March is Women's History month, which makes it a good time to reflect on your favorite female writers. Today, novelist Cynthia Eden, whose Deadly series is published by Grand Central (we loved the latest installment, Deadly Lies) shares a few of her thoughts on the subject with us.
Historical women writers who inspired me
guest post by Cynthia Eden
For centuries, women writers have been penning tales that have inspired and captured the imaginations of their readers.
When I was a teenager, the great Mary Shelley introduced me to monsters. Her monsters didn’t scare me. They showed me that there were no limits to the imagination. She taught me that even during the 1800s, women weren’t afraid to face their darkest nightmares…and to put those nightmares down on paper. Frankenstein boldly showed the wicked intent that can lurk in the human heart.
Virginia Woolf revealed the need for A Room of One’s Own. With her help, I realized the importance of feminine thought and development in literature. Literature isn’t just a man’s domain; instead, women have been penning tales and creating stories for centuries. Our ideas can shake the world. They can give hope, or, in Shelly’s case, even give rise to a few nightmares in readers.
Emily Dickinson taught me to appreciate the beautiful simplicity that can be found in poetry even as her words settled in my heart and I realized the importance of living life to its absolute fullest. Dickinson wrote, “I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.” Death will have to stop for me one day, because I will be far too busy to wait on him. Life should be experienced to the fullest, every moment savored.
And it was Charlotte Bronte who showed me the power of love. Obstacles cannot matter, and fate—it can be changed. Beautiful words can impact the human spirit. Readers can come to see characters as real beings. Readers will care for them, they will cheer for them, and, yes, they will cry for them. Literature impacts the emotions. It makes you feel.
These important female writers in history all made me feel. Their words have stayed with me over the years, and, when I am in need of comfort, I turn back to their books even today. These women may have slipped away as the years passed and as Dickinson’s Death stopped for them, but their words will live on forever—and I am very grateful to them for teaching me about the power of dreams.
[Thanks Cynthia! To find out more about the Deadly series, visit her website—or read our review of Deadly Lies. Interested in more writing about women's history? Check out our March feature on "Strong women who paved the way."]
As St. Patrick's Day approaches, author Mary Pat Kelly is celebrating the paperback release of her novel Galway Bay. In a guest post, Kelly reflects on how the country's history of resilience can help them through present-day problems.
Bouncing back from catastrophe
guest post by Mary Pat Kelly
St. Patrick’s Day. Forty million Irish-Americans invite the whole country to a grand party. We march. We sing. We dance. We toast Slainte, we say. Good Health. Good Luck. Prosperity for All.
Except this year the economic crisis in Ireland casts a shadow. Major articles in Vanity Fair and the New York Times Magazine portray a people too bowed down under the burden of debt and a horrific clerical abuse scandal, to lift their heads let alone other people’s spirits. Yet while the Irish do face serious challenges, and the anger they feel at government, business and church leaders is certainly justified, still there is a deeper truth contained in the history of the people of Ireland and their descendents in America that needs re-stating. It’s all about resilience.
During decades of research for my historical novel Galway Bay, based on the life of my great-great-grandmother Honora Kelly, I saw again and again how the Irish, driven to the edge of extinction, somehow survived. As Honora said to her great-granddaughter who repeated it to me, “We wouldn’t die, and that annoyed them.”
“Them” being the English conquerors who seized Irish land then rented it back to the original owners. The rates were so exorbitant that all crops had to be handed over to the landlord as payment . . . except for the potato, which the English distained. But this gnarly vegetable, which became the Irish people’s only staple food, was in reality a secret weapon. The potato had unimagined nutritional value.
It’s all about resilience.
Then Honora sounds the anthem of resistance, “But we didn’t all die. Two million of us escaped—one reaching back to the next. Surely one of the great rescues in human history. We saved ourselves, helped only by God and our own strong faith. And now look at us, doing well all over the world.”
So never underestimate the Irish people. Think of Northern Ireland. In 1985 I covered a U.S. conference on the conflict attended by all of the Irish political parties, North and South. Those were also trying times. When John Hume spoke of peace it seemed an impossible dream. Yet 14 years later voters would choose peace and Hume would win the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the troubles.
One night at the conference after a difficult day the young Fine Gael delegate Enda Kenny astonished us all by delivering John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in a perfect Boston accent. As he spoke we were reminded of Irish resilience. After all, the Kennedys themselves were refugees from the Great Starvation. Now this same Enda Kenny is the new Taoiseach (prime minister). The Irish people have voted for change in unprecedented numbers. So this St. Patrick’s Day Enda Kenny will bring the traditional bunch of shamrocks to another young U.S. president with Irish roots. Barack Obama’s ancestors also endured Ireland’s greatest catastrophe and escaped to build new lives in America. They didn’t die.
As these two men meet I am reminded of the old Irish saying, “It’s a long road that has no turning." History’s arc does bend toward justice. So let the bagpipes call forth the marchers. Let the banners wave. We are celebrating a heritage of resilience. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Kim Harrison is known for her sexy urban fantasy novels starring witches and demons—but the best-selling writer has a secret life that features "jeans and scuffed boots" that are a far cry from her leather-clad author photos. Today, in honor of the publication of her latest book, Pale Demon (Harper), Harrison gives us the scoop on her double life.
guest post by Kim Harrison
“So, what do you prefer? Kim or Dawn?” It’s almost always the first question I’m asked when I meet professionals in my field. I usually smile, touch my hair, and say, “I’m Dawn, today,” if I’m a blonde wearing jeans and scuffed boots. But if I’m wearing my event wig—a bold reddish auburn that goes past my shoulders—I grin and say, “I’ve got my Kim on. Better stick to that so no one gets confused.”
Split personality? No, though I will freely admit that I frequently have conversations with myself. Secret agent on the run? Not likely, though I’ve been known to take people-watching to the level of an Olympic sport. No, it’s something so banal, so dull that when people find out I’ve got a second persona stuffed in my closet, they scratch there heads and ask me, “Why?”
I’m a writer, who, through contractual obligations and a large shift in writing style, found it easier to create a second, public persona than try to reconcile the old with the new. It didn’t hurt that booksellers will give new talent a bigger push than one with a slow but steady track record. In this case, it has seemed to have worked.
Get-my-Kim-on is more than the wig and black signing clothes, though. It’s almost become a job title, a name tag, if you will, that I wear when I go from the sedate, 8-10 hour day at the keyboard with little human contact to the plane-jumping, speech-giving, always-smiling publicity hound that is what most readers see when they meet their favorite authors.
Author appearances have always been a part of book promotions, and I’m continual reminded of the Westminster Dog Show where it’s obvious that those beautiful animals being paraded before all have never seen a cow or sheep, but they need to look like they can do the things that their working counterparts still do today. I think readers are the same way. They know that the person sitting behind the signing desk isn’t really out there fighting bad guys, making spells, or solving crimes, but if they look like they might be able too, it makes the experience all the more fun—and that’s what a book event should be. Fun. So Kim has long red hair, stylish boots and a penchant for wearing black. I’ll admit that she’s sort of rubbed off on me over the years—in a good way, of course. Kim has class, and I have tatty slippers.
And when I get home, I have the luxury of being able to peel off the layers of show, smiles and graciousness so I can be my old crotchety self again, stumbling about in search of that first cup of coffee.
Leslie Tentler just spent the weekend on the road touring in support of her first novel, Midnight Caller (MIRA). In a guest post, she talks about the experience of signing at Books-A-Million stores in Kingsport and Johnson City, Tennessee, near her hometown.
My father was a bit of a celebrity in my small hometown in Eastern Tennessee. He coached high school football there for over two decades and to this day, I can’t watch "Friday Night Lights" without getting homesick. The show is authentic. It takes me back, every time.
My parents are both gone now (my mother was a well-loved teacher there, as well), and I do wonder what they would think about the release of my first novel. Both would be proud, I believe, although I recall many years earlier telling my mother of my dream to be a published author. She said, “Just don’t write anything that would embarrass me,” which to her I’m sure meant no profanity or adult situations, and no violence.
I failed on all three counts but I still think somehow she would be proud.
Coming home for two local book signings and a local television show was more overwhelming than I expected. As someone who has lived and worked in Atlanta for many years now, I’ve drifted away from childhood friends. I have to admit to envying my former classmates who remain in our town and are adult friends with many of the same people they knew as kids. I miss that closeness that I’ve never been able to recapture as a “big city” girl.
It was this same group of friends who planned a “girls’ night out” that included me on the Friday prior to my first book signing. I was admittedly nervous. I’ve changed. I’m older and have gotten out of shape while pumping out the first book and the two others that form the Chasing Evil trilogy. I feel like a mom who’s given birth to three babies back to back. One toddling around, one just beginning to crawl and the third a newborn still in my arms. I’m pretty sure I have metaphorical spit-up on my shoulder.
But what I see that night are friendly, familiar faces who are just happy to be together and are also excited for me. “The girls” show up for my signing the next afternoon, even though quite a few of them have already bought and read the book. Still, they buy another at the bookstore. It’s a surreal experience and also a deeply touching one.
Two nights before my first hometown signing, I go to one of the bookstores with my former stepmother who has taken me out to dinner. She politely asks me if the store will mind if she buys all the copies on the shelf that night for family and friends. I tell her I’m pretty sure they won’t and that they have more copies in the back for the signing. As she pays at checkout, I have tears in my eyes.
The weekend visit to my hometown was a whirlwind, filled with interviews, time with family and long-lost friends, and me, writing notes in people’s books in the shaky handwriting I’m so ashamed of. But they don’t seem to mind that it looks as though a second-grader signed it. At this moment, I want to throw my arms around each of them and ask if I can sleep in their spare bedroom or on their couch; stay for just a few more days.
I’m not ready to go back to Atlanta, but Monday has arrived.
Thanks Leslie! For more info on her appearances, check her website. Look for the second book in the Chasing Evil trilogy, Midnight Fear, in August.
BookPage contributor Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for more than 20 years. In a guest post, he reflects on a common thread among his three most recent interviews: Starbucks.
As a standard-issue Berkeley resident, I am a fierce loyalist of Peet’s Coffee. French Roast, to be exact. So of course I look with snifty disdain on the thin brew served at a-Starbucks-on-every-corner.
But credit where credit’s due. In the past three months, every novelist I’ve interviewed has mentioned writing some chunk of her novel at a local Starbucks.
Téa Obreht, whose remarkably assured first novel will be featured in next month’s issue of BookPage, usually writes on a desk she’s carted around from house to house over the last five years. But, she says, a portion of The Tiger’s Wife was composed at a corner table in the local Starbucks in Ithaca, New York.
Lisa Genova, who was interviewed about her second novel, Left Neglected, last month, has a “beautiful writing room. It’s the sunroom of the house. It’s all windows and we overlook a saltwater creek that leads out to the ocean.”
But as a mother of young children, she says she can’t write there. “There are too many distractions. I think, I’m home, I should throw in a load of laundry. I should call the repair guy. Household duties loom heavy over me when I’m here.” So what does she do? She goes to the local Starbucks in Chatham on Cape Cod. “There’s nothing else to do there but write the book.”
And then there is the very funny Karen Russell—author of Swamplandia!, and, like Téa Obreht, one of the exceptionally talented young writers named to the New Yorker’s 20 best writers under 40 list. Russell says she has to leave her apartment to write because it’s so teeny, tiny. So a lot of her debut novel was composed at a Starbucks on 181st Street in Manhattan.
A year ago she won a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, where they gave her “this beautiful office space to write in. It was like getting this amazing promotion. I think I embarrassed everyone. I was like, ‘look at this! The drawers open soundlessly!’ They looked at me like they were wondering if I’d been homeless or something.” Now she’s back writing at her Starbucks again. “I was away for a year writing in my fantastic library office and now I’m back. We never exchange words but I just feel like the vibe is ‘Oh, look who has come crawling back. Guess it didn’t work out so well, so you’re drinking your vente in the corner again.’ ”
So credit to Starbucks. But a query: Whatever happened to that old, ideal image of the writer in his garret or a room of her own? What could it mean that so many writers now prefer to work out there in public, in front of everyone?
In case you didn't know it, Christie Ridgway not only manages to review multiple books a month for our romance column, but also writes best-selling romances herself. Her latest series is set in a winery in Napa Valley, and like Tasha Alexander, Ridgway manages to make us all wish we had some research to do. Here's a writer's take on touring California wine country.
I’m a California native and it seems natural to use my home state as a jumping-off point for my stories. I’ve geographically taken my single title contemporary romances up, down and sideways, from Big Sur to San Diego to a fictional island just off the coast (modeled on Catalina). This time, I’ve written a trilogy of stories set in the Napa Valley—the wine country. The action centers on a failing winery named Tanti Baci (Many Kisses), and the three Baci sisters, who find love as they struggle to keep their 100-year-old legacy afloat. The second in the series, Then He Kissed Me, is out this month. [Read an excerpt]
What’s a writer to do when the setting for her stories is not only romantic, but also just a short plane ride north? Research, of course!
In honor of our wedding anniversary, my husband and I spent a long weekend at a B & B in the middle of a vineyard, soaking up atmosphere and, uh, fermented grape juice (you know, wine!). During those few days, we learned a lot about a tasting getaway.
The tasting rooms generally open at 11 a.m. This turns out to be way too early for me to start drinking, though a tasting pour is 2 oz. and it’s perfectly acceptable to spit. However, you usually are presented with several tastes at each location and then if you visit several wineries… We found that tasting after lunch suited us better and we didn’t drink at every place we stopped. Our last day, we ran into a couple who said they take a day off from tasting for every two they imbibe.
Awesome food everywhere! And even the historic hamburger stand in St. Helena (Taylor’s Refresher) has an amazing wine list. Crusty bread, good cheese, yummy cookies in every deli. Sidewalk cafés by the dozen.
I confess, tasting in the afternoon made me sleepy by 5 p.m. We’d booked reservations at a renowned place for our anniversary dinner and were so drowsy we didn’t think we’d truly appreciate it. Instead, we bought a bottle of wine at the local market, a roasted chicken, and a couple of deli salads and picnicked on our patio overlooking the vineyard. Romantic enough!
If you can’t visit California’s wine country
Plan a tasting party at home! To establish the right mood, watch the movie Bottle Shock, which tells how the Napa Valley became famous for wine. Or read a nonfiction book about the area and the industry like James Conaway’s Napa or A Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma by Alan Deutschman. Of course, if you really want to romance the vine, imbibe in my Three Kisses trilogy, which begins with Crush On You and continues with Then He Kissed Me.
Thanks, Christie! You can find out more about Christie and the Three Kisses Trilogy on her website. Read all the reviews Christie has written for BookPage.
Today the Book Case welcomes author C.J. Lyons, whose Angels of Mercy series (Jove) has added a jolt to the genre of medical suspense. The conclusion to the four-book series, Critical Condition, hits stores December 7, 2010, and Lyons stopped by to tell us a little bit about the difficulty of letting go of characters she—and her readers—had come to love.
When I sat down to start writing the final book in my Angels of Mercy medical suspense series, I had a play list running through my mind, filled with sad songs of goodbye, everything from Motown to Staind. After all, I'd spent three years with these four ladies. I'd watched them grow, fall in and out of love, save patients, dodge bullets, make mistakes, and fight for their lives. And now it was time to say goodbye.
When I began the first in the series, Lifelines, I had no idea how the book would end, much less the entire series. By book #2, Warning Signs, I had an idea, but it turned out to be wrong. Then I wrote book #3, Urgent Care, and it had an ending that surprised even me, one that totally changed how the series would conclude.
I began writing Critical Condition knowing only who would be left standing in the end. But I had no idea how they all would get there—and the main character, Gina, had a heck of a lot of growing up to do to earn her bittersweet happy ending. The only other thing I knew was that Critical Condition was, just like Gina's life, going to be an adrenalin-rushed hyper-driven thrill ride. Think Die Hard in a hospital.
So I wrote the book backwards. Literally. Wrote a scene, knew who was still alive in the scene, and figured out how they got there in order to write the next scene (which was really the previous scene, if that makes sense). The book ended up being so tightly paced that it reads in "real time" with the entire action taking place in five hours.
It didn't make it any easier to say goodbye to the women of Angels of Mercy Medical Center, but starting with their "happily-ever-afters" as I wrote Critical Condition, helped.
From the amount of fan mail I receive, I'm sure these women will continue to live on in the hearts of my readers for a long time to come. Who knows? Maybe they'll return someday to save their world again.
If so, I'll be ready and waiting, humming some Motown to welcome them home. Because, as a writer, you never really say goodbye to your characters, they become a part of you.
Thanks, CJ! We can't wait to see what you come up with in the new series you'll be writing with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, visit her website.
Today’s guest post, in honor of Black Friday, is from Roxanne Coady of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. For more than 20 years, the book store has offered personalized in-store service. Now it's available online via Just the Right Book!, a program which will send books to the person of your choice based on their personal tastes and interests at regular intervals—call it a tailor-made “book of the month” club. Roxanne stopped by the blog to give readers a few ideas for difficult-to-buy-for folks.
I always hear from people that they’d love to give a book as a gift to lots of people on their list. It’s more fun, it’s more thoughtful and it’s more lasting. That’s the easy part. What’s the tough part? Figuring out which book to give.
We’re already on the fast track for holiday shopping, so it seemed like a good time to help you find books for people on your list. These ideas might help get you started:
For the New Yorker-loving, learn-for-the-sake-of-learning types, who have probably read most of the Classics:
Happy reading! For more ideas check out Just the Right Book!, your holiday helper.
Maryglenn McCombs is a local book publicist and a great friend to BookPage. Maryglenn emailed us with a great story this morning, and we just had to share:
Those of you who know me probably know that I love dogs—especially my beloved and humongous Old English Sheepdog, Garcia. Some of you have any suggested that I am obsessed with Garcia. (Note the absence of denial.) Most of you probably also know that I am, by trade, a book publicist who loves books. I am writing to share a story about the unusual collision of my love of dogs and love of books.
Please let me introduce one of my all-time favorite mystery writers, Don Bruns (www.donbrunsbooks.com) with whom I have worked for years.
When Don came to me with the idea for his ninth novel, I asked (okay, begged) that he consider including Garcia, in all his Old English Sheepdog glory, as a character in the book.
Well, he did.
And much to Don’s surprise, Garcia wound up “taking over” the plot and ultimately becoming a major character in Don’s new novel, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, which Oceanview Publishing will release in hardcover and eBook on December 6, 2010. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is a hilarious mystery about two stumbling, bumbling amateur detectives who get mixed up in investigating a crazy traveling carnival show—and nearly lose their lives in the process of contending with a cantankerous cast of carnies who don’t take kindly to the investigation.
Today we celebrate Veterans Day (also known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day), a time to look back at the sacrifices members of the military and their families have made. In honor of the holiday, we have a special "Behind the Book" essay from Robert Coram, whose appreciation for his own father's sacrifice was some 50 years in the making—discovered only after Coram had become "a troubadour for America’s greatest heroes, the men and women who wear the uniform of this country."
His second military biography, Brute, comes out tomorrow and tells the story of Victor "Brute" Krulak, a Marine whose 34-year service included tours in Korea and Vietnam.
You can find an excerpt of the book here.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?