Archive | Guest Post

Jennie Shortridge, In Her Own Words

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Jennie Shortridge | @JennieShortridg

Jennie Shortridge

Jennie Shortridge

If I could tell my 12-year-old self that it all worked out just fine, that the books I read voraciously and the stories and poems I wrote with such a broken heart would lead to a later-life career of actually having my own novels published? Well, I don’t know if I would, even though it would have eased my young anxious mind. Over the decades I’ve learned that it’s the journey through that is most important, even though the outcome can be so sweet.

My journey, like most journeys, includes hardship (a mom with mental illness, an adult life that began at 17, and tons of early writing rejection) and indelible moments of joy, success, and love. All of it contributes to the stories I write about people who face difficult things and find a way through, not around. Such is the case with my latest novel, Love Water Memory, in which Lucie awakens, knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay, having no knowledge of who she is or where she is, or how she got there. Inspired by true events, this story examines how and why we become who we are, how we identify with the world, who we choose to love, sometimes again and again.

Love Water MemoryThe true events in Love Water Memory started with the story of Jeff and Penny Ingram, who dealt with Jeff’s amnesia in their own relationship. Their story and their love for each other are inspirational. As I was writing my fictional story, I wrote a very difficult scene, one that would take me a couple of weeks to realize came from my own life. Writing it helped me talk about my own issues with anxiety disorder more publicly, and to advocate for destigmatizing mental illness in order to make much-needed advancements in how we treat it, talk about it, and accept it as part of life just as we do physical illness. To read more about my story, read this Psychology Today piece.

What I’m most thankful for as a writer is readers, who, like me, pick up a book ready for adventure and perhaps a different perspective on something we all ponder, whether it’s identity or family or relationships. I love those “aha” moments when reading a novel, when the characters do or feel something achingly true, yet I’d never put my finger on it before. That’s why I love, have always loved, fiction so much: it tells the emotional truth even while spinning a not-quite-true story. And that I get to write it now? Well, my inner 12-year-old is very happy about that.

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Jennie Shortridge has written five acclaimed novels, including Love Water Memory and When She Flew. When she is not writing or volunteering, she stays busy as a co-founder of Seattle7Writers.org, a nonprofit collective of authors whose mission is to promote literacy in their community.

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About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Laura Spinella

Today’s post by author Laura Spinella, author of PERFECT TIMING | @spinellauthor

Laura Spinella

Laura Spinella

Something true, huh? I guess embarrassingly true qualifies? Okay, fine, in the name of creative inspiration: I’m not much for pop culture or topics that trend. If you were to twerk then tweet about it, I probably couldn’t relate to either form of communication.  I don’t watch much television, and if you ask me to name any of Billboard’s hot 100 artists, I might get four, maybe five right.   I’m much sharper with show tunes. However, never let it be said that I’m not susceptible to a pretty face, velvet timbre voice, and a good story—even if I have to make it up.

The Goo Goo Dolls have been around since the late 80s. Back then, when I was of a certain age, and so were they, I saw a photograph of lead singer, John Rzeznik. It stuck to my mind like gum on a shoe. I remember thinking he was so pretty he made your teeth ache. At the time, I invested in some rock star daydreaming, imagining what kind of girl a guy like that would want. I mean really want.  A girl the rock star would want more… Well, more than he wanted to be a rock star.  In defense of my imagination, it refused to cast the clichés, rejecting rail-thin models and dime-a-dozen movie star prototypes. I wondered if the thing that made the girl irresistible to him, and vice versa, could transcend the mock-up that minds will automatically manufacture. I became curious about their boy/girl back story. I mean, there had to be one, right?   There had to be a deep history and something that connected the two in way that survived other relationships and a downward plunge on the charts. It also had to be a bond strong enough, intriguing enough, to trump a rock star life.

My imagination—because it generally gets its way—took things one step further (no disrespect to Mr. Rzeznik here, I have no earthly idea if he’s a jerk or not) thinking how much cooler it would be if said rock star, my rock star, didn’t fit the pop culture mold. What if what made him real went completely against type? For the next twenty plus years, rock stars went their way and I went mine. Although, admittedly, I did toss that saucy thought around, mulling over the possibilities every so often until the characters, their story, and the timing were absolutely perfect.

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Perfect TimingThere’s rock, there’s a hard place, then there’s Aidan & Isabel.  

What’s a Jersey Girl to do when she moves to Catswallow, Alabama? Isabel Lang finds the answer in an unlikely bond with the musically gifted Aidan Roycroft. The two share everything from a first kiss to startling family secrets. But when Aidan is accused of a violent crime, the two flee to Las Vegas where Isabel’s future comes tumbling down.

Seven years later, the past is buried, including any relationship with Aidan. Isabel is busy running a radio station and closing in on commitment with Nate Potter, a guy who defines ideal. Life seems cozy until new station management demands a sudden-death ratings grabber, putting everyone’s future on the line. What should be a simple solution leads to a stunning revelation as Isabel is forced to call on the past and the only rock star she knows.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Jeffrey Stepakoff

Today’s post by author Jeffrey Stepakoff | @JeffStepakoff

Jeffrey Stepakoff

Jeffrey Stepakoff

When I grew up in Atlanta, I had a dear friend named Elaine who lived on this wonderful street where a lot of the kids all knew each other.   It was one of those lovely tree-lined neighborhoods where the parents were all friends with each other and their kids grew up together.   I lived further out in the suburbs and, as I got older, I would often drive to this upscale neighborhood, joining my friends who lived there, and others who lived nearby.   Sometimes we’d hang out by the neighborhood pool, swapping stories and plans for college, and listening to late ’70s rock on the open doors of our cars in summer.   And sometimes when it was colder, we would spend time in Elaine’s basement.   You may remember these basements, with the wood paneling, and drop ceilings, and the record player, and the bookcases filled to overflowing with hardbacks of all kinds.   This was a basement that many of us knew well.

Cut to:   twenty-five years later.   After spending the majority of my adult life in Los Angeles, I moved, along with my wife and our young children, back to Atlanta.   And one of the first things we did was to reconnect with old friends, including my buddy, Michael, who had purchased Elaine’s old house.

Michael had grown up in the house literally across the street from Elaine.   His parents and her parents were best friends.

My wife, our girls, and I went to Michael’s new home in Elaine’s old house for dinner, joining him, his wife, and their kids.   Michael showed us around, pointing out all the amazing and gorgeous upgrades he had made to the rambling thirty-five year old property, finally leading us down to the basement, where, I noted to Michael, nothing had changed.

He smiled and said, “Have you seen the bomb shelter? ”

Bomb shelter? ”

With a wave of his hand, Michael pointed across the room where one of the floor-to-ceiling book cases had been pulled away from the wall and, sure enough, there was an opening.

We followed Michael in, down a fifteen-foot metal ladder, across a thirty-foot low corridor, to a large concrete capsule.   We walked through its open steel blast-door.

Inside were all the accoutrements and accessories a family of four would need to survive the end of the world.   From the food stocks to the medical supplies to the water purification kits, it was all there, and then some.

I was blown away.

Michael explained that he learned about the bomb shelter the day he closed on the house.   Apparently, no one knew about it — not even Elaine.   She had learned about when she was an adult, the same day Michael did.

How many times had I looked at that basement bookcase and never known what was behind it?   What would drive a man to feel that he needed to prepare for the end of the world in such a way?

These are questions that I deal with in my new novel, The Melody of Secrets.   A bomb shelter plays a part in the new book.   And Elaine’s basement was the inspiration.

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The Melody of Secrets (1)The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn’t much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage.

Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.

Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world…

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Joshilyn Jackson

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Joshilyn Jackson | @JoshilynJackson

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My office is a converted sun porch off the back of our painted brick 50′s bungalow. It is all windows on two sides. We live right by a bird sanctuary; the yard is rife with the feathery little boogers. I put a feeder on the window just above Mango—my main personal assistant, mostly in charge of yacking hairballs directly into my printer—and all day long I have wrens and finches and even a few cardinals pertly sitting just above his cat basket.

mango at the bird box

I like to work with animals around me. My husband says the number of animals I need to be happy is best represented by X + 1, where X is the number of animals I have now. Currently X is three, and I am in the market for a tuxedo kitten. If we don’t find the right kitten, my back up plan to is to agitate for a Ball Python, a breed of snake known for being docile and amenable to being handled. If I get one, I am going to name him Sippy Cups.

The truth is, I need a bunch of little heartbeats in the house or I get very low, very fast. I am more an extrovert than most writers, and my job means a lot of alone time.

room of her own books

On the floor, you can see my secondary assistant, Ansley. She’s in charge of making pig noises and being anxious. Behind me is a futon, where Bagel-Dog, my tertiary assistant in charge of snoozing does his work, and floor to ceiling bookshelves holding the books I love enough to keep. I took a picture of one random section piece of my shelves because I love peeping other people’s book shelves and figured you might, too.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Kristina McMorris

Today’s post by author Kristina McMorris | @KrisMcMorris

Kristina McMorris

Kristina McMorris

Night terrors. Any parent who has experienced them firsthand would likely agree the term is an apt description. My oldest son, now ten years old, used to suffer from these episodes when he was a toddler. His panicked shrieks frequently summoned me or my husband to his bedroom, where he would be sitting upright in bed, eyes wide with fear, unable to wake, viewing something nobody else in the room could see. And yet, come morning, he would have no recollection of the event.

Over time—thankfully—he outgrew the severe and vivid nightmares, just as his pediatrician had predicted. The son of a friend, on the other hand, has not been as fortunate. For a reason his parents and doctors are unable to pinpoint, the boy’s night terrors have only worsened, often lasting several hours at a time and requiring his parents to restrain him to prevent self-inflicted injuries.

Perhaps it was my knowledge of their dilemma, in addition to firsthand experience, that heightened my interest in a particular news story two years ago. The report featured a toddler boy who had also suffered from violent, recurrent night terrors, though invariably his alluded to a plane crash—and not just any plane: a Corsair from World War II. Apparently, his knowledge of obscure, verifiable details ultimately convinced his skeptical parents that he’d once been a WWII pilot who perished in battle.

Do I, myself, believe this to be the case? I couldn’t tell you. What I do know is that when my eldest son was a toddler he would sometimes speak of a grandmother who didn’t exist. Sure, maybe we simply misheard him. Or maybe it was just the creative ramblings of a youngster… but what if it was something more?

Taking it a step further, the literary portion of my mind began to wonder: Could a child’s nightmares be linked to the past, perhaps even reveal secrets other people wanted to keep buried?

It was this train of thought that formed half the premise of my latest novel, The Pieces We Keep. And a declassified account of Nazi saboteurs inspired the rest.

Although I had done a great deal of WWII research for my past novels, only through a friend did I learn of a group of German spies who were dropped off by U-Boat on the East Coast of America in 1942. Intrigued, I sought out more details on the topic and what I found was an astounding account involving espionage, tragedy, and romance; deceptive dealings by J. Edgar Hoover; and even a secret military tribunal assembled by FDR. In essence, it was the makings of a Hollywood film and a story I couldn’t resist.

Needless to say, I hope readers feel the same about The Pieces We Keep.

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TPWK_CoverIn this richly emotional novel, Kristina McMorris evokes the depth of a mother’s bond with her child, and the power of personal histories to echo through generations…

Two years have done little to ease veterinarian Audra Hughes’s grief over her husband’s untimely death. Eager for a fresh start, Audra plans to leave Portland for a new job in Philadelphia. Her seven-year-old son, Jack, seems apprehensive about flying–but it’s just the beginning of an anxiety that grows to consume him.

As Jack’s fears continue to surface in recurring and violent nightmares, Audra hardly recognizes the introverted boy he has become. Desperate, she traces snippets of information unearthed in Jack’s dreams, leading her to Sean Malloy, a struggling US Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan. Together they unravel a mystery dating back to World War II, and uncover old family secrets that still have the strength to wound–and perhaps, at last, to heal.

Intricate and beautifully written,  The Pieces We Keep  illuminates those moments when life asks us to reach beyond what we know and embrace what was once unthinkable. Deftly weaving together past and present, herein lies a story that is at once poignant and thought-provoking, and as unpredictable as the human heart.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Joshilyn Jackson

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Joshilyn Jackson | @JoshilynJackson

Joshilyn JacksonSOMEONE ELSE’S LOVE STORY features two sets of male/female best friends: Walcott and Shandi, William and Paula. Shandi falls for William in chapter one, when they are caught together in a robbery gone bad and William steps between the gun and Shandi’s little son.

I wanted the romantic focus to stay on William and Shandi, and yet they each had a best friend of the opposite sex. There was too much possibility! Love is powerful, and sex is sneaky. They can sprout between the most unlikely people.

Here’s the short (very expurgated) version of my own love story: I met Scott when I was a 19 and he was 20. We were both theatre majors. He was a long, gangly fellow, very quiet, very introspective. His silence set him apart from the flamboyant gaggle of wild actors I ran with. I gravitated to it.

I learned he was a shameless geek with a thousand comic books kept mint in special plastic sleeves and a secret dream to one day ride the space shuttle. He reminded me of a German shepherd puppy, a little goofy, with skinny legs and feet way too big for his body.

He quickly became my best friend. Back then, if you had asked me if men and women could be just friends, I would have jerked my thumb at Scott and said, “Obviously. ”

Scott and JoshilynBut as the years passed, the German Shepherd puppy grew into his giant feet. Love and Sex twined around us and ate us up, whole, so fast and sly I didn’t notice —until I did. Then I married him and had his charming babies, and I still like him best. The end.

When I wanted to write about male/female best friend sets in SOMEONE ELSE’S LOVE STORY, I had to find a way to take possibility out of the equation. Granted, not every man and woman who become friends end up in bed—but as long as they stay out of bed, the possibility remains. Turns out, possibility is harder to remove than sex itself.

I couldn’t make the dynamics work until I took away the speculation; I made both pairs of friends have sex with each other before the novel begins. It was the only thing that worked! I found no way to get my characters around possibility, so I moved them through it. Through it, and into something else.

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SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORYSomeone Else’s Love Story  is beloved and highly acclaimed  New York Times  bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson’s funny, charming, and poignant novel about science and miracles, secrets and truths, faith and forgiveness; about falling in love, and learning that things aren’t always what they seem—or what we hope they will be.

Shandi Pierce is juggling finishing college, raising her delightful three-year-old genius son Nathan, aka Natty Bumppo, and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced parents. She’s got enough complications without getting caught in the middle of a stick-up and falling in love with William Ashe, who willingly steps between the robber and her son.

Shandi doesn’t know that her blond god Thor has his own complications. When he looked down the barrel of that gun he believed it was destiny: It’s been one year to the day since a tragic act of physics shattered his world. But William doesn’t define destiny the way others do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in facts and numbers, destiny to him is about choice. Now, he and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Author Profile – Allison Winn Scotch

Today’s post by  Allison Winn Scotch | @aswinn

We’re delighted to visit with New York Times Bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch today. Her new novel, THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES, is making waves and getting rave reviews. We were able to sit down with Allison and get pick her brain about this novel in particular and the writing life in general. We’ve also got a copy of THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES up for grabs to one lucky winner. See entry form below for details.

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Allison Winn ScotchGrowing up with the last name “Winn” was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because prior to any monumental event — a T-ball game, my SATs, a talent show -my dad would look at me and say, “What’s your last name?” And I’d have to reply, “Winn.” (Get it? Win.)  It was a curse for those same reasons. :) There are only so many times your dad can say that to you before you roll your eyes with annoyance and wish that your last name weren’t an actual verb that stood for excellence. (Though I married a guy whose name is an alcoholic beverage, so I guess it’s better than shouting back “scotch!,” which surely would have put me in therapy for years.) Still though, my dad’s message stuck with me, long after I left the house and headed 3000 miles away for college. The message was this: be your best. Not THE best. YOUR best. And I think that this childhood mantra has probably influenced my writing and my characters as much as anything else in my life.

Be your best. It’s pretty simple right?

And yet. And yet, it’s not that simple. As busy women, we so often feel compromised; we aren’t as patient with our children; we eye the clock at work, wondering when we should rush out; we keep track of friends only on Facebook; we wish we did yoga more; we wish we ate organic food more; we wish we slept more, had sex more, relaxed more. I mean, I could write a list that went on forever. What is our best anyway?

I often try to answer that question through my characters, particularly in THEORY OF OPPOSITES, but in my other books too. I start with women who aren’t living their best lives (not to sound like Oprah or anything) and who have to find their own way to actually find their own happiness. And while none of these characters are me – in fact, in THEORY, I’m more like my protagonist’s best friend than my protagonist — it’s eye-opening to take the journey with them. To open up their lives and see how small changes, maybe not compromising on a unfulfilling relationship or maybe asking more of herself than she’d asked before, can change their worlds entirely. I push them to risk more, to be braver, to stand on a high wire and look down and see how beautiful it can be. And when I do that for them, I also do it for me. I discover that maybe I could be more courageous or more patient or more open to change. It’s a pretty amazing process actually: that I start with fictional two-dimensional characters in my imagination, and I end up with fully-formed  people  who have somehow taught me how to be a little bit closer to my best.

Here’s the truth: you don’t have to  be named Winn to understand your potential. You just need a little honesty, a little clear-headedness, and maybe, if you have a few hours in your day, a good book. And if you can’t find those few hours, don’t worry. There’s always tomorrow.

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The Theory of OppositesMarybeth: Allison, you were a journalist for a number of years before turning your hand to fiction. It what ways did that prepare you for writing novels? In what ways did it make it harder?

Allison: I can’t think of many ways that it made it harder, but there are many things that made it easier. For one, I understood the discipline that it takes to  write. It’s not a hobby, it’s a job. I learned about deadlines and revisions and exacting standards of editors. I apply all of these things to my fiction work too. Writing is work, whether it’s for a magazine or for a novel. Trust me, there are plenty of times when I’d rather not write or I want to quit before a revision is done, but I learned in my magazine days that it’s not done until it’s  done.  Also, that you have to show up every day and write. For my magazine work, this was because I had editors and contracts. Now, it’s because it’s habit.

Ariel: THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES is the first novel of yours that I’ve read, (I know, I am ashamed) but like all your other books it has a contemporary setting. Why are you drawn to writing about the here and now?

Allison: Ha ha, don’t be ashamed! There are so many great writers and great books out there; we can’t read everything. That’s the truth. I think, to answer your question, that I really enjoy examining what my peers and contemporaries are going through in their own lives. Women who are struggling to find a balance; marriages that need to be reinvigorated; parents who love their kids desperately but don’t always love the parenting aspect of it. Those types of things. I read books to hopefully find something within the pages that resonates with me, and maybe leaves a bit of an imprint, a tweak in my mentality or emotional landscape. I guess by exploring these every day things that we all come up against, I hope to do the same for my readers. There’s a lot about life that can be tough. I like my characters to go through those same struggles that readers do.

Marybeth: You’ve got young children. How has motherhood changed or informed your writing? Are there any challenges that are inherent to this season of life?

Allison: Motherhood has informed my writing in so many ways. Not least is that I often explore the complications of parenting and parenthood in my novels. I think any mother will tell you that it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, but it is also exhausting and fragile and confusing and sometimes breaks your heart. And that’s all okay. And it’s also okay to wonder, as my characters do, how parenthood will change you or if you even want to or need to be changed. My kids are sort of the base note, resonating all the time, in my life. But I also try not to make them my  entire  life. So I enjoy exploring this theme in my books. As far as challenges? Sure, absolutely. I think most working moms can agree that we often leave parts of ourselves behind — when I’m with the kids, I am sometimes thinking about work; when I’m writing, I’m sometimes distracted by what I need to do for them. It’s not as if writers — or working moms, for that matter — can ensconce themselves in a bubble and just pick one thing to be in that moment. I felt this pretty acutely with my last book before Theory — I just felt pulled in too many directions and was exhausted by it. I took a break from writing, spent real quality time with my kids, moved with the family across the country, and sort of gave myself the nurturing I needed. I’m truly, truly fortunate to have the type of job where I can do this — step back, assess, decide how much of myself I want to give to work, etc — but yes, being all things to all people is a challenge. I’ve come to realize that I can’t be all things to all people, and that’s just fine. I give my best. That’s it.

Ariel: You tackle some difficult relationship issues in THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES. Willa and her over-bearing father. Will and her unreliable husband. Why do you think these themes resonate so deeply with women? How is it empowering to address them in story form?

Allison: It’s funny — I have a great relationship with my dad (and my mom, for that matter), and I feel sort of bad that my past few heroines have struggled with paternal figures. It has nothing to do with him. :) But that said, I think a lot of us feel like we are products of our childhoods…we are a generation that spends time in therapy, trying to break the shackles of our early years or trying to, I don’t know, figure out who we are as adults. So maybe that’s why those story lines resonate. As far as the marital/relationship storyline, well, I think in this Facebook age, everyone stares at pictures of their friends or friends of friends or people they barely know and measures their relationship by that yardstick. “Oh, Jon and Kathy look SOOOOO happy in St. Tropez! What am I doing wrong?” And a) I think this kind of comparison is really destructive and ridiculous, b) I think it’s important to realize that no one’s life is shiny and perfect, and c) relationships are complicated, and that’s totally okay. Anyone who has been married for a while — or been in the dating world for a while — or just…wants to find some sort of partner in her life — knows that there are wonderful highs and lows to relationships. That’s how they go. Full stop. And I think women like reading about these highs and lows and knowing that their own partnerships are normal, and that no matter what happens with those relationships, the women themselves, the readers, are  going to be okay.  How empowering is it to pass along that message? So empowering. (I mean, without giving myself too much credit.) But I think, again, in today’s Facebook era, that is more important than ever to be honest about the fact that life and relationships are sticky and messy and sometimes glorious and sometimes much less glorious. That’s how it goes. It’s always nice to hear or read that someone else gets it too.

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Allison Winn Scotch Novels

New to Allison’s novels? Make sure you check out the rest of her backlist. I know I will.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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My Own Miraculous: a love story

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Joshilyn Jackson | @JoshilynJackson

My Own MiraculousMY OWN MIRACULOUS is a long short story (or short novella) about all the ways motherhood changes us, and about how we change into mothers.

In a perfect world, these transformations would happen simultaneously. Our baby would be placed in our arms, and boom! All at once, we would understand exactly how to love, care for, feed, nurture, discipline without stifling, indulge without spoiling, hope for without burying in expectations, and rock to sleep our mysterious, terrifying, beautiful baby.

It’s not a perfect world.

I’ll tell you what I do know: Love fills the gaps as we are learning.

Oddly enough this truth was recently reinforced by our daughter’s silly little dog, Ansley. The very day we brought Ansley home from our local Pet Rescue, she adopted our son’s hound, Bagel. Never mind that Bagel was older and three times her size. Bagel is so genuinely dim-witted and good natured that he was happy to be a surrogate puppy. Or a throw pillow. Whatever.

We watched her herding him, the way she rested her chin on his butt as he slept, keeping her own eyes open and alert. It was clear she had been a mother at least once before she was spayed. Her own body confirmed it a little later, when she trusted us enough to roll over for a good tummy scratch.

“Why are her, um, her dog bosoms all floppy? ” Maisy demanded. “Bagel isn’t like that. ”

“Ansley has had puppies, ” I explained to my then third grader. “They stretched her nipples out like that when they were nursing. ”

“Ew, ” Maisy said. “I’m glad that doesn’t happen to HUMAN mommies. ”

I held my tongue. No need to explain to a nine year old ALL the way motherhood changes us. (What? I want grandchildren one day. )

Three years later, Ansley still mommies giant Bagel, coddling him, watching over him, and prancing with pride when he does something wonderful. Well, dog-wonderful, so this usually means something awful for us. I remember once Ansley came tearing up to the house, clearly thrilled out of her tiny mind, doing a joyful version of the Timmy-is-in-the-well, back-and-forth dash to entice us to follow her. We did, and she took us behind the garden shed, where her most marvelous Bagel had unearthed the very, very deadest squirrel in all of Georgia. He was rolling in it. Repulsive! But she was proud enough to bust.

This weekend Bagel had to go to the vet for a tummy problem, and Scott leashed him up and walked him out of the house. Ansley was left at home. This is what she did, for the entire half hour Bagel was missing:

It was an endless, grieving ,restless terrified yammer of sound. THE MAN! HE TOOK BAGEL! WHAT WILL HAPPEN! HELP! Maisy and I coddled her and petted her and talked to her, but she was disconsolate. Nothing was right with the world. She wept and paced and whined and dug at the door.

If dogs can’t recover from becoming mommy-dogs, what chance do we people have, with our much larger imaginations, with our greater understanding of how dangerous the world is? We are very brave, all of us mothers. We have to be.

MY OWN MIRACULOUS  is the story of one girl who becomes a mother way too young, and how danger came, and what she does to earn the title. It’s exciting and love-affirming, but I don’t want to spoil the end. Instead, I’ll show you how Ansley’s story ended.

anlsey is happy

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Jojo Moyes

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Jojo Moyes | @JojoMoyes

Don’t forget that today is the last day to enter this months giveaway. See this post for details on how to win all three of Jojo Moyes’ novels.

Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes

I grew up surrounded by art. My parents were artists (they met at art school) and my father later ran a business storing and transporting art, so my earliest memories were spent wandering his warehouse, gazing at the priceless paintings and sculptures through the stretchers and cases. While art was treated reverently, it was also unremarkable, and as a child, having sat under his desk copying the Jackson Pollocks, or Francis Bacons, I would ask why my art wasn’t as valuable as the paintings in the high security area.

It is a question that still preoccupies me. What separates two works that look the same, that just happen to be by two different people?

In my book The Girl You Left Behind, a once-worthless painting becomes the subject of a multi-million pound lawsuit after the artist who paints it becomes fashionable. In the 1900s the painting has huge emotional significance to its subject, as it represents a time when her husband painted her and she was joyously happy.

Unfortunately, it has significance too to the German Kommandant who takes over her hotel, and sees remnants of his life before the war — as well as a woman he finds increasingly compelling.

And decades later, for Liv Halston, its owner, it speaks to her of her late husband and the happiness they shared. Each of these people suffers, and fights to claim this painting as their own.

Sometimes I look at the items in my home that have value to me: a carved figure, a picture by my daughter. What would have value in future years? More importantly, what would I do to keep them? There is no value, except the value that we place on them. To me, the lock of my child’s hair, or their first painting is as important as a Jackson Pollock. I just hope nobody ever offers me the chance to swap.

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The Girl You Left BehindFrom the  New York Times—bestselling author of  Me Before You, a spellbinding love story of two women separated by a century but united in their determination to fight for what they love most

Jojo Moyes’s bestseller,  Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and has struck a chord with readers everywhere. “Hopelessly and hopefully romantic ” (Chicago Tribune), Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker that asks, “Whatever happened to the girl you left behind? ”

France, 1916:   Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is—putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.

Like Sarah Blake’s  The Postmistress  and Tatiana de Rosnay’s  Sarah’s Key,  The Girl You Left Behind  is a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with Moyes’s signature ability to capture our hearts with every turn of the page.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Lisa Patton

Today’s post by author Lisa Patton | @LisaPattonBooks

We’ve got all three of Lisa’s novels up for grabs today. See the form below for entry details.

Lisa Patton

Lisa Patton

The number one piece of advice I was given when I started this literary journey was, as trite as it sounds, “write what you know, ” even down to the location of the story. So instead of setting my novels in Nashville, the place I currently rest my head (soft pillows only please), I set them in Memphis, the place I was born and spent most of my life. Plus, if truth were told, Memphis needs the PR!

I just published the third book, SOUTHERN AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, in my Dixie series, and not only are each of the books stand-alones, I’m also happy to admit there is an element of truth in all three. First off, I really was a Vermont innkeeper! “Was ” being the key word, as three sub-zero winters sent me speeding back down South without so much as a peek over my shoulder. That crazy misadventure left room for numerous thinly veiled accounts that I could add to my debut, WHISTLIN’ DIXIE IN A NOR’EASTER. In particular, my little senior citizen Yorkie, who accompanied me on the move up North, HATED the snow (as did I), not to mention the twenty-five-degree-below-zero temps, so I gave her one of the starring roles in the book. Her name was Holly but she became Princess Grace Kelly, or Gracie for short. Let’s just say tee teeing outside for her was not an option.

Next, in YANKEE DOODLE DIXIE, I really was the promotion director of a top radio station in Memphis and I could bring so many fun, true-to-life radio pranks to my story. Like when Johnny Dial, the morning deejay, tells his listeners a panda escaped from the Memphis Zoo and his partner dresses in a panda suit appearing in various locales around Memphis. That really happened. And people honestly fell for it.

And now in SOUTHERN AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, my protagonist, Leelee Satterfield, lives with her second mother Kissie, an eighty-three-year-old African American steel magnolia, who peppers her with advice, whether she asks for it or not. I really had a Kissie in my life that never hesitated to correct me when I veered off the straight and narrow. Without her I never would have learned how to cook, clean or properly wash and fold my laundry. Times were different in the South when I was growing up. Many a white mother held her newborn in her arms for the first time and after coming home from the hospital handed that baby straight over to her black mother. Writing about Kissie was the best part of the SOUTHERN AS A SECOND LANGUAGE odyssey. She died in 2002 but I felt like she was right next to me. I miss her so much, I ache. Creating the character of Kissie brought the real Kissie back to life.

Lisa Patton Books

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Southern As A Second LanguageNot only do Southerners talk slowly, but sometimes the whole language is hard to understand. No one realizes that more than Memphis belle Leelee Satterfield. Since she debuted inWhistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter, Leelee has entertained tens of thousands of readers. Watching her tackle life and love in Vermont was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to antics, charades, mischief, and romance. Now that she’s back in Memphis, and starting a new relationship with Peter, the Yankee chef from her New England inn, you’d think she’d sit back and enjoy her newly crafted life back home in Dixie. But that just wouldn’t be as much fun.

Opening up a new restaurant with Peter isn’t as easy as she had anticipated, especially when it comes to the differences between the North and the South. When Leelee’s ex-husband, Baker, returns unexpectedly, everything else goes haywire. Throw her three crazy best friends into the mix; Riley, her meddlesome next-door neighbor who sells Pampered Chef for a living; and Kissie, Leelee’s beloved second mother who claims Riley sits on her “last raw nerve, ” and you have the perfect recipe for a sassy, Southern delicacy.

Lisa Patton’s  Southern as a Second Language  is an endearing and chuckle-inducing tale that keeps us guessing up to the very last page how it all works out in the end. Whether among maple trees in Vermont or magnolia-filled Memphis, Leelee’s charm, heart, and laughter will delight readers in any climate.

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About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

read more