Live Online Chat with Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

My book club read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen in 2007 (in my -pre blogging days), and it was one of those books that I told everyone about- friends, neighbors, people in line at the grocery store.  I could not shut up about this book.  It was so visual for me- like a whole little world living in the pages- and I wanted everyone to know about it.  I still think about Jacob and Marlena and Rosie!  

Through my book club we’ve had the pleasure of talking with authors, and while each one is different, it is always an enlightening experience.  I’ve never failed to walk away from a chat without having a greater appreciation for the book we’ve read- even if it was a book I didn’t like.  And if it’s a book I loved, well, after a chat with the author, I love it that much more. is sponsoring a live online chat tomorrow with Sara Gruen about her book, Water for Elephants.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to chat with an author, this is your chance.  Here’s the 411:

Details for the Free Live Online Chat with Sara Gruen on

WHAT:     Live online chat with Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
WHEN:     Wednesday, October 22, 8:00pm – 9:00pm ET
WHERE:    The Gather Books Essential 

WHY:        Gather, the social network with substance for the 30+ set, is hosting a live chat with the author of New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants. Sara Gruen will be answering questions submitted to the site and members are encouraged to ask Sara anything about her inspirational books or her career. Gather is the leading social network for adults, a site where members come to discuss what matters most to them; books, politics, parenting, news and other issues.

COST:     Free, thanks to Gather!


And the winner is…

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, chose the winner for the giveaway of a signed paperback edition of his book. I had asked people to make a comment about marriage for a chance to win, and boy, did I get comments! Some were thoughtful, some were funny, some insightful and some snarky. But the winning entry was from Yasmin, who said the following (she practically wrote a book herself!):

“I’ve been married for 17 years. I was previously engaged to someone who was killed by a drunk driver. My fiancee then was my soul mate and I honestly didn’t think I would ever find another good man who could love me the way that he did. Especially since we had known each other for 12 years…had been through breakups and split-ups from others…before we ever thought that just maybe we as two really good BFF should be dating. My world came crashing down when he was killed!

At that time, my husband was just a male friend…but a friend in deed…who knew that I was working 60-80 hour weeks to kill the pain. He would stop by ever so often to check on me and make sure that I was taking care of myself. He also started to ask me out…he knew that I enjoyed going to the movies so we had a movie date every Friday and Saturday…I can’t believe that we found that many good movies to see…lol.

One day I looked up and realized that he had a lot of good traits and he was someone that I could fall in love with it if I allowed myself to do so. But it was a little scary and I realized that I hesitated and was a little afraid because he reminded me so much of my dead fiancee.

Hubby/ We started dating and 9 months later we were married. We will celebrate our 17th anniversary on October 5th. Together we’ve had two kids, purchased two homes, gone through I don’t know how many job changes…including me leaving a very good job after 13 years because…sigh…the death of parents and grandparents…a bout with breast cancer I’m an 8 year survivor and even tho’ my husband is a breast man…if it was the breast or me…well he chose Me…I could have reconstructive surgery but he could never get another me…and with a name like Yasmin…you must know that I’m very unique and no one even comes close to being me.

Marriage is accepting each other as you are…in sickness and in health…for richer for poorer…for better for worst.

Marriage …when it’s good…it’s real good…and it’s like hanging out with your BFF!

I hope to spend the rest of my life with my husband…because honestly I can be a diva to live with and no one else understands me the way he does.”

Congratulations, Yasmin! I will email you to get your address.

Do you have a book group that is interested in reading Matrimony? Would you like to enhance your meeting with a phone chat with the author? Here is an open letter to book groups, from Joshua Henkin:

I also wanted to let you know about a special time-bound offer that my publisher, Vintage, is making to book groups. Sign up by midnight September 30 and Vintage will set up a phone chat for your book group with me to discuss MATRIMONY. Normally, only five book groups are chosen among the entrants, but I have agreed to talk to all book groups that sign up. Here’s the link to learn more, and to sign up. I would be delighted to talk to your book group.

Sunday Salon

It’s finally SUNDAY!  I think a lot of us bloggers have a BBAW hangover this weekend.  So many posts to read, so many giveaways, so many awards and so much excitement!  It was a great week, put on by the tireless My Friend Amy, who did a phenomenal job putting it all together and keeping track of everything.  A round of applause for AMY!  (clap, clap, clap)

My BBAW giveaways will be ending this week too;  this one on Monday, and this one on Tuesday.  Hurry and enter if you haven’t already!

Fall has arrived here in Southern California. I used to love this time of year growing up in Michigan- back to school, sweater weather, fall colors, apple picking.  The change of seasons is more subtle in So. Cal. but when you’ve lived her awhile you start to notice small things.  We go from hot to warm, green to brown, and dry to not quite as dry, over the course of several months.  It’s still blazing hot right now, but it cools off in the evenings, and it’s chilly in the early morning.  The kids are back in school (and already have tons of homework), and by next weekend we’ll start to see pumpkins and scarecrows on porches to remind us that it’s fall, since the weather doesn’t offer much of a clue.

I’ve got so much reading lined up but it’s a challenge to find time.  My husband is in China on business, so I’ve been a “single mom” for the past week.  Things I’ve had to do without him include:

* going to Back to School night alone

* taking the girls on an overnight campout at their school (I  made the kids put the tent up, so it wasn’t that bad- it was just the carting things back and forth and the sleeping on the ground that sucked!)

* dealing with the emotions (“I miss daddy” sniff sniff)

* hauling the garbage cans to the curb and back (his job)

* feeding the dog and picking up poop (also his job)

* taking my youngest to her golf lesson (always a daddy/daughter thing)  

On the plus side, I’ve only cooked dinner once all week.  A couple nights we had leftovers, a couple nights we went out, and one night we had “breakfast for dinner”.  Oh, and I haven’t shaved my legs.  Ha!

Right now I’m reading Peony in Love by Lisa See.  I’ve wanted to read this since it came out, but was waiting for my book club to vote it in.  So far I LOVE it.  I was already a big fan after reading Snow Flower, now I’m a bigger fan.  Her writing is so lush and evocative- you get such a sense of the surroundings, you can almost smell the jasmine on the breeze.  Lisa is going to join our book club meeting in October by speaker phone and we could not be more excited!  

Next on the TBR pile is Immortal by Traci Slatton for Jennifer’s online book club at Literate Housewives (not to be confused with her regular blog, Literate Housewife). This one is somehow a cross between historical fiction and time travel.  It’s set in Florence in the 14th century, and the back cover says something about a golden boy having to make a choice between immortality and his only chance to find his true love (I’m paraphrasing wildly).  

After that, it’s on to The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff for a TLC Book Tour stop here on October 30th.  It’s about Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife of Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon church.  There’s also a parallel story about a present day murder in a polygamist family.  I can’t wait to start it.  

And last, but hopefully not least, I’ll be reading Run by Ann Patchett.  The only Patchett I’ve read is Bel Canto, which I intensely disliked, but because my friend Jill at Fizzy Thoughts liked Run so much, and then offered to send me her copy, I’m going to give it a try.  I’m also interested in Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face), so I’m going to give her a second chance, and then possibly a third.  

I’m curious- If you’ve read a book that you didn’t like at all, do you give an author another chance and read more of their work?  Or do you “fire them” forever?  

Happy Sunday!

Book Club Tips for Author Chats

Stephanie at The Written Word is the one who got me started with blogging. My book club had an author chat with Laura Fitzgerald, author of Veil of Roses. Laura pointed me to The Written Word, where she’d done an interview with Stephanie. Several lengthy emails followed, and it got me thinking, maybe this is something I should try. I was so intrigued by the idea of blogging that I started my own blog a few days later, and here we are!

Stephanie has a book club, too, and they are preparing for their first “live” chat with an author. Since our book club has done three of these, she asked if I’d put together some tips for book clubs to use.

Author chats are a great way to add an interesting dimension to your book club meetings and gain a deeper understanding of the book you’ve read.  Many authors are willing to speak with book clubs via speaker phone, and they are surprisingly easy to arrange.   Most authors have websites, and usually they have contact information listed there.  Take a chance and send the author an email.  Let them know that your club has selected their book, when your meeting to discuss their book will take place, how many people are in your book club, and ask them if they would be willing to attend. If an author’s schedule doesn’t allow for a phone chat, they may still be willing to answer your club’s question via email.

Here are some tips for conducting an author chat with your book club.

1.  Read the book!  Seems obvious, but after speaking to a number of people in various book clubs, I’ve learned that many people view the club meeting as more of a social thing than an actual book club.  I’m always surprised to hear someone say that very little book discussion went on at their meeting.  While I’m all for being social, books are the reason for the club, right?  If you’re going to have an author in attendance, it’s important (and respectful) to read the book.

2.  Make your members aware of the chat.  Email the club members in advance to alert them to the author chat, and ask them to have their questions ready.

3.  Do your homework!  Read the author bio. on the book jacket, search the internet for any information or interviews you can find, know what else the author has written.

4.  Pick a discussion leader.  It’s good to have one person be the facilitator for the conversation with the author.  Everyone can chime in, but it’s good to have a point person so the chat doesn’t turn into a free for all.  Unless you like that sort of thing.

5.  Wait 30 minutes.  Plan to call the author about 30 minutes into your meeting, allowing time for everyone to get settled and get their food and drinks.  This is a good time for your discussion leader to compile a list of questions from everyone. Ideally, your club members will have questions in mind, because you alerted them in advance.

6.  Make sure your cell phone is working!  Is your battery charged?  Do you know how to use the speaker phone feature?

7.  Start off with a compliment.  Even if your group doesn’t love the book, you can always find something positive to say.  Praise before criticism!

8.  Go beyond basic questions about the book.

Here are some questions that you can ask of any author, regardless of what they’ve written:

Ask about the writing process.  How long did their book take to write?  To get published?

Does the author sit down at a desk to write for 8 hours a day, for example, or do they wait until the mood strikes?

Do they have an office?  What is it like?  Do they write in longhand?  On a laptop?  (The first draft of Brian Groh’s Summer People was written completely in longhand).

Who are their favorite authors? Who inspires them?

When did the author know he/she was a “real” writer?  At what point were they able to quit their day job? Was their family supportive?

Ask about the cover.  Did the author have any say in the design?  Is there more than one cover? (We were surprised to learn that Laura Fitzgerald had no say in the cover of her book, Veil of Roses. Luckily, she liked it!)

All of our authors were Target Bookmarked authors (Laura Fitzgerald/Veil of Roses, Jennie Shortridge/Eating Heaven, and Brian Groh/Summer People).  We asked what they were doing and how they felt when they found out they’d been selected by Target.  If the author you’re speaking with has won an award, you could ask how the award changed their lives.

Ask about character development.  How is this done?  Are characters based on real people?  Are events based on actual events?  (We found out through questions like these why Laura Fitzgerald/Veil of Roses writes under a pen name).

Had the author ever considered a different ending to the story?  If possible, would they go back and change anything?

Is a movie in the works?  (We learned that Jennie Shortridge’s Eating Heaven was optioned for a movie).

If they had a choice, what actor would they cast in the leading role?

And the question we usually ask last is:

What are you working on now?  (We learned Jennie Shortridge has a new book called Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe coming out May 2008).

The authors we’ve spoken with have been extremely gracious and kind, answering all our questions and giving insight into the writing process.  With a lively group and a little preparation, an author chat is really fun and could be the highlight of your book club year!  Give it a try!