Carl Hiaasen Answers Some Questions About Razor Girl

Razor Girl

Carl Hiaasen

Q. There’s a very, um, interesting fender bender that kicks off RAZOR GIRL–what inspired it? Even by your standards it’s out there.

A. Years ago there was a car accident in the Florida Keys involving a woman who was shaving her “bikini area” while driving down U.S. Highway One. Apparently this is just as dangerous as texting while driving. One of my sons sent me the newspaper story and I spent a long time trying to figure out how to tastefully work the concept into a novel. So, that’s how RAZOR GIRL starts.

Q. The book revolves around some of your wildest characters to date. Let’s start with Merry Mansfield, the Razor Girl herself. She’s relentless, hilarious, and disarmingly charming. What made you want to base a novel around a female character like her?

A. I’ve always liked strong female characters who were smarter than the men in their lives–Erin in STRIP TEASE, JoLayne in LUCKY YOU, Honey Santana in NATURE GIRL, to name a few. But I’d have to say Merry Mansfield is my new favorite. She’s cool, very clever and totally unflappable. As I was writing this book she did all kinds of wild things to surprise me, which made it fun.

Q. Buck Nance is a redneck reality star in the Duck Dynasty mold, and a total fraud. What inspired you to write about such a character, and what do you make of the fact that, as you write in the novel, the “election of a black president brought a boom in TV reality shows featuring feisty rednecks”?

A. Being from the South, I’m fascinated by American’s fascination with redneck culture. I mean, one of the Duck Dynasty dudes spoke at the Republican convention! That sort of thing makes the job of a satirist extremely challenging, because how can you improve on real life when it’s reached this level of absurdity?

Q. Florida’s eroding shoreline plays a role here-one of the characters, Martin Trebeaux, is the owner of a company called “Sedimental Journeys” which supplies sand to replenish beaches( in his case, by stealing from other beaches). With sea levels rising, is this a growing business opportunity for your fellow statesmen?

A. The business of “beach renourishment”-which sounds more eco-friendly than “beach replacement”-has been around for decades in Florida and other coastal states. Beachfront property is the most valuable real-estate, so huge sums are expended to stop natural erosion. Which, of course, can’t be stopped. And now, with climate change, the process has been accelerated and the shorelines are receding faster than ever. Trebeaux’s problem is finding enough clean white sand to replace what’s being lost, so he simply starts swiping it from other beaches. It seems like a perfect Florida Scam, and I’m sure somebody’s already doing it in real life.

Q. Andre Yancey returns in RAZOR GIRL, though he’s still trying to work his way back into the good graces of the sheriff and get off of roach patrol. This time, the restaurant pests are Gambian rats, which  you say in the author’s note are real. Ever seen one in the flesh? Where and when?

A. I’ve never seen a giant Gambian pouched rat in the Keys, but they are definitely real. Somebody was breeding them as pets, and then set them loose. I’d love to see one in the flesh, if the pythons don’t find them first.

*********************************

Carl Hiaasen is one of the funniest guys I know.  And then you have Dave Barry with his new book, BEST STATE EVER.  He writes about some of this stuff that Hiaasen brings up in his book. And he expands on it. Really. And Dave’s is all non-fiction….

If you’re up for laughing your head off, get yourself a copy of RAZOR GIRL and BEST STATE EVER.

A Conversation With Laura Lane McNeal

author

Laura Lane McNeal

A Conversation With Laura Lane McNeal:

Q: What inspired you to write DOLLBABY?

In a way, I think I’ve waited all my life to write this novel, but it finally came down to a single life-changing event that inspired me—Hurricane Katrina. When New Orleans lay in ruins after the storm, far-flung politicians questioned whether a city below sea level was worth rebuilding. As much as it angered me to hear this, it gave me a renewed determination to do two things: embark on the writing career I’d put off for so many years, and tell the story of New Orleans, the way it was and never would be again. I wrote DOLLBABY for the people of New Orleans.

Q: How did you choose to set your novel in New Orleans during the civil rights era?

My original intention was to recapture a bygone era. I chose 1964 somewhat at random, as it was the beginning of some of my earliest childhood memories. It wasn’t until I began doing research, reading newspapers from the time, that I became cognizant of the extent of social change in the air, and I felt I couldn’t tell a story about New Orleans without the civil rights movement becoming an integral part of it. In a sense, writing the novel led me on my own journey, picking up pieces of a puzzle I didn’t know were missing.

Q: Do you have memories of New Orleans during this time?

New Orleans is steeped in the tradition that any life event is cause for celebration. Where else do they bury the dead above ground, have hurricane parties, dance around with napkins on their heads, or think sucking crawfish heads is loads of fun? On the flip side, I have vague memories of side windows at restaurants, separate drinking fountains, separate bathrooms, separate schools, war protests, and love-ins at Audubon Park. I was an outsider looking in, though, too young to understand what was going on around me.

Q: DOLLBABY is told through the perspective of 11-year old Ibby, an outsider to Southern culture, and Queenie’s daughter, Dollbaby.  Why was it important for you to include both of these voices in the story? 

I felt dual perspectives were vital to the story. Ibby’s voice lends the eye of a young impressionable girl who is just beginning to question the world around her — a new world she doesn’t quite understand. Dollbaby, who is older and wiser and from a completely different background, takes Ibby under her wing and explains the ways of the South. By doing so, Doll reveals her own inner turmoil as she struggles to embrace the ramifications of the changing times. In this way, their stories were able to overlap, intertwine and ultimately resolve themselves.

Q: What prompted you to write from the perspective of two young girls, rather than adults?

One basic theme that permeates the novel is discovery. From both Ibby’s perspective, as well as Dollbaby’s, the lingering question remains—who am I, and where do I fit in this world?  It’s a question everyone asks of herself at some point, which is why it remains so poignant. What does life, and ultimately death, mean? I felt this discovery was more powerful coming from a young girl who had very little perspective on the world around her. It is a coming-of-age novel, certainly, but it is more than that. It also asks the question—what do I do when I get there?

Q: How much of your own life permeates this story? How have your experiences with New Orleans affected the way the Ibby encounters Southern life?

Southerners are natural storytellers, keepers of their own oral history, so when I decided to write the novel, I rounded up tales I’d heard as a child, threw them into a big pot, and added a pinch or two of my own story now and then. It became clear that I needed a character able to discover New Orleans from a fresh point of view in order to translate these peculiar customs to the reader without having to explain them outright.

Q: Did your writing process entail any research into the Civil Rights era?

I researched the novel for well over two years before I sat down to write it. The research ran the gamut from re-reading Southern classics such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Faulkner’s Light in August, books about old New Orleans and Southern folklore, as well as books by respected black authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and Toni Morrison. I read the newspapers of the time, both the regular dailies and the black weeklies. And finally, I read books including Voices in Our Blood, a literary anthology of the most important interpretations of the civil rights movement, past and present, a book I highly recommend.

Q: New Orleans truly becomes a character in DOLLBABY. What is it about this city that you hope readers will understand after reading DOLLBABY?

In New Orleans, there is a saying — you can leave New Orleans, but the city never leaves you. The language, cuisine, architecture, the mix of cultures, the way we celebrate life, even the way we celebrate death, can’t be duplicated. New Orleans has always been a place where people from all walks of life live in close proximity, creating a shared culture, a sort of commonality that exists regardless of race or background, a diversity that goes beyond skin color or place of birth. The novel lends a glimpse of what it was like to live in such a place, one I felt needed brought back to life after Hurricane Katrina so the city could once again breathe on her own, even if she remains a faded rose who hasn’t lost her thorns.

Q: This is your debut novel. What were some of the challenges you endured, and what have you taken away from the experience?

Upon completing the rebuilding our home after the flood, which took two years, I took the opportunity to enroll in a fiction writing class at Loyola University. For several years after that, I participated in a writer’s workshop. By the time I sat down to write DOLLBABY, I already had an initial novel under my belt. That experience gave me the confidence to write DOLLBABY the way I felt it needed to be written, from both a black and white perspective. My goal was to write a classic Southern novel that would have legs. I wanted to prove that you don’t need vampires or made-up worlds to tell an enduring and engaging tale, that meaningful stories exist in everyday life. What have I taken away from the experience? You have to believe in yourself and be passionate about what you’re doing. I’ve also learned there are many more stories out there for the telling!

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading DOLLBABY?

I think Norman Mailer said it best: “Novels go happiest when you discover something you did not know you knew: an insight into one of your opaque characters, a metaphor that startles you… a truth… that used to elude you.” In a sense, I hope this is what readers will take away from DOLLBABY, a truth they didn’t know existed, but are happy to discover.

A Conversation With Ken Follett About Edge Of Eternity

Finale of The Century Trilogy

Edge of Eternity

EDGE OF ETERNITY, by Ken Follett, bursts  into the publishing world on Tuesday, September 16th. And everyone is gnashing their teeth, biting at the bit, to get at it. I thought a conversation with Mr. Follett might fuel the fire even more. So here you have it.

With the Century Trilogy, you set out to write a sweeping historical epic of the twentieth century; what does it feel like to have just complete it?

Mainly I feel relieved that it worked. When I embarked on the project I was not sure that I could tell the story of an entire century in fiction. I thought I might read some similar books by other authors and found that no one had ever tried to do this-which made it all the more daunting. But readers have loved the trilogy and I’m very happy about it.

Remind us, where did the idea for the Century Trilogy come from? Why the 20th century?

I wanted to recapture the magic of WORLD WITHOUT END but, fond as I am of the Middle Ages, didn’t want to become a “medieval writer.” At some point, in trying to figure out how to do that, I thought of the twentieth century-the most dramatic and bloodthirsty century in the history of the human race; an ongoing drama of war against oppressive regimes and of people struggling for independence. It’s a thrilling story and it’s our story, one that has touched us all either directly or through our parents or grandparents.

Why did you choose the title EDGE OF ETERNITY?

Throughout this period we all knew that nuclear war could break out at any minute and bring the human race to an end. In that sense we were living on the edge of eternity.

Unlike the previous two books in the trilogy, FALL OF GIANTS and WINTER OF THE WORLD, EDGE OF ETERNITY takes place in a more recent era, one that you grew up in. Was it more difficult to ear the historian’s hat in this case? Did you let your own memories guide any of your character’s experiences? Are there any autobiographical details tucked into the narrative?

Like my character Dave Williams, I learned to play the guitar in the early sixties. I was also a pretty cool dresser! Like Jasper Murray, I went to university in London and worked for the college newspaper-which was my first experience of writing for readers other than my school teachers. Like Walli Franck, I was thrilled to achieve success in America.

You did some unique research for this book, including personally retracing the Freedom Riders route via Greyhound Bus and visiting monuments like the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. How did these experiences help shape your writing, and how did they affect you personally?

Most of the cities are familiar to me-Berlin, Moscow, London, Paris-but I did make a research trip to Cuba, as I have a character in Havana during the Cuban missile crisis. I also visited cities in the Deep South of the USA where the great events of the Civil Rights era took place. Retracing the steps of the Freedom Riders was a profoundly emotional experience for me and for anyone who has any personal connection  with the issue of freedom and discrimination. In the sixties, civil rights leaders were vilified by the press and conservative politicians. When they were beaten up and killed, many people said they deserved it. Now there are statues to them all over the Deep South.

You also interviewed first-person witnesses to the era, like civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis and former White House intern Mimi Alford. What did you learn from them, and how did you incorporate it into EDGE OF ETERNITY?

John Lewis gave me insight into the almost saintly behavior of nonviolent civil rights protestors who did not retaliate when abused and even beaten. Mimi Alford told me what it was like to have sex with President Kennedy. Frank Gannon, who worked in the Nixon White House, convinced me that Nixon was not quite as bad as I had thought.

Like the previous two novels in the trilogy, EDGE OF ETERNITY has a number of real historical characters, including several heads of state. What are your thoughts on the key leaders of the era?

I came to admire both Kennedy and Johnson. I found that Nixon was a better president that I had previously thought. Both Reagan and George W. Bush were ineffectual in foreign affairs, despite the propaganda to the contrary. I have nothing but contempt for leaders in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe before the Gorbachev era.

Do you still read the reviews of your work?

I do read my reviews.  I particularly love it when readers-whether a reviewer in a national paper or someone I meet on the street-says once they started reading they couldn’t stop. It makes me feel like I must have done a pretty good job. 

So there you have it Just a little tidbit of what’s to come. My review will come on Monday, September 15. Stay tuned!

Ken Follett

Ken Follett

A Conversation With Stuart Rojstaczer

Stuart Rojstaczer

The Mathematician’s Shiva

Look who’s stopping by to discuss his new novel, THE MATHEMATICIAN’S SHIVA?   Stuart Rojstaczer tells us about himself and his writing. 

 

 

Q: Is this your first novel? Could you talk about what inspired you to write this book?

 

Actually, this is my third novel.  I wrote my first when I was 20.  It was a comic picaresque a la Thomas Pynchon and it was so terrible that I knew I had to get out of the novel writing business and get a PhD. in science.  Then in my forties I wrote novel number two at the behest of my daughter, a comedy about a university led by a lunatic president.  It too was terrible, so terrible that I felt very happy that I’d gone into science all those years ago.  I tried again in my fifties.  I remembered an incident from when my daughter was three.  A well-known Eastern European émigré mathematician was at our house.  All dinner long he kept staring at my daughter.  Then after dinner, he berated me for not teaching my three-year-old algebra because he was convinced, somehow, that she was a math genius.  I thought about that incident many years later.  “What would it be like to be an Eastern European math genius?”  I asked myself.  The result was The Mathematician’s Shiva.  It’s leaps and bounds better than my first two novels.  The third time was the charm.

 

Q: You’re a PhD geophysicist, and Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch, the narrator of your novel, is an atmospheric scientist. How did you come to fiction writing from a background in hard science?

 

I’ve always been a careful and serious reader of fiction, mostly Eastern European fiction and American fiction with strong European influences.  Off and on, I’ve written fiction for decades.  I wasn’t a talented writer, though.  Then in my fifties, I somehow developed what I thought was a unique voice.  I can’t explain how that happened.  It just did.

 

Q: Your novel is about academics and academic life, subjects that are very popular in contemporary fiction. Why do you think that these stories are so appealing, and why did you choose to write about academics yourself?

 

Academia is a closed setting, a small well-defined community.  In writing a novel, you need to focus on a group of people and the unit of an academic department or discipline is to my mind an ideal natural way to provide that focus.  I spent fifteen years as a professor.  I understand the academic mindset well.  Write about what you know, they say.

 

Q: How much did you draw from your own experiences in writing this novel?

 

The novel has some autobiographical elements, certainly.  The opening is highly autobiographical, for example.  There is a scene where Rachela and her family go to a Russian cultural event and she tries, despite the inevitable tumult that will ensue, to get the Russian performers to defect.  This is something my mother did at least once a year.  But overall about eighty percent of the novel and the characters created come wholly from my imagination.

 

Q: Though the novel revolves around the death of Rachela Karnokovitch—the narrator’s mother—and describes the difficulties of life in Eastern Europe under Stalinism, it’s also very funny. How do you balance comedy and tragedy in your writing, and why do you feel that that’s important?

 

I think this approach to writing and life—dealing with tragedy through farce and acidic humor—is embedded in Eastern European culture and is especially embedded in Eastern European Jewish culture.  It was part of my day-to-day growing up.  My parents lived through so much horror in their early years that it would have been impossible and intolerable for them to confront it head on.  Comedy is how my family deals with tragedy almost always.  It softens the blow.  It’s usually an acceptable way to state displeasure and heartbreak over oppression.  I think this approach is probably fairly common with cultures that have been subject to cruelty and worse for centuries.

 

 

Q: Rachela was a brilliant mathematician working in a difficult, male-dominated field. Was her character inspired by anyone in your own life or from history?

 

I’ve had academic female friends who have told me in painful detail of their difficulties with male colleagues and male leadership in academia.  The playing field is not close to being level.  Sexual harassment is common.  Most feel that they cannot complain because it will be detrimental to their professional standing and note that those who do complain are vilified.  Then there is the problem that their work is slighted simply because they are female.  Those stories influenced my writing, certainly.  There was also the example of my mother, who in her later years ran construction crews and built a subdivision from scratch.  She, too, was in a male dominated field (even more so than my female academic colleagues), but she had the advantage of having a huge personality and she had lived through WWII.  Nothing could intimidate her.  She could scare people, male and female, with her intensity.  I thought about what it would take to succeed in mathematics in the 1950s as a woman.  That person would have to be even more intimidating than my mother could be in the face of adversity and would have to be leagues smarter than any male in her field.  She’d have to be tall and disarmingly good-looking.  That’s how Rachela Karnokovitch was born.

 

Q: History and memory play very important roles in your novel. How did these forces affect you as you wrote the book?

 

I come from a family that had to flee their home because of war.  They didn’t come to America because they wanted to be here.  They came because they had no home left.  When your life and past are torn from you like that—when you don’t have even photographs to remind you of a life you view with fondness—you cherish your memories and live them again through narrative.  That’s what my father did, certainly.  He would tell stories about Europe and the war at our dining room table in broken English.  People would come to our house and listen.  My mother would serve cake and tea.  That would be something fairly typical for an evening’s entertainment in my home.  I can talk about great writers who have influenced me, but those stories of the past that my father used to tell Americans in our home—which were a mix of the real and completely fabricated—are the most significant influence on my writing.

 

Q: What writers do you admire, and why? How have they influenced your own writing?

 

Chekhov is at the top of the list because he had far more understanding about the intricacies of the human mind, heart and soul than anyone I’ve read and he could be articulate and plain spoken at the same time.  That’s what I aim for.  Then there is the mordantly comical approach of Gogol.  Recently I reread him after a forty-year hiatus and I was amazed by how close my writing was to his.  I cannot write without using comic elements.  Dickens always kept the plot front and center and wasn’t afraid to use emotions to drive a story; sometimes I need to be reminded of that to keep my own work from being too cold and erudite.  Mendele and Malamud looked at traditional Jewish life with both tenderness and acidic humor and both are never far from my mind when I write.

 

Q: What do you love most about this book, and what do you hope that your readers will love about it?

 

It’s a book about how people can, through passion, hard work, and talent, overcome obstacles and still be aware of the irony that luck—both bad and good—plays a central role in their lives.  I hope readers will laugh out loud, cry now and then, and fall in love with the central characters, who are full of vitality and still maintain a positive, if somewhat gimlet-eyed, outlook despite the many tragedies they have endured.

 

Q: What are you working on now?


A novel about a community of Holocaust survivors in the 1960s and 1970s, which has to deal with the American equivalent of a pogrom: a planned freeway that will tear their neighbourhood apart.  Right now, like The Mathematician’s Shiva, it’s a comedy.

 

 

Fun And Enlightening Interview With David Fuller, The Author Of Sundance.

David Fuller

Sundance: A Novel

SUNDANCE is a novel written by David Fuller. It’s brand spanking new and is just in time for Father’s Day. But, hold your horses girls, it’s just as great for women.

Almost everyone remembers the movie BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That Redford face will always be attached to my vision of Sundance. Now, David’s taken this classic story up another notch; one that I think you are going to love!

David Fuller has so graciously offered to answer some questions about himself and his experience writing this amazing novel.

Author

David Fuller

 

Q:David, have you always been fascinated with the legend of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

Thank you for your kind words, Jean.  I am happy to answer your questions, and very glad that you asked.

My high school age son, Mark, asked me a question this past weekend for his history class that put me back in 1969.  To brush up on the events of the day, I looked up 1969 and discovered, to my delight, that BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID came out that year.  When it came out, I went to see it at the old Edens Theater in Northbrook, Illinois.  It made one hell of an impression on me, this very cool film with the coolest movie stars of the day, full of humor and gun battles, more humor, and an ending that wasn’t like anything Big Hollywood Movies had been delivering up to that point.  I mean, you don’t kill off Paul Newman and Robert Redford!  So yes, from an early age I was fascinated if not with the legend of Butch and the Kid, certainly with the movie, which most of us didn’t question in terms of veracity.  We knew movies stretched the truth, and we weren’t concerned if it was real or not, because it was so cool.  It wasn’t until I did research for my novel that I learned that the great William Goldman, screenwriter of BUTCH AND THE KID, had done his homework, and what he wrote was structurally true to history.  My friends and I quoted lines from the movie ad infinitum, ad nauseum, and, at key life moments, you can still hear me crack wise with “I can’t help you, Sundance.”


The movie is the reason the world knows about Butch and Sundance.  There was no coverage of their supposed deaths, as it happened far away, in South America.  The letters and documents from Bolivia in 1908 about the deaths of the Yankee robbers did not name them.  Also, I read somewhere that their deaths were not reported in the United States until the mid 1930s, so it makes sense that they fell out of the public consciousness.  The movie brought them back to us.

Q: How did you go about doing your research? Have you visited the places you are writing about?

 

I lived in New York City for a brief time after college, young and broke and looking for a job.   I had a feel for the city at that time, but not its history.  While I have stood in the shadows of buildings and bridges that were built in the early 20th Century, it is difficult to connect modern Manhattan to the Manhattan of 1913.  Similarities exist in terms of geography, size, and intensity, of course, but I needed to understand how the city worked at that time.  I needed to know about electricity in 1913, transportation, vehicles and horses, and communication.  I needed to know about weapons and medicine, neighborhoods, subways, and the bridges and tunnels of that day.  That meant I had to immerse myself in research about a very particular New York City.  I spent a lot of time perusing photographs of the era, as well.  I did the same with the West:  Rawlins, Wyoming, the Outlaw Trail, and Browns Park.  A great deal of my research was done at my desk, in Santa Monica, California, although I consulted with experts whenever possible.

Q: Did you discover that the body of Longbaugh was missing from the grave during your research or, is this something you had been speculating about all along?

I had no idea that Harry Longabaugh’s body was not found in San Vicente, Bolivia, when I conceived of the story, or even when I started writing the novel.  I just assumed Butch and Sundance were killed coming out of a doorway in a freeze-frame, looking a whole lot like Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  When I discovered later that their bodies were not where they were expected to be, I found that to be a delightful coincidence.  I read Ann Meadows’s book, DIGGING UP BUTCH AND SUNDANCE, and learned that, from the letters of those who had been around during the time Longabaugh and Parker were supposed to have been killed, there were discrepancies surrounding the story of their deaths.  This is not unusual, eye-witness accounts are notoriously unreliable.  The fact that certain ‘facts’ are in doubt in no way suggests that Butch and Sundance were not there.  But ‘there is that possibility,’ if I may again quote William Goldman.

By the way, Harry spelled his name “Longabaugh.”  Other members of his family apparently spelled the name differently, and the Pinkertons wrote his name as “Longbaugh.”  I made a conscious choice to spell his name “Longbaugh” in the novel, as I tripped over the extra syllable when reading the name on the page.  This also gave me a way to make the character my own.  But as you and I speak historically of him, I go by the spelling of his name as he spelled it.

 Q: I love that you have managed to make this western into a love story. You must be a romantic at heart. Was it difficult to do this?

This is my favorite question, and I am pleased to get a chance to answer it.  I thought of the idea of a Sundance Kid-like character some twenty years ago.  I was writing screenplays at that time with my writing partner, Rick Natkin, and we were throwing a football around in my back yard, tossing ideas back and forth, with my dog on the grass waiting for one of us to drop the ball.  I had this idea of an outlaw similar to the Sundance Kid (I tried for years to think of a good moniker for the character — at the time I probably subbed in ‘the Moonwalk Kid,’ or something equally terrible, figuring I’d come up with a better name later) who came out of prison in Arizona, a fish out of water in a changed world.  A teenaged boy out to make his bones comes gunning for him.  Moonwalk Kid (really, my sincere apologies) kills the boy in self-defense and has to run.  He runs to New York City and comes up against the Black Hand.  That was pretty much it, a cowboy traveling east, going up against Italian gangsters who would one day become the Mafia.  Rick loved it.  I basically shrugged.  I thought it was too obvious and because I knew how the movie would turn out, I wasn’t interested in writing it.  Rick said he would write it, and I said, Be my guest.  But Rick never did write it, and as the years passed, the Moonwalk Kid (ouch) would come back to me here and there, and some new piece of the story would shift into place.  Then I’d file the idea away and go back to whatever I was working on.  One night maybe five years ago I woke up in the dark wondering why I was being so damned pure, that I could make him the Sundance Kid if I wanted to.  Once I gave myself that permission, well, then it followed that he was in prison when he was supposed to have been killed, meaning he had to be there under an alias.  The story became more interesting, but something was still missing, and I was no closer to writing it.  After SWEETSMOKE was published, I was 200 pages into another novel, and I was beginning to realize that my publisher was going to hate it.  At that time, Sundance began to seriously poke at me, because Etta had stepped into the story.  Etta going ahead to New York while Harry was in prison and disappearing down the rabbit hole was the final piece; once Harry had an emotional reason to go to New York, then it worked for me.  When I understood that it was a love story, I knew I had to write it.  It had the kind of depth, excitement, and resonance that got my juices flowing.   

So after two-plus years of work on that other novel, I abandoned it and turned to SUNDANCE.  I thought I could research and write it in a year.  I was mistaken.  It took three.

Q: And, finally, what do you think really happened to the body of Sundance?

The storyteller in me wants to say that he went to England, survived the First World War, and is buried somewhere in the countryside on a rolling green hill under a large tree, forever alongside his beloved wife, Etta.

Because you just never know.

Other than that, I’m afraid I can’t help you, Sundance.

Jean, I thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share some of my stories.  It has been my pleasure to join you on your website.

Thank you, David, for being kind enough to answer my questions. I  look forward to begin handselling SUNDANCE.

 

 

Beth Hoffman Interview

Author

Beth Hoffman

 

Bestselling author Beth Hoffman stops by for a quick chat about Looking for Me.

With the international success of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, was it hard to dive into your next novel? 

Yes! Expectations are high, and writers can become nearly paralyzed when facing the challenge of crafting their second book. I had to constantly tell myself: Just write what you want to write. I was adamant in my desire to create something fresh and entirely different. What matters most as I maneuver through my writing life is that I keep growing and exploring new subjects, settings, and characters.

Did your interior design background influence your characters in Looking for Me?

Over the course of my design career I had the opportunity to observe true craftsmen work magic on antique furniture restorations. That’s why I wanted Teddi to be an expert in furniture restoration and faux finishing. But Teddi quickly took off with her own persona and quirks. One of the things I’ve learned while crafting a novel is to get out of the way and give my characters freedom to live and speak and think without much interference from me. Many times they’ve brought me major storyline revelations that I hadn’t even considered. It’s a fascinating process.

The wildlife portions of the novel are powerful. Did you do a lot of research? 

Since early childhood I’ve loved (and studied) wildlife and nature, so those scenes were easy to create. On my grandparents’ farm the crop fields backed up to hundreds of acres of dense woodlands that I often explored with endless curiosity. Fox, white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, woodchucks and countless birds (from raptors to tiny chickadees) were frequent visitors to our farm. Wildlife was a big part of our everyday lives.

Are you working on a new novel? 

As a matter of fact, I have two novels in the works and I’m having a hard time deciding which one I should concentrate on first. It’s a dilemma that I never thought I’d face, and it’s driving me crazy! I know myself well, and I can’t write them simultaneously, so I’m hopeful that after I finish the paperback tour of Looking for Me that I’ll know which novel should have my undivided attention.

Beth Hoffman is the internationally bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me. Before beginning her writing career, she was president and co-owner of an interior design studio. Beth lives, along with her husband and their four-legged fur-kids, in a historic Queen Anne home in Kentucky. Her interests include the rescue of abandoned and abused animals, nature conservancy, birding, historic preservation, and antiquing.

You can visit Beth’s website at: http://www.BethHoffman.net                                                                 

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BethHoffmanNewYorkTimesBestsellingAuthor    

Twitter: @wordrunner

 

A Conversation With Elisabeth Elo, Author of North of Boston, A Novel.

author

Elisabeth Elo

Q. Where did the idea for NORTH OF BOSTON come from?

A. Some years ago, I ran across a book about ambergris ( i.e.whale shit)- a substance that was once believed to have all kinds of magical, curative, and aphrodisiac properties, and is still used today as a fixative in some perfumes. The story of ambergris opens all kinds of windows into the human psyche–our fears and desires, our quests for beauty and adventure, and the lengths we will go to fulfill a dream, even when that dream is actually a delusion.

How a fascination with ambergris led to writing NORTH OF BOSTON involved many tiny steps that I could nor possibly reconstruct. But the path went something like this: ambergris, ocean, sense of smell, marine mammals, boats, perfume, the floor plans of boats, northern lands, cold. In fact, the path was more like a maze, the kind where you often end up right back where you started. Eventually, I had a whole lot of paper on my floor. ( This was back in the days before apps like Evernote, when people still printed things out.) Looking at the stacks of paper, I occasionally wondered whether I might be just a bit crazy, but I had somehow managed to develop a trust in the creative process– which is to say, in myself–so I plodded along.

At the same time, in a sort of parallel universe, I was dealing with a difficult protagonist who had a clear, compelling voice. She had been on my mind for a long time, and there was a sense of urgency in bringing her to life. I knew that part of her story took place on a boat, and that it included near-drowning. Meanwhile, she was enmeshed in various relationships–with a friend, a godson, a father. Each posed a significant challenge. At the age of thirty, she also was dealing with her failure to have found anything resembling love. She wanted to connect with people, but her aloof, independent personality got in her way. Yet she had a certain integrity. I knew she was the kind of person who needed a big adventure to find herself.

Q. Why did you choose to write a thriller?

  A. Because I love the strong protagonists. It’s ironic: people tend to think of thrillers and mysteries as being “plot-driven” instead of “character-driven.” But nothing could be further from the truth. In thrillers there tend to be a lot of secondary characters, settings, and plot points–the protagonist is the one who holds everything together and drives the action. She or he has to be tenacious, observant, and morally centered (with humanizing flaws thrown in ) because a weak character could not ride the bucking plotline with any success. In the best thrillers the protagonist doesn’t simply follow the clues as they emerge; she bends the plot to her will. It’s her creative and powerful impact on the book’s events that makes the mystery come out right in the end.

Q. Why first person?

A. In first person narration, readers are in the protagonist’s mind the entire time; there’s no place else to be. They see what she sees, know what she knows, and think what she thinks.  They are as limited as she is by her blind spots and foibles.

As an author, I find first person narration constraining and dream about the wide open vistas of the omniscient third. But I also know that one of the great powers of the novel (as opposed to film, for example) lies in the way it can describe the inner workings of a mind. The first-person narration is the ultimate in this kind of psychological exploration. I think it comes closer than any other art form to portraying what it really feels like to be a human being. Because we are all, always, in first-person mode–able with diligence to change ourselves but never to escape ourselves. So while we may be quite different from the protagonist superficially, on the existential level, our experience is the same. We are trying to develop our strengths and talents and overcome our weaknesses and biases, while simultaneously  trying to figure out which is which. Witnessing the struggles o a first-person narrator teaches us about our own.

Q. Your protagonist, Pirio Kasparov, has been described as remarkabe. What do you like about her?

A. Her heroic qualities. These are the same the world over and across every epoch: courage, perseverance, a practical intelligence, integrity, shrewdness, honesty, justified compassion. The problem is that, though we all have access to these qualities and display them at various times in varying degrees, we cannot always or reliably find out way to them. We have shortcomings. And those are the same the world over, too. The list of Pirio’s shortcomings is long and varied: mindless rebelliousness, a bit of laziness, misanthropy, reflexive anger, confusion about love and sex, cynicism, aloofness, and recklessness. Bless her heart. I like her as much for her shortcomings as I do for her strengths.

Q. Any plans for another book?

A. This summer I spent a few weeks in Yakutsk, a city of approximately 200,00 in the Sakha Republic of northeastern Siberia. It has a ballet, an opera, and a university. In the winter the average temperature is -40 degrees Fahrenheit. I traveled from Yakutsk to a small village called Cherkeh, on the other side of the Lena River, about a five-hour drive on deeply rutted, sparsely populated roads. The Siberian meadows are very green in summer, dotted with clear glassy lakes and tumbling streams, and the shaggy Sakha horses roam and graze where they will, without fences, and return to their homes of their own accord. The people in Siberia greeted my warmly and gave me a glimpse into their lives. My next novel will be set in Boston and this region. It will involve ballet dancers, political intrigue, and diamond mines. Stay tuned.

Interview With Mary Alice Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe

The lovely Mary Alice Monroe has very graciously offered to answered some questions I’ve put together about her new book, THE SUMMER GIRLS.

I will begin by saying you are absolutely going to fall in love with this first book in the series. Yes, there will be three in all. What a pleasure to know each summer for the next couple we can look forward to another installment. And, here to tell you more about these books is…… Mary Alice Monroe!

 

I have put together some questions for our Q&A. Your book is still very fresh in my mind.  It tackles so many issues. Okay, here we go.

Q. Is there a certain event that made you decide to tell the dolphins’ story? I guess what I’m asking is — Did something happen specifically, that made you want to write about them? And if so, what?

I have many ideas for stories related to species I want to write about.  There are so many…  I wait for some sign from the universe to tell me it’s time, NOW, to pick a specific one.  It can be an incident, a dream, or a person.  For The Summer Girls, it was several people.  I’m on the board of the SC Aquarium and three years ago Philippe Cousteau and Stephen McCullough (Florida Atlantic University) came to present with Charleston’s Dr. Pat Fair from NOOA about a 5 year sister study of resident dolphins here and in Florida. The study revealed that in Charleston 48% and In Florida 52% of resident dolphins were sick!  I was stunned.  They look so happy and healthy out there, but like their smile, that is deceptive.  The rate of neonate deaths for dolphins is up, as well. That, plus rising incidents of boat strikes, feeding of dolphins, and water quality issues. Philippe Cousteau and I were talking and he told me it was time to write the book.  I was inspired and began my research under the mentorship of Pat Fair.  I’ve since become a volunteer at The Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL. and consulted with MOTE Marine Lab in FL.  There were so many issues that I decided to write a trilogy.  


Q. Is there a house on Sullivan’s Island that is “Sea Breeze?” Or nearby?
Yes and no.  There is a street called “Sea Breeze” that goes to The Cove behind Sullivan’s Island.  The house I chose as Mamaw’s house is not on this street, but it does indeed exist on Sullivan’s Island.  I simply used creative license to move it.  I have the floor plan, indoor photos, etc. ,and like The Beach House on Isle of Palms, know Sea Breeze very well now– enough to set the family in it for three books.


Q. You have chosen to tackle several hot issues in this novel. One being alcohol abuse. Many families have members who struggle with this horrific disease that affects not only the user but the loved ones as well. Why did you decide to make Parker an alcoholic?

actions, flaws, strengths, and struggles to peel the onion, and elicit a fewFor the reasons you cited.  I look for parallels with issues facing families with the animal I am setting the story against, in this case, dolphins.  Dolphins seemingly become “addicted” to the free food offered by humans from boats, docks, etc. despite the fact it is not good for them.  Even destructive.  Given free food, its just too easy.  Choosing the issues to confront in a book is layered.  Once I selected Carson’s alcoholism, her genetic history had to be involved and all the repercussions, starting with her parents.  Carson’s tragic history is the source of her attachment disorder, but of course I can’t simply tell my readers her diagnosis.  My job as an author is to “show and not tell.”  I present the symptoms, her history, her re tears in the process.  

Q. You made Carson the focal point of this novel. And Mamaw, of course. Do you plan on delving deeper into the lives of Harper and Dora in the next two installments?

Yes.  All the girls will be present in each book, but the focus will be with one woman in each book.  For The Summer Girls I focus on Carson and the dolphin Delphine.  In book two, Dora is the focus, her role as a mother and wife in the process of divorce, a woman who is emotionally and physically falling apart.  In book three we delve into Harper’s shut-off life in the world of the internet.  Yet, each of the women’s stories will unfold in each book in the trilogy.  Including Mamaw and Lucille’s entwined history.  There are a lot of stories there, and the thread that will seam all three books together is the charismatic dolphin, Delphine.


Q. Austism is such a big issue these days. It seems everyone has someone in their family dealing with it, or, knows of a family who is dealing with it. Why did you make Dora’s son a special need’s child?

The themes I drew from my research of dolphins are communication, family bonds, and the process of healing and release.  Autism clearly presents issues of  communication for the family.  Also, I’ve worked with children with autism and dolphins at The Dolphin Research Center and the spark of connection between dolphin and child is a miracle to observe.  My husband is a child psychiatrist and has been my advisor on all things concerning the autism spectrum disorder.  My purpose for  Dora’s son, Nate, is to reveal how his involvement with the dolphin acts as a means of connection for him, for his mother, and all the family.  


Q. I know you’ve been spending time at the Dolphin Research Center. What are you learning now? It sure looks like you are making a lot of new “girl” friends:)

I am!  And I miss my girls at the Dolphin Research Center!  The humans, too!  Recently I returned from DRC where I volunteered for the second year.  This time I worked with the Pathways program for children with autism and the Odyssey program with Wounded Warriors.  In both programs I witness barriers broken and connections made that will hopefully endure.  I learned so much that I will share in my books.  As for girlfriends…  what a group of divas those dolphins are. So beautiful and full of personality!  My goal was to make friends with Tursi, the supermom of the front lagoon.  The previous  year she was upset with me for getting the “kids” too riled up and she put me in time-out! I’ll write a blog about that story to share all the hilarious details.  This year I was worried she’d still hold me suspect.  She recognized me immediately and welcomed me.  I’m always surprised when a dolphin remembers me after months absence, but I shouldn’t be. They are very intelligent and aware creatures. Each visit is unique. This year the boys stole my heart, especially Jax and Rainbow.  Again, blogs to come!


Q. Your sense of place is impeccable.  I know you live on Isle of Palm. Since you have become a best selling novelist, are you still able to move around without being pestered? And do the locals appreciate what you are doing to help the wildlife?

This is my home. I am just another neighbor here on the islands, another member of the Island Turtle Team. That’s the way I like it.  Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are separated by a spit of water and  our turtle team serves both islands. Folks who live here know and appreciate what all the members do for the turtles that everyone cherishes.  When I’m working on the beach, I don’t use “Monroe” because visitors come here because they’ve read my books.  I love meeting my readers, but when I’m on duty on the beach I’m just one of the team.  Once in awhile I see a car or a golf cart filled with women stopped outside my house, but its not the least bit invasive.   We’re really just a small town.   


Q. I was amazed and happy to see you use Kite Boarding in the story. I have just become aware of this extreme sport. One afternoon just before sunset I was at Barefoot Beach, Florida, when a Kite Boarder appeared in the distance. We had not seen one before and did not know quite what it was. I took a photo and did some research. Then you introduced Blake and his passion for Kite Boarding. Have you actually participated in the sport? It looks like a real rush, but scary as heck.

My daughter is an internationally known kite boarder and one of the very first women kite boarders on IOP and Sullivan’s.  So I know the sport well. Let me hasten to add this is NOT her story at all, but she did teach me about the sport. And the incident with the shark actually happened to her.  How could I not write about it!  When Gretta did kite boarding years ago, there were only a few out there.  Today the sport is exploding in popularity.  Not for me, however.  I’m blissfully too old for extreme sports.  In the next book Dora does kayaking… that’s more my speed!

Q. When will the second book of the Lowcountry Summer Trilogy be published? And are you working on it now? I am already chomping at the bit to get my hands on it.

Thanks so much!  I’m writing SUMMER SOLSTICE now and will have SUMMER’S END  finished by the end of the year to keep the trilogy seamless.  Gallery Books will publish one each summer–and there is a Christmas special in the works for the series, as well. You heard it first here!

Thank you so much for such an informative interview. Readers are going to love feeling like they’ve been behind the scenes with Mary Alice Monroe! And everyone’s going to want to run out and get their own copy of THE SUMMER GIRLS.

Interview With Beverly Swerling, Author Of Bristol House

author

Beverly Swerling

A Conversation with Beverly Swerling, author of BRISTOL HOUSE: A Novel. On sale April 9,2013. Viking Publishing.

Q. You are best known for your historical fiction, but in BRISTOL HOUSE you delve into a dual narrative visiting Tudor England, and contemporary London. Was it a difficult switch to writing in the 21st century? What made you decide to write a modern story?

 A. Not difficult at all! In fact, this book began with Annie, the 21st century women who is the lynchpin of the story. She was the first of the characters to begin speaking in my head. Then I heard Dom Justin the Carthusian and decided he was not a modern man–though there are still Carthusians –but a voive from Tudor times.

Q.BRISTOL HOUSE employs actual historical points such as monks being executed in Tudor England, the Kindertransport in WWII, and modern day Middle Eastern politics. Do you do a lot of research before you start writing, or as you form the novel? What is your process like?

 A. Normally for me the research accompanies the writing, but I read widely in history so it’s always a matter of delving deeper into things with which I’ve acquired some familiarity. In this case the woman who comes over with the Kindertransport then works at Bletchley is based on the true story of the mother of a dear friend. She’s a writer as well and I had to ask if she was going to use her mom’s story or if I might! ( Obviously she gave me her okay.)

Q. Annie is a fragile character. She lost her parents and brother at an early age, and then her son in a custody battle. Whey did you decide to make Annie an alcoholic?

  A. I simply needed a reason for her to not be crazy and yet go ahead and sign the lease after she sees the ghost. Or I had to change the way the scene was written. I liked it as it was so began thinking about why she might do that. Afraid she’s hallucinating? Yes, that would work. But why might she think that? Of, of course, she’s a recovering alcoholic. And that’s also why this assignment is so vital for her and why the stakes are so high…It made all Annie’s motivation make sense. At that point I was exercising novelcraft, not imagination. The former is, I think, the handmaid of the latter.

Q. BRISTOL HOUSE plays with the concept of supernatural versus preternatural. As the author, what did these concepts mean to you and how are they linked in the novel?

 A. A character–Rabbi Hazan–tells Annie he thinks her sightings are not about the supernatural, the mysterious after-life, but about time; a force of nature we do not yet entirely understand, i.e.preternatural. The rabbi mentions Einstein’s theoretical explanation of time as a river on which past, present, and future exist simultaneously with the past and the future around bends, so we can’t see them. Hazan also quotes T.S. Elliot’s BURNT NORTON, “…time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future…” What I’m doing in BRISTOL HOUSE is riffing on that concept. The voices of the monk and the goldsmith speak to us from The Waiting Place. It’s part of time, but neither past , present nor future. When my characters move beyond time to eternity I simply watch their retreating backs.

Q. Which did you enjoy working on more, the present-day events with Geoffrey and Annie or the Tudor sections involving the Jew of Holborn, and Dom Justin?

 A. It’s hard to day I enjoyed it more, but it was easier to write the historical material. It’s more concentrated for one thing; the modern section of the story is almost two-thirds of the novel. For another, there’s a sense in which you can be more flamboyantly dramatic in writing of earlier times. We see them in highlight as it were, whereas writing about our own era requires more skill in creating the web that the reader will find intriguing despite its “ordinariness.”

Q You’ve been a full-time write for a number of year, and a mentor to many aspiring writers. What is your number one recommendation to authors early in their career?

 A. Realize what if you are to be a professional novelist in today’s environment you have to do more than just write. Your publisher will market and publicize your work (thank you!) but you have to be fully engaged in that as well. The competition is simply too tough for it to be otherwise.

Q What are you working on now?

 A. In my head–where I first write–I’ve been spending a lot of time in Prague before and during WWII. Let’s say you were a young and beautiful woman and you had the opportunity to kill Adolf Hitler early on, maybe 1937, and you didn’t take it? And then you not only survive the war, you come out of it a princess; wealthy, successful–and with the blood of so many millions on your hands. Or so you think. Then, in New York in 20-something, your great granddaughter lives with paroxysms of deep, unexplained, existential guilt…

Ken Follett

Ken Follett

Ken Follett

Ken Follett is one of the most prolific writers in the world. And one of the most beloved. And one of my favorites.

With the release of his newest novel, WINTER OF THE WORLD, he brings us the second in a trilogy called  the Century Trilogy. FALL OF GIANTS was the first, taking place before, during, and after WW1. WINTER OF THE WORLD picks up where FALL OF GIANTS left us at the end of the first great war and going into the second.

I decided to do a two- day Ken Follett review period. Instead of just talking about the book, I wanted to present the author. His writing is bigger than life in the world of books. Both men and women enjoy his stories. He writes in language that draws you in, hooks you, and keeps you reading far longer than you might have intended.

Ken Follett was born on June 5, 1949 in Cardiff, Wales. He lives in Hertfordshire, England, with his wife Barbara Follett. They have five children and six grandchildren, between them.

Ken Follet’s  first book was published in 1978. EYE OF THE NEEDLE was a thriller that won the Edgar Award and became a film starring Kate Nelligan and Donald Sutherland. More than 100 million copies of his books have been sold all over the world. I have heard he has a full-time historian working with him. But he has tramped the ground of almost every place mentioned in his books. He says of WINTER OF THE WORLD: “I’ve visited virtually all the places in which major scenes occur.”

What makes reading Ken Follett so special and compelling for me is that his characters are so realistic and his research is spot on. I can always rely on him to supply a great story that I will be unable to put down. And will be itching to talk to someone else about immediately. He hasn’t let me down.

In the new book, WINTER OF THE WORLD, Follett wished to bring his readers a new aspect of WW11, something we didn’t already know. That was hard to do as this war has been done to death. Somehow,  came up with a piece of the Holocaust that is new to most of us. It really hasn’t been dealt with. He decided to deal with it. Amazingly well done. This aspect will shock, amaze, and even horrify you. There  is a name  for this atrocity: Aktion T4.

I could go on and on sending accolades Ken Follett’s way. But I really just wanted to give you a peek into the life of the man. Get ready for an unputdownable read in WINTER OF THE WORLD. And don’t forget to pick up some of those Follett books you may have missed. Like,  A DANGEROUS FORTUNE: my personal favorite!