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.
In addition to writing her series of "zoo-dunits," author Ann Littlewood is passionate about the natural world. She hopes to inspire readers to care about environmental issues in her mystery novels, which realistically depict the life of a zookeeper; Littlewood herself spent 12 years as a zookeeper at the Oregon Zoo!
The latest "zoo-dunit" is called Endangered (and it's on sale today!). The third in the series, it's about zookeeper Iris Oakley, who gets a lot more than she bargained for when she shows up to help at a drug bust (presumably to take care of abandoned pets) . . .
Here, Littlewood tells us about how her goals as a writer include more than just selling books. She wants to encourage her readers to care about the natural world.
guest post by Ann Littlewood
My first zoo mysteries, Night Kill and Did Not Survive, showed how a small zoo operates from an animal keeper’s perspective, based on my 12 years at Oregon Zoo. Worked into these “zoo-dunits” is the natural history of both exotic and native animals. I think this is fascinating stuff and I love sharing it. I admit to an ulterior motive—being intrigued by the natural world is the first step in caring for it.
Endangered, just published, also includes cool tidbits about animals, but ventures further into a major, if little-known, conservation issue—the world-wide devastation of tortoises for the dinner pot and for pets. Iris Oakley, zookeeper, sets out to rescue abandoned pets after a drug bust and instead finds smuggled tortoises, part of the enormous world trade in wild animals. It really pisses her off.
That’s not all Endangered is about. You get a creepy farm in remote Washington State, a toxic and dangerous family, a mysterious girl (dead), mandrill monkeys, even buried treasure. Iris yearns to strike that blow for conservation, but first she has to keep her toddler safe and herself alive—not easy when a killer believes she knows more than she really does.
I’m gambling that incorporating my passions leads to a more vivid, engaging novel than one devoid of real issues. Many prominent mystery authors address class and race in their work. Others create sympathetic protagonists with mental illnesses or physical handicaps. Environmental issues should fit under this umbrella as well, right?
Entertaining or oppressive? A bold step or timid? Spurs readers to action or not? Or am I over-thinking this entirely? Take a look at Endangered and let me know.
Thank you, Ann! For more on Endangered, visit Ann’s website.
The second novel in Andrea Kane's popular Forensic Instincts series goes on sale today. Called The Line Between Here and Gone, the story is about a woman searching for the man who has a cure for her child's rare immune deficiency. She believes this man—the father of her child—to be dead, but clues start turning up that suggest otherwise. Lucky for her, the Forensics Instincts team is up to the challenge of finding him. This team is a group of geniuses—a retired FBI agent, a former SEAL . . . a human scent evidence dog.
If you're a fan of Kane's novels, you know this isn't the first time she's written an animal into a novel. In a guest post, Kane tells us why animal characters are so important to her.
My canine obsession
guest post by Andrea Kane
One of my most frequently asked questions is: Why do you write animals into all your books? I’ve written everything from a white owl to a squirrel to a cat who likes to drink whiskey. And then, of course, there are the dogs. They run the gamut from mixed breeds to dachshunds to an FBI-trained human scent evidence dog—Hero the bloodhound—who’s an integral part of my current Forensic Instincts team.
I’ll start with the obvious. I’m a huge animal lover. My own “baby” is a white Pomeranian, who might be part of the toy family, but who runs the house and rules the roost. I’m firmly convinced that he’s smarter than all of us. And, believe me, I should know. He’s in my office with me every single day, and we have an ongoing disagreement over whether or not I should be allowed to work. I feel that it’s essential for me to dedicate hours of time to my writing. He feels I was put on this planet to serve him and indulge his every need. As creative as I am, he’s more creative. He knows how to bark loud and long enough to distract me. He knows how to climb over me and onto my laptop, where he drapes his tail across the keyboard so I can’t type. He knows how to throw enough toys on my keyboard so a whole new language appears on my screen, and most of my day’s work is annihilated. He even knows how to press the “off” button, when all else fails. Most frustrating of all, he knows how to look at me with that adorable face, that slightly cocked head, and that heart-melting look that makes me abandon what I’m doing and go romp or cuddle with him.
So, yes, I admit it. I’m a slave to a 10-pound canine. That’s quite an admission. However, on the flip side, he brings a unique kind of love and joy to my life and to my family. That makes it all worthwhile.
Which brings me back to why I write animals into my novels. I love them. But besides loving them, I also believe that they bring out the softer side of my characters. Whether it’s a protagonist who’s seemingly strong and independent or an antagonist who’s seemingly heartless, animals are a safe haven for them to let down their guard, to express their emotion—to be human. And that humanness adds up to a three-dimensional character with unique and interesting shades of gray.
I know that many of you feel the same way I do. Hero, the Forensic Instincts’ bloodhound, gets tons of reader fan mail. He’s a really special dog, and I love writing him. Expect to see a lot more of him. After all, he certainly played a big part in solving the crimes in both The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and The Line Between Here and Gone.
Bottom line? I’ll always write animals into my books. And I hope you’ll always love them the way that I do!
We chatted with Andrea in person at the Romance Writers of America conference in the summer of 2011. Watch that conversation here:
I recently interviewed author Jon Steele about his debut novel, The Watchers. It's a smart, literary thriller with a supernatural twist. Set in Lausanne, Switzerland, the story centers on Marc Rochat, the bell ringer of the cathedral in Lausanne who is drawn in to a series of murders in the city. I asked Steele about his experience of visiting the real-life cathedral for the first time, when he came in contact with the bell ringer.
Steele went on to write hundreds of words on this haunting meeting, a story that I've excerpted here. Below, you can read about the man who rings the bells marking the time in Lausanne--and how he inspired an exciting new trilogy.
For more on The Watchers and Jon Steele--who is also an award-winning cameraman and has written a memoir about working in combat zones--read this Q&A on BookPage.com.
The bell ringer of Lausanne
guest post by Jon Steele
First time I saw the cathedral. Spring of 2001. I was a news cameraman/editor for ITN [Independent Television News]. I’d been working the Intifada on the West Bank and Gaza for six straight months. I was pretty well shot. I went to Lausanne for R&R, stayed at the Lausanne Palace. I didn’t leave the hotel, but I saw the cathedral from my room. It didn’t look like much. More like a grey lump of falling-down rock than a cathedral.
Wasn’t till a couple years later, after I quit TV news. Long story. I was in Baghdad the day the war started. I’d been living there four months. I decided journalism had lost its mind. Tens of thousands of innocent people were about to die. This war was bullshit, and TV was helping Bush and Blair sell it. I wanted no part of it. After 20-some years of covering the sharper end of news, I put my camera on the ground and quit. I wanted no part of this one. I drove out of Iraq as American bombs fell.
I went to the south of France, hid out in a small village for a year. No TV, no radio, no phone. I took long walks in quiet places and wondered, “OK, now what do I do?”
I wrote a novel called Saddamistan: A Story of Love and War. It was my take on what went down in Baghdad leading up to the war. (It’s still in my desk drawer.) After a year of that, I passed through Lausanne again, checked back into the Lausanne Palace.
One night, me and a mate had dinner on the town. Driving back to the hotel, he pointed to the cathedral. There was a light moving around the belfry. My mate told me it was le guet, the guy who spent his nights in the belfry and called the hour over Lausanne. Once upon a time, all cathedrals had such a man in the belfry, to watch for fires and invaders. One by one they disappeared, except for Lausanne. There’s been a man in the belfry, circling the tower with a lantern and calling the hour, from the day the cathedral was consecrated in the 13th century.
I ended up at the foot of the belfry tower, that very night, bottle of wine in hand. Here’s how it works. You go to the cathedral, stand there and call up, “Renato!” Then this shadow of a figure appears at the railings. He lowers down a key on a 300-foot piece of string. You take the key, Renato pulls up the string. You unlock the tower door, go in, lock the door behind you. You wind your way up the stone steps. It’s dark, the air is close. Then you feel the fresh, night air drifting down, you round the steps one more time and you’re standing on the lower balcony of the belfry. Then this little guy in a black floppy hat, carrying a lantern, steps from the shadows of Clémance (the execution bell) . . . and he says, “Hello, it’s only me.”
That’s how I met Renato Haüsler, le guet de la cathedrale de Lausanne. He’s got a funny shaped room between the bells; it looks like something out of a Tim Burton film. It’s where Renato sleeps. There’s a small bed, a small desk. The room is lit with candles. Renato has candles on the brain. He gave me a tour of the belfry. I met all the bells. The biggest is Marie-Madeleine. She rings the hour. There are five more bells in the upper belfry. Renato took us up to say hello. Along the way he told me about the thousand-year-old timbers of the carpentry, the gigantic tinker toy arrangement of ancient timbers from the primeval forests of Lausanne that house the bells. We went back to his room, had a glass and he told me about his vision. He wanted to light the nave of the cathedral with thousands of candles so people could see the place for what it was.
There was a winching sound and the loudest sound I’d ever heard in my life exploded through the belfry. It was Marie-Madeleine; she was calling the hour. The entire belfry trembled. Renato re-lit the candle in his lantern. Told me to follow him. He walked to the east balcony, waited for Marie’s voice to fade. He held his lantern into the night and called, “C’est le guet! Il a sonne douze, il a sonne douze!” (“This is the watcher! It is 12 o’clock, it is 12 o’clock!”) He did the same to the north, west and south. And facing south, there was Lake Geneva, the lights of Évian on the far shore, the shadows of the Alps rising to the stars.
The wheels in my head starting spinning.
Last of his kind lives in a bell tower in a grey falling-down lump of a cathedral. He’s strange, he wears a black floppy hat, carries a lantern . . . he’s got candles on the brain.
There was a story. I just had to find it.
Thank you, Jon! Readers: Will you check out The Watchers? It's on sale this week. Read more about it on BookPage.com.
Today's guest blog post is going to make you want to drop everything and book a ticket to Europe, where you will meander through France, Germany, Austria and end up lounging on the gorgeous Lake Balaton in Hungary. Don't have the time or the money? Just read Emylia Hall's debut novel, The Book of Summers, which is on sale today. As her essay below demonstrates, Hall is a writer who knows how to beautifully evoke a setting.
The Book of Summers is about an Englishwoman, Beth Lowe, and her family trips to Hungary—joyous occasions that are tainted by secrets and a mother's painful decision. The book was inspired by Hall's own family vacations. Here, she describes why Hungary captured her imagination.
guest post by Emylia Hall
In 1990, the year after the Berlin Wall came down, I visited Hungary for the first time. I was 11 years old and my sister was 13. My mother, who was born in England to Hungarian parents, was keen to explore the land of her roots, and my father agreed to drive us across France, Germany, Austria and into Hungary. The trip took a month, and it became the first of many. Every summer, for the next seven or eight years, we’d pack up the car and go to Hungary.
I treasure my memories from these holidays. The journey was an adventure as much as the destination. We’d stay at farmhouse guesthouses in France, eating at communal supper tables and swapping stories with Belgian cyclists over plates of roasted wild boar. In Germany we’d drive through wine country, my father picking small hotels in tiny vineyard villages, the car packed to the gills with local vintages to take home. And we’d whip along Austrian mountain roads, hearing the jangle of cowbells, looking forward to our next stopover and our next plate of Wiener Schnitzel. Meanwhile, Hungary lay like a promised land; we’d visit the artists’ town of Szentendre, with its twisting streets, brightly painted buildings and folksy feel. The endless plains, where mirages rose out of the dust and troops of longhorn cattle and fleet-footed horses turned to watch us pass. And Lake Balaton—my favourite place of all. At 50 miles long and 10 across, it’s dubbed the Hungarian Sea. The sun always seemed to shine brighter at Balaton as I floated on a lilo, a book resting on my chest, my skin growing steadily browner.
These sun-kissed memories became the inspiration for The Book of Summers. Against this backdrop I wanted to capture long, hot days, the sparkle of a new country, the trepidations and excitements of childhood and adolescence. A novel is a wonderful place in which to scatter observations and curious details; nothing is wasted. As I began to write, I found the act of recollection easy, taking myself back to precise yet passing moments; the choosing of a watermelon from a roadside kiosk, or a particular supper at a border-town restaurant, the fire on our plates and in our bellies. Our family photo albums proved helpful—my father always recorded our trips with meticulous detail—but much of the vivid imagery and moments of colour came from simply closing my eyes and remembering, letting myself drift back to those golden days of childhood.
The last time I visited Hungary was in the summer of 2009, as I was working on an early draft of The Book of Summers. I took my notebooks with me, and set myself up on a terrace overlooking Lake Balaton. It was inspiring to be “on location,” and I let as much of the place seep into my writing as possible. But most of all I enjoyed the romantic idea of writing about Hungary while in Hungary, because the old holidays had already proven themselves indelible, and were much more invaluable to the writing process. I think back to those trips now, the child-me, looking around in wonder, little knowing that the sights and sounds that I found so enthralling would one day work their way into a novel. Would, in fact, be its beating heart. For me, there’s something magical in that.
Working in collaboration with Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who founded the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, Jon writes the best-selling series of Body Farm novels. The latest—The Inquisitor’s Key—came out today. In the May issue of BookPage, Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney called the novel "both thought-provoking and eminently plausible as the book races toward its unexpected (and highly original!) resolution." Read an excerpt of the novel on the authors' Facebook page.
The importance of setting
guest post by Jon Jefferson
I must be the world’s slowest learner. It took me seven novels to learn what is surely Rule #1 of book research, at least in the rulebooks of smarter writers: Set your novel in a fabulous place, so you can take a fabulous research junket!
Consider novel #1 in the Body Farm series of mysteries, Carved in Bone. Setting: Cocke County, TN, beautiful but hard-scrabble hill country in East Tennessee, where anyone driving a car with an out-of-county license tag is considered fair game—and where hunting season opens at sundown. I set one scene of Carved in Bone at a cockfight, and because I knew nothing about cockfighting, I arranged, through a friend of a friend, to take a Cocke County field trip—with a veteran cockfighter named Rick—to the Del Rio cockpit, one of the oldest and biggest cockfighting operations in the nation. (“But wait,” you might be thinking, “isn’t cockfighting illegal?” Yes, dear reader; yes it is. But the Del Rio cockpit had apparently forged a special, decades-long friendship with the Cocke Co. Sheriff’s Office.)
The fights took place in a gymnasium-sized building, with a large central arena—the pit—surrounded bleacher-style seating for 300 or so. Tucked at one end of the building was a concession stand selling drinks, burgers, fries, and—with no apparent sense of irony—chicken fingers. I spent a deeply disturbing afternoon in Del Rio, watching roosters tear one another to tatters, their natural spurs augmented with strapped-on knives and spikes. Before and even during each fight, spectators would call out amounts they wanted to wager on one or the other of the roosters (“50 on the red!”; “hunnerd on the white!”). After an hour or so, I’d seen all I needed to see—and all I could stand to watch. On the way back to my car, I passed a pickup truck whose bed was filled with the bodies of dead roosters.
Fast-forward six books and six years, to April 2011, when I found myself standing on a rooftop in France, looking down on the lovely city of Avignon, the setting for novel #7. The book, The Inquisitor’s Key, weaves together the stories of a heretic-obsessed medieval Inquisitor and an Apocalypse-obsessed televangelist, both of them driven to murder in the name of God. The conservator of the Palace of the Popes—the biggest Gothic palace in Europe—had agreed to give me a private tour of the place, which was built to house a series of French popes in the 14th century. She took me up winding spiral staircases to the tops of battlement-topped towers; down into the treasure-chamber, with its false floor; through bedchambers and chapels whose frescoed walls were adorned with scenes of miracles and saints—and falconers, fishermen and stag-hunters. In the days that followed, I threaded the labyrinthine streets within Avignon’s medieval city wall for hours on end. I knew the trip to Avignon was only a beginning; I knew I’d be spending months poring over books on Avignon, both medieval and modern: its popes and inquisitors, painters and poets, cops and killers.
Leaving the Palace that first day, I exited through the gift shop and wine-cellar. There, I drank a toast to the architectural, artistic and narrative treasure-trove of Avignon—and to my new-found skill in the art of choosing book settings.
Next stop? Florence and Venice. What’s the story? I’ve no idea . . . but I won’t leave Italy until I find it!
Watch a book trailer for The Inquisitor's Key:
What happens once the honeymoon is truly over? In a new book, Wedding Cake for Breakfast (Berkley), on sale this week, 23 authors—including Joshilyn Jackson and Jill Kargman—offer up their reflections on the first year of marriage. In a guest blog post, three other contributors share some memories of their own unforgettable post-wedding moments...the ones you just can't plan for!
Spending a solid 10 days traipsing around Italy with just the clothes I had on my back made me realize that marriage is a lot like Kansas. With my luggage MIA, I was suddenly stripped of the things I thought I needed—my fancy sandals, my favorite Pucci dress, my jam-packed makeup bag. I saw my unadorned self through my husband's eyes and learned that everything I needed was in my own backyard. I also learned that you should always pack an extra pair of underwear in your carry-on.
—Cathy Alter, author of Ciao, Baggage
The first year of marriage is fraught with the unexpected. Sometimes it's unexpectedly boring and at other times it's so quickly eclipsed by whatever else life presents that you wish it were boring. Either way, there are two of you now to take on whatever comes.
—Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The First Year
While waiting for the flight to our Costa Rica honeymoon, my new husband Jay suggested we sit in the vibrating massage chairs at JFK airport. As soon as the coils started rolling up my spine, I crumpled into a mess of sobs.
"What's going on?" asked Jay.
"I just feel so alone," I moaned.
Welcome to my first year of marriage.
—Abby Sher, author of Juan and Martita
Readers, any first-year-of-marriage moments you'd like to share?
The summer wedding season is right around the corner, and romance fans can get in the spirit with a delightful anthology featuring three love stories, Kiss the Bride. The superstar authors are New York Times bestseller Deirdre Martin; USA Today bestseller Christie Ridgway (you might know her as the romance columnist for BookPage!); and up-and-coming author Laura Florand.
The three love stories star a fashion exec, a wedding planner and a food blogger. These women meet sexy heroes and have wonderful happily ever afters . . . but to go on those journeys, you'll have to check out the book yourself. (It's on sale now.) Here we've gathered three fun wedding stories from the authors:
We were married on Long Island in late August, which can be one of the hottest times of the year. But it was the only time we could book the venue we wanted, so we grabbed it. My husband, who has a big problem with sweating when it's extremely hot out, was having fits the morning of the wedding, since the temperature was supposed to hit 98 degrees, with high humidity. But a miracle occurred! Not only did the temperature never get above 85, but cool breezes blew all day. To this day, we always refer to it as "Our Wedding Day Miracle." So believe it or not, the weather is what made our day extra special!
I wanted to have a small wedding. Family only . . . 25 people, tops. But then my mom got involved and we had 80, including a couple of dogs, as you can see. It was in her backyard, and my brother married us. (He's a financial analyst but has one of those paper ordinations . . . it's completely legal, and he's performed many marriages--without a single divorce!) The ceremony was lovely, Big Brother said wonderful things, but left out maybe the most important words: "Now you may kiss the bride!" The audience had to shout out to remind him.
My own weddings were crazy. Notice the plural! I’ve only been married to one man, my own handsome, sweet Parisian, but we ended up having four ceremonies on two continents. We were trying to make sure each of our families (his French, mine American) could attend, but a surprising number of them ended up flying across the ocean to take part in both. Besides all the crazy, hilarious moments that occur when trying to get two people from two different countries married (four times), the thing that most stands out from our weddings is the amount of love and generosity and enthusiasm our families and friends poured out for us. It was truly special, and humbling. So many funny, touching and often mind-boggling things happened during our own true life cross-cultural romance and the meeting of families, that I ended up writing a memoir about it: my first book, Blame It on Paris.
I always wrote and read romances, but I have to say that before my own, I was something of a skeptic about how close they could come to real life. Now I’m converted. Even the very best romances only just touch on how world-changing and important falling in love is. And how it can affect—for the better—far more than just two people. I’m delighted to share a romantic Parisian that everyone can enjoy in All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate, featured in Kiss the Bride.
Thank you, Deirdre, Christie and Laura! Readers: Do you have a sweet personal wedding story you'd like to share? What's your favorite wedding scene from a book?
Ditch the tour bus, but bring your map!
guest post by Alaya Johnson
I love to travel, but I loathe tour groups. Half-hour breaks for boxed lunches is what you do for the annual office retreat, not your first visit to the Louvre. When I travel, I eat street food—crepes in Paris, huaraches in Mexico City, pizza in Naples. I wander around and take public transportation, and when I stagger into that gelato shop with the precise two euros in my pocket that will get me a scoop of cinnamon, it tastes that much more delicious. Sure, I might miss something in my wanderings, but I get more joy out of uncovering a new city on foot than a comprehensive bus tour.
I've taken this too far, however. I remember arguing in broken French with the receptionist of a one-star hotel I found in the phonebook about the fact that they shouldn't be charging me the rate for a "room with a toilet" when said toilet was not in possession of a seat. Hey, it's still a toilet, she told me, maybe you want to change rooms?
You know, I said to myself, in possession of a new room with a leaky shower and cigarette-dusted curtains, this might have gone a lot better with a plan.
It's taken me a while to realize, but writing works pretty much like traveling in that way. I've had to teach myself when to be flexible and adventurous and when to slow down and figure out where the hell I'm going. Writing a novel is a tricky thing for anyone—the every-scene-with-its-Excel-chart-entry and seat-of-my-goddamn-pants aficionados alike. For those of us who have to swing between those extremes, it sometimes feels like you need a map just to know when it's okay to put it down.
This can be compounded by the fact that the modern publishing industry often requires writers to commit themselves to a direction early. You want to get paid? Hand me an outline, honey. So I write the outlines, but I always tell my editors that they should in no way expect it to resemble the final project. What would be the fun in that? I tell them, with a hopefully winning smile.
Protestations aside, it's sometimes hard to let go of a path when you've set it down on paper. When I wrote Wicked City, I swore up and down I wouldn't feel beholden to my outline, and yet I found myself, 50,000 words in, wondering why exactly I'd persisted in believing it was a good idea to (metaphorically) stay in the hotel that didn't have toilet seats just because I'd already made the reservation.
The relief I felt when I finally gave in and scrapped that unwieldy and useless plotline was equaled only by my resolve to never let that happen to me again.
A first draft will never be a perfectly plotted book (at least, mine will never be). But next time I have to write an outline, I plan to ritually burn it before I start to write. At least that way I'll remember that in writing, as in travel, "Uh, never mind, I'll do something else," is sometimes your best option.
And if that means I find myself at loose ends, I can always comfort myself with cinnamon gelato while I find my way again.
Thanks, Alaya! Wicked City , on sale this week, is Alaya Johnson's second novel set in an alternate 1920s New York City, where vampires and demons haunt the Lower East Side. You can read an excerpt from the novel on her website.