Inauspicious Beginnings, Or How The Gates of Evangeline Came To Be

Today’s post by Hester Young | @HesterAuthor

We’re delighted to welcome Hester Young to the blog today as she shares a bit about how THE GATES OF EVANGELINE came to be. (Side note: one of my favorite, wildly eccentric friends is named Evangeline–Vange for short–so I can’t look at Hester’s novel without smiling). If you’ve not yet grabbed a copy, now would be a great time since we’ll be discussing this book, along with our other two winter book club selections, until the end of February.

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Hester Young

Hester Young

In 2007, I gave up on writing. I’d wanted to be a writer since the age of six, and yet, as I looked at the life that I was building—an all-consuming job teaching high school English, a man I was engaged to marry and hoped to start a family with—it seemed clear that writing no longer fit my world.

I was working eighty hours a week. Motherhood, I knew, would require what little time I had left and then some. In what seemed like a stark choice between art and children, I chose children.

Then something amazing happened. Instead of ending my writing ambitions, the birth of my son refueled them. At home on maternity leave with no papers to grade, I found myself scribbling pages while he slept. The novel that had long been percolating in my mind took on a more vivid form and shape.

Though I returned to work, my heart had drifted from the classroom. I loved watching my students achieve various milestones, but in the end, I wanted to be there watching my son achieve his. Shortly before our son’s first birthday, my husband accepted a job in New Jersey and I became a stay-at-home mom. I was both ecstatic and terrified.

In those early Jersey days, I knew no one. Our family members were all a plane ride or two away, and my husband traveled frequently for work. Managing my active and mischievous toddler proved more challenging than teaching even the surliest teenagers. There were some hard days.

One can react in many ways to isolation and loneliness. Some people turn to God, some people have affairs, some people hit the gym, some people watch too much TV and gain twenty pounds.

I wrote a book.

Every day, my son would take a three-hour nap. And every day, I would write. It was that simple.

I’ve heard people advise, usually in regard to love and marriage, that “when the right one comes along, you’ll just know.” The Gates of Evangeline was my first attempt at writing a novel, but it was The Right One. I just knew. I lost myself in this mystery about a grieving mother who uncovers dark, decades-old secrets at a lavish Louisiana plantation home.

In time, I developed a support system in my new town. I made friends, became a board member of the local MOMS chapter. I completed my book two weeks before the birth of my daughter.

When I found an agent and sold my novel in a three-book deal, life changed dramatically. It felt like I’d run a marathon, just hoping to reach the finish line, and accidentally walked away with prize money. These days, I am a full time writer with a kindergartener and a two-year-old daughter. Our household is hectic, but I’m so glad that choosing children over dream career was ultimately a false choice. Although it took three decades, I’m grateful–and proud–to be here.

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The Gates of EvangelineFrom a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her . . .

When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children in danger, she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent. They are warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.

After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams, asking for her help, she finds herself entangled in a world-famous thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance with the estate’s landscape architect—the warm and handsome Noah Palmer—begin to heal her grief-stricken heart. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined.

A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won’t be able to put down.

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Introducing the Newest Members of Our Blog Network

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

photo courtesy of stock.xchng

photo courtesy of stock.xchng

It’s been almost two months since we announced that we would be opening our blog network to new members. And while we anticipated a decent amount of interest, we were completely overwhelmed by the actual response. Thus the reason it has taken us this long to sort the emails and fill a limited number of spots. We are so grateful for the interest and all the bloggers who took a moment to toss their names in the hat and we’re very sad that we couldn’t include everyone. That said, we are really delighted to introduce the fifteen new members of our blog network! You’ll be hearing more about them in the coming months, but for now we thought you might like to meet them (and follow them on Twitter of course):

Heather Wheat | @hwheaties

Helen Barlow | @mynovelopinion

Tanya M. | @momvictories

Amber Ostheimer | @shelfnotesblog

Lindsey Stefan | @LiteraryLindsey

Chelsea Cote | @chelseadcote

Jo Wnorowski | @BloominChick

Kathryn Trask | @thebookdate

Natalie Waddell-Rutter | @BusyNatalie

Beth O’Brien | @fuelldbyfiction

Nancy Pate | @patebooks

Jamie Lapeyrolerie | @jamielynne82

Holly Faur | @holly_faur

Donna Cimorelli | @OnDBookshelf

Welcome aboard ladies! We look forward to many book-fueled conversations in the future!

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“But When” The Moment That Changes Everything

Today’s post by Elizabeth LaBan | @Elizabeth LaBan

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, when things really interesting for the reader). When we began to pay attention to this phrase we thought it was time to begin a new series. So we have invited Elizabeth LaBan to share a bit about her new novel, THE RESTAURANT CRITIC’S WIFE in this latest installment of “But When.” Enjoy!

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Elizabeth LaBan

Elizabeth LaBan

I thought I had a definite “but when” moment in mind for THE RESTAURANT CRITIC’S WIFE. Lila and Sam are living in New Orleans with their young daughter Hazel. Everything is going along without much complaint. Sam is working at the newspaper. Lila is dealing with being a new mom, but has the luxury of a trustworthy babysitter and continues to work for the local Addison Hotel. All is seemingly well, but when Sam announces that he has gotten a new job in a city far away things begin to change.

He has been offered the position of restaurant critic at the Philadelphia Record. It is his dream job. Great, right? Maybe, if you’re Sam. If you’re Lila, you’re whole world is about to be turned upside down because now is the only chance Sam will get to remain completely unknown to the restaurant community. He wants to blend in, and have the same dining experience everyone has. He does not want to give restaurants the chance to give him special treatment, or to cook and recook dishes to try to make them perfect. It means he would prefer Lila not work after they move because she has a talent for drawing attention to herself. It means that making friends will be almost impossible since Sam is afraid all new people might somehow be connected to a restaurant, and potentially expose him. Better to stay away from pretty much everyone. All of this leads Lila to question her marriage and her choices, struggle to find happiness, and work to make sure she doesn’t lose herself completely in the process. That is definitely the moment when the story begins. Or is it?

As I think about it, the true “but when” moment occurred long before that. It happened on that gray, foggy morning in New Orleans when Lila was there on business, feeling down and missing her ex-boyfriend. That day she did something unusual, she left the hotel. She found herself at a small cafe on Magazine Street where she saw a strange man wearing a mask and cape, five steaming bowls of gumbo in front of him. She almost walked out, but when she decided to stay her entire life changed. Lila says it best at the beginning of the book. She and Sam are out for a review meal with her mother and her mother’s friend. Sam isn’t paying any attention to them, he’s too busy scrutinizing the restaurant. The mood at the table is tense. Lila’s mother is telling a story she has told many times before, about her initial encounter with the man who would become her husband. For the first time, Lila really hears it. “A simple detail like deciding which stranger to ask to dance or, in my case, deciding where to eat in a strange city, can change your whole life.” Taking a seat at that gumbo shop set it all in motion.

“Get the duck,” the masked man said, his voice much younger and warmer than I expected. “It’s delicious.”

I wasn’t sure what to do. Who did he think he was, the Phantom of the Opera? I didn’t realize at the time that there were Mardi Gras parades that day and I would see other people in costume. I was afraid to take his advice, and afraid not to take it.

“I’ll try the duck gumbo, please,” I said after the man went back to his bowls. It arrived steaming hot, I ate it, and as promised, it was delicious.

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Restaurant Critic's Wife coverLila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here.

In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back.

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The Books of Winter

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

Books of Winter Collage

It’s nice to be back at work. It’s nice to dust off the blog and prepare for a new year and new books and new experiences with this lovely community. So we’re starting off with a bang by announcing our winter book club selections. We’ve chosen three novels this time and will be running them through the end of February and our hope is that you will grab a copy of each and read along. In these novels you will travel to the swamps of Louisiana, the damp halls of Alcatraz, and the tangled lives of three women caught up in an abduction. All of them will leave you breathless but for very different reasons. So without further ado, we give you the Books of Winter.

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The Gates of EvangelineTHE GATES OF EVANGELINE by Hester Young

From a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her . . .

When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children in danger, she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent. They are warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.

After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams, asking for her help, she finds herself entangled in a world-famous thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance with the estate’s landscape architect—the warm and handsome Noah Palmer—begin to heal her grief-stricken heart. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined.

A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is a magnificent debut that will leave you breathlessly guessing until the startling conclusion.

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The Edge of LostTHE EDGE OF LOST by Kristina McMorris

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

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

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

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

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What Was MineWHAT WAS MINE by Helen Klein Ross

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

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

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

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

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Signing Off And Wishing You A Blessed, Peaceful Christmas

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

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Friends, it is once again time for us to step back and become silent. And really, isn’t that what the world needs right now? More silence. More peace. More prayer. So for the next four weeks you will not see us in your inbox or your social media feeds. It is the season of Advent and we are turning our hearts toward home. This intentional quieting of the soul feels more important to us this year than it ever has before. The world is a scary place right now and so much seems to be going wrong and it is so easy to be afraid. But the waiting of Advent is good for the weary heart. And we are reminded that the world wasn’t so different two thousand years ago, on that first Christmas morning when love was born in the middle of a world filled with fear. We pray that in the coming days your hearts will be held together by hope and light and the scarlet threads of the greatest story ever told.

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Book Club Recipe: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs

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

DSCF7889 (324x432)

In Matthew Dicks’ The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, main character, Caroline, takes a spontaneous trip to her hometown, teen daughter in tow, to confront her high school bully. But when she shows up on the grown woman’s doorstep, she’s warmly embraced and pulled inside before being served a cool glass of lemonade. Of course she’s thrown for a loop by this unexpected show of kindness from the person she feels ruined her life so many years earlier, so the reader and Caroline’s tough-as-nails daughter must wait to see how she will handle herself and if she will follow through with her plan.

Earlier in the day, her mother had also served Caroline and her daughter glasses of lemonade. I was thinking as I read–and quickly developed a craving for fresh squeezed lemonade–how wonderful it would be to visit a town where residents had prepared bottles of the of the sweet tart concoction just waiting in their refrigerators for pop-in visitors. This inspired me to come up with my own that could easily be kept on hand.

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My recipe is more of a concentrated lemonade mix. I prefer it straight, over ice, but it is pretty potent for those who aren’t fond of extremely sweet/tart lemonade so can be diluted to taste with the addition of more water.

Pomegranate Pink Lemonade

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice (from approximately 6 large lemons)

1 c. pomegranate juice

1 c. simple syrup made from 3/4 cup sugar and 3/4 water

1 cup

Chilled water to dilute to taste (optional)

Method:

To make the simple syrup, combine the equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook just until the sugar is dissolved.

Cool completely.

Combine the chilled syrup, lemon juice, and pomegranate juice. Stir in one cup water. Bottle and refrigerate.

Add water to dilute, if desired, and serve over ice.

Yield: Undilited=1 (25 oz.) stopper bottle or 4 (1 pint) servings with ice

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Author to Author Interview: Melissa DeCarlo and Leah Ferguson, Part Two

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

Welcome back for part two of our interview with Melissa DeCarlo and Leah Ferguson. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

author intervew 26 collage

Melissa: Molly, your book’s protagonist, is such a relatable woman but she’s also a bit of a control-freak. This sets her up perfectly as the heroine in a novel that’s all about second guessing an important choice. So did her nature inspire the story, or did the story develop her personality?

Leah: What a great question, Melissa! I think it was Molly’s nature that inspired the story. I know so many women (and, I’ll admit, I might be one of them to a lesser degree. Don’t tell anybody, though) who have anxiety, or feel they can’t keep their lives under control—so try to micro-manage everything, only to feel worse for it in the end. It’s a never-ending cycle for many, and seems to get worse for those women who’ve had children and are trying to juggle more lives than just their own. It made me want to explore a story for a character who thinks she’s years away from that life. I wanted to see what could be in store for an independent person who not only needs to have her life in order, but actually thinks she does—and in one moment, sees it all spinning away from her.

Melissa: I thought you did a terrific job with the unique structure of this novel. You moved the story along at a good pace even as you alternated the two realities.  It seems like writing parallel narratives and keeping everything straight while still maintaining the novel’s excellent pacing must have been a challenge!  That got me interested in your writing process. Can you tell us a little about that, and were there any particular methods that helped you keep everything straight? 

Leah: Thank you so much for saying so! I was very naive when I began working on ALL THE DIFFERENCE: I thought that creating two parallel narratives would feel almost like writing two half-books, which had to be easier than writing an entire, traditional novel, right? (I know: silly Leah.) I sketched out a flowchart-style outline before I began writing the book, which helped me keep the two stories straight as I wrote. I was intent on keeping the arcs of the minor characters consistent no matter what happened to Molly in either narrative, so I also wrote the novel chronologically in order to keep it all straight. I highly recommend plotting out a story to anyone who wants to write in dual narratives—I can’t imagine “pantsing” my way through a story like this, even if the idea of outlining sounds counterintuitive to creativity. As it was, I went through way more many revisions with this book than I think is normal!

Melissa: I loved how you tapped into that perennial tension of career woman vs stay at home mom in this book by exploring expectations put upon women (by others and themselves) once they become mothers. As a mother of small children, did your personal experience help shape this aspect of the story? Any tips for other parents on work/life balance?

Leah: My personal experience of becoming a mother definitely shaped much of the emotion behind Molly’s work/life struggle. I was someone who often held down two jobs during much of her working career (i.e., waiting tables while working full-time for a law book publisher or, later, leading college courses in the evenings after my days in a high school classroom), and when I left teaching to stay at home when my first child was born, I spent a solid year or so struggling with some strange sort of identity crisis that came, I think, when somebody who’s always tried to get to the next promotion suddenly finds herself sitting on a church basement floor singing “Hello, Everybody!” with a bunch of infants in a Music Together class. I remember that feeling of wanting it all and not knowing how to find the balance. I think that’s why you meet so many young moms now who feel like they have to volunteer for everything/recreate Pinterest photos/create the elaborate meals—that drive to succeed has just been transferred to this new need to “win” at motherhood. I’ve fallen into the trap, too, and now that I’m a full-time mom who’s once again pursuing a career, Molly’s story is as relevant to me as it was eight years ago. I wish I had concrete tips for other parents, but I think all I have to offer right now is this: 1. Take your time. It doesn’t all have to be done at once, whether it’s the laundry or that next chapter in your novel. There will be deadlines you have to meet, of course, but don’t create them if you don’t have to. 2. See the joy in it all. Once you stop looking at your life as “have to”s (that is, you have to cook dinner, or you have to finish that project), meeting your goals seems doable. I’ve just realized this, and I’m sad it’s taken me this long: I get to be a mom, and I get to be a writer. Isn’t that fantastic? I write this now on a couch with a sick toddler curled up at my side watching Sesame Street. I could be upset that I’m not getting my work done more quickly, or that my child is being semi-ignored, but I’m finally not: I get to be this person who can do all things, as do you and anyone who reads our books. And that, there, is joy.

Melissa: At one point in your book, we hear Molly thinking, “There’s a happiness to be found in bad timing…if only we can allow ourselves to lose control just a little…” Interestingly, while my book has a theme of letting go of the past, yours has a theme of letting go of control—or perhaps letting go of the illusion of being in control. So, what made you want to write a story about letting go?

Leah: I loved that parallel in our novels, Melissa: I’m so glad I got to read THE ART OF CRASH LANDING and see the way we addressed the issues of pregnancy and letting go in such different, but emotionally similar, ways. What a treat. I think ALL THE DIFFERENCE was an exploration for me. I’ve learned over the years that a need for control usually stems from insecurity, and often shows up in people who seem to be such confident successes on the outside. I, for one, was someone who struggled with that need for control (and I, too, was someone who was a career achiever always looking to what was “next.” Though now that sounds exhausting even as I type the words): I liked things a certain way, and had expectations of how events or people “should” behave in my life, which created a comfortable, albeit constrictive, means of security for me in those unfriendly waters of my twenties. But it’s also something that doesn’t translate well into a life filled with relationships, and thankfully much of that has fallen away as I’ve gotten older and a bit more comfortable in my own (increasingly wrinkly) skin. That’s what made this story so appealing to write: I recognize the magic of letting go, but how does one get to that point if she’s not ready to face it? How does something like a pregnancy and possible husband and whole new, opulent life force somebody to come to grips with who she really is on the inside? And it’s been neat to hear from readers who either really identify with Molly or really dislike her—people bring their own experience to their reading, and it’s been amazing to me to see how those experiences impact their opinions. Molly has to get over herself a bit and find hope—it was fun for me, as her writer, to help her get there.

Melissa: I loved Molly’s parents with their honest, no-nonsense love for their daughter. It’s clear that they’ve got her back whether or not they agree with the choices she’s made. I thought they were wonderfully drawn, and I’d like to spend some time in their kitchen with a cup of coffee. Did you base them on anyone from your own life or is that the kind of parent you’d like to be for your grown children someday. 

Leah: Thank you so much, Melissa. I love that visual of sitting down with them, too. I can absolutely answer yes to both parts of your question. It’s funny—people often ask me if any part of this story is autobiographical, and I find myself laughing when I say no: so much of this book has been revised from its original draft that almost any inspiration I may have taken from my own life has been edited out. Most of the characters in this book are absolutely, definitely their own people with no help from me…with the exception of Molly’s parents. Both my husband David and I were lucky enough to be raised by parents who never hid their love for us and our brothers, but also expected quite a bit from their children. We are also similar in that we were raised by parents who worked incredibly hard to put food on the table—that kind of work ethic and no-frills upbringing is defining, I think, in all the good ways. That came forth big time in my depiction of Emily and Jack. I purposefully drew Jack to be a hybrid of both my husband’s dad and mine as an homage of sorts: we lost my father to pancreatic cancer when my oldest daughter was two months old, and exactly a year after that my husband’s father passed away. Jack’s kind of strong, unending love came from them, as did his appearance: the crooked smile was my dad’s, the beard was David’s dad’s. The flannel shirt Jack wears is definitely from both of them, as was the need to work with his hands (David’s dad was a carpenter by trade, and my dad was one by hobby). Emily’s actions and ways of speaking are much different than that of our mothers, but that kind of knowing, intelligent love is completely the same. As much as I would like to say that once my own children are out of the house one day they’ll stay out, I do hope David and I will raise our own children to have that kind of character strength one day. I wouldn’t mind sitting around the table twenty years from now with my own grown kids, knowing they’re going to be okay.

Melissa: Although both of our novels have main characters facing the stress of an unexpected pregnancy, in ALL THE DIFFERENCE, you also explore the stress of infertility, by giving Molly a best friend whose marriage is suffering from their struggles to conceive. I loved Jenny as a character, and I loved how you used her fertility problems to once again show us both sides of an issue. I’m always interested in what aspects of a book are planned by the author versus what develops organically during the writing process. With that in mind, did you set out to use the infertility subplot to serve as counterpoint to Molly’s pregnancy as you were first creating this story, or did that develop along the way?

Leah: I did know from the beginning that I wanted Jenny and Dan to grapple with infertility—I wanted their relationship to be this sort of inversion of Molly’s own life for the course of that year: here we have Molly moaning and groaning about getting pregnant, while her friend’s looking at her and thinking she has it all. And on the flipside, Jenny’s all upset about her life not being perfect (and handling it horribly), when she has it all, really—or will one day. I liked being able to zoom in on the lives of these women for the space of this short span of time, while all the while the reader knows that there’s so much more that’s going to happen after we leave them. That’s how we are in the real world, after all: we focus so much on problems that seem so insurmountable at the time, but years afterward look back and think, Ahh. So THATS how that led to this. I remember feeling so lost after I’d lost my job to a company sell-out years ago. But that lost job led to a desire to teach, and to grad school, to the job I had during grad school that landed me in the path of my now-husband, to where I sit now (on the couch with a sweet toddler leaning on my shoulder as I blog with a fellow author. Who’da thunk?). Our problems are so huge when we’re dealing with them, but it takes some time to realize that often, the big problems are just single pieces that will form a really massive, beautiful puzzle.

Melissa: I found it interesting that it was though your blog and then through NaNoWriMo that you finally decided to take the leap and become a novelist. What would you say to other bloggers who love to write but balk at the idea of taking that leap?

Leah: I just came home from a writer’s retreat in which a bestselling author, Darynda Jones, told us that everything good comes “from the other side of fear.” I am taking that advice and tucking it into my pocket to look at whenever I need it, and will happily tell any other writer to do the same. I was afraid of pursing writing for so very long. It’s what I wanted to do, and what seemed to come naturally to me, but there was always that question: what if I failed? If I don’t make it at that, what do I have left? It was almost like writing was the really pretty-looking present I never opened because I was afraid I would mess up whatever was inside. What a horrible way to live! I probably won’t attempt another NaNoWriMo again, only because my writing is better when I work more slowly, but it was exactly what I needed to kick me in the rear end, force me to work toward that goal, and realize that oh-my-gosh-YES, I can do it. Here’s the deal: it is very, very scary to throw yourself out there and not know if you’re going to land in the net or go splat on the ground. I’m as terrified of someone reading my book as I am thrilled by it. It’s just how it goes. But the thing is, if you feel like you want to, even a little bit, doesn’t that mean that you might be supposed to? That writing might be the thing you’re supposed to do? If that’s the case, it would be a darned shame to let that calling go unfulfilled. There will never be the ideal time to write. But my goodness, how much more colorful will your days become if you do it anyway.

Melissa: Of course you knew I was going to ask this…so explain your love of (or Molly’s love of) Fleetwood Mac?

Leah: Haha! I LOVE this question. Will I disappoint you if I said that the Fleetwood Mac was a choice I came to after lots of deliberation? I knew I wanted Molly to have this love of music—choices that helped develop her character and reinforce certain points of the story as they appeared. I also knew that I wanted these choices to be strong female singer-songwriters (hello, Liz Phair!), or bands led by fierce female vocalists (Florence, of course). I wanted them to be more of an indie persuasion, to show that Molly wasn’t just going to do what was assumed of her (you know what I mean since you’ve read the story!). And selfishly, it was fun, because my own love of music runs deep (though my literary agent laughingly tells me that I am a woman thoroughly stalled in the ‘90s.). But the Fleetwood Mac references came around because I was searching for a way to tie Molly back to her dad, and those roots and values set down by her family when she was a child (That’s why Molly’s baby is named a certain way). And with that, I wanted a band led by strong female vocalists. Fleetwood Mac was what I finally set my sights on when I realized how all the back-and-forth love interests in the band could also be a subtle allusion to Molly’s struggles. That and there’s so much good music to draw on. But that’s a given!

Melissa: And, Leah, just between us (because there’s probably no way to ask a question about this in without it being a spoiler) but I wanted to tell you that I found it very satisfying the way you worked in the Frost poem in the title and its parallel to your story. I think most people misunderstand that poem, thinking it says that his life did change because of taking the “road not taken,” when in fact the poem says the exact opposite as did you book, seeing as how she ended up in the same place either way. Awesome job!!

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All the differenceNew Year’s Eve. A time for resolutions. A chance to make a change. And for thirty-year-old Molly Sullivan, a night that will transform her life forever…

All it takes is one word—yes or no—to decide Molly’s future. As the clock counts down to midnight and the ball slowly begins to drop, Molly’s picture-perfect boyfriend gets down on one knee and asks her to marry him. She knows she should say yes, especially considering the baby-sized surprise she just discovered she’s carrying. But something in her heart is telling her to say no…

Now, Molly’s future can follow two very different paths: one where she stays with her baby’s father, despite her misgivings and his family’s unreasonable expectations, and one where she ventures out on her own as a single mother, embracing all the hardships that come with it.

And by the time the next New Year is rung in, Molly will know which choice was right—following her head or listening to her heart…

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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.

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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.

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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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