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.
Summer is in full swing, and this means my CSA share is full of delicious tomatoes. So I'm especially happy to share this recipe from Mario Batali's Molto Gusto, one of our favorite July cookbooks. It's full of "go-to recipes for creating your own incredibly inviting “pro-planet” meals," says cooking columnist Sybil Pratt. Try for yourself!
10 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 ½ pounds assorted ripe tomatoes (choose a combination of colors, types, and size), such as Brandywine, purple Cherokee, cherry, pear, peach, and/or Green Zebra)
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch basil (Genovese, lemon, Thai, or fino verde), leaves removed, or about 1 cup mixed fresh basil leaves
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
If using cherry or grape tomatoes, cut them half; reserve the juices. Core the remaining tomatoes and slice them, reserving the juices. Arrange the tomatoes on the cheese.
Whisk the vinegar, reserved tomato juices, any liquid from the mozzarella, and the olive oil together in a small bowl.
Tear the basil leaves over the salad. Pour the vinaigrette over it, sprinkle with salt, and serve.
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?
Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier
Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster, Sept. 21, 2010
Each story in Zombies vs. Unicorns is about either zombies or unicorns, although Garth Nix's story "The Highest Justice" blurs the boundaries a bit with a unicorn who can bring the dead briefly back to shambling life. Other contributors include Cassandra Clare, Naomi Novik, Scott Westerfeld, Meg Cabot and Libba Bray, whose "Prom Night" is a standout. By turns gory, sensual, funny and somber, these stories may surprise, disgust or delight you, but they'll surely change the way you think about zombies and unicorns. And vampires? Who needs vampires?
Here's an excerpt from "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson, an impressive story by an author who was new to me:
Think of it like the best macaroni and cheese you've ever had. No neon yellow Velveeta and bread crumbs. I'm talking gourmet cheddar, the expensive stuff from Vermont that crackles as it melts into that crust on top. Imagine if right before you were about to tear into it, the mac and cheese starts talking to you? And it's really cool. It likes Joy Division more than New Order, and owns every Sonic Youth album, and saw you in the audience at the latest Arctic Monkeys concert, though you were too stoned to notice anything but the clearly sub-par cheesy mac you'd brought with you.
There's a bad drawing beneath the words, nothing like the blurry photos on the news, or the pictures you've seen of the corpses. The unicorn on the sign looks like one from the old fairy books, white, rearing, its mane flying out behind it in artful spirals. Just like a fairy tale, except for the fangs and the blood red eyes.
..."Maybe [it's] a fake one," says Katey, clinging to her boyfriend, Noah. "They have this patented process where they graft the horns of a baby goat together, and it grows up with one horn. Like a bonsai tree. We learned about it in Bio class."
I shudder and move away from the tent. Before unicorns came back, people used to do that and pretend it was this gentle, magical creature. No one realized the old stories were lies.
A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor addresses the "summer slide", or the learning loss that often occurs in children during the summer break from school.
Here at BookPage, we were particularly interested in one reported study:
In a study that compares students who received free books over the summer with students who didn’t, Richard Allington, an education professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, found encouraging results. He tracked low-income first- and second-graders in Florida who chose a dozen free books at their reading level for three summers in a row.
“The effect was equal to the effect of summer school,” Professor Allington says. “Spending roughly $40 to $50 a year on free books for [each kid] began to alleviate the achievement gap that occurs in the summer.”
The study couldn’t show how many of the books the students actually read, but the students who sent in reading logs answering brief questions about the books showed even stronger achievement gains.
Super Sad True Love Story is Gary Shteyngart's third novel (after The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan), and it is "scary but exhilarating," according to BookPage contributor Alden Mudge. Alden interviewed the author for our August print edition, and we'll post that conversation in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, check out this hilarious trailer for the book—featuring cameos by James Franco, Jay McInerney, Mary Gaitskill and others:
We wondered how Shteyngart got such a big crew of superstars to appear in his book trailer, so we asked Jynne Martin, Associate Director of Publicity at Random House, to give us the dirt. She wrote:
Gary had cabin fever this past winter and wrote the original script in January. He wrote in all the funny cameos—James Franco, Mary Gaitskill et al—and then we just had our fingers crossed that everyone would find the script as funny as we did. Amazingly everyone in the all-star cast immediately said yes, except Salman Rushdie who had scheduling conflicts, so the moment of Gary asking Salman if he writes his books in Indian is forever lost to the imagination. It was filmed this spring in the Random House offices and in Gary's actual NYC apartment. The actual footage we filmed is far more extensive than the 5 minute book trailer, and it was a terribly sad process trying to edit down so many funny moments to fit into a short trailer. Happily we'll be releasing some of the outtakes in the coming weeks, including Gary teaching James Franco how to roll a joint, and Gary discussing his "relations" with Simon AND with Schuster.
Will you read Super Sad True Love Story (on sale July 27)?
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?
Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, announced today that Knopf will publish the memoir of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Here's more from the press release:
The book, as yet untitled, will be a coming-of-age memoir by an American daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants. Sotomayor will write about growing up in the South Bronx; her relationship with her mother and the loss of her father when she was nine years old; her inspiration as a young girl to become a lawyer; her journey to Princeton University (on a full scholarship) and later to Yale Law School; and finally, to a life in the law, culminating with her appointment to the federal bench. . . The book will be published simultaneously in a Spanish-language edition by Vintage Espanol.
In November 2009, Atheneum published a bilingual picture book about Sotomayor titled A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx, by Jonah Winter.
Are you interested in Sotomayor's memoir? What's your favorite memoir by a public figure? (I'll stick with Dreams From My Father.)
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.
What blog posts did you enjoy this week? My picks include. . .
Looking for Salvation at the Sip ‘n See—Susan Gregg Gilmore’s Ideal Book Event
Posted on The Book Lady's Blog
I was first intrigued by Susan Gregg Gilmore's The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove when Trisha blogged about it in her roundup of "faceless" covers. Then I got really intrigued when I realized that the novel's jacket image has a picture of Nashville's (beloved--at least to me) Parthenon looming in the background. So, I read Gilmore's recent guest blog post on The Book Lady's Blog with interest, in which the author discusses her idea of a perfect book event: "the beloved, soon-to-be famous, Sip ‘n See." Check it out.
A Third-String Quarterback's Lookshelf
Posted by Lookshelves
Thanks to a link on largehearted boy, I have just discovered Lookshelves, a blog that examines other people's bookshelves. As site creator Meghan Beresford writes, "Lookshelves isn't exactly the same as thumbing through a friend's books or peering at a stranger's shelf (and it's certainly harder to borrow books this way). But it is probably as close as you're going to get online." Just for fun, do any of you want to share a tidbit about your own bookshelves? I'll go first: I recently moved to a new apartment, and its selling point to me was its built-in bookshelves.