You’ve probably heard authors say this a million times before, but I’m saying it again because it’s true: sometimes the seed of a novel starts with a grain of truth. In the case of The Truth About Love & Lightning, that seed was my mother. To put it nicely, my mom is very, very blunt. In other words, if you ask her a question—say, “How do you like my new haircut?” or “Do I look like I’ve lost all my pregnancy weight?”—you have to be prepared for an honest answer. Sometimes so honest it makes me whimper. Shouldn’t moms be supportive? I find myself thinking when I get zinged. Shouldn’t they always play nice in order to avoid hurt feelings?
Maybe in my dream world that’s how mothers act. But in my real life, I get the cold, hard truth, according to Mom. That got me thinking about a character I’d been itching to write about; a woman who’d been keeping a secret for 40 years. Her name is Gretchen Brink, and she told a lie long ago about who her daughter’s father was, a lie that comes back to haunt her when a tornado hits her walnut farm and dumps a ghost from the past into her field. What if Gretchen told a whopper of a lie—on top of a lot of little white lies—because her mom had only told the brutal truth? What if Gretchen grew up thinking it was far better to fudge a bit and make people feel good than to be honest?
So when I conjured up Gretchen’s honest-to-a-fault mother, Annika, I took the seed of truth from my own life (i.e., my mother) and stretched it like Gumby until I could fully picture who Annika was. Let’s just say, she makes my mom look like Pollyanna.
A few months before mid-February when The Truth About Love & Lightning came out, I shared an advance copy with my mom, not telling her anything about Annika or how she’d inspired the idea for the character. In the weeks that followed, I expected to get a phone call, telling me, “I read your new book, and this is what I thought.” But instead, my mother said nothing. I never even knew if she’d cracked the spine until I finally asked her last week, “Did you ever read it?”
“Yes,” she told me, “I read it a month ago. And I think it’s the best book you’ve ever written.”
“Wow, I’m happy to hear that,” I said then held my breath and asked, “You didn’t by chance think Annika was based on you, did you?”
After a brief hesitation, she said, “Of course, not.” But there was a funny look in her eyes so that I wondered for a moment if she was lying.
As far as Gretchen Brink is concerned, the tornado that just ripped through her land has nothing on the storms of a different sort happening all around her. Her grown daughter, Abby, has returned home with news that she’s pregnant, and no, she’s not sure whether she’s going to marry the father. A man with no memory has been dropped practically on her doorstep. And the not-so-little white lie she’s been telling for years is about to catch up with her.
Abby is sure that the mysterious man is her long-lost father, Sam, who has finally returned just when she needs him most. As Abby, Gretchen, and the Man Who Might Be Sam get closer, the lie Gretchen told all those years ago begins to haunt her. When her secrets come out, and Sam’s past is finally revealed, will it tear down this fragile life they’ve built—or will the truth bring them all closer together?
Susan McBride is the author of women’s fiction, including The Truth About Love and Lighting, Little Black Dress, and The Cougar Club Foreign editions of her books have been published in France, Croatia, and Turkey. She has also written a short memoir for HarperCollins called In the Pink: How I Met the Perfect (Younger) Man, Survived Breast Cancer, and Found True Happiness After 40, which was released in October of 2012 to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Susan is a six-year breast cancer survivor and an “accidental Cougar,” having married a man nine years younger. In June of 2012, at the ripe old age of 47, Susan gave birth to their daughter, Emily. As Susan likes to say, “life is never boring.”
Over two years ago, in the middle of an ordinary day, the extraordinary happened, and my family will never be the same.
Some twenty-one years ago my little sister placed her baby for adoption. It was the most heart-rending, courageous and difficult decision she had ever made, and we all wept with her when she handed her baby girl to an anonymous, yet hand-chosen family. Then . . . two years ago, I received a Facebook friend request from a young girl with the same birthday as my adopted niece. It was too much to hope for, almost too miraculous to believe. But it was true: my sister’s daughter, my niece, found us on Facebook.
Our family had often talked about my niece, using the name my sister had given her. We remembered her whenever we saw a girl who would be her age at that time. Every time my parents moved into a new house, they planted a tree for her and we all prayed for her happiness and safety. We knew nothing about her – all those years we didn’t know where she lived or with whom. Although we knew that legally she could find us when she turned twenty-one, there was no way for us to find her. And then finally, all those years of unknowing and all those years of wondering culminated in a reunion that most dream about.
My sister’s story was the inspiration for this novel, AND THEN I FOUND YOU. It is my way of exploring the way we live with unknowing. We want certainty, We want solid ground under our feet. We want to be sure of our place in the world, and yet we rarely, if ever, have that certainty. So then, how do we live? And what happens when the lost become found?
Although the personal facts are left for my sister to tell, the fictional story in AND THEN I FOUND YOU explores the emotions and extraordinary change that reunions bring to a life and to a family.
I hope this story touches your heart.
Patti Callahan Henry
We could go on today, and post as usual. We could move on. We could quickly forget about what happened yesterday. But we won’t do that because there are people sad and scared and suffering in Boston this morning. And who would we be if we didn’t acknowledge that? So we quiet this space. We pray for them. And we say, publicly, that we are so sorry for your loss.
Love Water Memory was inspired by a very big truth: a newspaper clipping. The Seattle Times headline read (in print edition): “His memory fails him, but his heart won’t forget.” An Olympia man who went missing was found by his fiancée six weeks later in Denver, where he’d traveled after experiencing a rare form of amnesia called dissociative fugue. She went to get him and they began life together again, even getting married, though he didn’t remember who she was.
The questions this story evoked were too big not to write about. I wanted to get inside of that situation and figure it out: how do two people find their way back to their relationship after such a thing? Who are we, really, without our memories? And ultimately, what makes us, well, us?
I changed the genders and locations. I researched many cases of dissociative fugue and the medical information available about it. I created Lucie, a woman who “comes to” standing knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay and Grady, her fiancé who comes to take her back home to Seattle, carrying a few burdens of his own.
And because dissociative fugue is caused by emotional trauma rather than physical, I imagined and wrote Lucie’s inducing trauma. It would take some time for me to realize that what I’d written was not completely fictional, even though I’d thought it was at the time of writing it. My own childhood trauma had surfaced. The fictional scene was far more dramatic, as fiction needs to be, but its roots were my own.
My first instinct was to erase it. How could I let this very private thing out into the world? But it was only from this place that I could be sure to write with some measure of verisimilitude, because that’s what it takes to write good fiction: a big dose of true emotion. And my own story needed a little sunlight, anyway, to take the toxic murkiness out of it. As clichéd as it sounds, the truth can set you free.
Perhaps this is what writing and reading fiction is all about: infusing difficult or scary situations with the emotional truth. That way, we arrive somewhere new and more fully realized than the real world can sometimes be.
Who is Lucie Walker? Even Lucie herself can’t answer that question after she comes to, confused and up to her knees in the chilly San Francisco Bay. Back home in Seattle, she adjusts to life with amnesia, growing unsettled by the clues she finds to the selfish, carefully guarded person she used to be. Will she ever fall in love with her handsome, kindhearted fiancé, Grady? Can he devote himself to the vulnerable, easygoing Lucie 2.0, who is so unlike her controlling former self? When Lucie learns that Grady has been hiding some very painful secrets that could change the course of their relationship, she musters the courage to search for the shocking, long-repressed childhood memories that will finally set her free.
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.
A specially crafted recipe for the She Reads book clubs meeting this month to discuss Patti Callahan Henry’s AND THEN I FOUND YOU…
Jack begins his annual letters to Kate, “Happy…birthday to Luna.” Every time I read his opening lines I thought to myself that Luna needed a birthday cake. She missed all those birthday celebrations with her birth parents. So as the She Reads guest recipe blogger I became determined to do my darndest to see that she got one, or two, of those cakes. I kept reading to see if there would be inspiration elsewhere for a recipe idea to coincide with Patti Callahan Henry’s new novel, And Then I Found You. But by the time I reached the end of the book I still felt that Luna should have her birthday cake.
I was talking to my teen sons about how I should go about creating a birthday cake for the character without actually mixing together two layer yellow cake ingredients and whipping up a vat of butter cream. We were discussing her name and how it means the moon. Without hesitating, my thirteen-year-old son said I should make Moon Pies. Perfect. Especially since the book is primarily set in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Moon Pies are a great tradition in the southern states. Yep. Luna pies with colored sprinkles. I would even give Luna a lit pink birthday candle in the finished dish photo.
After I’d imagined what I would need to create my Luna pies, it occurred to me that Moon Pies might simply be glorified, preassembled s’mores. Really?! I knew I wanted Luna’s to be chocolate coated. Sure enough, I found all the ingredients but candy sprinkles in front of the sporting goods department of my local discount store, waiting for would-be campers. Graham crackers went in my shopping basket along with the biggest Hershey bar I’d ever seen and those gargantuan roasting marshmallows that you can only find during camping season.
When I got my goodies home, the trial and error began. How to cut the crispy graham cracker sheets into rounds without crumbling them? After a few failed attempts, I took four full sheets of cracker and tucked them inside a brown paper lunch sack. Then I sprinkled in a tablespoon or two of water, just flicking it over the crackers and the inside of the bag. I rolled down the top of the sack very tightly and microwaved the package for 13 seconds. I don’t know why I stopped at 13 but I have a hunch that if they’d been nuked for any longer they would have turned into something otherworldly. Already, where the edges of the damp bag touched the crackers, they were getting gummy. Any less and they would have been too crisp for me to cleanly cut into circles. 13 seconds for 13 missed birthday cakes? My 13-year-old boy coming up with the idea. I don’t know…It is what it is.
I decided not long after figuring out how to cut my graham crackers that marshmallows should come with a warning label or at least microwave instructions. I found out the hard way that those things can grow to four times their size within a matter of seconds! So here I was with the biggest marshmallows on the market, cutting them to half the size of regular roasting marshmallows to make a reasonably sized Luna pie.
This is how I finally got the job done. I ended up in a pretty sticky situation for a bit there, but very kindly worked out the messy details for anyone who wants to make their own chocolate coated marshmallow cookies. My boys happily polished off my unsuccessful, extra gooey attempts.
8 full graham cracker sheets
2 T water
2 Campfire Giant Roasters marshmallows, quartered
2 (4.4 oz.) Hershey milk chocolate bars
A small brown paper bag
I mason jelly jar with a normal sized mouth, not wide-mouthed.
Place 4 of the graham cracker sheets in the paper sack.
Sprinkle in the water. Close tightly.
Microwave the whole bag on high for 13 seconds. Immediately remove the crackers and lay them in stacks of two on a flat surface. Use the mouth of the jar (or a cookie cutter of the same size) to cut two circles in each stack of two crackers to make four rounds.
Repeat with the remaining graham crackers until you have 16 rounds. They aren’t perfectly round. I ended up with a flat side on almost every one. But the marshmallow and chocolate coating nicely smoothed out all the edges.
Place a quarter of a marshmallow in the center of 8 rounds on a microwave safe plate.
Microwave them for 20 seconds, just until they are soft and puffy. Any longer and they will grow and grow until I just don’t know what happens. I didn’t stick around to find out. Place a round on top of each warm marshmallow and press only hard enough to get the marshmallow to fill the round to the edges.
Allow the sandwich cookie to cool.
Melt the chocolate bars over very low heat in a saucepan on the stove just until glossy.
Dip and coat each marshmallow sandwich in the chocolate.
Sprinkle with the candy colors before the chocolate cools and sets.
Yield: 8 Happy Birthday Luna Pies
When I know Harlan Coben has a new book coming out, I get excited. Why? Because I know that a two-day reading fest is in my future. Once I start page one, I know I’m in for a thrilling reading experience that will last until the last page is turned– and not much else is going to happen in my life until that point.
I got to read Harlan Coben’s newest, Six Years, and I’m happy to say that I found it in keeping with his past books– once again I lost two days while reading it. Then I handed it over to my husband, who also lost two days and gave me a good-natured hard time for stealing that time from him by putting the book in his hands.
In Six Years, a masterpiece of modern suspense, Harlan Coben explores the depth and passion of lost love…and the secrets and lies at its heart.
Six years have passed since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd.
But six years haven’t come close to extinguishing his feelings, and when Jake comes across Todd’s obituary, he can’t keep himself away from the funeral. There he gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife he’s hoping for…but she is not Natalie. Whoever the mourning widow is, she’s been married to Todd for almost two decades, and with that fact everything Jake thought he knew about the best time of his life—a time he has never gotten over—is turned completely inside out.
As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. Mutual friends of the couple either can’t be found, or don’t remember Jake. No one has seen Natalie in years. Jake’s search for the woman who broke his heart, who lied to him, soon puts his very life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on a carefully constructed fiction.
Harlan Coben once again delivers a shocking page-turner that deftly explores the power of past love, and the secrets and lies that such love can hide.
And if you love Harlan Coben– or suspense/thriller/mystery type books, here are some other titles to check out.
Elizabeth Haynes, author of the bestselling debut Into the Darkest Corner, returns with a tense, gripping thriller about a woman caught in an underworld of corruption and murder…
Genevieve has finally achieved her dream: to leave the stress of London behind and start a new life aboard a houseboat in Kent. She’s found the perfect vessel: Revenge of the Tide. She already feels less lonely; as if the boat is looking after her.
But the night of her boat-warming party, a body washes up, and to Genevieve’s horror, she recognizes the victim. She isn’t about to tell the police, though; hardly anyone knows about her past as a dancer at a private members’ club, The Barclay. The death can’t have anything to do with her. Or so she thinks…
Soon, the lull of the waves against Revenge feels anything but soothing, as Genevieve begins to receive strange calls and can’t reach the one person who links the present danger with her history at the club. Fearing for her safety, Genevieve recalls the moment when it all started to go wrong: the night she saw her daytime boss in the crowd at The Barclay…
Dark, sexy, and exquisitely chilling, Dark Tide is another superb mystery from acclaimed rising star Elizabeth Haynes.
“The lonely cast of outcasts in The Next Time You See Me has enough heartache for a whole jukebox full of country songs. Holly Goddard Jones spins a tight if heartbreaking tale, always keeping the reader leaning forward.” —Stewart O’Nan, author of Songs for the Missing
In The Next Time You See Me, the disappearance of one woman, the hard-drinking and unpredictable Ronnie Eastman, reveals the ambitions, prejudices, and anxieties of a small southern town and its residents. There’s Ronnie’s sister Susanna, a dutiful but dissatisfied schoolteacher, mother, and wife; Tony, a failed baseball star-turned-detective; Emily, a socially awkward thirteen-year-old with a dark secret; and Wyatt, a factory worker tormented by a past he can’t change and by a love he doesn’t think he deserves. Connected in ways they cannot begin to imagine, their stories converge in a violent climax that reveals not just the mystery of what happened to Ronnie but all of their secret selves.
Perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult, Carla Buckley’s Invisible is a stunning novel of redemption, regret, and the complex ties of familial love.
Growing up, Dana Carlson and her older sister, Julie, are inseparable—Dana the impulsive one, Julie calmer and more nurturing. But then a devastating secret compels Dana to flee from home, not to see or speak to her sister for sixteen years.
When she receives the news that Julie is seriously ill, Dana knows that she must return to their hometown of Black Bear, Minnesota, to try and save her sister. Yet she arrives too late, only to discover that Black Bear has changed, and so have the people in it.
Julie has left behind a shattered teenage daughter, Peyton, and a mystery—what killed Julie may be killing others, too. Why is no one talking about it? Dana struggles to uncover the truth, but no one wants to hear it, including Peyton, who can’t forgive her aunt’s years-long absence. Dana had left to protect her own secrets, but Black Bear has a secret of its own—one that could tear apart Dana’s life, her family, and the whole town.
“Beautifully written and unsettling . . . leaves you with a lingering sense of dread long after you close the last page.”—Chevy Stevens
The House at the End of Hope Street was inspired by a dream. As a young, unpublished writer I spent many rather desperate and difficult years waitressing during the day and writing at night. I longed to have just enough money that I could finally work full-time on a book and give it all my attention, passion and inspiration. One night I fell asleep at my desk and dreamt of a very special house, a refuge for all kinds of artists: writers, singers, painters, actresses, anyone who just needed time to dedicate to their craft in the hopes of becoming a professional.
This was a magical house, a living, breathing place that changed its rooms to suit its occupants: libraries of books for the writers, grand pianos for the singers, closets of infinite clothes for the actresses and canvas walls for the painters. The house was populated with incredible women, living and dead, women we’d all love to meet, such as Virginia Woolf, Daphne du Maurier and Florence Nightingale. Their spirits stayed on to support the new residents and offer them advice on anything from love to literature.
My dream was so vivid and strong that I carried it inside me for years. Then, one day, I visited a friend who lived at a women’s refuge. The house was adapted from a Victorian bakery and it was absolutely magical. I felt it watching me from the moment I stepped inside. That night the first words of the novel came as I lay in bed: The house has stood at the end of Hope Street for nearly two hundred years . . . The line reminded me of the opening to one of my favourite books of all time, Rebecca: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . . And, from that moment on, I was hooked!
For the next year I wrote like a woman possessed. All I could think about was the house and the women who inhabited it. I hardly slept. These women filled my dreams and their stories took on unexpected twists and turns that surprised, delighted and occasionally shocked me. I fell in love with all these women, living and dead, real and imaginary, in different ways. When I’d written the last sentence, the women of Hope Street had given me a new dream: to sell enough books that I could buy a house in the heart of Cambridge, England, a house that would provide refuge to artists of all sorts, giving them a chance to fulfill their own dreams. Now, wouldn’t that be something wonderful?!
Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.
She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.
Filled with a colorful and unforgettable cast of literary figures, The House at the End of Hope Street is a charming, whimsical novel of hope and feminine wisdom that is sure to appeal to fans of Jasper Fforde and especially Sarah Addison Allen.
Menna van Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street, is a freelance writer, journalist and Oxford graduate. She is the author of Men, Money and Chocolate. She lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and son. You can find Menna on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Even thought we’ve been talking about AND THEN I FOUND YOU for a week, it officially publishes today. Our team had the great privilege of attending Patti Callahan Henry’s book launch party in Atlanta this weekend and we thought we’d share a few of those moments with you.
In addition to cheering on Patti and her sister (whose story inspired the novel) we also spent some time with Allison Law (a member of our blog network–she’s lovely, by the way) and the always delightful Joshilyn Jackson. And if you’ve spent any time around this site, or our team, you know that laughter was found in abundance.
Patti has been very open about the true story behind AND THEN I FOUND YOU. While the novel is a fictionalized account of the story, you may not know that she and her sister wrote and published the real version in a short e-book called FRIEND REQUEST. We highly recommend downloading a copy to read along with the novel. There’s nothing like knowing the story behind the story.
And there’s nothing like spending an evening with good friends. Thanks, Patti, for a wonderful night!
We’ve got a copy of THE PROMISE OF STARDUST up for grabs today. As usual, just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.
In The Promise of Stardust, there are many moments of truth – mixed in with about a thousand lies. Fiction is like that. There’s always a spark, maybe an inspiration, maybe something close to reality, but not quite. Some of the truths in my novel are troubling ones. The seed for it came from my job as a registered nurse. Without giving details because of privacy issues, I can tell you this: I once took care of a child who was in a persistent vegetative state. His tragic situation made me ponder ethical and moral questions about the quality of life and the right to die with dignity.
My novel is about a wholly different scenario and yet in some ways it asks the same questions that started to gnaw at me back then. In The Promise of Stardust, a woman, Elle, suffers a devastating brain injury and brain death, and just as her husband agrees to remove her life support, he learns she is pregnant. Now he has to decide whether or not to try to keep her body alive long enough to bring the pregnancy to term. They both wanted to have children. But…
For the sake of the story, Elle, a young and healthy woman prior to her accident, needed to have an advanced health care directive where she explicitly stated she didn’t want to be kept alive by extraordinary measures. Most young people don’t have advanced directives, so she needed a reason. Enter truth number two: when I was a teenager, my mother spent two weeks in the hospital on a ventilator before she died. Watching her suffer put the fear of God into me. My mother’s illness and the one Elle’s mother endures in the story are very different. For me the little truth was merely a jumping off point. Truth and lies = fiction. The word lie may be too harsh. Substitute imagination. Truth and imagination. Writers strive to give readers a sense of verisimilitude, and we may use carefully placed truths to achieve that goal. Truth in storytelling is a funny thing though. It may provide inspiration, motivation, or conflict. But lies are just as useful, and they are much more fun to weave.
Matt Beaulieu has loved Elle McClure since he was two years old. Now married and expecting their first child, Elle suffers a fatal accident. To keep the baby alive, Matt goes against his wife’s wishes and keeps his wife on life support. But Matt’s mother thinks that Elle should be euthanized, and she’s ready to fight for what she believes is the right thing.
A stunning, compassionate examination of one of the most intricate ethical issues of our time, The Promise of Stardust, will stay with you, long after the last page has been read.
Leave it to this month’s featured author, Patti Callahan Henry, to have the quintessential writing space in an attic dormer. Her novel, AND THEN I FOUND YOU, will release next Tuesday, April 9th, but if you can’t wait that long (and we don’t blame you) you can enter to win one of the ten copies we’ve got up for grabs this week.