Becky Masterman's suspense debut, Rage Against the Dying (Minotaur), has been drawing rave reviews from early readers. What sets this thriller apart from the crowd? Its heroine, Brigid Quinn, a retired FBI agent whose best years, it seems, are still ahead of her. Not since Mrs. Pollifax have readers seen a retiree with Brigid's savvy. We asked Masterman to talk about the origins of her boundary-breaking character.
Guest post by Becky Masterman
You could say that Rage Against the Dying has taken me 20 years to write. That includes the six novels I wrote just for practice, and that never sold. What makes this latest different, I’m told, is not the thriller plot, though it is fast-paced and has a truly heinous serial killer in it. The difference is the heroine, Brigid Quinn, an older woman who is retired from the FBI and not fitting very well into the world she always sought to protect for others.
People ask where I found this character. Is it me? No. Brigid is an unlikely combination of two real people: One is the retired commander at Fort Apache, The Bronx, who after getting about eight thousand cases under his belt, literally wrote the book on homicide investigation. He’s a tough guy, but at his own insistence, also "the last boy scout." It is said that the character of Kojak was based on him.
The other person is a woman in my book club. She has lived all over the world, hikes, plays golf twice a week. When we left a restaurant one night she wrote a note on a napkin and slipped it to a lone male diner. She’s 80 years old.
In their own ways, both these people, the homicide detective and the elderly friend, "rage against the dying." Through my stories, I can be like them.
Thanks Becky! Rage Against the Dying is on sale today. For more on the book and Becky, visit St. Martin's website.
What does it mean to have "the good life"? In her debut novel, Susan Kietzman explores this question through the lens of a wealthy woman—the wife of a CEO—who appears to have it all. Then her elderly parents move in, and her life is disrupted . . . and she is forced to figure out what really matters.
In a guest post, Kietzman describes her own understanding of what constitutes the good life—and how her ideas have changed through the years. If you also grapple with the meaning of "the good life," then you will enjoy Kietzman's novel. The Good Life is on sale today.
Finding the good life
By Susan Kietman
The term “the good life,” quick research tells me, can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, meaning people have been pondering its definition for ages. I didn’t think about it in a conscious, complex way until I was a grown up. But as a child, I knew exactly what it was.
I usually walked to and from elementary school with my brothers. As I got older, I was allowed to walk by myself. And I can distinctly remember walking home alone on the last day of school when I was in fifth or sixth grade because this is when I had my first “good life” moment. I meandered down the sidewalk daydreaming about the long glorious summer ahead of me— going to the beach, swimming to the raft, catching fiddler crabs at the end of the dock and running around barefoot until the soles of my feet looked and felt like leather.
As a teenager, the good life revolved around my friends. And, as in my childhood, it could be experienced in a single moment, on a single evening. The scenario usually went something like this: One of my friends picked me up in her car, and then we drove around town picking up as many girls as the front and back seats would hold. We arrived at the party house and “Free Ride” by Edgar Winter was playing so loudly on the stereo that we could hear it as soon as we emerged from the car.
As a mother with young children, I was often overwhelmed by everydayness; the physical and mental fortitude needed to get from morning to night trumped any stray philosophical thought. I do remember having a conversation with my mother-in-law, who had to undergo a medical procedure necessitating a couple of nights in the hospital. How nice, I said to her, to have 48 hours of quiet time!
The good life, back then, was a feeling rather than a concept. It was something that happened rather than the result of active planning and tireless pursuit.
It wasn’t until my children were older and I had more time to observe those around me that I began to contemplate the good life in financial terms. This, it seemed, was what everyone my age was doing: comparing what they had with what their neighbors had. Cars, houses, clothing, memberships, boats, second homes, vacation destinations all loomed larger than they ever had before. Is this, I wondered, the middle-aged adult version of the good life?
I further wondered what those who appear to have everything thought about the quality of their lives. Did they still compare themselves to their richer acquaintances, or did they think they’d arrived at the summit? Were they happy? The Good Life is an exploration—using a modern-day wealthy family as the vehicle—of material wealth and the pursuit of happiness.
I can't tell you how many conversations I've had about erotic romance over the past year. How many people—in real life and via social media—have asked: I loved Fifty Shades . . . but what can I read next? Or: Why are millions of people reading this trash? Everyone has an opinion about the popularity of erotic romance. My two cents? I just want people to find a book that suits their taste.
I will say that I've grown a bit bored of the whole innocent-young-woman-is-seduced-by-a-billionaire plotline. So I was really excited to learn of S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline, which gives the trope a feminist spin: What if the women control the fantasies? And I was intrigued by the novel's New Orleans setting. Forget boardrooms in big-city skyscrapers. Can you think of a better background for erotic romance than the French Quarter?
In a guest blog post, Adeline explains how she came to write erotic romance in the first place—and why her book stands out in a crowded market. If you've been on the fence about reading erotic romance, I hope you pick up S.E.C.R.E.T., which is on sale today.
Embracing the "what ifs" of erotic romance
By L. Marie Adeline
As a writer I always start with “what if.” When I set out to write S.E.C.R.E.T., a book about a woman named Cassie Robichaud who’s on a potent sexual journey, my “what if” had to do with my own reluctance to write erotica. The question became “What if you got over that fear and reached a wider audience, one now so clearly illuminated by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey?”
I’d always written about women’s struggles with intimacy. But I’d mostly get my characters to the bedroom doorway, then mutter, “Okay. Bye. Have fun. I’ll catch up with you later.” Maybe I’d linger for a kiss, but rarely did I watch it go down. Why? What if my idea of good (or bad) sex didn’t resonate with readers? What if my character’s proclivities were ridiculed?
When Fifty Shades began its bestseller climb, I had been working on a financial advice book. My editor basically dared me to man up (or woman up), and try my hand at erotica, and, well, I did. Following close upon the heels of my first literary “what if” came other questions:
What if my character wasn’t a very young woman but was a little older? What if I gave the story a feminist angle? What if a woman could learn to stay emotionally detached to men she’s sexually attracted to, and what if she could learn to be sexually attracted to men to whom she is emotionally attached? What if other savvier women taught her how to do that?
That’s what I feel differentiates S.E.C.R.E.T. from other novels in this genre. In my book, women help other women develop better sexual attitudes towards their partners.
In S.E.C.R.E.T., Cassie is recruited by a secret society of women in New Orleans that helps her overcome her sexual blocks. The group orchestrates nine daring sexual fantasies over the course of one year. With the group’s support, Cassie becomes more alive to herself. It’s not that Cassie doesn’t “fall” for some of these incredible men, but her guide, Matilda, is there to warn her of the pitfalls of mixing lust with love. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Matilda to tell us the truth about the Heathcliffs, the Rochesters and the Christian Greys? In Matilda’s mind, the men in S.E.C.R.E.T. are fine for sex. Perfect, in fact. But for true and lasting love, not so much. And Cassie needs to hear that from another woman who’s been there, done them.
That’s not to say Cassie isn’t on a romantic journey as well. There’s this guy, see, and of course it’s complicated . . . but in S.E.C.R.E.T., the erotic and romantic are explored separately before they finally, hopefully, come together at the end.
Here’s the key: For Cassie to have uninhibited sex with these fantasy men, she needs support and guidance from other women who overcame the same fears, the same reluctance, the same self-doubts Cassie has. She needs to see that women who take big risks often reap great rewards. She needs to be gently nudged out of her head and into the bedroom. The women in S.E.C.R.E.T. carved a path, and support Cassie, and frankly, that’s what E.L. James and other daring erotica writers have done for me. And for that, I’m grateful.
I am so excited to share news of The Plum Tree with readers of The Book Case. This is a historical novel by debut author Ellen Marie Wiseman, a first-generation German American who was inspired by her mother's experiences in Germany during World War II. The book is on sale now.
In the novel, Christine lives in a German village and works for the Bauermans, a wealthy Jewish family. She falls in love with son Isaac Bauerman—but their lives are complicated in very painful ways when Isaac is arrested and sent to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. But Christine is desperate to be with him as she's left on the home front.
Ellen's publicist shared with me why the author had to tell this story:
Ellen grew up listening to her German relatives tell tales of poverty, hunger, bombings, and constant fear—a time when the country was made up of women, children and the elderly struggling to stay alive while the men were drafted and sent off to fight. In writing the book, Ellen’s hope was to put a face on the countless destitute German women and children who lived and died under Hitler's regime, most often as victims of their government’s actions.
Here, you can see how the author's family history inspired the book. These are her own family photos and the captions and explanations are in her voice.
This photo was taken to send to Opa while he was off fighting on the Eastern Front. At one point during the four years Opa was gone, he was captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp in Siberia. For two years my mother and her family had no idea if he was dead or alive until he showed up on their doorstep one day. Opa and his stories were the inspiration behind Christine’s father in The Plum Tree.
For years, Oma rang the bells every day to call the farmers in from the fields for Mittag Essen (the midday meal); every evening for prayer; and every Sunday morning for church service. During the war, the army took the bells down to be melted into bullets, a bomb hit the steeple, and the congregation, afraid to assemble without fear of being labeled traitors, met secretly in their homes. In The Plum Tree, this is the church were Christine attempts to expose an SS camp guard during the first service after the war was over.
My aunt’s face is bandaged because she tried to swallow fire after watching a fire-eater at a carnival. In The Plum Tree, Christine remembers her sister, Maria, doing the same thing.
My mother is wearing one of her best dresses; the rest were made from printed cotton sheets. The tall door behind them led to the goats’ indoor enclosure, which shared a wall with my great-grandparents’ first floor bedroom. The neighbor’s house (to the right of the tall door) shares a roof with my mother’s childhood home. This is the setting for Christine’s home in The Plum Tree.
More and more often we're hearing about self-published e-book sensations that go viral and eventually get scooped up by traditional publishers. With more than 150,000 e-books sold in the U.S. (not to mention the weeks it has spent on the New York Times bestseller list), Tammara Webber's Easy definitely fits into that category. Penguin took over the rights in October, and Berkley published a trade paperback edition on November 6. Many readers are already hooked on this story of a 19-year-old who deals with tough issues in college—from sexual assault to falling in love again.
However, there's an interesting "trend" angle to this novel that makes it unique. Easy is part of an emerging subgenre called "New Adult" literature. NA books are appropriate for older teens and adults, and they typically feature characters who are transitioning from teendom to adulthood. Webber is very passionate about writing stories that explore this life stage. In a guest blog post she tells us what "New Adult" means—and why it's important.
New Adult—or just new marketing?
By Tammara Webber
I confess, my initial reaction to the term “New Adult” was lukewarm, because I thought it was a seriously dumb label for a literary category. Who wants to be called a new adult? When I was a college student, a bookstore couldn’t have paid me to walk down an aisle with that designation at the head of it.
What intrigued me, though, was the concept behind the harebrained title. A long-standing decree from publishers warned agents (and therefore, authors) against submitting manuscripts with main characters older than 18 or younger than mid-20s. The justification? They won’t sell.
Enter the birth of digital self-publishing, the rapid growth of the e-reader market, and more recently, widespread apps that turn any smart phone into an e-reader. Those college-aged protagonists no one wanted to read about? Indie authors offered those stories to readers directly. Lo and behold, the previously nonexistent audience appeared.
Shocking? Not really. Much of the “NA” audience is just an extension of the YA audience, as well as a natural progression from it. Is an 18-year-old—who is a legal adult—an adult in every sense of the word? Not until she’s financially independent. Until then, she’s on the same coming-of-age path she was before—she’s just closer to her goal. A professor friend told me that she hadn’t realized how young her students were until her own sons were in college. “They have adult bodies and more advanced language skills, but their thought processes and reasoning haven’t quite caught up,” she said.
This leads me to confession number two: I’m not convinced publishing needs a new category. Heck yeah, I slapped a “New Adult” tag on each of my “Mature YA” books, because I’m not stupid. If everyone is going to say I’m writing “NA,” and that tag helps readers find my books, then by all means, I’ll add it. But what needed to happen has happened: Authors are writing and selling novels with characters in the college age range, without benefit of a distinct category.
Where those books should be “shelved” is something brick-and-mortar retailers will have to figure out. The idea that these stories can be edgier because the protagonists are 18 and up is unnecessary. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that plenty of YA books are edgy—they contain swearing, drinking, drugs and sex. In other words, reality.
If by edgy one means tackling tough topics—well, anyone who reads YA on even the most intermittent basis knows that’s been done and done well: Speak, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Sky is Everywhere, Looking for Alaska, Some Girls Are, Shine, I Know It’s Over . . . No one needs to look for a New Adult designation to find edgy, or dark, or titillating literature—and thank God for that.
Lest you question my credentials for welcoming edgy content to YA, I have an incontestable qualification: I’m the parent of three children between the ages of 17 to 23. I love that my son brought Going Bovine into my room at 2 a.m. with tears on his face and said, “Read this.” I love that my daughter and I could discuss and contrast Alex Fuentes (from Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles) with “real boys.” I’m a parent who welcomed the edgy stuff, and recognized the importance of it for creating dialogue with my kids. It wasn't about what I wanted to talk about—because I can do that without assistance from literature or celebrity-endorsed commercials, thanks—but about what they wanted to talk about.
I’ve heard that NA seeks to appeal to readers “18 to 35.” Or 34. Or 30. Or starting at 17. Again, unnecessary. The elimination of the weird dearth of characters in the 19-23 year-old age range was the essential thing. The placement of those stories should be based on content, not the ages of the protagonists. If a book has a YA voice, if it speaks to serious issues as archetypal YA does, then it should be categorized as YA, and perhaps given a “mature” label to let the parents of 14-year-olds know that this book should be parentally-guided. Books like Easy and Slammed fall into that category. As for those 20-somethings (and older) being able to find them? We already read YA. We’ll find them just fine.
As a self-published author, I found enough readers to put Easy on the NYT bestseller list for nine weeks—three of those on the combined and the e-book lists. The audience is there. Now let’s publish for them.
Readers: What do you think of the "New Adult" designation? Do you like to read about protagonists who are in that stage between living at home and being a full-on adult?
David Madden is the author of more than 10 novels, including The Suicide’s Wife and Sharpshooter: A Novel of the Civil War. His latest book, London Bridge in Plague and Fire, brings to life the Old London Bridge, which began construction in 1176 and was eventually dismantled in 1834. In the novel, a young poet who lives on the bridge uses his imagination to resurrect the bridge's architect and the life of the bridge itself, which was one of the wonders of the world.
Madden bought over a thousand books for research on the novel, learning many fascinating details about the bridge along the way. Here, he shares a few fun facts with readers.
What architectural gem (including forgotten gems!) would you like to bring to life in fiction?
Fascinating trivia about Old London Bridge
by David Madden
• London Bridge was like a little village. By 1600 almost 300 shops had been built right on the bridge, above each of which rose a very narrow house of four-to-five stories high. Only 12 feet wide, the roadway was dangerously clogged with wagons, carts, coaches and foot-traffic.
• Above the Great Stone Gate near the Southwark side, the severed heads of executed criminals and traitors, sometimes as many as 30, were stuck on pikes above the Great Stone Gateway to Southwark.
• Petty thieves and gossiping women were exposed in a locked cage on the bridge.
• Spanning two thousand years, London Bridge evolved through many fragile wooden forms until it became the first bridge built of stone in England since the Roman invaders evacuated.
• The master-builder, a priest named Peter de Colechurch, began erecting the bridge in 1176.
• 33 years in the making, Father Peter’s stone version of the ancient bridge soon became one of the wonders of the world. It stood for almost 800 years—the only bridge over the Thames River until Westminster Bridge was erected in 1750.
• People shopped on the bridge for gloves, stockings, necklaces, linen, silk, salt, hats, shoes, fruits and vegetables, among many other items. Over each shop hung a decoratively distinctive sign.
• Bridge-crossers passed children singing “London Bridge Is Falling Down.” People who taught that still universally famous song to the children on the bridge did not know its gruesome origin—a pagan ritual in which a young virgin girl was sealed up alive in the pier at the foot of a bridge to appease the gods.
• Much of British history, and thus world history, crossed that bridge during numerous wars, storms, great frosts, fires and plagues. The last great London plague happened in 1665, and a year later the last great London Fire destroyed most of the old city. Neither seriously affected the bridge.
• Almost midway, on two of the 19 piers, Father Peter built a chapel to honor Archbishop Thomas a Becket, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Peter died before completion of the chapel, five years before completion of the bridge itself.
• Water wheels at the London bridge-head and mill wheels at the Southwark bridge-foot set up a great racket and vibrations.
• Daredevil young men and watermen in long narrow boats shot the rapids between the piers, which were erected quite close to each other.
• After prayers in Becket Chapel, Chaucer’s pilgrims setting out upon the road to Canterbury made a last London stop at Bear Tavern at the bridge-foot.
• For all practical purposes, ancient London Bridge was dismantled in 1834, but for all imaginative possibilities, I hope it becomes resurrected in each person who looks at the many old drawings of it online and reads about it in my book: the only novel set upon old London Bridge.
For a taste of the novel, read "Thomas Becket's Bones Are Missing," a short story adapted from the book and published in the Sewanee Review in 2006. London Bridge in Plague and Fire is on sale now.
In her debut novel, Kelly O’Connor McNees imagined the life of Louisa May Alcott. It was "a compelling, heart-wrenching story about the difficult choices women face," wrote reviewer Susan Schwartzman back in April 2010, and a "bittersweet, stirring debut."
More than two years later, McNees is back with her second book, another historical novel about extraordinary women. Called In Need of a Good Wife, this book takes place in the American West of the 19th century and stars Clara Bixby, a woman who works as a broker of mail-order brides. (How's that for an unusual profession?)
One of my favorite aspects of good historical fiction is that it drops us into situations and eras that seem very unusual to us today. Have you ever wondered why women from New York would have shipped off to Nebraska as mail-order brides? Here, McNees shares fives reasons why a woman would go down this path.
Five things mail-order brides hoped to find on the American frontier
by Kelly O’Connor McNees
Before match.com there was the Matrimonial News, where, for about a quarter, prospective brides could place an ad describing what they were looking for in a husband. In the aftermath of the Civil War, many young women had lost a sweetheart to the battlefield and others still waited for their first chance at love. For the starry-eyed, nothing was more romantic than the idea of a lovelorn man sending letters from the prairie. Of course, things didn’t always work out quite the way these young brides hoped.
Other brides were more practical. Women with few prospects for marriage in their own social circle had scant hope of financial security unless they found a way to make a match elsewhere. Many arranged marriages were little more than business compacts—a husband agreed to provide food and a place to live, and in exchange his wife would clean, cook, work the farm and give him children. Mr. and Mrs. aspired to be on friendly terms (there was the matter of producing those children, after all), but often love was a luxury neither of them could afford.
In 1867 the newly completed Union Pacific Railroad finally joined the east to the frontier and made rapid travel a real option for most Americans. Suddenly, places that had seemed impossibly far away were within a day’s journey. Women who had believed they had no choice but to spend the rest of their lives cooped up in the same old towns, trying to live up to the rigid standards of the day, found themselves with new prospects. They could escape and go west, in search of gold, in search of new vistas, in search of a new way of life.
These days people wear pajama pants to the grocery store, so it’s hard for us to imagine just how many rules governed the choices women made every day about their behavior and speech and dress in the well-established cities and towns of the east. But for women weary of these strictures, the frontier offered freedom. Homesteading required a great deal of back-breaking physical labor, and women worked right alongside men. They were dirty, calloused and sunburned, perhaps, but also free of stiff petticoats and corsets that kept them sitting uncomfortably on the edges of chairs back east. For those with the means to hire workers, the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed single women to claim land of their own, which meant they might not need a husband at all—a kind of freedom most women never dared to hope for.
Many of the men and women who traveled west to homestead hoped to leave the past behind and start again, or yet again. Failed businesses, blighted reputations, the unwanted destiny of a family name or a country or religion of origin—all of the disappointments of the past would stay there, in the past. These brave pioneers set out to write a new destiny for themselves, and for the nation, one hard-won page at a time.
Joelle Charbonneau may be one of the busiest authors around. Today, the third book in her Rebecca Robbins roller skating mystery series comes out from Minotaur Books. She's also just launched the Glee Club mystery series with Berkley, and in 2013 she'll launch a YA trilogy! Whew.
Charbonneau was trained as a vocalist and has performed in operas and musicals in Chicago. This post is about how she came to be a writer—specifically a mystery writer, after starting out with the intention of writing romance. My favorite part? Her mysteries were inspired by her mom—a former World Champion Artistic Roller Skater!
The newest Rebecca Robbins book is called Skating on the Edge. In it, a derby girl is murdered in a dunk tank at the Senior Center, and Rebecca searches for the killer . . .
Roller skating to success
guest post by Joelle Charbonneau
I never intended to write funny books. As a matter of fact, I never intended to write mysteries. I was trying to write emotionally driven women’s fiction and romance books. Really, I was. The number of rejections I received on those books should have told me something. However, one night I was sitting on a bar stool at a conference when someone asked about my singing and acting career and whether my parents were performers. My response was “No, but my mother is a former World Champion Artistic Roller Skater.”
The silence was deafening and the looks on everyone’s faces . . . well, I might as well have hopped up onto the bar and danced the tarantella. Turns out, not everyone’s mom rolled, spun and jumped on wheels. Who knew.
Finally, the agent sitting at our table turned to me and said, “You should write a roller skating book.”
Ha! I almost fell off my bar stool. I mean, who writes roller skating romance novels? Being well mannered, I said that it was an interesting idea, but inside my head I was laughing hysterically. Ten days later, I finished the first chapter of my roller skating book. Guess the joke was on me. The only problem was it wasn’t the romance novel the agent envisioned. Oh, it had a romance in it, but there was also a dead body head-first in a rink toilet, an ex-circus camel and a mystery to solve. The Rebecca Robbins mysteries were born.
Even more surprising was the fact that suddenly my writing was funny. I mean, I love to laugh, but I was the serious kid in school and even when I perform on stage I am cast as the romantic leading lady—never the spunky sidekick. But the minute I created the small town of Indian Falls, Illinois, and plopped a roller rink into the middle of it, everything changed. Suddenly there was a grandfather with an active social life, a camel who wore hats and . . . well . . . needless to say I’m having a wonderful time. I hope those who read about Rebecca and the rest of the Indian Falls gang have just as much fun.
It's been two years since the publication of Marrying Daisy Bellamy, the eighth book in Susan Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles series. I am so excited that book #9, Return to Willow Lake, is finally on sale today! This story centers on Sonnet Romano, a woman who is forced to return home after learning devastating news from her family. In honor of the book release, Susan Wiggs shares some of her own favorite books to read as summer draws to a close and explains why Return to Willow Lake is her "salute to the books of summer."
Big announcement: Come back to The Book Case next week to enter to win Return to Willow Lake in hardcover, as well as mass market paperbacks of books #1-8 in the Lakeshore Chronicles.
The last book of summer
guest post by Susan Wiggs
The transition from summer into fall has always seemed like a special time for me. In another life, I was a teacher, so the summers were my time to renew my spirit and re-find my life. Some years, I’d go traveling, wide-eyed in the world, discovering new wonders.
Other times, summer would mean a “stay-cation.” There is much to be said for getting up early for a nice walk before breakfast, for puttering in the garden, lazing on the patio with a good book, listening to music, getting together with friends and staying up late with a glass of wine. Everything seems to slow down in summer, doesn’t it? The days are longer, the pace is slower, yet the nights are full of life.
When I was a little girl, I lived in a small town in upstate New York, not coincidentally unlike Avalon in my Lakeshore Chronicles novels. Late at night, I felt magic in the air—sprays of stars, the flicker of fireflies, the sound of frogs and crickets—these were the accompaniment to my favorite nighttime activity: reading. There was something too delicious about listening to the night sounds outside my window and reading a book: Harriet the Spy, Diary of Anne Frank, Judy Blume books, The Hobbit, It by Stephen King, Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss . . . I went through all the phases, but my favorite books of summer were always about a young woman in search of something, whether it be a tragedy from the past (Anya Seton’s Green Darkness) to a resolution with her sick mother (One True Thing by Anna Quindlen) to the quest for true love—fill in the title of your favorite romance novel here; I’ve probably read it!
There was always one book I saved for last—the last book of the summer. It often had an enticing cover, an intriguing storyline and the promise of an involving, emotional storyline: The Thorn Birds, Clan of the Cave Bear, Princess Daisy, Montana Sky, Summer Sisters. Those were some of my save-for-last books, often read between the preparation and partying of Labor Day weekend.
My new novel, Return to Willow Lake, is my salute to the books of summer—actually, to that last book you read right before summer sheds its lush glories and is transmuted into autumn. I wanted to evoke that feeling of summer’s end—the wistfulness, the breath-held moment between leisurely pursuits and the bustle of fall. In the novel, Sonnet Romano’s life is transformed one summer as she is compelled to return to the town she left as an ambitious girl—a scary proposition for many reasons.
My publisher, Mira Books, created a gorgeous hardcover for Sonnet, including probably the prettiest endpapers I’ve ever seen, featuring hand-drawn illustrated maps of Avalon, Willow Lake and Camp Kioga. Mira is also generously giving away a set of the Lakeshore Chronicles along with Return to Willow Lake, so be sure to enter on Monday!
Enjoy the rest of summer!
Thank you, Susan! Readers: I think we can all identify with choosing a "save-for-last book" to read at the end of summer. What's on your list for Labor Day weekend?
On the occasion of the publication of her 70th novel (!), author Emilie Richards offers advice for aspiring writers.
Today, my 70th novel hits bookstores. While most readers shake their heads in wonder, I know authors for whom 70 was a signpost on a longer journey. Still, for someone like me, who thinks every published novel is a miracle, 70 is delightful, particularly since this book, One Mountain Away, is the first of a continuing series.
Counting books is like counting birthdays. It's always good to pause when a zero's winking back at you. This week I've asked myself what I've learned since author copies began to overflow into my attic. Why have I continued writing? What one secret could I share with someone struggling to write a first novel?
Before you write that first sentence ask yourself this: What kind of book will you want to write 70 times? You're sure if you write a novel about the Amish or a vampire clan you'll get published, even though neither subject excites you? You might be right, but you might also be forced to write variations for the rest of your career, no matter how hard you try to break free.
In the mid-1980s, when publishers were enthusiastically scouting for new romance authors, I sensed I had found my niche. Did I want to tell the story of two people falling in love? Well, yes, that interested me, but I also realized there were other kinds of relationships to explore, as well. I was interested in the way people grow and change, the way they reach out or don't, the way they form bonds inside and outside families, and the way that they heal the wounds that life inflicts.
Could I write those stories inside the romance genre? Was it wide enough, deep enough? Did anyone care enough to read them? I thought so, and I was right.
Seventy novels later, the books I write are classified as women's fiction. They're longer novels, and the emphasis is different. One Mountain Away is about reconciliation and forgiveness more than romance. But in the most important ways, they are the same novels. Luckily I left myself room to grow.
A far greater writer said it best. "To thine own self be true." Just remember you may need to be true to yourself 70 times or more. Choose wisely.