Friday First Lines (volume 3)

I asked a few authors to comment on the first sentence of their book, and I got such a great response.   So good, in fact, that I’ve turned this into a little series here at Books on the Brain called Friday First Lines.  Each Friday I’ll share First Line thoughts by two or three authors.

Will these first sentences be enough to entice you to add them to your TBR list? They were for me!

The Clover HouseAuthor Henriette Laridis Power writes:

First sentence of THE CLOVER HOUSE:  

“On those rare occasions when she couldn’t control the world around her, my mother placed the blame squarely on America, the country she had reluctantly immigrated to from Greece in 1959.”
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We all do try to make the first sentence effective. I think, though, that it would be too daunting for most writers to set out with the goal of creating a first sentence as memorable as the opener of, say, Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina. At least I know I would feel too much pressure. The first sentence should draw the reader in, but it does, after all, have to fit in with the tone and style of the rest of the novel. Better to spend one’s writerly energy writing a good manuscript than to squander all the creativity in one place.
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A good first sentence can take so many forms. It can engage the reader’s curiosity. When you read “A screaming comes across the sky” in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, you don’t really know what’s going on, but you know you want to find out. Or a good first sentence can introduce the reader to a new way of expressing the world, as Joyce does with “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a razor and a mirror lay crossed.” Or it can establish an imbalance that sets the story in motion, as with Jane Austen’s famous opening sentence “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” All of these–curiosity, imbalance, newness–will suck the reader in.

I wrote a version of the first sentence for The Clover House when I began the manuscript, but the opening changed significantly at some point in the writing process. The sentence that stands now isn’t the one I began with. Even the original version I wrote came to me simply as part of the writing process. I didn’t treat that sentence any differently than the rest of the sentences in the novel. In revision, certainly, I was aware that the sentence had to earn its place at the beginning of the story.

Bungalow NightsAuthor Christie Ridgway writes:

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“Vance Smith had faced down Taliban bullets with more cool than he felt sitting on the beachside restaurant’s open-air deck.” –First line of BUNGALOW NIGHTS by Christie Ridgway, HQN Books
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First lines have a lot of work to do! You want to set up a question in the reader’s mind immediately. When and why had Vance encountered Taliban bullets? What’s disrupting his cool now, when he seems to be at some safe and sunny location? You want to entice the reader with that first sentence into reading the next, and then the next, and so on. It usually takes a couple of days of thinking for me to settle on the right opening scene, but once I have it, the first sentence usually presents itself quickly–but then must be edited and massaged until it feels just right.
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Sometimes, there are words before that first sentence designed to tell part of the story too. BUNGALOW NIGHTS features an opening quote by Ovid, “Every lover is a soldier,” that I think conveys that love can mean a battle to victory and always, always takes bravery.

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors D.E. Johnson (The Detroit Electric Scheme) and Peggy Hesketh (Telling the Bees).

Friday First Lines (volume 2)

I asked a few authors to comment on the first sentence of their book, and I got such a great response.   So good, in fact, that I’ve turned this into a little series here at Books on the Brain called Friday First Lines.  Each Friday I’ll share First Line thoughts by two or three authors.

Will these first sentences be enough to entice you to add them to your TBR list? They were for me!

Love Water MemoryAuthor Jennie Shortridge writes:.

The first sentence of Love Water Memory is:

“She became aware of a commotion behind her, yet it seemed important to keep scanning, searching for something out over the water, toward low mountains, a skiff of clouds. .”

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My first sentences, as well as opening paragraphs, get reworked more than any other single part of my books. This one, in particular, had to convey several things:
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1. That there was a “she” who was unnamed. 2. That she’d come to that place for something, but she didn’t know what. 3. That the place she found herself in wasn’t immediately familiar—she didn’t know the name of the mountains or the body of water.
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It also starts with the premise of the book: She became aware. I try to tell the whole story in each book in that first sentence, paragraph, section, before moving into the “front story.” It’s a tall order! But as a reader, I’ve always loved it when I finish a book and go back to read the opening and discover that the author laid it all out for me, yet left it for me to discover.

For Internal Use OnlyAuthor Cari Kamm writes:

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First sentence from FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY:
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“And there it was. What I had been looking for the past fifteen minutes, my sign—to The Brooklyn Bridge.”.

I try to suck the reader in after the first page.  I write the first couple chapters and then go back to the first paragraph to marinate. I read the first page to myself several times and then create a first sentence to catch the readers attention. I want them to want more!.

In my novel, FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY, it came to me in a couple minutes. I imagined myself as the character and what she would think or say in that moment. This involved a lot of talking to myself and usually out loud. My fiancé eventually realized that I’m not crazy and it’s part of my writing process!  The first sentence remained unchanged throughout my writing and editing process.

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors Henriette Lazaradis Power (The Clover House) and Christie Ridgway (Bungalow Nights).

Winter Reading Series: KEEPING THE FEAST Discussion Questions

Hello Winter Readers!

This month we’re reading Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini, a beautiful and inspiring memoir of food, depression, marriage, and family that took us on a journey from the dinner table in her childhood home in Connecticut all the way to the open air markets in sun-drenched Italy.  We are so excited to have Paula here in real time answering any questions you might have on Monday, February 22, at 5 pm PST (which is my time zone- she lives overseas but will be in Washington, DC, on the day of our discussion).  If you’ve read Keeping the Feast, or are curious about it, please mark your calendars and join us as we discuss the book with Paula!

Here is a synopsis of the book, followed by a few discussion questions:

Keeping the Feast is a story of love, trauma, and the personal and marital healing that can come from a beautiful place and its simple traditions. It’s a memoir about what happens when tragedy and its psychological aftershocks strike a previously happy marriage and a couple must stubbornly fight to find its bearings. Most significantly, it is a book about the power of one of the most fundamental rituals – the daily sharing of food around a family table. Food — the growing, shopping, preparing, cooking, eating, talking, sharing and memory of it — becomes the symbol of a family’s innate desire to survive, to accept and even celebrate what falls its way.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to add your own questions, and respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book?  Did you enjoy it?  Was it what you expected?

2.  Were there parts of this book that were difficult to read?

3.  What aspect of the book did you enjoy most?

4.  John and Paula’s marriage was brand new when tragedy struck.  It might have been easier to leave than stay, yet they got through it.  Would you have had the strength to stay, given the circumstances?

5.  What role do you think Rome and rituals played in their recovery?

6.  What role does food play in your family?  Do you live to eat or eat to live?

7.  While reading Keeping the Feast, did you ever get frustrated with Paula?  With John?

8.  Paula had firsthand experience with depression through her relationship with her mother before it overtook her husband.  Were you surprised that she handled her husband’s bouts with depression the way she did, given her history?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Keeping the Feast. Thanks for reading along with us.  And don’t forget to join us on February 22nd for our discussion with Paula!

Guest Post: Allyson Roy, author(s) of Babydoll!

babydoll-192x300Please welcome Allyson Roy, author(s) of the new book, Babydoll, to Books on the Brain!  Allyson Roy is actually Alice & Roy, husband and wife collaborating authors. 

Did you know laughter makes you healthy? Literally. Studies have shown it enhances the cellular immune system and produces disease-fighting anti-bodies.

“Wait a sec,” you say, “isn’t this supposed to be a book blog?”

That’s right. And today we’re here to talk about a book that will make you laugh so hard you’ll forget about all the latest doom and gloom. And improve your health.

Not that there aren’t tense, poignant or meaningful elements in our Saylor Oz series. Book #1 (which won a Daphne du Maurier Award) addressed an issue that lurks in most of us, thanks to our celebrity obsessed culture — a deep, down secret wish to maybe just once experience what it’s like to be irresistibly beautiful. 

And BABYDOLL, which just came out on August 4th, taps into ideas about people striving to make a name for themselves. And forgotten people who might as well be nameless. It looks at how far many will go to get their wishes. And how some react when it all goes up in smoke. 

But we weave these themes into novels that are part suspense, part comedy and part women’s fiction.

Alice and Roy, a.k.a. Allyson Roy

Alice and Roy, a.k.a. Allyson Roy

The friendship of our two main characters is a major factor in BABYDOLL. Saylor Oz and Benita Morales are women who have worked to achieve their professional goals, yet carry with them all the vulnerabilities of their past. Like most women, they can be strong and confident one minute, but insecure and needy the next. They’re smart, but they get upset and make impulsive, foolish decisions that get them into trouble. Their relationship with each other has lasted longer than those they’ve had with men — Benita is divorced, Saylor never married. Being roommates, they fall into bickering and blaming. But when it comes down to the real stuff, they are deeply loyal and willing to put their lives on the line for each other.

And, oh yeah, they’ll make you laugh out loud. To quote a Pop Syndicate reviewer, “If Saylor and Benita were real, I’d have to friend them on every social network, and go out for beers with them just to experience their humor firsthand.”

Thanks, Lisa, for having us as your guests today!

Blogger Bio:  With backgrounds in the arts – Alice in dance and choreography, Roy in fine art, theater and standup comedy – Alice and Roy spent many gypsy years living and working in the different neighborhoods of New York City and Philadelphia. Their Saylor Oz crime adventure series, set in the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood of DUMBO, combines suspense, comedy and a bit of girl stuff. 

Visit the Allyson Roy website HERE and check out the TLC Book Tour schedule for Babydoll HERE.

Guest Post: A Room of My Own by Meg Waite Clayton

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Please welcome Meg Waite Clayton, author of the national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters,  to Books on the Brain!  In this essay she writes about her workspace and the special things she keeps there to inspire her.  

Virginia Woolf famously said in “A Room of One’s Own” that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” My room is a bedroom which has in place of the requisite bed and dresser: a desk, a couch, two small round tables suitable for setting manuscripts on, and lots of books.

imageDBI occasionally think I should replace my bookshelves—a walnut bookcase and a china cabinet, both originally my mother-in-law’s—with more practical floor-to-ceiling built-ins that would hold the books now overflowing my shelves. But it’s hard to imagine parting with the history and beauty they bring to my space, so my books spill over to my closet and, I admit it, my floor, my desk, even my couch. I turn to them sometimes when I’m writing. (Whenever I write a party scene, I pull out The Great Gatsby to remind me how it’s done.) But for the most part, I keep books near to inspire me. One glance at the Austens and Eliots, McDermotts and McEwans, among others—many signed by the author—reminds me what I’m shooting for.

The center of my room of my own is my desk. It’s a holdover from my days as a lawyer, when I could afford to buy swanky hand-crafted reproduction Queen Anne. I fell in love with it at first sight, and even when I was still marking up corporate contracts in my lawyering days, I imagined I might someday work up the courage to pursue my childhood dream of writing a novel here on its lovely cherry-wood surface.

webarmadillo-150x98I’m a superstitious old soul, and so I keep on my desktop a number of talismans to bring good juju to my writing: a psychedelic armadillo my sons gave me in celebration of my first publication credit (an essay in Runner’s World, and your guess is as good as mine what a psychedelic armadillo has to do with that!); a Japanese doll my Uncle brought me from one of his many adventures, which wears a string of pearls given me by the Vice-Mayor of Wuxi, China during one of mine; a card, the cover of which is a lovely photo by my friend Adreinne Defendi; a “Follow Your Dream” candle made for me by my friend Mark Holmes; a cheesy “You will always be my Best Friend. You know too much” plaque my best friend, Jennifer DuChene, sent me; a pen holder given to me many, many years ago by the best storyteller in my family, my Uncle Jim—which now holds a pencil (for practical and symbolic reasons) and has taped to it a fortune cookie message: “The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do”; my favorite honeymoon photo of Mac and me, now 21 years old; one of my children at 5 and 3, taken 14 years ago; and a digital frame that rotates a myriad of family and friends; and the medal from the one marathon I’ve run (also years old).

webbrendaangel-107x150Like my books, my talismans spill over. Elsewhere in my office are the dried rose petals from the bouquet my parents sent me when I sold my first novel; a collection of champagne corks each marked with a date and event that was cause for celebration; a bullet shell from my turn at a machine gun near some war tunnels in Vietnam, where I was traveling when The Wednesday Sisters sold to Ballantine Books; a writing angel send by my dear friend and fellow novelist, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, to watch over me. Why these particular things? The marathon medal reminds me that if I can run 26.2miles, I can do anything. But I think the other talismans simply make me feel loved, and that love frees me to be myself, to trust myself as I write.

marathonmedalforweb-150x145The desktop photo above is repeated on my website, on my Writers’ page. There, you can scroll over my talismans—as well as marked up manuscript pages, outlines, my journal and the “research bible” I put together for The Wednesday Sisters—for a glimpse at how I write. Some of the items listed above are pictured, but others have been added since I took the photo: my talismans multiply almost as fast as my books do. The roses? I have a wonderful husband, who gently nudged me toward my dream years ago by telling me he believed I could do what I feared I could not.

To be honest, my desktop rarely looks as neat as it does in this photo. It’s usually covered with post-it notes to remind me of things I want to do or revisions I mean to make. Dirty coffee cups, yes, and chocolate wrappers, newspaper clippings, and books. But that’s one of the nicest things about having a room of my own: I can close my door. It allows me what Woolf writes so eloquently of in her essay: room—psychological room—to live in whatever place I choose, free to imagine my own, unlimited world.

megMeg Waite Clayton’s bestselling novel, The Wednesday Sisters, has been selected by major book club programs including the Target Stores Bookmarked program, and the Borders Book Club program. Her first novel, The Language of Light, was a Bellwether Prize finalist, and her third, The Ms Bradwells, is forthcoming from Ballantine Books. Her short stories and essays have been read on public radio and have appeared in commercial and literary magazines including Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and theLiterary Review. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Michigan Law School, and lives with her family in Palo Alto, California.

Review: Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

imageDB-2.cgiTruth & Beauty by Ann Patchett is the story of the author’s friendship with troubled fellow author and poet, the late Lucy Grealy.  

I read Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face last year and developed very strong, protective feelings for this brilliant girl/woman who was permanently disfigured by Ewing Sarcoma and the resultant treatment and surgeries.  When I heard that Bel Canto author Patchett had written about their friendship, I couldn’t wait to read more about Lucy, but then I quickly changed my mind when I discovered Lucy’s family’s reaction to the book.

The idea of the book lingered in the back of my mind, however, but because I didn’t want to betray Lucy, I refused to buy it.  Then it seemed like I was just being stubborn about it. Finally, on a trip to the bookstore, I happened to see it on a table and, wanting to be close to Lucy again, I took it home.  Part of me is glad I read it but another part wishes I’d left it alone.  The book made me appreciate Ann Patchett’s writing more (I wasn’t a fan) but it made me think less of Lucy.

Ann and Lucy attended Sarah Lawrence college at the same time but were not friends.  Ann knew who Lucy was (everyone did) but Lucy was only vaguely aware of Ann.  Then they were both accepted to the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, where they were roommates and where their love for each other emerged and grew.

patchettgrealey‘Do you love me?  Do you love me best?  Am I your favorite?  Do you think I’m pretty?  Do you think I’m talented?  Will I ever have sex again?’  Lucy plagues Ann with these questions on a continuous basis over two decades.  Who would want to be friends with this clingy, needy, self absorbed woman?  I couldn’t find the Lucy I knew anywhere, the strong, brave, dazzling presence of Autobiography of a Face.  

Lucy had a brutal battle with the aftereffects of cancer.   Her disfigured jaw made speech difficult and swallowing nearly impossible.  She had 6 teeth in her mouth because she didn’t have a stable jaw to hold dental implants.  Her diet consisted of very soft foods and alcohol.  She loved to drink and party and socialize, but basic things like eating and talking were a constant struggle.  Her love life was complicated by her lack of self esteem and her distorted self image.  Her ever-increasing pile of medical bills seemed insurmountable, so she just didn’t open them.  Disorganized and irresponsible, she missed deadlines and frittered away writing workshops.  Chaos ruled.

Ann, the long suffering friend, the ant to Lucy’s grasshopper in that old fable, went to great financial, physical, and emotional lengths for Lucy, but it was hard to understand why.  The relationship seemed extremely one-sided, almost a parent/child dynamic, but with a peer.  What was Ann getting out of it?  Lucy would sit in Ann’s lap, demand her attention when Ann was speaking to others, whisper to her during dinners out, pout if Ann got too successful or earned a writing fellowship or received an award.  Then later there were lies and drug abuse to contend with, and while Ann occasionally lost patience with Lucy, she stuck by her to the end.  Why would anyone put up with Lucy’s crap, unless they had some kind of savior complex? 

But this book.  What does it say about Ann?  About Lucy?  I can’t shake the feeling that in writing this book, Ann wanted to get back at Lucy for the shabby way she treated her by baring her secrets to the world.  Is this admirable? Is this the way a true friend would behave?

And Lucy.  Can anyone be this one dimensional, this needy and self involved, and still have so many friends?  She was an absolute magnet for others and had dozens and dozens of friends, yet in this book I can’t see any redeeming qualities in her at all.

There is no doubt in my mind that Ann Patchett loved Lucy Grealy but I question her motivation for writing this book.  It feels like a payback of sorts.  It is not really a biography, an autobiography, or a memoir, because it doesn’t tell the story of either of their lives, only the shared bits, and only from one vantage point, so I’m not sure what to call it.  

If you’re going to read this book, read Autobiography of a Face as well.  At least you get a more fully realized image of Lucy Grealy that way.  If I had read Truth & Beauty first, I wouldn’t have wanted to read any more about Lucy, ever.  I’d recommend the two books together but I wouldn’t recommend reading this one on it’s own. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair or accurate by itself.  If you’re interested in either writer, I’d recommend it, although I’m not sure it has much worthwhile to say about friendship in general.  It is well written and I can appreciate Ann Patchett’s talent, but it’s hard to know what is true, and there’s not a lot here I’d call beautiful.

Guest Post: A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

Marisa sitting oneThe lovely Marisa de los Santos, author of the New York Times Bestseller Love Walked In and Belong to Me (review and giveaway HERE), is guest posting today about balancing work and family.  Thanks, Marisa, for this wonderful essay!

A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

I get the question a lot, usually from women and often during book group meetings:  “How do you balance writing and family?”         

The easy answer is that I write my books while my children are at school.  Technically, this is true.  Any writing I do happens somewhere between drop-off and pick-up.  Weekends and evenings, I get a little time at my desk, but mostly these parts of the week are given over to homework, ballet classes, piano lessons, swim practices, meets and games, family dancing in the living room, family singing in the car, family bike-rides, movie-watching of the G/PG variety, and general hanging out.  When the kids go to sleep at a reasonable hour, which doesn’t consistently happen, weeknights belong to my husband and, sometimes, a glass of wine.  Saturday nights are ours, too.  So I balance work and family by writing my books Monday through Friday, while the kids are at school. 

imagesBut this answer is really too easy.  In fact, I stopped giving it for the same reason that I am deeply attached to it:  it makes my life sound tidy, when my life is anything but tidy.  Plus, I didn’t usually get away with it.  Most of the time, before the answer was completely out of my mouth, people jumped in with:  What about groceries?  What about laundry?  What about reading and exercise and volunteer work and meetings and friendships and email and shopping and dealing with the plumber?

While I have some help with some of these tasks and obligations, both from my husband, a true partner, fellow writer, and prince among men, and from a highly capable and much-loved young woman who helps with the kids a handful of hours a week and does errands for me on Thursday afternoons, I end up attending to many of them myself, usually during the hours between drop-off and pick-up.  When I explain all of this to people, I’m sure they wonder how my books get written at all.  I wonder myself.

lovewalkedpaperbackBut the truth is that I do all of the things I do not only because I have to, but because I want to.  I want to sit in the choking heat of the indoor pool or in the lobby of the ballet school and watch my kids do what they love.  I am co-president of Home and School (our school’s version of PTA) because I want to be part of the place where my kids spend so much of their time.  I want to be the one who thumps the melons and picks the piece of salmon my family will eat.  I need exercise, friendships, and family dancing to keep me sane.  Still, sometimes I resent how little time I have to write.  On bad writing days, I beat myself up over the squandered hours.  I envy the lives I imagine other writers are leading.  I long for the peace and time and big trees of writers’ colonies, despite the fact that I have never been to one and, in my heart, don’t really want to go. 

Over time, I have developed a theory.  If people hear it and dismiss it as rationalization, well, I don’t blame them.  It probably started out as rationalization, my putting a positive spin on my frenetic days and limited writing time.  But no matter why I came up with the theory, I’ve come to believe in it.  Not just believe in it.  I’ve come to see that it’s more than just a theory.  It’s big and holistic, ill-defined and not terribly original, but I recognize it as one of the deep truths of my life.

It goes something like this:  everything feeds everything else.  Writing time and family time are false distinctions.  Sweating it out at swim practice, watching my son’s arms arc and arc and arc; choosing one tomato over another; helping set up for the school book fair; listening to my daughter read an Ivy and Bean book aloud, her downward-cast eyes and chirping voice; watching Law and Order reruns with my husband; my obligations to the people I am honored to have in my life, the hours I spend with them:  all of these things make me–I almost wrote “a better writer,” but better than what?  Better than who?  All of these things make me a writer.  They impact directly the words I write in palpable and invisible ways.  Just as the hard-won hours I spend with language, story, and characters make me the friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother that I am.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Book Club Q & A with Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key

tatiana-de-rosnayIn preparation for our book club meeting, we asked Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key, reviewed here, if she would answer a few questions for us, and she graciously agreed.  But beware- there are a few spoilers!


Lisa’s questions:
How did you originally find out about the Vel d Hiv roundup?  Did you know right away that you wanted to write a book about it?
  
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I found out through Chirac’s speech, the one I mention in the book. I knew very little about the round up. I was born in France in the 60’s and like many French people of my generation, we were not taught about this in school. However now, students are taught about it.
 
I remember Julia’s shock at being a 45 year old woman living in Paris who knew nothing of the events.  Are Parisians as unaware of the involvement of the French during WWII as they seem to be in SK?  Has your book changed that?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  Some Parisians are aware and other are not. I’m surprised at the amount of  emails I get from Parisians who are shocked at what they have learned through my book and others who say they knew, but not to that extent. I think and hope my book may have changed things as I now have a million readers world wide !
 
What has been the reaction to your book in France?

Tatiana de Rosnay:  It has been very good. Especially from the Jewish community, which warms my heart. Another surprise is how much teens enjoy it.
 
The details of the separation of the children from their mothers was horrific- the beatings and the water being thrown on them.  Being a mother myself, that was hard to read, and I cried for those mothers and their children.  Did you interview survivors of Vel d Hiv while researching your book, or were those details something you’d read about in your research?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I met two survivors during my research, and three after the book was published. Wonderful moments that I shall never forget. They told me that they went through exactly what I describe in the book.
 
Do you have any idea how many children were able to escape the camps in the French countryside?  Is there evidence that some had help from sympathetic members of the French police, the way Sarah and Rachel did?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  No, I do not have a precise idea. However, France is the country where the largest number of Jewish children were saved and hidden by French people, like Sarah and Rachel were. These people then became «Justs of the Nation».
 
Why did Sarah’s part of the narrative stop after the discovery of Michel?   I missed her!
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  That’s how I «felt» the story.  Julia’s quest to find her (or William) then becomes even stronger.
 
When will your new book be available?  What are you currently working on?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I am about to publish Boomerang, my first love story ! It is out in France in a couple of weeks, and next year in the US. I am now researching a new book which takes place in 19th century Paris.
 
Valerie’s questions:
The whole issue with the late age pregnancy and Julia”s reaction suprised me. One, that she would have even considered the abortion at all…why?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I have not gone through this, thankfully, but my closest friend has. Her husband refused to have the child. She chose the husband over the child. She still regrets it, ten years later…
 
 and then naming the girl Sarah? An attempt to give something back for such a great wrong being done or another reason?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  Because Sarah is dead and gone, bringing into the world another little Sarah is like lighting a candle for all the Vel d’Hiv children.
 
I felt like the ending alluded to a possible romantic relationship between Julia and Sarah’s adult son. Wishful thinking on my part or ??
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I did not want a  soppy Hollywood ending, and I guess each reader can make up her own mind ! ( I personally think they get together, but I’m not totally sure !)
 
Was there one particular story, memory or incident about the Vel’ de hiv and its aftermath at the camps that most profoundly influenced and/or effected you and subsequently the story line of the book? Thanks! 
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I had all the book planned out in my head before I even wrote it. I wanted to share the horror and disgust I felt when I found out about what happened. The  worst part for me is how the children were separated from the parents at  Beaune. It makes me physically ill.
 
Sheri’s questions:
How has the success of this book affected your life?  What has been the most positive impact of its reception and the most difficult?

Tatiana de Rosnay:  This book has changed my life. I had never written a best-seller before and I have published 8 books. I’m still trying to get used to the attention. I guess the most difficult part is finding time to answer all my readers !
 
Karen’s question:
Since France has so much anti Semitism, have there been any problems with Sarah’s Key being sold in bookstores, since many citizens are wanting to ban the Holocaust teachings in the French public schools and universities?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  I don’t think France’s anti-Semitism is to that extent ! I visit a school per week meeting students and teachers to talk about Sarah and the Vel d’Hiv. All bookstores here carry my book.
  
From Orchid:  
I‘ve visited France twice, and I thought based on stereotypes that the French might be rude, but I found them to be very helpful and kind to me, a tourist who didn’t know the language that well.  So my question is.. the French family in the book is portrayed as very private and somewhat arrogant.. did you embellish on stereotypes or did you find that to be actually true in your experience or research?
 
Tatiana de Rosnay:  The French family I describe is a typically high class, wealthy Parisian family, certainly not representative of all French citizens ! So are the Parisians that Julia pokes fun of! I am French myself, born in the Paris suburbs, and I think I know my country men well… 🙂

Many thanks to Tatiana de Rosnay for her openness and willingness to answer our questions, and for writing this incredible book!

Interview and Giveaway: Laura Fitzgerald, author of One True Theory of Love

images-1Recently I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors, the wonderful Laura Fitzgerald.  Laura is the author of the bestselling book Veil of Roses, and a new novel, One True Theory of Love (reviewed here), which just came out in February.  Even though she is really busy promoting her book and going to book signings and festivals, she took the time to give me very thorough and thoughtful answers to my questions.  Please enjoy this interview, and leave a comment if you’d like a chance to win her new book!  

BOTB:  If you had to describe your new book in one sentence, what would that be?

Laura:  One True Theory of Love is a story about the redemptive power of second chances in life and love.

51svuaqeq5l_sl500_aa240_BOTB:  You mentioned your very own book club recently read and discussed One True Theory of Love.  What was that like for you? 

Laura:  It was incredibly fun, because it was such a celebration of a big goal achieved and these are great women with whom to celebrate. It was also a great discussion of the book’s themes of second chances and the changing nature of relationships. All in all, it was a fun night of much wine, great discussion, and laughter.

It was also a bit weird, because everyone was asking me about my husband’s forearms and are they as sexy as Ahmed’s in the book…That’s been the one big difference between Veil of Roses and One True Theory of Love. With the main character in Veil of Roses being from Iran, no one suspected there was anything of me in her. But with this second book, I’m being asked that question a lot: How much of Meg is you? And, of course, there’s a lot of me in both Tami and Meg, as there is a lot of me in every character I write. I’m all over my books, hiding in plain sight. 

n225748BOTB:  I’ve read on your website that the idea for the book came from a book club meeting you attended for your first book, Veil of Roses.  Can you tell us about that?

Laura:  Well, I was quite far along in my writing of this other story that just wasn’t working out – I couldn’t get the main character to be likable, and the story itself was so different from Veil of Roses in tone and temperament that I was coming to the sad conclusion that it wasn’t the right “next book” for me. This realization was confirmed as I met with three book clubs in Wisconsin in the course of a week. 

The clear message was they like the “make you laugh, make you cry” flavor of Veil of Roses. The book I’d been working on was a straight “make you cry” type of book. Also, in each book club, members were going through huge life changes, falling in or out of love, mourning the deaths of loved ones, and just in general fighting the good, hard fights that life presents us. And it just struck me how much courage it requires to build yourself back up after life has knocked you down. We like to believe our happy ending is out there, waiting for us – that no matter how bad things are, if we just try harder, or try AGAIN, good things will happen and we’ll be happy. That’s not always how it works – but this deliberate optimism is what helps us move forward. 

I hate to sound existential, but I believe the happiness can be found in the struggle. Life is richer for going after what you want when there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. It just is. 

BOTB:  What has been the most exciting thing that has happened to you since becoming a best selling author?  How has it changed your life? 

Laura:  I can’t and won’t downplay how nice it is to forevermore get to be referred to as “national bestselling author,” but the life-changing part of it comes down to the fact that I had a hard-to-achieve goal and I achieved it – writing a novel good enough to be published at a time when no one cared whether I did it or not. I now get to spend my days doing what I love, in a way that is perfectly suited to my skills, wants and personality. I am figuring out how to tell great stories, and after years and years of work learning my craft, I am almost at a point where I feel I’m hitting my stride with my writing. It’s exciting for me personally to feel with some confidence that the next few books are going to be a culmination of a lot of work on the backend, and that the best is yet to be. 

To repeat: Life is richer for going after what you want when there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope and to stay on it requires every ounce of skill I have, plus some luck. It’s a position I love to be in. 

BOTB:  Do you write with a particular audience in mind, or do you just write what you like?  

Laura:  Pretty much all my stories center around women who have to summon the courage to do something that is hard for them to do in order to get their shot at happiness — it’s a proactive approach to life and ultimately very affirming. We save ourselves, and we find ourselves in the broken pieces. I firmly believe that. My audience is any woman who needs that message. 

BOTB:  What is the writing process like for you?  Do you treat it like a job- writing for a certain number of hours a day- or do you wait until inspiration strikes?  How do you manage to get anything done with two young kids at home? 

Laura:  Writing is my job, absolutely. I have an office that I go to Monday through Friday while my kids are at school. I’m at this phase in my life where I’d spend twice as much time on my writing if I could – seven days a week, probably, but I’m acutely aware that my kids won’t be this age forever. My top value at the moment is maintaining balance and it’s a constant struggle. So I leave my writing at the office and spend the rest of the time with my kids. And husband. And friends. (And on facebook.) 

BOTB:  Can you tell us about your workspace?  Do you have interesting things on the walls or on your desk to spark creativity?  

Laura:  I rent an office a few miles from my house, and it’s mine, baby – all mine. No phone, no internet connection, no husband, no kids. I don’t like clutter, so I keep my desk clear, with only a great view of the Catalina Mountains in front of me. I’ve got Ethan Allen furniture – desk, reading chair and bookshelves. I have three prints on my walls – two simple and artistic photographs, one of a book with its pages spread open and one of a cup of coffee shot from above (I love both coffee and books). I also have a print of Mark Twain with one of his quotes: I find it usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. This has significance to me because I believe in doing a ton of work behind the scenes to make my writing come out smooth and easy. I’m a big planner and thinker and having my office – which I think of as my “pretty little prison cell” allows me the space and time to do both. And then to write, of course. 

BOTB:  You mentioned that you’re writing a sequel to Veil of Roses.  I’m so excited about that!  What will it be called, and when can we expect to see it in stores?  

Laura:  I’m working very hard to make this sequel even better than the first book. In addition to learning what happens after Tami and Ike’s wedding, I’m delving into the lives of two other characters from Veil of Roses – Tami’s mother, and Rose. 

As yet, it hasn’t been titled. I’m calling it GONE TO PICK FLOWERS, but that’ll likely change. It should be in stores by next summer (2010).

BOTB:  Laura, THANK YOU for your time and generosity!!  I loved your book and am so thrilled to be able to offer a copy of it to one lucky reader!

If you’d like a chance to win a copy of Laura’s new book, One True Theory of Love, leave a comment here by Tuesday, March 17th.

The Sunday Salon

cookies_groupHappy Sunday!  I hope everyone had a great week and will have time for reading-n-relaxation today.  I’m not sure if reading is part of the plan for me today but I’m going to try.  My oldest starts confirmation classes at church this morning, which means I’ll drag my lazy butt to church as well.  Then later I have to load up my van with dozens of cases of Girl Scout cookies from a warehouse, bring them home, sort them out by ‘who sold what’, and distribute them to the girls in my troop.  OH, and I have to catch a mouse (or at least figure out how to do that).

Once, years ago, when I lived in a rural area in Michigan, we had a mouse in our house.  I remember my mother putting out traps, then being horrified to hear one go off in the middle of the night, but in the morning-no mouse.  This went on for days until finally we actually caught the helpless creature rotten rodent in the pantry.  I remember my sister and I finding the little thing stuck in the trap the next morning and feeling so sad.  It was also fascinating to look at, in a horrifying way- so much so that we talked our mother into letting us put the mouse in a Mason jar and taking it to school for Show and Tell.  I was maybe 8 years old.

cordless-mouse1But now there is definitely a mouse in my kitchen (hopefully it’s a mouse, and not mice).  I have seen the, ahem, ‘evidence’.  I have heard scampering at night.  And I’m not 8 years old anymore.  I have no loving feelings toward vermin.  If anyone else has ever dealt with this, please tell me what to do- do I buy traps?  Poison?  Get a cat (our dopey golden retriever is no mouser)?  Or call an exterminator?  I’m freaked out by it and want the dirty thing gone NOW.

Ok, on to reading.  This week I finished Sag Harbor for Barnes and Noble’s First Look online book club .  I haven’t written my review yet, but the writing was superb- although nothing much happens.  It will be a tricky review to write.  Sag Harbor’s author, Colson Whitehead, is active on the book club message boards at B&N, and I love having access to the author in that way.  I was able to ask him questions while reading the book, and he answered them immediately- so cool!  

I finished Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay this week too.  I’m still reeling from the story- it was powerful.  My book club will discuss it next Sunday night.  We had hoped to speak with the author by speaker phone, but she lives in Paris and because of the time difference, it isn’t going to work out.  She is, however, going to answer our questions via email, so I’ll post the questions and answers here with my review sometime after the 8th.  She’s also my newest Facebook friend!  

51svuaqeq5l_sl500_aa240_Today I hope to start One True Theory of Love by Laura Fitzgerald, one of my favorite authors.  It looks good and I can’t wait to start it.  My book club spoke to her when we discussed Veil of Roses a couple years back, and she was so warm and funny.  For anyone who enjoyed Veil of Roses, I have exciting news.. Laura is in the process of writing the sequel!  Yes!  We’ll find out what happens to Tami and Ike!  Laura will be guest posting here soon to share what it was like having her own neighborhood book club discuss her new book.  

Well I hope everyone has a great week!  I’m off on a mouse hunt..  all suggestions, advice, sympathy, comments, questions about the cleanliness of my house (it’s clean, I swear!), etc. are welcome and appreciated.