With The Catch, readers find themselves hanging on for dear life as Vanessa Michael Munroe—"the cleverest, fightingest and all-around baddest heroines in contemporary suspense fiction"—takes us to Djibouti for her newest no-holds-barred adventure. Munroe is the unforgettable brainchild of author Taylor Stevens, who has a fascinating backstory of her own: She was born in New York state and into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond sixth grade. Stevens was in her 20s when she broke free, and she now lives in Texas.
It's easy to wonder how much of the inspiration for Munroe came from Stevens' own life. As it turns out, that seems to be the question on everyone's mind. Stevens responds, once and for all:
Whenever I walk into an event—be it a book signing, Q&A or author’s talk—it’s pretty easy to spot the participants who’ve read my biography and at least one book, but haven’t yet interacted with me online or in person. It’s easy because they’re the ones wearing the guarded, concerned looks, subtly checking me out for signs of sanity, as if at worst I might be right on the edge of snapping and at best might need some soothing and comfort.
I suppose, really, this can’t be helped. Unusual characters populate my books, and I’ve led an unusual life. This has resulted in the most frequently asked question: "How much of Vanessa Michael Munroe is based on you?"
At the beginning, this conflation between character and author baffled me. Vanessa Michael Munroe is a hyperpolyglot (someone who speaks more than 12 languages), born and raised in equatorial Africa. She took up with gunrunners at the tender age of 14 and carries the mental and physical scars of a violent adolescence. To plagiarize myself, “the knife became her way to salvation and the missionary’s daughter, made to traverse the valley of the shadow of death, walked out the other side an apex predator.” She’s a chameleon, a hunter, an adrenaline junkie, self-contained, indifferent and shut off from the world—except when she’s not.
Oh that I was so brutally badass. Can you imagine the results I’d get at PTA and HOA meetings? Unfortunately, Munroe and I are nothing alike. Well, except for a hijacked childhood—we do both have wacky backgrounds. Mine had me born and raised in an apocalyptic religious cult, growing up as child labor in cult communes, spending far too much time out begging in the cold, and having my education stopped completely when I was 12.
But I’d made peace with all that long before turning to fiction. I started writing as a way to bring to life a small, paranoid, corrupt country off Africa’s west coast where’d lived for a little over two years. The thought of drawing on my childhood and adolescence for that first tale never even crossed my mind, and if it had, we would have had completely different characters—and probably not very good ones. I’m far too happy and enamored with life to belong in these intense, dark stories. I cry when I see sunsets and hear moving music, smile at everyone, am a total fraidy cat, and am overly empathetic to the point that my heart bleeds out onto my sleeve, which is super embarrassing. In perfect irony, I also hate suspense and violence—can neither watch it on screen nor read it in books—and yet that’s what I write.
Because I’m so opposite the characters that populate these stories, and because Munroe was drawn completely from imagination and snippets of other fictional characters (Jason Bourne and Lara Croft), I couldn’t understand at first how anyone could think she represented a real-life person, much less me. But then it got worse. People I’d never met used my fiction as a way to psychoanalyze the author, going on about my tormented psyche, insisting I was obsessed with violence against women, as if they knew me, as if assuming something about me magically made it true. Offended and insulted, I wondered if they also thought Carrie was based off Stephen King.
Once my skin thickened up a bit, once I realized how completely cool the character and author fusion was, I was able to embrace these assumptions for what they were: the ultimate compliment—proof of good storytelling—because the only way fantasy and reality can blend into such earnest beliefs is if the fiction feels real enough for the reader to assume that it had to have been drawn from real life, somehow.
These days I wear the conflation like a badge of honor, and when people ask me how much of Munroe is based on me, I look them dead in the eye and say, “all of it.”
Taylor Stevens is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of The Informationist, The Innocent and The Doll. Featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, the series has received critical acclaim and the books are published in 20 languages. The Informationist has been optioned for film by James Cameron's production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. Her latest novel, The Catch, will be published by Crown on July 15, 2014.
Author photo credit Alyssa Skyes.
John Verdon's brilliant sleuth, NYPD detective Dave Gurney, returns in his fourth adventure, Peter Pan Must Die. Gurney really just wants to live a simple life in the country, but he is dragged back into the crime world when a wealthy real estate developer is shot and the unfaithful wife is convicted of murder. But things don't line up, and Gurney finds himself up against a uniquely sinister villain.
Gurney can piece together a puzzle like no one else in the sleuthing biz. Verdon gives us a peek into his standout character:
Somewhere along the way in my literary education I managed to absorb the simple notion that drama is about conflict. Without conflict there is no dramatic development, no story, no tension—nothing at stake to hold our interest.
There are reasons for this. We have been hardwired by the survival imperatives of evolution to pay close attention to conflict in all its forms, from simple disagreement to outright violence. Conflict attracts our attention, and we want to see what happens next—how it escalates, how it’s resolved.
So if I had one overriding priority in mind when I began writing Think of a Number, the first novel in the Dave Gurney series of mystery-thrillers, it was the need for conflict—in every scene, on every page, even with only one person present. (That last one might sound odd at first, but I’ll come back to it.)
Since the story idea for Think of a Number began with a character who was in an emotional state of near-breakdown over a series of increasingly threatening letters, I wanted to involve him with a detective who was supremely rational. (Conflict comes in many flavors, including contrast between two perceptions of a situation.) That basic storytelling need gave rise to the core personality trait of Dave Gurney, leading some reviewers to compare him to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.
But that was just the starting point for the Gurney character. I wanted him to be married, because I believed that would give me opportunities to make him truly three-dimensional and—you guessed it—inject other interesting conflicts into his life.
Gurney’s first approach to every situation is analytical. He’s always thinking, asking why and how about whatever he observes. He’s obsessed with figuring things out. So I gave him a wife who’s just the opposite—who loves the experience of living, the immediate beauty of nature, the fascinating aspects of the thing in front of her. She’s every bit as smart as he is and often more acutely perceptive, but her way of seeing the world always contrasts with his. I’m especially intrigued by the role of personality differences in a close relationship like this, since it’s such a fertile ground for exploring the way persistent disagreements play out in our lives, as well as that ultimate tension between love and selfishness.
I mentioned earlier that I try to put conflict into every scene, even when only one character is present. It’s really easier than it sounds, when you consider all the forms of collision and frustration in our lives—for example, with inanimate objects. I recall a detective whose cigarette lighter never works, whose umbrella never opens, whose cell phone battery is always dead at the very moment that he must make a call. And, of course, a man like Dave Gurney faces an ongoing struggle every day with his own durable demons.
Conflict. It defines character and propels narratives. It’s what’s much of life and all great stories are about.
Thanks, John! Readers, Peter Pan Must Die is now available.
Molly Harper's latest paranormal romance, Better Homes and Hauntings, is the spooky, oftentimes hilarious tale of talented landscaper Nina Linden as she attempts to restore the dilapidated mansion of wealthy entrepreneur Deacon Whitney. But she keeps running into obstacles that keep her from finishing the job, not to mention exploring her feelings for Deacon. Namely: ghosts. In this guest post, Harper shares the inspiration behind the book and her thoughts on played-out horror tropes.
As a child, I watched a little too much Scooby Doo. I remember sitting in front of TV, practically twitching as the ending credits to Guiding Light rolled by, whining, “Is it coming on now, Mom?” Because that day was going to be the day: The day when Fred and Daphne failed to catch the spooky culprit—using Scooby and Shaggy as bait—and Velma would be forced to say, “Jinkies, gang, I guess this carnival really is haunted by the ghost of an evil Cotton Candy Clown.”
I was never happy when the phantom turned out to be a guy in a rubber mask. And their reasons for posing as phantoms never satisfied my curiosity. This turned out to be a lifelong problem. Whether it was a TV show, a campfire tale or a non-fiction paranormal-science book, it was rare to find a haunting explanation that left me feeling sufficiently frightened.
And frankly, I got a little judgmental about the actions of the Scooby Gang and the characters in the horror movies. Why did they always split up? Why did they go investigate spooky noises coming from the basement armed only with a flickering candle? Why did they ignore walls dripping blood and disembodied voices telling them to “GET OUT”?
So when I set out to write Better Homes and Hauntings, my first-ever ghost-based paranormal romance, I had three goals for the characters. I would devise the scariest, twisty-est ghost story possible. I would spare the characters the stereotypical, “let’s split up” moments. And no one would lose their glasses, ever.
Based on the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, The Crane’s Nest of Better Homes and Hauntings is an enormous, stylish structure on a private island. However, it never quite made it as a family home since Gerald Whitney, the business tycoon that built it, murdered his unfaithful wife, Catherine, immediately after it was finished. Gerald died disgraced but unprosecuted, and rumors of a curse followed the family as their fortunes crumbled. Over the years, locals insisted Catherine’s spirit was still wandering the halls of the mansion, hiding from Gerald’s angry ghost and searching for her lost lover.
Tales of ghosts and curses persist until Deacon Whitney, the first successful Whitney in more than a century, sets about restoring the mansion to its former glory. A team of restorers, including comely landscape architect Nina Linden, plan to stay on the island for the summer to breathe life back into the Crane’s Nest, and the weird phenomena begin before Nina sets foot on the island. The characters are drawn into the mystery of Catherine’s death, but the spirits inhabiting the mansion are none too happy with their sleuthing.
As someone who has grown up with the horror movie tropes, it was a lot of fun to play with those themes and the characters’ awareness of them. I loved hiding clues in strange places around the house and letting the characters stumble into information. My “Mystery Gang” experience fear, ferret out the truth and find love – because this is a romance, and even though Fred and Daphne never got together, I’ll do what I want. And in the end, there is a real ghost and a twist, without a rubber mask in sight.
Better Homes and Hauntings is a childhood dream fulfilled and I hope the readers enjoy it.
Will you be picking up Molly Harper's latest romance?
California native Karen Keskinen follows up her 2012 debut mystery, Blood Orange, with a new adventure for private investigator Jaymie Zarlin. In Black Current, the body of a local teen is found in a tank at the Santa Barbara Aquarium. It's ruled a suicide, but the girl's parents hire Jaymie to prove otherwise.
In a guest blog post for Private Eye July, Keskinen shares what it's like to be the featured author at book club meetings. It's no small job, that's for sure:
I’ve never been a chakra-and-crystals kind of girl. Sometimes I think a New Age is just what we need, but most of the time I find that this age we live in is—you know—good enough. And yet one night a few weeks back, as I walked home in the dark from a book club engagement, one of those New-Agey words popped into my head: shaman.
Yeah. As I walked home from a meeting right here in Santa Barbara, California, that’s what I felt like: a shaman. Maybe I didn’t exactly feel like one, but for the first time, I could sense the power those ancient storytellers wielded through their words.
This little city bristles with book club encounters every night of the week. Readers congregate in highbrow get-togethers and lowbrow get-togethers, well-heeled gatherings and run-down-at-the-heel gatherings, co-ed clubs, single-sex clubs and not-all-that-keen-on-sex clubs. But all these confabs have two characteristics in common.
One is food. Many so-called book clubs are actually misnomered: They are more accurately food and drink clubs. And huzzah to that! I’ve stuffed myself with full-on meals, nibbled at dainty noshes and, as a special tribute to my first book, taken part in a blood-orange-themed spread. You have not lived till you’ve tasted calamondin and blood orange pound cake. Yet, I digress.
Another feature these meetings have in common is that they encourage some feisty conversations, especially among my fellow Santa Barbarians.
Notice, I don’t claim readers think Blood Orange and Black Current are the greatest reads since Ulysses. But here in our town, these books are proving to be provocative, flaring matches put to drought-dried kindling.
When I arrive at a book club meeting, I usually say that I’ll stay for no more than an hour. I warn the members in advance that they might grow tired of me, and also that they might like to have time to say what they honestly think, once I leave. It makes no difference: I always seem to be driving or trotting home around 10:30, my mind roiling from the torrid and intense conversation, in no way ready for sleep.
The questions begin innocently enough. For example: Why is Jaymie Zarlin’s office address, 101 W. Mission, in fact that of the Cat and Bird Clinic? But soon, minutia dispensed with, matters warm up.
Are the rich so awful? Are cops corrupt? Are people that mean? So we talk about the bad in good people, and the good in bad. We talk about the abuse of power and the power money bestows. About corruption, both personal and systemic. And we talk about that corruption right here in River City, not in some theoretical realm.
In every book club I’ve visited, somebody has had her cage rattled. At one recent gathering, people were debating in twos and threes when a young woman said loudly: “Jenny, I’ve never heard you talk like that!” The room fell silent. Flushed, the accused looked away. For maybe the first time in her life, Jenny had publicly dropped the f-bomb.
I’ve thought about shamans over the past few weeks. How did they work their magic? They were conduits, mediums, copper wires. The shaman had her ear to the ground, a nose for the news, she didn’t miss much. And she let all that flow into her, through her, and on out to the ineffable, what we fear and don’t understand. Then all that power, transformed into story, flowed back again.
The face of the fear doesn’t matter: Once upon a time there were broken limbs that turned septic, and mountain lions that could flail open a man. Now we have terrorists, torturers, rapists. The bogeyman changes masks as the centuries pass, but never his nature, which is the ability to evoke dread.
The shaman’s tools never change, either. She has only three, but what a three they are! People, places and things. Waving those three wands, she teases out her listeners’ fears and dreams and heartbreak, then weaves all that chaos to make a map, a guide for survival. A story.
When book club members ask me questions about the settings, characters and special objects in Blood Orange and Black Current, I know their interest is piqued. But when they ignore my answers and insist on supplying their own, that’s when I know I’m their conduit: The readers are redeeming my stories, remaking them into their own.
Recently at one local meeting, an older woman announced she knew the real life people I’d used to create two of my characters, Dr. Bruce and Cynthia Wiederkehr. In fact, Bruce and Cynthia were created from whole cloth, but I had the good sense to keep quiet.
My reader whispered their names to a friend sitting beside her, and the two women raised eyebrows and exchanged knowing smiles. The Sha-Woman reached for a slice of chocolate cheesecake, and felt good. She’d given it over to them, it was their story now.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Black Current is now available!
Suspense author Alafair Burke's new Ellie Hatcher novel, All Day and a Night, came out last month, on June 10. Oh, happy day—the on-sale day—also known as the day that makes authors crazy.
It’s not the reading or writing of books that makes an author stupid. It’s a book’s publication that seemingly shaves a standard deviation from an author’s IQ.
About a week before a new book comes out, I start to lose sleep, playing Words With Friends until 2 AM only to wake up at 5 from a dream that makes the Kimye-on-a-motorcycle music video seem ordinary. Awake, I’m too unfocused to produce anything useful, so I find myself in front of my refrigerator, posting dog pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (the time-suck trifecta), and, the worst, repeatedly refreshing the not-yet-published book’s Amazon page to check its ranking. (Oh, c’mon @YouJudgmentalWriterYou, you know you’ve done it!)
By the time pub date comes, my brain is like a lazy uncle watching infomercials in his boxer shorts surrounded by Pop-Tarts, canned frosting and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
And this has been only the precursor to on-sale week, when, if you’re lucky, you get to hit the road, juggling interviews and blog posts between flights. In some ways, the learning curve here can be steep: I get better by the minute at talking about the book and my writing process. It’s like a master class in how-to-talk-like-a-writer. But becoming a book-talking savant can extract a cognitive price.
Here are a few of the idiotic things I have done on book tour:
Supposedly Lloyds of London will insure anything. If so, they should consider selling a policy to cover all of the stray jackets, make-up bags, flip-flops and headphones I have lost over the years during on-sale week.
In a search for validation that I was not the sole victim of this phenomenon, I contacted some of my favorite authors to ask whether they, too, get stupid during on-sale week. This is what they told me.
Michael Connelly, author of The Burning Room:
“I have gone to the wrong hotel room, trying to open the door of the room corresponding to the room number of the night before. Usually this is late at night and more than once this effort has awakened and scared the crap out of the sleeping occupant. I’ve been mistaken as a would-be hot prowler and grabbed by security a couple times. They rarely buy my explanation that I was in room 213 the night before in a city in another state.”
Megan Abbott, author of The Fever:
“Once, in Scottsdale, Vicki Hendricks and I escaped scorching heat by ducking in a bar for a beer before our event. A man in his cups—on his way to jail for a month—pulled down his pants to show us a Mom tattoo on his posterior.” (The punchline? They thought maybe, just maybe, he’d show up at their reading as promised.)
Chris Pavone, author of The Accident:
“I stop sleeping well a week before [the on-sale date]. I fall asleep poorly, then I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. I think working would be no good, so instead I read, then I seem to fall asleep again just as I should be getting up, so then someone wakes me, which results in me being overtired and cranky at the exact point when I most need to be well-rested and happy.”
Laura Lippman, author of After I’m Gone:
“I got into the wrong town car when I was booked on 'CBS Morning.' I had my contacts in (oh, vanity), and I misread the driver's sign. Almost ended up at the 'Today' show.”
Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street:
“I found myself alone in Boston for the first three nights of my book tour including on my pub date. I was excited and nervous and lonely, and didn't really know what to do with myself at night. So I drank as if I was on spring break. During the days I ran from event to event a little more dazed and confused then was appropriate for a newly published author.”
Lisa Unger, author of In the Blood:
“I am scatterbrained and confused on the road, overwhelmed I think with so many logistics, demands, exhilarations and disappointments (it ain't all awards and standing room only). Once, while packing for a conference, I practically sprained my shoulder patting myself on the back for being so organized and such a light packer. It wasn't until I arrived at my destination that I realized I had neglected to pack any pants!”
Today—after accidentally swallowing tomorrow’s allotment of pills from my vitamin container—I vaguely recalled from my college psych education that this temporary case of the I-Love-Lucies might have a cognitive explanation. Because I certainly wasn’t sleeping, I shot off a late-night email to my undergrad mentor, Daniel Reisberg (Reed College, author of The Science of Perception and Memory).
“People can do a wide range of things on auto-pilot,” Dr. Reisberg explains, “but automatic behaviors tend to be easy, but badly-controlled, and often leave you with actions that are habitual (even if they’re not what you intended at that moment). For example, you’re in the car, driving to the store. You intend to turn left at the corner, but, under stress, you turn right, taking the route that you usually take on your way to school.”
So that’s why I head for my usual airport (Newark) when I’m supposed to go to LaGuardia, turn right into a restroom instead of left, and walk out of a hotel room carrying the book I was in the middle of reading instead of a book I finished writing months before.
I should feel comforted, but I’m not.
I get stupid because of stress? Ten books in, shouldn’t I be beyond that? After all, I know, at an intellectual level, that by the time the books are printed and shipped, there’s nothing more for me to do. Whatever happens this week is out of my control.
Stress? Nah, I’m too cool for that. But these silly slips reveal the ugly truth.
Author photo credit Deborah Copaken Kogan.
Set in sunny Southern California, Lauren Christopher's debut romance novel The Red Bikini begins at a low point. Giselle McCabe's life has long revolved around her daughter and husband, but everything is turned upside down when he suddenly leaves her. At a loss, Giselle and her young daughter seeks refuge at her sister's beach house in idyllic Sandy Cove. Giselle expects some relaxation and recuperation, but what she finds is love in the most unexpected of places. In this guest post, Lauren shares the inspiration behind The Red Bikini.
I love summer. And I love books. Some of my most wonderful memories of carefree summers involve sitting in my back yard under the orange tree and eating pistachios all afternoon in the heat while getting lost in a great book.
So I guess it’s no surprise that when it came time to write my first romance novel, I started with a romantic, summertime setting. I wanted to bring alive everything I loved about my hometown area in Southern California since I was a kid: the sunsets, the palm trees, the mist on June mornings, the greenbelts, the way the bright-green ice plant meets the sand, the ocean-facing restaurants and how it always smells a little like suntan oil and open grills when you’re walking down the sidewalk in a beach town.
I also set out to write about a slightly older heroine. (Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?) Giselle is 35, and, like most women in their 30s, she’s a little set in her ways. And there’s no way she’s wearing that red bikini her sister left her.
She also has a lot of preconceived notions about things, and that was fun for me to work with. I think everyone in their 30s can relate to that – you’ve decided how things are, and how things are going to be, and it’s hard to open your mind to new possibilities; especially when it comes to love. Giselle has her certain routines for grocery shopping, her “Excel sheets in her head” about her daughter’s nutrition, her assumptions about suburbia and what her life should entail.
So I wanted to throw a hero Giselle’s way who would challenge all that. And that’s how Fin, the 28-year-old surfer, was born!
I knew that Giselle would bristle at everything about him. I guess I wanted to explore how often, perhaps, our assumptions or misperceptions might get in the way of letting us fall in love. Giselle assumes Fin’s too young, too irresponsible, too used to groupies and easy sex to hold her interest or be interested in her. And Fin assumes she’s too well-bred and well-educated to be interested in him. But one by one, they both have their stereotypical assumptions stripped away.
Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?
The surfer stereotype was a fun one to use. People still hold onto the idea of the laid-back surfer “beach bum.” But here in Southern California, a guy in a wetsuit with a board under his arm could just as easily be your CEO as a professional surfer making six figures a year. Surfing is a $6 billion industry now, and there’s a lot of cut-throat competition involved, both in the water and in boardrooms. So I wanted Giselle to stumble into this world and have some of her stereotypes questioned, which opens her up to challenging lots of things about her life. As she does, she becomes more accepting of other people and, ultimately, more accepting of love and respect in return from the most improbable sources. Fin goes through a similar journey, and together they find that “connection” doesn’t happen on a superficial level – same interests, same hobbies, same lifestyle – connection happens on a deep, gut level.
Beyond that, I just wanted to make the story fun and romantic! For a couple of summers, my family and I stayed in a beach house in San Clemente where sea spray actually splashed the patio when high tide was in – and that’s the house I modeled Fin’s home on. I love going to the huge outdoor art pageant here every summer called the Pageant of the Masters (my husband takes me every year for my birthday). It has a long, romantic history, so I put Fin and Giselle there for one scene, too. And I put them in Laguna Canyon for a couple of scenes, which has its own golden beauty and real eucalyptus groves. Throw in some good wine, walks along the pier, sultry Spanish street names and delicious tacos, and I hope to transport readers to a summer of romance – where they can relax under the shade of their own backyard tree, eat pistachios in the heat and get wonderfully lost in a book…
Thanks Lauren! If you want to read more about the inspiration behind The Red Bikini, check out Lauren's author website.
Romance novels are filled with all types of dashing male leads. But what does Marie Force, author of the newly released I Want to Hold Your Hand, have to say about the hero trope? In this latest novel in the Green Mountain series, sweet and caring Nolan attempts to win the love and trust of Hannah, whose heart still mourns the husband she lost to war. In a guest post, Marie shares what it takes to be considered a true hero.
As a romance author, I spend a lot of time with “heroes,” the word we use in the romance community to describe our male protagonists. I’ve written all kinds of heroes in my 30-plus contemporary romances. Some are "alpha," some are "beta," some have swagger and others are just downright hilarious. All of them have qualities that endear them to the women who love them in the books—as well as the women who love to read about them. However, I think Nolan Roberts, the hero of my latest book, I Want to Hold Your Hand, might be the most heroic of all.
Several years after the death of his close friend Caleb Guthrie in Iraq, Nolan realizes he has feelings for Caleb’s widow, Hannah. Nolan, Hannah and Caleb grew up together in the fictional town of Butler, Vermont, and their friendship endured into adulthood. After Caleb’s death, Nolan and Caleb’s wide circle of friends are a source of comfort for Hannah, who goes out of her way to keep up the traditions her late husband enjoyed so much with his unruly tribe of friends.
Over time, however, it becomes clear to Hannah—and her very large and nosy family—that Nolan has special feelings for her. In All You Need Is Love, Book 1 in the Green Mountain Series, we see the Abbott family take great pleasure in delivering Nolan’s frequent messages to Hannah.
In Nolan’s mind, a quiet, unassuming town mechanic doesn’t stand a chance with the woman who was once married to the larger-than-life Caleb Guthrie. He also wonders what Caleb would think of Nolan having feelings for Hannah, even if he’s never acted on them—until one significant night when everything changes between them. Afterwards, they can no longer deny the attraction that has simmered between them for quite some time.
I think it takes a special kind of man to step into this situation with his eyes wide open to the emotional battlefield he’ll need to navigate to bring this woman into his life. Nolan puts Hannah's happiness, well-being and needs so far above his own, it's as if his own needs don't exist. Nolan also puts up with her huge and interfering family who want to celebrate the fact that their beloved Hannah seems to be taking an enormous step forward with a man they love and respect, while torturing him with their special brand of Abbott “involvement” all the same.
Nolan never blinks an eye, even when Hannah’s father and grandfather “kidnap” him to gauge his intentions towards Hanna. He puts up with her twin brother’s grilling and the concerns of townspeople who have stood by Hannah during her darkest hours and want only the very best for her. He stays steady in the face of the emotional reaction Caleb’s brother has to hearing that not only is Hannah dating again, but she’s seeing one of Caleb’s closest friends.
Through all of this, Nolan never wavers in his love for Hannah or his determination to see her happy again, no matter what it takes. His love for her is the one true thing in his life, and that, more than anything else, makes him the most heroic of heroes.
Thanks Marie! Readers, will you be checking out I Want to Hold Your Hand? Find our more about Marie and the book on her website.
Author Stona Fitch created Rory Flynn as a pen name to reinvent himself for a more commercial, popular fiction audience. Flynn's debut novel, Third Rail, is the first in a new series and introduces Boston narcotic detective Eddy Harkness. When Harkness' gun disappaears, he starts a secret search that leads him to discover a dangerous new drug, Third Rail.
But what happens when a pseudonym becoming a psuedo-nemesis? Fitch pokes hilarious fun at his love-hate relationship with his successful, upstart alter-ego Flynn.
Why I hate Rory Flynn
Rory Flynn, like many a bastard, was conceived in a moment of thoughtless abandon. I was on the phone with my agent, talking about my latest novel, Third Rail, when he floated the idea that the book might have a better chance of selling if someone else wrote it. Third Rail is more squarely in the mystery/crime camp, my sales history could charitably be called spotty, and a pseudonym would give me a fresh start. Since the book is set in Boston, how about something more Irish-y?
How about Rory Flynn, I said. And Rory was born.
I didn’t pay much attention to Rory at first. I figured he would have about the same kind of writing career as I did. He would weather through plenty of rejection (which is character-building and good for writers, as we all know), and occasionally sell a novel or catch some kind a break—foreign rights, a 25% discount on HP toner, something. Just like me.
But then the plot took an unexpected twist.
Within weeks, Rory had a book deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – not just for Third Rail, but for a series—and not a series of disappointments. Then NBC/Universal Television optioned Third Rail for television. And Jess Walter, one of my favorite writers, sent a glowing blurb that ended with this kicker—“Rory Flynn is a suspense writer to watch.”
And so I watched. I watched as my pseudonym turned into my pseudo-nemesis.
I tagged along as Rory got his author photo taken in South Boston by a famously hip, long-bearded photographer who looked like he just stepped out of "Sons of Anarchy." He scouted gritty urban locations that would capture that moody darkness within Rory Flynn, crime novelist. Then a beautiful assistant adjusted his carefully styled hair so it didn’t cover his glinting, street-wise eyes. In the final author photo, Rory looks ready to kick some literary ass.
Who was this Rory Flynn and what did he want from me?
He wanted everything. Soon he was all over Facebook and Twitter, making friends with all the crime writers I had always admired. He was in New York City meeting with his editor, staying in a really nice suite at the W (charged to my credit card, no less). Last fall he went to Bouchercon, where he spent long nights at bars with the likes of Megan Abbott and Wallace Stroby, ladling on the Irish charm. Without so much as even mentioning me. And a couple of weeks ago, his publisher took him out to dinner with a dozen booksellers to an expensive restaurant with actual tablecloths and waiters who weren’t wearing costumes. The last time my editor invited me out to dinner it meant a bleary night at El Quijote, where I ended up paying for his paella, six margaritas and cab ride home.
As the pub date for Third Rail approaches, Rory’s proverbial platform is expanding. He’s got a stunning website and a sleek video trailer on YouTube that looks like it cost real money. And he’s got readings coming up, where he will, no doubt, be charming.
What do I have? I called up my agent to talk about my next book last week. I gave him the pitch. Doesn’t sound like a Rory Flynn novel, he said. I told him that it wasn’t. There was a long pause and the sound of a pen scratching on paper. Someone was bored and doing Sudoku—and it wasn’t me. So what do you think? I asked. Just have Rory give me a call, Stona, he said before the phone clicked.
When Third Rail comes out, I’ll buy a couple of copies, because that’s what you do to support a writer you know. Even one who commandeered my career, stole my agent and took over my office. Because I have faith that one day, with a little luck of the Irish, I could wake up and find myself living a life just like Rory’s.
Despite our rocky start, we’re really a lot alike, Rory and me. We’re both writers. We both like moving words around on the page, telling stories and hoisting the occasional pint. And Rory’s relentless charm offensive is working.
I’m starting to like having him around.
Stona Fitch’s novels include Senseless, Printer’s Devil and Give + Take. He is also the founder of the Concord Free Press, the world’s first generosity-based publisher.
We can't stop talking about the importance of summer reading, and we're not alone. Katie O'Dell, Youth Servies Director at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, offers an expert's advice:
"Summer is a time of both risk and opportunity for reading skills. Kids who don’t read during summer break—especially those from low-income families—can lose up to two years of reading skill by the time they reach middle school. Research shows that a strong, supportive Summer Reading program can turn that trend around. Parents are key to their children's reading success. Follow these easy steps to best support your summer reader: Make frequent trips to the public library and check out stacks of books; enthusiastically dig into your own reading and model what you want to see in your children; ask questions about what your child is reading and listen closely, looking for read world opportunities to explore what they are interested in."
For parents and teachers who live in a state that has adopted the Common Core State Standards, you've probably noticed some major changes in what students are encouraged to read, how closely they read a text and what they write after finishing the final page. For example, Common Core encourages kids to pick up nonfiction titles and informational texts. BookPage contributor and children's book author Deborah Hopkinson shares some fun ideas to get kids reading more nonfiction this summer:
Summer is a time when readers of all ages love to dive into a good beach book. But it can also be a chance to expand reading horizons, try out new genres and make reading a family activity.
Especially now that many states are adopting the Common Core Standards, which call for students to be reading more informational texts, parents may be wondering just how to get kids reading nonfiction, especially if it’s outside a child’s usual comfort zone.
But nonfiction doesn’t mean boring. Informational texts can include everything from maps to cookbooks, from newspapers to Internet sites. So here are some ideas for spicing up summer reading for kids by incorporating nonfiction—and other genres—into summer activities.
Planning a vacation, near or far? Well, don’t hog the guidebook. Involve reading-age kids by giving them a research task: learning about the route or your vacation spot by doing some online sleuthing or taking charge of choosing a museum to visit. En route, stop at a historical marker and use it as a launch pad for finding out more. Internet searching is a great activity to do together. While children are often familiar with the basics of Google, information literacy means learning to evaluate the source of information.
Pair these vacation activities with fun books such as Marla Frazee’s wonderful Caldecott Honor book, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, or the 2014 Caldecott winner, Locomotive by Brian Floca. Thankfully, the classic 1984 favorite by Vera Williams, Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe is still in print.
Along the way
For long car rides, consider sharing a memorable book on audio. Two of our family favorites are Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago and The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. Older readers might enjoy Road Trip (2013) by Gary Paulson and his son, Jim Paulson. The Listening Library website or your own local library will yield a host of other ideas that can turn road trips into lifelong memories. And if your family doesn’t own John Birmingham’s Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car, track down a copy since, as everyone knows, road trips don’t always turn out as planned.
At home: Bees, birds and backyards
Staying home can sometimes be the best vacation of all. Explore your own backyard with nonfiction titles about science and nature. An outstanding title in the National Geographic Scientists in the Field series is The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Disaster, by Loree Griffin Burns. There are also a number of good backyard bird watching guides for children, which can be paired with Dianna Hutts Aston’s lovely nonfiction book, An Egg is Quiet. Her other titles, A Seed is Sleepy and A Butterfly is Patient also combine Sylvia Long’s wonderful artwork with a lyrical text. A fun fiction read-aloud about kids who take on the running of a local apple orchard is The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins, which incorporates some real-world math problems.
Join your summer reading program (adults, too!)
Whether your summer plans keep you at home or take you around the world, be sure to sign up for the summer reading program at your public library. This year’s national themes are science related. For young readers, it’s Fizz, Boom, Read. The teen program is called Spark a Reaction. And for adults, it’s Literary Elements.
Possibilities abound for incorporating biographies, nonfiction and hands-on activities to create a family theme, which might go down in memory as “the summer we all learned about ____.” (Seriously, our family once spent a summer learning about submarines, reading books and watching every submarine film ever made.)
You might choose sea turtles, dinosaurs, horses or a scientist like Darwin, Einstein or Koch to learn about together. Jennifer Berne’s On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, is a great choice for younger readers, while adults will be fascinated by Thomas Goetz’s highly recommended new book, The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.
Most of all, keep reading!
Deborah Hopkinson is an award-winning author of historical fiction and nonfiction, including the 2013 Sibert Honor title Titanic, Voices from the Disaster. She got the idea for her new historical fiction novel for kids, The Great Trouble, about Dr. John Snow and the 1854 cholera epidemic, by reading Steven John’s nonfiction book for adults, The Ghost Map. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.
Love the romance of Jane Austen, but looking for something a bit saucier? Then Jayne Fresina’s tantalizing Once Upon a Kiss, the first installment in The Book Club Belles Society series, might hit the spot! As five young women of a quaint English village delve into the new and scandalous novel Pride and Prejudice, it sparks some not so lady-like desires in rebellious and clever book club member Justina Penny. In this guest post, Fresina shares her love for those immortal Austen novels and her inspiration (as well as her trepidation!) as she pens a new series of romance in the Regency Era.
I became a Jane Austen fan at fifteen — and yes, that is a long time ago, and no, I’m not saying just how long! My first exposure to Jane’s work was a BBC TV production of “Pride and Prejudice,” which my English literature teacher, Mrs. Jones, had advised the class to watch. Oh wise, dear Mrs. Jones, of the irrepressible enthusiasm and bright eyes gleaming through enormous glasses. She knew I’d be sucked right in.
After that I saved up and bought a set of all Austen’s books, eagerly working my way through them, absorbing myself in that Regency world of ballrooms, bonnets and manners. What a world it was. Somewhere to which I could escape from being an awkward teenager for a few blessed hours.
Years later, when I finished my first Regency series for Sourcebooks and my editor asked if I had any ideas for another series, I jumped at the chance to write a playful homage to Austen’s work. I didn’t want to write a sequel, or prequel—or ‘quel’ of any kind. Nor did I want to risk offending Janeites and Lady Catherine de Bourghs the world over. (“Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”)
So I created “The Book Club Belles Society,” a small group of young ladies in a country village, living when Jane’s books were first published. The Belles include Justina Penny (Jussy), her sister Catherine, and their friends Diana, Rebecca and Lucy. Some of the ladies are good and proper. Some aren’t. Some would never put a foot wrong. Some always leap without looking. Naughty or nice, one thing they have in common is a love of books.
What did Jane’s contemporaries think when they read about Darcy and Lizzie? Were they inspired to seek their own Mr. Darcy, or did they (ahem . . . Jussy) find him a bit of a bore?
In 1813, the Critical Review found only suitable moral instruction (I hear Jussy sighing heavily) within its pages. “An excellent lesson may be learned from the elopement of Lydia:—the work shows the folly of letting young girls have their own way...” As for the author, “The line she draws between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns, may be useful to our fair readers.”
Blimey, did Mr. Collins write that review?
Was Pride and Prejudice a moral lesson for naughty girls (ahem . . . Jussy), or was that just the male point of view?
The more wayward members of my Book Club Belles society, I’m afraid, do not take much guidance from the book, but they relish the romance. Especially when a man who appears to be the very embodiment of Mr. Darcy appears before them in real life, and suddenly they find their own lives taking similar paths to those of Austen’s heroines.
I hope Jane herself would find my attempts to recreate Regency English village life amusing—and not too saucy or impudent. It’s a dodgy business taking a beloved story and putting your own voice to it. This series is my homage to Austen, my thanks for the hours of pleasure her books have given me. As I worked on Once Upon a Kiss and the introductory novella “Before the Kiss” I was very conscious of staying true to Jane’s world—as far as I, a humble fan, ever could.
And Mrs. Jones, if you’re still out there somewhere, thank you!
Thank you, Jayne! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Once Upon a Kiss?