Excerpt & Contest: A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Sourcebooks is offering 10 readers the chance to attend a LIVE online event with Susanna Kearsley. To enter, find the HIDDEN MESSAGE within the excerpt below and use it to crack the SECRET CODE. Email the correct answer to publicity@sourcebooks.com. Winners will be announced on March 20th.

9781492602026-300

    Book Description

Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
9781492602026 * $16.99/TP * ON-SALE: April 7, 2015

For nearly three hundred years, the cryptic journal of Mary Dundas has lain unread. Now, amateur code breaker Sara Thomas has been sent to Paris to crack the cipher.

Jacobite exile Mary Dundas is filled with longing—for freedom, for adventure, for the family she lost. When fate opens the door, Mary dares to set her foot on a path far more surprising and dangerous than she ever could have dreamed.

As Mary’s gripping tale is revealed, Sara is faced with challenges that will require letting go of everything she thought she knew—about herself, about loyalty, and especially about love. Though divided by centuries, these two women will be united in a quest to discover the limits of trust and the coincidences of fate.

Excerpt from A Desperate Fortune:

The man who was to be her brother came by coach next afternoon.

He was, to her surprise and pleasure, rather like her brother in appearance—of the same age and the same build and of middle height like Nicolas, and with an oval face as frank and friendly. He wore a short white-powdered wig that made a contrast to his darker eyebrows, and his eyes were hazel green and large, inclined to narrow slightly when he smiled. He smiled often.

He spoke educated French, a scholar’s French, and had the manners of a gentleman.

“My dear Marie,” he greeted her as smoothly as an actor, with a warm embrace as genuine as if he had in truth been her own brother. “It is good to see you well.”

He gallantly removed his cloak and passed it to the waiting maid together with his gloves, and climbed the stair with Mary to their suite of rooms where he proceeded to warm every corner of that space with personality. He charmed the servants, one and all, made Mary laugh, and even coaxed a proper smile from Madame Roy. Frisque, being not as fond of male companionship, was harder to impress, but by the week’s end even he was coming round a little.

Mary played her part as well as she was able. She knew nothing of this man but that his name was Jacques, or so she had been told, and she could hardly ask him questions in this house where they were never on their own together, but she nonetheless reached some conclusions of her own.

She did not think that he was French. He spoke without a hint of accent, but his choice of words was often not in keeping with the words she would have chosen, and at breakfast on the third day he stopped speaking in the middle of a sentence with a sudden look of vague surprise, as though he either had forgotten what he was about to say, or did not know the phrase for it. She finished off the thought for him and teased him for becoming so distracted, hoping humor would keep any of the servants from perceiving his small stumble, and he smiled at her in gratitude, but from that moment on she was convinced he was not French.

And while he clearly did not labor with his hands, he had the faintest callous on the middle finger of his right hand as a man acquired from daily taking up a pen or pencil.

WIN a chance to attend a LIVE online event with Susanna Kearsley! To enter, go to: http://books.sourcebooks.com/adesperatefortune/ and find the preview chapters posted there. Break the code: 8.24.9 and email the correct word topublicity@sourcebooks.com.

She herself was gaining something similar from writing in her journal every evening, after supper but before Madame Roy came to bed. It was a peaceful moment she looked forward to, alone with pen and candle and the blank page of her journal as she worked the simple cipher Mistress Jamieson had made for her, to write her thoughts in private.

I am inclined to think, she wrote, that Jacques may be a poet or a satirist, and persecuted by the English for his bold attacks on them. In truth he has a cutting wit and keeps us all amused.

The candle dipped and danced, caught in a stray draught that had seeped with stealth around the window frame, for outside it was growing colder from the darkness and the bitter wind that chased between the houses, down the narrow street. The street, she knew now, had a name: the Rue du Coeur Volant. The street of the flying heart. Quite a romantic name for such a mean and deplorable thoroughfare; and yet at night all its ugliness faded, subdued by the light of the lanterns that caught the bright clothes of the revelers passing beneath on their way to and from the great Fair Saint-Germain in the next street but one.

Mary rose now and crossed to the window to watch them a moment and tried not to yearn quite so strongly to follow them, telling herself there would be other years, other fairs, other chances. She leaned on the glass so she would not be forced to see her own reflection in place of the wider world, much like the linnet confined to its cage might press one eye close up to the bars and so fool itself.

Frisque whined at her feet as though sensing her mood and she bent low and lifted him up so that he could see, too. Through the glass and above the hard wind she could hear mingled shouting and music.

“It’s all right,” she told the dog, holding him tightly. “It’s still an adventure.”

A tale for her memoirs.

A small speck of light caught the edge of her gaze from the dark of the tall house across the street. Turning her head just a fraction, she watched till she saw it again, to be sure: the faint glow of a pipe held by someone who stood at the opposite window, now fading, now burning, in time with his breathing.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

About Susanna Kearsley:  New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley is known for her meticulous research and exotic settings from Russia to Italy to Cornwall, which not only entertain her readers but give her a great reason to travel. Her lush writing has been compared to Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Diana Gabaldon. She hit the bestseller lists in the U.S. with The Firebird (a RITA winner) as well as, The Winter Sea andThe Rose Garden (both RITA finalists and winners of RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards). Other honors include National Readers’ Choice Awards, the prestigious Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize, and finaling for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Her popular and critically acclaimed books are available in translation in more than 20 countries and as audiobooks. She lives in Canada, near the shores of Lake Ontario.

Out Of Twenty: Elena Mauli Shapiro, Author of In The Red, Answers Seven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their Elena Mauli Shapiroown interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Elena Mauli Shapiro is the author of  In The Red. Here is what Elena had to say about reading, writing, and her obsession with memory.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

Hello.  My name is Elena and I am a novelist.  Sometimes I write short stories, but they either turn into novels or are eaten by a novel which then incorporates pieces of the story within itself.  Basically everything my brain does is in the service of eventually producing a novel.  It’s a chronic condition.  I have been writing stories as long as I remember.  It just took a long time before I got good enough that somebody decided to pay me.

I’ve published two novels so far.  The first, 13 rue Thérèse, is sort of a historical romance set in 1928 Paris.  The second, In the Red, is a brooding Eastern European gangster thing.  I am sometimes told that my stories are different enough that they feel as if they have been written by separate people.  While I really enjoy expanding my range as a storyteller, I can tell you that every book I write will always feature sex in some form, and that my texts will always be obsessed with memory—be it the workings of individual memory or collective memory in the forms of history and myth.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you throughout the writing process?

I have been really into cake lately.  I love how combining four cheap, pedestrian ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, eggs) in the right way can make magic in your mouth.  It’s a miracle!  It’s a little bit like writing a book in that it involves careful layering of ingredients to produce a satisfying whole, but it’s way more awesome than a book in that, with cake, you can have yumminess within a couple of hours.  Since it often takes years for a book to take shape, it’s psychologically helpful to produce something delicious in a manageable amount of time!  I just made a Crème de Cassis cake when a friend came to visit yesterday.  Basically, find a good basic white cake recipe and add some tasty booze to the batter and you can’t go wrong.  A cake that will make you cry it is so good is this Baileys Irish Cream cake.  Strap in for some awesome.

In the Red by Elena Mauli ShapiroDid you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were you in choosing the name of the book?

Titles are weird in that I either get a good title immediately, or I never get one.  I had the title for In the Red right from the beginning.  I never had a title for 13 rue Thérèse.  It drove me nuts.  It was my agent who ultimately suggested the title.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

I very seldom actually look at my old texts.  I even avoid looking at my published work.  Once it’s printed it’s done, nothing left for me there.  Sometimes I will salvage an old idea or scene from something I’ve written previously that didn’t turn out.  That’s why even failed pieces are useful: you never know what you can take from them later.  But when I do that I usually pull the idea or scene from memory and rewrite from scratch, I don’t consult the old text.  I did have one occasion to look at old stuff before a move a few years ago, when I had to dispose of accumulated papers.  I had tons of printed material, especially from college when I couldn’t trust floppy disks to preserve my data.  I absolutely dreaded having to look at that stuff: I thought I would be horrified going through it, at how abjectly shitty my writing used to be. I was convinced I would cringe at all the expository dialogue, incompetent mechanics, and poorly rendered feeling. But I liked my former self a lot more than I thought I would–not because the writing was good. It was fairly hideous. Continue reading Out Of Twenty: Elena Mauli Shapiro, Author of In The Red, Answers Seven Questions

Out of Twenty: Brian Payton, The Author of The Wind Is Not A River, Answers Seven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author Brian Paytonand they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Brian Payton is the author of  The Wind Is Not  River. Here is what Brian had to say about reading, writing, and the relevance of historical fiction.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I’m a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. My latest book, The Wind Is Not A River, is both a survival story and a love story set in the wilderness of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands leading up to the only battle of WWII fought on American soil. My previous books, The Ice Passage and Shadow of the Bear: Travels in Vanishing Wilderness are narrative nonfiction books dealing with history and conservation respectively. My first novel, drawn from events in my own life, was Hail Mary Corner. I live in Vancouver with my wife and our two daughters. I’ve been writing since my late teens.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I am resolutely non-superstitious so I have no writing rituals. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I approach it much the same way: I treat it not like “a job” but as a vocation and a call to action. With fiction, once I have an idea, I chain my ass to a chair for a few weeks to see if a character and story begin to show signs of life. I do not wait for the muse; I follow my interests and get to work.

Write the question you would most like to be asked and answer it.

Your latest book is historical fiction. What makes this story relevant today?

Great survival stories can tell us something elemental about what it means to be alive. This story is primarily a story of survival and devotion set against a history that has been lost in the popular culture—a history I hope to help reclaim. Great love stories can tell us something about the human experience, what it means to live with, without, and for one another… who we are in the presence or absence of love.

With this book, my goal is to transport readers to a stark, beautiful, and unforgiving landscape, then challenge them to ask themselves: How far would you go in search of the truth, or to honor a lost loved one? What are we willing to do to survive, or risk for the sake of love?

The Wind Is Not  A River by Brian PaytonAre you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

When I’m writing fiction, I allow myself to read nonfiction. Conversely, I read fiction when I’m writing nonfiction. Although I have no writing “rituals” per se, each day before writing I try and read some poetry no matter what I’m working on. During the writing and editing of The Wind Is Not A River, I immersed myself in the poetry of Seamus Heaney, particularly the bog poems.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

From the beginning, I had the title of this book in place: The Wind Is Not A River. I realize the title is a head scratcher, a koan, but it evolved naturally out of the course of the narrative and the struggle of one of the two main characters. It is of the place in which the book is set and is appropriate. I realize that some people might find it too cryptic and therefore may be inclined to give it a pass, but many readers are intrigued and curious to take part in solving the mystery. I’m more interested in telling this story to the second group of readers.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

Honestly, I can’t remember much of what I read as a child, beyond the Hardy Boys mysteries, ghostwritten by authors collectively known as “Franklin W. Dixon.” Then, as now, I loved being read to. I remember being mesmerized by my stunningly beautiful third grade teacher, who read E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web to the class. I was hooked on every word.

And then I read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath when I was 14, and it shook me to the core. I vividly remember savoring the final scene while on the road, curled up in the hatchback of our Ford Pinto (infamous for having its gas tank behind the bumper!) because there were not enough seats for all us kids. By the time I reached the ending, I was sobbing loud enough to require explanation. I knew then that I had magic in my hands and wanted to become a magician.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

About the Author: Brian Payton is the author of The Wind Is Not A River, which was chosen as an American Booksellers Association IndieNext “Great Reads” Pick, an American Library Association “Library Reads” Pick, an Amazon Book of the Month, and a BookPage Top Fiction Pick (Jan. 2014). Payton is also the author of the novel Hail Mary Corner and two acclaimed works of narrative nonfiction: Shadow Of The Bear: Travels In Vanishing Wilderness, which was a Barnes and Noble Book Club Pick and a U.S. National Outdoor Book Awards Book of the Year; and The Ice Passage: A True Story Of Ambition, Disaster, And Endurance In The Arctic Wilderness, which was a finalist for the Hubert Evans Nonfiction Prize. Payton lives with his family in Vancouver.

Photo Credit: Alison Rosa, Doug Rosa

Review: A Walk Among Tombstones by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block - A Walk TombstonesSometimes it takes a book being turned into a movie to spur me to reading a writer’s work, or in this case, get back to it. With A Walk Among Tombstones, Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens are providing the impetus to return to the writing of Lawrence Block in anticipation of seeing the movie. I was introduced to Block back in 2011, when I read his most recent entry in the Matthew Scudder series entitled A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I loved the hardboiled feel of the book and the intricacy of the detective work as that novel examined an early case in Scudder’s career. However, I didn’t get a sense of Scudder’s history. It also seemed that he spent an inordinate amount of time attending AA meetings and contemplating his life and sobriety. Nevertheless I was intrigued by his character and had always planned to the earlier books.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff  follows Scudder as he’s first embracing his sobriety and AA. I remember wondering whether he would be less intense, even happier as he became more comfortable in his new life. Reading this novel both confirmed and disproved my thoughts on Scudder. Walk Among Tombstones begins with Scudder narrating the last hours in the life of Francine Koury, the wife of a modest heroin distributor. In the midst of buying groceries, she is abducted by two men who escort her into the back of a blue van and drive off with her. Scudder juxtaposes her movements and abduction against his own; he spends time with his girlfriend and contemplates a trip to Ireland to visit a wayward friend who is having problems returning to the country. His plans change when he receives a call from Kenan Koury and his brother Peter (whom Scudder knows from AA meetings) for help dealing with Francine’s abductors.

While Scudder had no love for drug dealers, neither does he have any qualms about tracking and handing over a pair of ruthless kidnappers to vigilante justice. And so the tale begins. A Walk Among Tombstones is a dark, gritty novel exploring a brutal and senseless crime, but I enjoyed reading it for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the character development and the portrayal of the interpersonal relationships- they strengthen what could easily have been a plot driven novel. While the number of AA meeting he attends hasn’t changed, Scudder is at a different place in his life, more balanced as he develops his relationship with Elaine, whose straightforward support and street smarts make her an engaging lover and confidante. He also deepens his relationship with TJ, a street kid with the smarts and connection to help Scudder track down the bad guys, while developing a firm rapport with Peter and Kenan.

I also found myself fascinated with being immersed in the grittiness of ‘80s New York. It’s almost like reading about another world. The subways were dangerous, cell phones had yet to make an appearance among the common man, computers weren’t wireless, and TJ’s big thrill comes from finally getting a beeper. I’m very curious to see how this translates in the movie, but Block masterfully conveys the New York of a bygone era and a complex investigator attempting to piece his life together in that world. Hollywood would be wise to stick to the main beats of this engaging and finely detailed crime novel.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

E.B. Moore, Author of An Unseemly Wife, Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. E.B. Moore is the author of  An Unseemly Wife. Here is what E.B. had to say about reading, writing, and how family stories inspired her writing.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I came to writing by accident.  After college and art school, I worked as a sculptor hammering and welding large bronze sheets, but the body can only put up with so much, before it gives out.  Mine did, and returning to college, (at the same time as my youngest daughter), I stumbled into another creative outlet— poetry, always with narrative, mostly with a farm theme mirroring how I grew up.

Finishing Line Press published my twenty-six page chapbook, New Eden, A Legacy, the chronicle of my Amish great grandmother’s catastrophic trek west in a covered wagon. Readers wanted more of “Ruth’s” story, and much to my horror, a novel seemed the only answer. After years more sweat and schooling at Grub Street Writers, I finished An Unseemly Wife.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

An Unseemly Wife by E.B. MooreStoking the furnace is an important part of writing.  You’ve got to eat.  The biggest problem is limiting the time spent surfing the frig.  I’ve been known to rationalize eating as research.  Pickled pigs’ feet appear in my book, so to get the exact flavor and the feel of its gelatinous substrate housing the meat, I needed a sample.  Hard to find unless you’re in Amish country. I went to Lancaster PA, and more appealing things beckoned: sour cherry pie, pecan, shoofly, custard, whoopee pies, not a pie at all.

Reading is actually more useful, serving as inspiration when I get bogged down.  I keep special books on a handy shelf so I can read snippets.  Sometimes just a paragraph or two is enough.  These are at the top of my pile: March, by Geraldine Brooks, Grapes of Wrath, Lord of the Flies.

My day starts early.  4:00am is the sweet spot; I’m sharpest then, and it limits interruptions.  The only problem:  when my friends go out to dinner, I’m ready for bed.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

When I was a kid, my mother told me her family’s story often.  One was how Aaron bundled his pregnant wife Ruth and their four littles into a covered wagon, and against their Amish faith, joined the dreaded English heading for free land in Idaho. On the trek, they faced Indian attacks, pestilence, and prejudice leading to betrayal, and they were left alone on the trailside fighting for their lives.

Mother wanted to write this story, but a brain tumor took her memory before she wrote more than a cryptic list of incidents.  Living with me after her operation, she’d ask over and over to hear about Ruth.  My kids would cover their ears and run from the room. “No, no, not the wagon of death again.”

In the end, the characters nattered at me until I wrote them down. And yes, my life has changed.  I’m now a slave to new characters who intrude whenever it suits them.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I’m reading The Violet Season by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.  I came across her historical novel because she wrote a wonderful blurb for my book.  Hers is a captivating story of family trials as they struggle for control of a violet farm.  I had no idea there was such a thing as farms that raised only violets.

Kathy brings me into the scenes with intriguing details and dynamic conflicts as Ida tries to protect herself and her daughter from the dictates of overbearing men who should be protecting them.

Since writing my own book, I read more carefully, watching how the author develops character and plot.  It’s harder to get consumed by the story, but when I do, as with Kathy’s book, it’s a thrill.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?

The most surprising discovery came as I questioned my uncles and cousins for their slant on the family catastrophe.  It turned out, reports of my great grandmother’s unseemly behavior (resisting her husband’s demand to leave the farm and put the lives of their children at risk) had come down only through the female side of the family.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Early on, men would have seen her message of self-reliance as reactionary, a message that would encourage women to disobey their husbands. Even my brother had been left in the dark.  My son, on the other hand, knows all.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

In the early morning dark, before I’m fully awake, ideas for scenes float in, and I write them on a pad without turning on the light. If I wake fully, the ideas will disappear.  Later, after breakfast I flesh them out on the computer. After lunch, comes editing time, quick before my eyes roll back in my head, and I hit the couch for a nap.  Then more editing takes the rest of afternoon until I no longer trust my judgment. Late edits usually have to revert to earlier versions.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

My title started out as A Wager Of Bones. Then my wise agent, Alice Tasman, persuaded me that at first glance, it didn’t tell enough about what was inside the book. I resisted, chewing on suggestions like a cow on a cud, but couldn’t gag them down.

‘Wife’ should be in the title, Alice said.  I stomped around in a most unseemly manner, and there it was, the word that described Ruth best.  When I told Alice, she jumped on it, and to my delight An Unseemly Wife was born.  Not wanting to lose ‘A Wager Of Bones,’ I used it to head the book’s third section.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

School reading was hell.  Words and letters traded places on the page and I stumbled along wondering why everyone else in first grade could zip through See Spot Run before I turned the first page. Being dyslectic made all of school a struggle, but outside reading, where speed didn’t count, took me on magical journeys along with Grimm, Kipling, Dickens, and many others.  Being a writer didn’t cross my mind until my fifties.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

I’m part of an amazing community of writers in the Boston area.  Many of them, too many to mention here by name, are instructors at Grub Street Writers and can be found on the Grub website, and others can be found on the blogs:  beyondthemargins.com  and  deaddarlings.com  Take a look, their books are varied and well written, something for everyone.

What’s next?

I’m finishing another Amish novel. The book follows Joshua (an alias I use for my grandfather, this story based on his escapades) as he escapes his father’s secret whippings. Joshua, eleven and alone, starts on a ten-year journey, descending into the underbelly of the American west, while his mother, at home on the farm, struggles to accept God’s will: her son is dead. But questions haunt them both, and the answers force them to confront the unexpected snake in their Amish garden.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

About E.B. Moore: E. B. Moore grew up in a Pennsylvania fieldstone house on a Noah’s ark farm.  The red barn stabled animals two-by-two, along with a herd of Cheviot sheep. After a career as a metal sculptor, she returned to writing poetry. Her chapbook of poems,New Eden, A Legacy, (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was the foundation for her novel, An Unseemly Wife both based on family stories from her Amish roots in Lancaster. E. B. received full fellowships to The Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo.  She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Out of Twenty: Martha Woodroof, Author of Small Blessings, Answers 6 Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  authorMartha Woodroof and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Martha Woodroof is the author of  Small Blessings. Here is what Martha had to say about reading, writing, and making a bucket list helped her publish her novel.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I got my first rejection letter at the age of twelve from the poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly. As it was a personal letter asking me to send in more stuff, I took that as encouragement. I’m both a college dropout (Mount Holyoke) and a grad school dropout (the University of Virginia). My first real job was as a teacher’s aide in a pilot Head Start program in Greensboro, North Carolina. Since the turn of the century, I’ve been attached to WMRA, the Little Public Radio Station that Can, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and actively freelanced for the NPR Culture Desk and for npr.org.

Before that – among a lot of other things, I co-owned restaurants, did a bit of acting, was fired as a magazine editor, hosted local TV talk shows and anchored the news, wrote a book called How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to a Real Life and a Pretty Good Time, cooked for an artist’s colony, was a country music disc jockey and a psychiatric occupational therapy aide, taught preschool, published a bunch of essays, was a morning drive-time personality on a tiny AM radio station, ran a college bookstore coffee shop, directed a college’s co-curricular programming, and failed to sell cars.

I finished an early draft of Small Blessings a couple of years ago and then put it away to work on some radio and non-fiction projects.
I’ve never been all that frightened of failing (which is lucky, as I have failed a lot). It seems to me we are each responsible for living our own lives kindly, productively and well; figuring out what we need and want to do with our time and our talents, and then going after those things full-tilt. With this in mind, when I hit my early sixties, I made a bucket list. As I’ve done (and failed to do) a lot of very different things, my bucket list had one item on it: Publish Small Blessings! I’d recently reread the novel, re-fallen in love with its people, and the one thing I really wanted was to land them a better gig than life in a cardboard box in my home office.

How Small Blessings came to St. Martin’s is a long, funny story involving some more major non-shyness on my part and (as any first novelist will tell you) a giant helping hand from the serendipity gods. One auction later, Small Blessings and I had fetched up at St. Martin’s, which is publishing heaven as far as I’m concerned.

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof - JacketAs to the stories I want to tell: I want to explore the lives of ordinary people who have ordinary problems and somehow things happen that bring out the best in them. I am, and have always been, an optimist!

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

My process is not very mysterious; it’s what I think of as the Just Do It school of writing. I get up every morning and write for a couple of hours before I do anything other than give my email a cursory look. As soon as I start to interact with the outside world, the inside of my head turns a pinball machine and I lose my ability to hang out in my imaginary worlds.

As to rituals and food: Coffee. Brought to me in continuous supply by my husband, Charlie, who is bucking for sainthood.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Q: Is writing fiction fun?
A: Yes!

What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?

I’m a long-term sober alcoholic/addict (hallelujah!). Sobriety has taught me that there’s always another chance. Or conversely, as the Doobie Brothers once put it: “You always have a chance to give up. So why do it now?”

If I had to be stuck on a desert island with only one book, it would be The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. In one particular letter, someone asks Ms. O’Connor (who was a seriously devout Catholic) what our duty in prayer is. Ms. O’Connor replies something to the effect that our duty is to figure out what we want and ask for it. The italics are mine, as I read this at a point in my life when I was not yet sober and so was really floundering. And even though I wasn’t even a person of faith at the time, I remember those words hitting me like a blow. Our duty is to figure out what we want…

At the time I was clueless about who I was, let alone what I wanted. That moment with Ms. O’Connor began an ongoing process of learning to accept myself exactly as I am in the world as it actually is. This has been both challenging and, at times, very scary. But – yowza! – it’s also, in my opinion, the most alive way to live. How can we possibly be happy without first being our real selves? So – back to Small Blessings – in general, I think I’m interested in writing about nice, well-meaning people who are willing to face the extreme challenge of accepting themselves as they really are and, in the process, learning what it is they really, truly want.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

My mother read aloud to me way past the age when I could read on my own. She was an English professor who loved literature, and she made Dickens and Shakespeare and Jane Austen as real to me as second grade. I think that’s when I fell in love with words and their power to tell other people’s stories.

Long years reporting in the NPR system only fueled this love. Stories allow us to inhabit the lives of people we will never meet (or who will never exist, in the case of fiction), try on their viewpoints, experience their struggles and triumphs, feel their emotions. I can truthfully never remember not wanting to be a story teller in some form or other.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

I love all my characters, and I was surprised by how much I missed their company once Small Blessings was finished. Writing Agnes Tattle (Tom Putnam’s mother-in-law) was a real blast, because she is so no-nonsense and straightforward.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

About the Author: Martha Woodroof was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Small Blessings is her debut novel. She lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley. Their closest neighbors are cows.

Weekend E-Reading: Americanah & The Vacationers

office-272813_1280While I am a big fan of reading books and turning pages, I read in fits and starts on my Nook and tablet. Books act as great physical reminders to me of their actual existence. I find that I forget about the books that I have downloaded. This weekend is all about making an active push to take a look at what I have going there and to finish some of the books I forgot I had.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I last mentioned Americanah back in April, when I anticipated reading it in order to attend a friend’s book club. Plans were changed but it is showing up in the book club docket again. That must say something about its effectiveness as a book club pick. Adiche’s writing is gorgeous, and at 74 pages in, her observations of Nigerian and American culture are astute, thought-provoking and sometimes humorous. Ifemelu and Obinze are characters with intriguing depth and complex lives. I’m convinced our discussion will be a lively one.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub: Summer was officially over at the midpoint of The Vacationers by Emma Straubthe week, but I don’t have to let it go completely. The beautiful weekend weather and Straub’s tale of family drama coming to a boil while on vacation in lovely Mallorca, will help me pretend for a little while longer. This one landed on my list after hearing so much about Straub’s debut novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures (which I have yet to read). Also, nothing screams summer or beach read like the cover of this novel. I look at it and am immediately transported to warm weather relaxation.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

 

Out of Twenty: Thrity Umrigar, Author of The Story Hour, Answers 12 Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own Thrity Umrigarinterview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Thrity Umrigar is the author of  The Story Hour.  Here is what Thrity had to say about reading, writing, and whether talking solves problems.

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

Honestly, it’s been the kindness of readers.  People who make the time to come to my readings.  Or write to me on my fan page on Facebook.  Or write me long, detailed emails that sometimes break my heart but always remind me that words matter, that literature matters.  That there is a good reason to spend months at a time lost in writing a book, neglecting friends, family, house, pets.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

Honestly, I have loved writing all my characters.  Each one is different, each one carries his or her own history, and I’m intrigued by them all.  I love trying to figure out why they behave the way they do, what in their past tugs at their present.  I have to confess that Lakshmi was probably the most challenging one to write because of her ungrammatical, idiosyncratic English and the way she would turn a phrase.  In many ways, Lakshmi was a stranger to me—she grew up in the Indian countryside, she was the daughter of peasants, she had an eighth-grade education.  She had very little in common with me.  And she insisted in speaking in this very non-standard English.  So I had to get to know her in the course of writing this novel. Continue reading Out of Twenty: Thrity Umrigar, Author of The Story Hour, Answers 12 Questions

Tatiana de Rosnay, Mhairi McFarlane, Emma Healey| Reading Roundup

The Other Story - Looking At You - Elizabeth MissingThe Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay: I’ve been trying to read a novel by de Rosnay since the success of Sarah’s Key (I still haven’t read it). The premise of this novel appealed to me more than the execution, and I think that’s mostly a result of the jacket copy promising “a journey to uncover the truth that took him from the Basque coast to St. Petersburg”. They get to that journey, but not very quickly. The novel begins in the aftermath of Nick’s success as a writer, as he is struggling to begin the process of writing his second novel. Nick, in the aftermath of his fame and fortune, exhibits a complete lack of charm or appreciation for life that makes him  insufferable. I’m usually okay with characters I don’t like, but even Rosnay’s beautiful writing couldn’t make Nick more palatable or interesting.

Here’s Looking at You by Mhairi McFarland: Loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, this novel was funny and engaging at times but stylistically was not my cup of tea. There was a lot of dialogue in this book–pages and pages of it. I don’t love that, but I did enjoy the interactions between the main characters. I suspect I would have liked this a lot more had it been shorter.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey: I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did. However,  I was completely absorbed in Maude’s struggles with her deteriorating mental state, her race against time and her own memory to solve  the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth, and another mysterious disappearance from her past. Healey’s skillful depiction of elderly Maude’s limitations and confused musings set a deliberately slow and thorough pace for the reader. While some may find it frustrating to be lost in the myopia of Maude’s mind, I reveled in the depth of perspective Healey provides a character with Alzheimer’s. I loved the atmosphere of the novel and its engaging depiction of present and World War II Britain.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

Literary Movie News: Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper in the Movie Adaptation of Ron Rash’s Serena


Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are reuniting to star in Ron Rash’s Serena, and the only thing I am worried about is that I haven’t read the book yet. The trailer makes it look all kinds of angsty and dramatic, it’s also period piece to boost, ya’ll. The goal will be to read it before I see the movie, and my motivation to do this is doubled by the fact that I’ve read some of  Nothing Gold Can StayRash’s powerful and moving collection of short stories.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review