Nashville author Bente Gallagher has written three books in a "Do-It-Yourself" cozy mystery series for Berkley under the name Jennie Bentley. This month, she hits bookstore shelves for the first time under her own name with A Cutthroat Business, a book set in Music City that stars Southern Belle realtor Savannah Martin.
So-and-so in this case is your character. Your main one, assuming you have one. Not everyone does. Some people write ensemble books, with whole casts of characters, all in the third person. Others, like me, spend all our time in one character’s head, and write as if we are that character. Given that, it’s not surprising that people wonder how much I have in common with my characters.
Yes, characters, because now I have two series going simultaneously, and two characters in whose heads I spend most of my time. There’s the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries I write for Berkley Prime Crime, under the pseudonym Jennie Bentley, and the brand new A Cutthroat Business, first in the Savannah Martin Southern real estate series, written as myself.
And to answer the question: I’m a little like both of them, but not too much like either. They’re not that much like each other, if it comes to that. Oh sure, they’ve both got their insecurities and their little neurotic quirks—as does their creator—but they’re two very different people from two totally different backgrounds, and if they have traits in common, they’ve gotten them from different experiences.
Avery Baker, the protagonist in the Do-It-Yourself series, is a New Yorker born and bred. A sassy city girl and hip textile designer, she’s used to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, so she feels very much like a fish out of water when she moves to tiny Waterfield on the craggy coast of Maine to renovate houses with her new boyfriend, hunky handyman Derek Ellis.
Savannah Martin, on the other hand, the main character in A Cutthroat Business, is a gentle-bred Southern Belle from a small town in Middle Tennessee. She’s sweet and ladylike, quite traditional, not to mention hyper-aware of having to say and do the right thing at all times.
All her life, Savannah has done what was expected of her, from going to finishing school in Charleston and coming out at the Christmas cotillion, to attending the university where her mother and father went and marrying the man her mother approves. Through it all, she fully expects that by doing everything right, life in turn will be perfect.
That is, until she learns that her perfect husband is no such thing, but instead is lying, cheating scum. At which point Savannah divorces his posterior and strikes out on her own for the first time ever. Instead of scurrying home to her family’s antebellum mansion in tiny—and fictitious—Sweetwater, to lick her wounds and wait for her mother to arrange another marriage with another suitable Southern gentleman, she stays in Nashville and begins to carve out a life for herself. For the first time, there’s no one looking over her shoulder and no one passing judgment on her actions. She gets a real estate license—in spite of her mother’s assertion that real estate is a cutthroat business, unfit for a lady—and starts to develop the kind of life she, Savannah, wants.
Into this mix falls the dead body of a competing realtor—chubby throat cut from ear to ear—as well as the last man on earth Margaret Anne Martin, Savannah’s sainted mother, would want her daughter to get involved with. Rafe Collier is the black sheep of Sweetwater, the boy Savannah’s mother, and every other mother in town, warned their teenage daughters about. Six feet three inches of testosterone and trouble, with a murky past and an uncertain future—not to mention a Harley-Davidson and enough sex-appeal for two men—he’s not the kind of guy a sweet Southern girl should want to tangle with, in any sense of the word.
Of course he’s also damn near irresistible.
So now Savannah has to figure out who killed real estate queen Brenda Puckett, and avoid getting killed—or kissed—by Rafe, all while trying to make a success of her new career before the money in her savings account runs out and she has to go back to selling make-up at the mall. And oh yeah, she has to do it while keeping the whole thing from her family, who would have collective fits if they knew what was going on...
So that’s Savannah. As for me, the author? Well, I’m neither a Southern Belle nor a hip New Yorker, although I’ve lived in both places. I’m not sassy and I’m not blonde, and I haven’t been single for quite a few years. I’ve never had a cheating boyfriend or husband, and I’ve never tangled with anyone I shouldn’t, in any sense of the word. I’ve also never stumbled over dead bodies or buried treasure or anything else that I write about. But that’s the beauty of writing, isn’t it? And of reading, for that matter. You get to be whoever you want for a while, whether you have anything in common with that character or not. And that’s a beautiful thing.
A Cutthroat Business went on sale June 29. Find out more about Bente Gallagher and her alter ego, Jennie Bentley, on their website.
As a Francophile who welcomes any excuse for a summertime celebration, le quatorze juillet is one of my favorite holidays. To commemorate the French fete nationale, pour a kir or other apèro and sit down with one of these reading selections.
The grand finale of the fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower on July 14, 2009.
France in fiction
Anyone with an interest in French literature shouldn't miss Suite Francaise, or any of the rediscovered works of Irène Némirovsky, a Franco-Russian novelist who chronicled WWII in her books as the country crumbled around her.
There's a lot of Marie Antoinette fiction out there, but Sena Jeter Naslund's moving portrait of the misunderstood queen, Abundance, belongs at the top of the list.
And who could forget Peter Mayle, whose Year in Provence sparked the "expat memoir" craze of the turn of the millenium? He's now moved on to novels like A Good Year, which became a movie starring Russell Crowe.
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French lives and history
French cuisine is (deservedly) world-famous, and French chef Jacques Pépin is one of its best-known faces. In his memoir, The Apprentice, Pépin discusses the influences on his cooking style.
Few write as lovingly about the joys of French food and culture as Julia Child, and her posthumous memoir, My Life in France, is excellent reading. Her great-nephew, Alex Prud'homme, talked to BookPage in 2006 about the book.
Mirelle Guiliano caused a sensation with French Women Don't Get Fat—in a BookPage interview about her follow up, French Women for All Seasons, she shares more secrets for staying slim.
Books about the ups and downs of expat living in France abound, but anyone who's ever tried to master the language should not miss David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day. For a more traditional take, Catherine Sanderson's Petite Anglaise is a charming look at an Englishwoman's transition to French culture.
And don't miss the works of Graham Robb, an Englishman who brings the culture and history of France to life in his well-researched and readable books. I'm in the middle of Parisians right now and loving it.
Do you have a favorite book with a French angle?
This year, there was a little something extra going on at the American Library Association's annual conference. Random House Audio's Listening Library decided to have an open call to let fans read a page of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for a new audio recording—which would be completed before the weekend was over.
By Sunday evening, they'd recruited 301 amateur voice actors, including authors like Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead, Libba Bray, Grace Lin, Jon Scieszka and Ken Burns. The youngest reader? Six-year-old Lillian Imhoff.
And another clip from Christopher Paul Curtis.
The clips will be edited together and released as a digital download. Will you listen?
If you thought Lionel Shriver couldn't come up with a more provocative topic than health care to use as inspiration for fiction, think again—the author is planning to frame her next book around the issue of immigration.
In a March interview with Chicago's Victoria Lautman, Shriver said that she had an idea for her next book, although "it's not very advanced."
She continued, "For many years now I've wanted to tackle the subject of immigration, and especially to try to be a little sympathetic with this side of the equation where you're the host population and you're a little uncomfortable with it. This is political dynamite and I'm sure I'm going to hate myself for taking this on. It is self-destructive to come anywhere near this topic, but I can't resist it." Turns out she's already come near it at least twice in articles that hint at the ways she might tackle the issue. The Standpoint Magazine interview in particular provides a lot of food for thought.
Shriver said she plans to start the book after the publicity for So Much for That dies down. Although I find the premise intriguing, I can't help but hope immigration is handled with a lighter touch than health care was in So Much for That, where the dialogue occasionally crossed into preachy polemic territory. (Read my BookPage review of that book here.) But who am I kidding? I'll read it regardless; Shriver's fierce intelligence and priceless observations on human nature make anything she writes a worthwhile read.
We've written about blurbs here on The Book Case before, most recently when our editor Lynn Green admitted that in spite of some skepticism, they led to her discover of A Mountain of Crumbs.
Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude. David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it. To the End of the Land is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense. To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.
Whoa. Not only is this a bit . . . intense, one has to wonder if it caused any tension in the Krauss-Foer literary household. The Guardian notes that Grossman's story—"of an Israeli mother, Ora, who sets out for a hike in Galilee with her former lover in order to avoid the 'notifiers' who might tell her of her son's death in the army"—sounds interesting in its own right, and he's received many accolades for his past works for fiction and nonfiction. Still, as someone who's looking forward to Krauss' own October release, Great House, this recommendation, however effusive, does make me more inclined to pick up this 592-pager.
What about you? Does a blurb like this make you more or less likely to read the book?
One of the most promising short-story collections in recent years hit bookstores in September 2006. Karen Russell's St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was as creepy and magical as the title implies, collecting 10 eerie tales set in South Florida swampland. Russell, who is 29, was included in the New Yorker's Top Writers Under 40 list, and her debut novel, Swamplandia!, will be published by Knopf in February 2011.
According to Russell, the novel picks up where the story "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" left off and follows the Bigtree Family Wrestling Dynasty, who have fallen on hard times. There's a new alligator wrestling theme park in town, and Ava's brother has started working there; Ava's big sister is having an affair with a ghost; and no one knows where to find Ava's father.
You can read an excerpt of "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" from St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves here.
Audrey Niffenegger's The Time-Traveler's Wife has become a modern book club classic. Our book club columnist Julie Hale thinks Niffenegger's follow up, the creepy Gothic tale Her Fearful Symmetry, which has just been released in paperback, will prove just as appealing: "Niffenegger writes with persuasiveness and originality about matters of the heart and matters of the afterlife."
What is your book club reading this month?
Some of you were pretty psyched when we posted about Jan Karon's In the Company of Others back in April. So when the galley came in today's mailbag, I felt like I had to share the opening lines with you:
Sheets of rain lashed the windshield; the high beams of their hired car barely penetrated a summer twilight grown black as pitch. It was a classic Irish downpour.
The road had narrowed to a single lane scarcely wider than a sheep track and was bordered by dense hedges. He took Cynthia's hand; his wife's fear of being hemmed in was only slightly greater than his. Crammed into the rain-hammered Volvo with a carton of books and a testy driver and pressed on either side by the sullen hedges, he counted this very moment as the reason he was no traveler.
The flight from Atlanta to Dublin had lived up to his worst expectations. Following a delay of seven hours due to storms in the Atlanta area, the trip across the Pond had been an unnerving piece of business which shortened his temper and swelled his feet to ridiculous proportions. Then, onto a commuter flight to Sligo airport at Strandhill, where—and this was the final straw, or so he hoped—they met the antiquated vehicle that would take them to the lodge on Lough Arrow. When he located an online Sligo car service a month back and figured out how to dial the country code, hadn't he plainly said the trip would celebrate his wife's birthday as well as her first time in Ireland? Hadn't he specified a nice car?
Excerpt from In the Company of Others by Jan Karon, published October 19, 2010 by Viking Books.
Room by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown • $24.99 • September 13, 2010
As a longtime fan of Emma Donoghue, I was eager to read Room the moment I heard about it. I took a copy home over the weekend, but didn't have a chance to pick it up until Sunday night. My plan was to read "just a few pages" before bed. An hour and a half later I had to force myself to put it down. Not since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time have I been so compelled by a child narrator: just-turned-five Jack's account of his life as a captive in an 11 x 11-foot room with his mother is especially powerful because for him, it is not a nightmare. Thanks to his imaginative and loving mother, he is as close to normal as a child raised without other contact can be.
"Can they come here sometime for real?"
"I wish they could," she says. "I pray for it so hard, every night."
"I don't hear you."
"Just in my head," says Ma.
I didn't know she prays things in her head where I can't hear.
"They're wishing it too," she says, "but they don't know where I am."
"You're in Room with me."
"But they don't know where it is, and they don't know about you at all."
That's weird. "They could look on Dora's Map, and when they come I could pop out at them for a surprise."
Ma nearly laughs but not quite. "Room's not on any map."
"We could tell them on a telephone, Bob the Builder has one."
"But we don't."
"We could ask for one for Sundaytreat." I remember. "If Old Nick stops being mad."
"Jack. He'd never give us a phone, or a window." Ma takes my thumbs and squeezes them. "We're like people in a book, and he won't let anybody else read it."
Kiera Cass, who has sold three books in a YA series pitched "as The Hunger Games meets "The Bachelor," following a 17-year-old, one of the eligible young women selected to compete to become the next queen, who finds herself falling in love despite only wanting to break her family out of the lower castes and leaving her boyfriend at home." The book will be called The Selection and will be released early in 2012.
As a Hunger Games fan (who recently met Suzanne Collins!), and a fascinated follower of the train wreck commonly known as "The Bachelor" franchise, this announcement pretty much blew my mind and inspired me to create the following graphic. Kiera, if you need a cover artist, call me! We'll have to wait until 2012 to see if the reality measures up to my imagination.