage, first as a domestic and later as a counselor. Many of the characters and events in Orphan #8 were inspired by her family history. 


Lauren: Let’s talk about endings. Without giving anything away, I think I can say that our books share a certain feeling of ambivalent closure. I want to ask how you decided to end your book the way you did, but since that might ruin the experience for those who haven’t read the book yet, instead I’ll ask how you feel about writing endings in general (if you can answer that without giving too much away), and whether, by the end of the book, you felt like you could see Rachel’s future beyond the pages of the book. (I always think it’s funny when people ask me what happened to my characters after the book ended. It’s a book! It ended! But I’m also guilty of it myself, not to mention flattered when readers want to know, because it means they’ve made a deep connection with the characters.)

Kim: I always write to an ending. I know where the story is going the entire time, but I don’t always know how I’m going to get there! The ending you read was my original idea for the novel, but I changed it a few times because I couldn’t figure out how to work up to it. When I figured that out, it fell back into place. I don’t know what happens next! People have asked about a sequel, but Rachel’s story is over for me. It was about her coming to terms with her past and choosing how to integrate her past into her actions in the present. Once she did that, the book was over. But people can imagine what they like!


Kim: I also appreciated your ending (without giving it away). It reminded me of Ann Patchett’s novels, where you have enough information to make a reasonable projection, but the story ends when the main conflict has been resolved. Did you write towards that ending or did it evolve as you explored the story? Do you sometimes feel pressured to wrap things up more neatly? Did you ever worry that introducing Cal as a character so early in the novel would lead readers to see Isabel’s evolution as more romantic than psychological, which is how I read it?

Lauren: I am a pretty rigid outliner – I have to conceive of the entire novel before I can really start writing it – but this was my first experience of writing a story where I wasn’t totally certain of the ending ahead of time. I had lots of ideas for different possible conclusions, but then I got to the point in the story where the book does end, where certain, but not all, aspects of Isabel’s life are wrapped up, and it just felt like the right place to conclude – the moment where a little bit of light comes in. I never feel pressured to wrap things up more neatly, although if you look at certain bok review websites, you will see that some readers would definitely like me to tie up my endings in neater bows! But that’s not really my conception of fiction, of what it’s supposed to do and how it can embrace complexity. In that vein, I thought about Cal and the potential for his storyline with Isabel to feel too much like a romantic arc, but there are so many other things at play in her world, I didn’t worry about it too much.


Lauren Fox

Lauren Fox

Lauren Fox is the author of Still Life with Husband. She earned her MFA from the University of Minnesota in 1998, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Glamour, and Salon. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband and two daughters.


Lauren: One of the things I really liked about Orphan #8 was the shifting perspectives and points of view from chapter to chapter. At times I felt the tension of the early Rachel chapters, when she was a child in the orphanage and undergoing these traumatic experimental procedures, was almost unbearable, and then, just in time, you’d switch to adult Rachel (who was, of course, dealing with her own conflicts and plot twists). That was all very smoothly and adeptly done on your part. Why did you decide to write the book this way, with different timelines and points of view? What were the challenges this approach presented?

Kim: I took this novel apart and put it back together more times than I can count. I would get myself really confused. I had dividers with tabs. I had post-it notes on the wall. I had an outline. And then I would scrap it all and reorganize again. I’m glad about how it worked out in the end, but I’m not in a hurry to try that again. I originally had the different time periods in third person past tense and third person present tense, but once I got to know Rachel well enough to start really hearing her voice, I realized I needed to change those chapters to first person past tense. Oh, and I changed her name while I was at it so I’d know what version of the novel I was in. It sounds crazy now that I describe it!


Kim: I really appreciated the pessimistic sense of inevitable loss that permeated Isabel’s family, particularly her mother’s personality. The legacy of the Holocaust is such an overwhelming influence on Helene, and the way that influences Isabel was really interesting. I see it in Isabel’s constant awareness of time slipping away, of happy moments receding into the past. It seems difficult for her to enjoy the present. Perhaps Josie’s manic energy is the antidote to her mother’s pessimism—or at least Isabel thinks so, at first. Did you see it that way?

Lauren: Yes! Although I am always extremely hesitant to conflate fiction and my own experience (an occupational hazard when you write in the first person and your characters pretty much look like you), I will say that I lifted Isabel’s family history and her perspective pretty much directly from my own life, and that sense of melancholy and imminent loss does kind of pervade everything. And I felt like Isabel would be deeply attracted – in a way that is probably beyond her understanding – to a vibrant best friend who doesn’t see the world that way.


Lauren: The themes of betrayal and forgiveness run through the novel. Rachel is, for lack of better terms, both sinner and victim, at various different points in the story, and she has to reckon with both roles. I love how her depths are revealed through her relationship with the desire for revenge, on one hand, and also guilt over her past actions on the other. Is this a big theme for you? How did you decide to complicate her in this particular way?

Kim: Thinking about Rachel and how she was wronged echoed my own experiences of feeling so aggrieved that I couldn’t let something go. It is possible get stuck in a strong negative emotional place, and I wanted to see how far I could take that before Rachel had a crisis. I also didn’t want her to be only a victim—I really don’t see her that way. She has a right to her anger, but for her, revenge is seductive but unproductive. It’s only if she can find a way not to see herself as a victim that she can make different choices. I like the complicated emotional terrain I explored with Rachel.


Kim: One of the most affecting scenes in the book for me is Claire’s bee sting, how it crystalizes the personalities of Isabel and Josie through action, how it raises for Isabel her first doubts about Josie. But mainly because the scene is so wonderfully realized: dramatic yet naturalistic, hectic yet focused. It let me really know Isabel as a teacher. I think women’s professions are not always explored in such depth. Was there an event or incident that inspired you to write this scene?

Lauren: No, nothing in particular inspired this scene; I just knew that I wanted to show the point at which things turned, both for Josie and for Isabel. And, well, I’ve been on my share of field trips these past few years with my children, and they do often feel like distilled little dramas, like passion plays, which I thought was kind of perfect for this particular heightened moment in the novel.


Lauren: This was your debut novel, which is so wonderful and exciting. What’s on the horizon for you?

Kim: I’m working an another historical novel now. It intersects with the orphanage but from a completely different perspective, so it is not a sequel in any way, but it is inspired by the research I was doing while working on Orphan #8. I’m getting to learn about a completely different set of historical topics, which is exciting for me, and the protagonist is male instead of female, so that is a fun change of perspective.


Kim: I could personally relate to Isabel’s fear about love being “foolish and inevitable” and how she was “just waiting to be shattered by it.” I really appreciated you exploring a character with this perspective, and yet how you gave her the humor and resiliency to not be stuck in pessimism. I wonder, is the next character you are creating anything like Isabel?

Lauren: I don’t quite know yet! The next novel is in the very earliest stages. Maybe my next protagonist will be a grim robot assassin on a mission to save the world… but more likely, he or she (oh, let’s face it, she) will have personality elements that feel both unusual and accessible to me – so maybe there will be some pessimism mixed with humor, the play of dark and light. I really like that combination, and I feel like, if I have a world view, that’s probably it – that sadness and humor go hand in hand, illuminate each other, and shed light on something elemental. I guess the robot assassin can wait until book five.

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Why You Should Read A Christmas Novel Now: Part Four

Today’s post by Alexandra Brown | @AlexBrownBooks

Welcome back to our Christmas series! Today we have Alexandra Brown sharing her favorite Christmas memory. To read the first three parts in this series click here, here, and here. And don’t forget that we have all five books up for grabs this week to one lucky winner. See the entry form below for details.

Alexandra Brown

Alexandra Brown

My most meaningful Christmas memory is most definitely the first festive season that we spent with our daughter. She was just over a year old on the actual day, December 25th, and I’ll never forget the look on her face when she saw the mountain of sparkly wrapped presents piled up under the real pine Christmas tree for her, the scent of which still now evokes that wonderful moment with just one whiff.

You see, my husband and I had gone completely overboard with the presents for a very special reason. We had adopted our daughter a few months earlier after years of trying and failing to start a family of our own, involving several losses followed by periods of overwhelming sadness. But at last, our dream had come true. We were a proper little family.

It was such a magical day full of love, laughter and lots of special photo opportunities. I felt as though I had won the lottery, been given the best present ever … and if that wasn’t enough, my darling daughter made the most meaningful Christmas memory even more meaningful by sharing a ‘first’ with us, something all adoptive parents cherish – she took her first steps. Five very wobbly steps. Yes, she toddled across the room to me with her arms outstretched and her forehead creased in concentration as I cried a river of utter joy, before scooping her up into my arms and twirling around, whispering words of thanks to her for choosing me to be her mummy and making my life complete.


The Great Christmas Knit offIn the tradition of Trisha Ashley and Jenny Colgan, this first book in a new series by Alexandra Brown—author of the popular Cupcakes at Carrington’s series—tells the hilarious, heartwarming story of a jilted bride who anticipates a lonely Christmas but instead finds herself in the tiny village of Tindledale, where the residents share her obsession with knitting.

When life unravels, it’s time to knit…

Sybil has always taken comfort in her passion for knitting, creating beautiful knits stitch by stitch. But her world suddenly unravels when her fiancé ditches her for her identical twin sister at her Star Wars-themed wedding, leaving her sporting a Princess Leia do. Then things go from bad to worse when an incident at work jeopardizes her job.

Hoping to escape her woes and forget that she’ll be alone for Christmas this year, she visits her friend in Tindledale—a winter wonderland of quaint shops and snowy rooftops. When she arrives in the idyllic town, she can’t help feeling like she’s in a Hallmark greeting card. She’s embraced by welcoming—if eccentric—locals wearing handmade knits that remind Sybil of her own creations as well as her unrealized ambitions of selling them. So when the vintage boutique asks her to make an assortment of knits for their display window, she’s thrilled. The hot town doctor has even taken an interest in Sybil, hoping to heal her broken heart.

But just when Sybil thinks she’s going to have her fairytale Christmas after all, an unexpected turn of events threatens to unspool her happily ever after.


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Why You Should Read A Christmas Novel Now: Part Three

Today’s post by Melissa Hill | @MelissaHillBks

For the third part of our series we have Melissa Hill sharing her most treasured Christmas memory. You can read part one here and part two here. And don’t forget that we’re giving away all of these novels to one lucky winner at the end of the week. See the entry form below for details.

Melissa Hill

Melissa Hill

My most meaningful and much-cherished Christmas memory is of my very first visit to New York City in 2000.

This particular trip was special in so many ways, not least because I married my husband that year, so it was our first Christmas together as a husband and wife. But mostly because it was a wonderful introduction to what would eventually become another long-lasting affair; my love of the city at Christmas time.

I adored Manhattan in the freezing cold and falling snow – the holiday lights, baubles on Sixth Avenue, glittering giant snowflake on Fifth, roasted chestnut scents from the street vendors, Salvation Army carol singers – and genuine old fashioned festive cheer that seemed to permeate the city from every corner.

We did all of the obligatory Christmas touristy things, ice-skating beneath the tree at Rockefeller, waiting in line to see Saks’ holiday windows, took romantic strolls in Central Park in the snow, enjoyed afternoon tea in the Plaza hotel, spent hours of fun at FAO Schwartz, and took in the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.

All cheesy stuff to seasoned New Yorkers no doubt, but I loved every minute and couldn’t get enough. Winter snow is rare in Ireland and especially so at Christmas time, so to experience fluffy flakes falling softly over Central Park like some kind of real-life picture postcard was almost miraculous.

Another unforgettable part of that trip – for very different reasons – was on Christmas Day when we took a trip downtown to visit the World Trade Center, and had Christmas dinner in the North Tower restaurant on the 107th floor.

Afterwards, we bared the freezing cold and bone-chilling wind of the outside observation deck, and as I stared across the twinkling city that had completely stolen my heart, I vowed to return time and time again. Though that fond memory quickly became bittersweet when the following year, such unthinkable tragedy befell the city and the towers were no more.

I’ve been back for Christmas many times since, and each trip is just as wonderful as the last.

Yet the magic of Christmas in New York during that first visit renewed the joy of the season in ways I’d only experienced as a child.

And for that reason it is a Christmas memory I know I will truly treasure forever.


the gift of a charmFrom Melissa Hill, author of A Gift from Tiffany’s, comes The Gift of a Charm-another New York Christmas love story to restore your faith in miracles

Holly O’Neill knows that every charm bracelet tells a story. Many years ago she was sent one with just a single charm attached. The charms have been appearing ever since, often at challenging times, as if her mysterious benefactor knows exactly when she needs a little magic in her life.

As a result, Holly’s bracelet is her most prized possession. So when she finds someone else’s charm bracelet, she feels she has to try to reunite it with its owner-even if the only clues she has to follow are the charms themselves.



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Why You Should Read A Christmas Novel Now: Part Two

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini | @JChiaverini

Welcome to part two of our (admittedly) early Christmas series! If you missed part one, you can read it here. And don’t forget that we’re giving away all five featured Christmas novels at the end of the week to one lucky winner. (See the link below for details) That said, we have Jennifer Chiaverini, New York Times bestselling author of MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER up today. She’s sharing her favorite Christmas memory and we’d love to hear yours as well!

Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini

The 275 miles between my childhood home in Michigan and my grandparents’ house in Cincinnati seemed a vastly greater distance when I was a young girl, especially on wintery Christmas mornings. With the sun barely peeking above the horizon, my mother would bundle my brother, sister, and me into our coats and usher us outside to the station wagon, frost scraped from the windshield, suitcases and gifts loaded into the trunk, my father waiting behind the wheel, warming the car and tuning the radio.

Our neighborhood would be hushed and solemn at that early hour, the back roads to I-75 eerily empty. The sun rose as the hours and miles passed, and through my window, I watched as the glass and concrete and steel of shuttered auto plants gave way to snowdrifted fields and endless miles of interstate. But if the landscape we crossed was bleak midwinter, inside the car all was merry and bright, our road-weariness no match for our joyful anticipation of the warm welcome we would receive at journey’s end.

At long last, we arrived at my grandparents’ modest red brick and white siding bungalow in the middle of Banbury Street. My brother, sister, and I scarcely waited for our father to park before we scrambled from the car, bounded up the front porch stairs, and burst through the front door, shouting “Merry Christmas!” as loudly as we could. A joyful riot of sound and warmth and light met us—cheerful greetings, warm embraces, laughter and teasing and marveling about how much we had grown since Easter.

As we raced from room to room, flinging our arms around our grandparents and the aunts, uncles, and cousins we saw all too rarely, we thrilled to glimpse the colorful jumble of wrapped gifts beneath the silver foil tree in the living room. Carols played on my grandfather’s massive hi-fi, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole, big bands belting out familiar melodies in swing tempo. My grandmother’s tiny kitchen overflowed with fragrant apple pies and sugar cookies, and with the fragrant aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg and roasting turkey. Later, when the time came to enjoy our Christmas feast, there wouldn’t be room enough to accommodate all of us around the dining room table, but no one worried that we would not find a place just right.

My grandparents are gone now, my extended family scattered from coast-to-coast, but every year at Christmas, memory takes me back to that little house full of love and laughter—and wherever I am, every heartfelt Merry Christmas wish I hear is a welcome home.


Christmas BellsNew York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini celebrates Christmas, past and present, with a wondrous novel inspired by the classic poem “Christmas Bells,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.

In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia’s music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children’s choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow’s family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow’s patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. “Christmas Bells,” the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn.

Jennifer Chiaverini’s resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song.


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