Beth E. Williams

This interview is sponsored by Harper.


In Lisa Barr's seductive second novel, The Unbreakables, a woman flees to France in the wake of her husband's betrayal. But for 42-year-old Sophie Bloom, heartbreak leads to a creative and sexual revival, spurring her to rediscover her passion for sculpting and her sense of adventure. We asked Barr a few questions about this saucy story of self-discovery.

You started your career in journalism, and worked as an editor as well. What was the transition to writing novels like for you?
Let me tell you a secret: There was no transition. I still do it all—just at different levels of intensity. I’d also like to toss into the mix that I’m a mom of three daughters (aka: Drama Central). I’ve had a very full career as an author/journalist/blogger—both here in Chicago and in Jerusalem. I’m very disciplined out of necessity, and it’s really a matter of divide and conquer. When my girls were younger, I would report or edit during the day while they were in school and write fiction at night after they fell asleep. Or, I’d wake up and write at 5 a.m. before they got up. Now that they are older, my time is my own. I also started a Mom blog—“GIRLilla Warfare”—in 2013, right when my first novel came out. It’s a lot of blending and mixing, and sometimes I feel like I’m in Crazy Town. But my journalism skills have really helped my fiction, especially in terms of pacing and cutting away the fat. And I always think in terms of the who, what, where, when, why and how in both fiction and journalism. It’s too ingrained to let that go. There is a lot more freedom with fiction—and I kinda love that.

What’s your favorite thing about Sophie?
Sophie is all heart—she gives so much of herself to those she loves. I admire her vulnerability, but I also relish when she goes from hot mess to badass. Although her husband and best friends betrayed her, the truth is, Sophie abandoned herself long before that. It is a joy to watch her grow and blossom.

When Sophie starts her new life, she comes up with 12 “unbreakable” rules for living. Do you have any rules to live by?
I try to incorporate several of Sophie’s rules into my own life. My rules to live by are simple: Be kind. Be loving. Be communicative. Be strong and stand proud. Be Me in all my forms—the good, bad, strong and vulnerable. Living in a house of women and writing about lots of women’s issues, “you are enough” is probably the number one rule that I’ve embraced and try to put out into the world. And “you got this” is my daily motto—it is the sword I use to slay my fears.

Visual arts play a central role in both The Unbreakables and your debut, Fugitive Colors, a historical novel. How do you research the art world, and were there differences between understanding it in a contemporary context versus a historical one?
I’m a writer, not an artist—but art/passion runs through everything I do and write. Fugitive Colors was a labor of love. Four years of research on stolen art, the artists themselves, the time period, Expressionism and the Nazi persecution of the avant-garde, before I would even allow myself to write a single word. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I even had the Holocaust Museum vet my manuscript. My greatest compliments for that book have come from artists themselves—and it means the world to me. Along a recent journey, I met a sculptor in Napa. He fell in love with Fugitive Colors, and I fell in love with his work. He taught me a lot, and gave me the background in sculpting for The Unbreakables. I researched, watched films, tutorials and read articles. I did my book “research” in the south of France to get all the feels and sense of place. The only difference between understanding art in a contemporary context versus historical was time. Historical research requires SO much attention to detail, time period and trying to understand an artist’s mindset within the context of history. It’s exciting but all-consuming—a quest to get it right. Contemporary is lighter for me—but no less passionate.

 

The drive to create and be creative is the same whether you’re a visual artist or a writer. Did you find that writing about different types of creativity led you to think about writing differently?
Yes. I think what I’ve really learned from visual artists is that I need to incorporate all my senses into my writing. The sex scenes are very visual in The Unbreakables, and I created them as if they were a painting. And ironically, one of the stronger sensual scenes in the book is actually Sophie “acting” out a painting that moved her, charged her, stimulated her to the point of arousal. Artists, in my mind, bring such beauty and passion into this world, and I try to evoke those same emotions on the page—my own blank canvas.

 

What do you wish more people knew about women at midlife?
Women are so much better in midlife. We are stronger, sexier, smarter, more decisive, don’t take crap—we know who we are in midlife. This is such a great age—minus the wrinkles, joint pains, forgetfulness and terrible eyesight. I certainly have come into my own—the insecurities of the past have fallen away. And good riddance. It’s almost as if I want to say, “Hey, this is me, and I like what I see, what I feel, who I am.” This simply doesn’t happen in one’s youth. It’s a journey that comes with the seasons.

 

What are you working on next?
I’m sort of that “forbidden fruit” in the publishing world: I’m a genre jumper. My first novel was historical fiction, the second contemporary women’s fiction—and the next, suspense. But I dig strong women who come into their own with hurdles and challenges. I like to create characters who are not afraid to be vulnerable, go to dark places, get their sexy on, face trials and tribulations, seek passion and truth and, ultimately, find their redemption in a new beginning.

 

Author photo © Tell Draper.

In The Unbreakables, a woman's heartbreak leads to a creative and sexual revival as she rediscovers her life’s passions in France.

The day that fans have been eagerly anticipating for more than 20 years arrives on January 8 with the publication of A Memory of Light, the final entry in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Like the progress of time itself, this remarkable fantasy series has had a long and circuitous journey. Author James Oliver Rigney Jr. launched the series in 1990, writing under the pen name Robert Jordan, and continued it until his death in 2007.

After reading a heartfelt eulogy to Jordan by fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, Jordan’s widow and editor, Harriet McDougal, chose Sanderson for the difficult task of wrapping up the epic series. Working from Jordan’s voluminous notes, outlines, character lists and scenes (including the ending), Sanderson has completed the final three books in the series: The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light.

The final hefty volume, at more than 900 pages, will provide the answer that readers have clamored for: How will the Last Battle play out?

To provide a satisfying answer to that question, Sanderson was assisted by the members of “Team Jordan,” which includes Harriet McDougal, as well as longtime assistants/editors Maria Simons and Alan Romanczuk. We asked McDougal a few questions about this final chapter.

With Robert Jordan you did “curb-side editing” (editing a manuscript as it was written, chapter by chapter). How did your process work with Sanderson?
Harriet McDougal: With Brandon, Alan and Maria and I made broad-gauge suggestions and agreed with him on major trajectories, back in the spring of 2011. In early 2012, Brandon delivered a draft to us. We worked on this draft for weeks, sent revision suggestions back, doing this in bunches all spring long. In the summer of 2012 we worked long weeks on more revisions.

It was a different process. Remember, by the time of Jordan’s death we had worked together on about 20 books, Maria had been working with us for almost 12 years, and Alan for six.

It was more like working with Jordan on one of his early manuscripts. In the later books, he had already learned everything that would drive me nuts, so he didn’t do those things anymore.

What was the hardest part of seeing the series through to completion after your husband’s death?
The repeated reminder that he was no longer alive.

Can you share a favorite scene from A Memory of Light or from the series as a whole?
I have never forgotten Hopper’s death and joyful flight. Other than that, I love the whole series. And A Memory of Light as a whole.

How do you feel about the series coming to an end?
Sadness, joy and relief.

The day that fans have been eagerly anticipating for more than 20 years arrives on January 8 with the publication of A Memory of Light, the final entry in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Like the progress of time itself, this remarkable fantasy series has had a long and circuitous journey. Author James Oliver […]

All you single ladies who are looking for love and commitment—listen up. Steve Harvey is offering a dose of realism, plenty of wise counsel and a bit of cautious optimism for women hoping to find a good man. Whether you take his advice is up to you.

The top-rated radio host delivers his message in a frank and eye-opening new book, Straight Talk, No Chaser: How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man, released just in time for the holidays. It’s a gift that Harvey’s millions of fans would undoubtedly love to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

Harvey’s first book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, was the number two best-selling hardcover nonfiction book in America in 2009, and has now sold more than two million copies. His blend of honesty, humor and hope clearly struck a nerve with women trying to understand the sometimes mystifying behavior displayed by the male of the species.

Speaking from a man’s perspective, Harvey advises women to wise up, wash their hands of the men they’re wasting time with and put themselves in a position to find and keep a guy worth holding onto.

In particular, he warns women to avoid men bearing gifts (but not love) and men who won’t commit. In a chapter titled “Every Sugar Daddy Ain’t Sweet,” Harvey writes, “Trust me when I tell you, there is nothing sugary or sweet about giving so much of yourself to a man who, at the end of the day, is giving you so little in return.” If you’re stuck in a relationship with a Sugar Daddy, Harvey has two words of advice: Walk. Away.

A dilemma that even more women can relate to is a happy dating relationship that lasts for years but never leads to marriage. “Thing is, even as society keeps pushing on little girls, young ladies, and grown women the notion that they have to be married to be complete and secure, nobody is really preaching this to boys and men,” Harvey points out. In a chapter called “The Standoff,” he spells out a step-by-step plan to help women decide whether to stick around and work toward commitment or cash in their chips and move on.

Other sections of Straight Talk, No Chaser deal with presenting yourself well and understanding a man’s approach to dating in each decade of life, from the 20s (“He is being driven solely by his financial clock at the same time your biological clock is most likely driving you.”) to the 50s and beyond.

And finally, there’s the all-important topic of sex, or as Harvey calls it, “the cookie.” Here, the comedian-turned-relationship advisor lays it on the line with “Straight Talk” about what motivates men: “There is nothing on this planet that makes him feel better than sex. Not a hole in one on the golf course.

Not a game-winning three-point basket at the buzzer,” Harvey writes. He elaborates on the “Ninety-Day Rule,” outlined in Act Like A Lady, in which couples forgo sex at the start of a relationship. “Treat sex as if it’s something special and let the man you’re interested in know that it’s special and guess what? He’ll either leave . . . or he’ll see something special in you.”  

All you single ladies who are looking for love and commitment—listen up. Steve Harvey is offering a dose of realism, plenty of wise counsel and a bit of cautious optimism for women hoping to find a good man. Whether you take his advice is up to you. The top-rated radio host delivers his message in […]

Making a move that's sure to delight connoisseurs of the legal thriller, John Grisham takes something of a sentimental journey in his latest novel, The Associate, on sale January 27. The book's plot might sound strangely familiar to fans of his 1991 blockbuster, The Firm: newly minted Ivy League law school grad takes job with powerhouse firm and soon finds himself in deep trouble. That book catapulted Grisham to perennial bestsellerdom and established him as the superstar of the legal thriller genre.

The character at the heart of The Firm was Mitch McDeere, a cocky kid just out of Harvard Law who discovers that the Memphis firm that hired him is controlled by the Mob. In the successful 1993 film adaptation, McDeere was portrayed by Tom Cruise, an inspired piece of casting that gave a strong boost to Cruise's career and Grisham's film franchise. Author Photo

Grisham sets his new novel, The Associate, in New York City, the first time that one of his books has taken place entirely in the city that never sleeps. Where better to follow the dilemma facing young lawyer Kyle McAvoy, described by Grisham's publisher as "one of the outstanding legal students of his generation: he's good looking, has a brilliant mind and a glittering future ahead of him. But he has a secret from his past, a secret that threatens to destroy his fledgling career and, possibly, his entire life."

In a note posted on his UK website, Grisham comments on the similarities between the two characters: "Kyle reminds me of another young lawyer, Mitch McDeere, who was featured in one of my earlier novels, The Firm. Like Mitch, Kyle finds himself in way over his head, with no one to turn to and no place to hide."

As The Associate opens, Kyle has just graduated from Yale Law when he discovers that his dark secret has been captured on video. He's shocked when, instead of demanding money, the blackmailers put a surprising price on their secrecy: they ask Kyle to take a job at the largest law firm in the world, and one of the best in New York City. He's soon making big money and on the track to a partnership, but what his employers don't know is that he's sharing information about a crucial trial between two defense contractors with his blackmailers.

With his future on the line, Kyle is caught between the criminals and the FBI, who suspect a leak and are investigating his firm. Though he's one of the top young associates, does Kyle have what it takes to get out of this dilemma—without destroying his future? The only thing that's for certain is that readers will be turning the pages as fast as they can to find out.

Grisham's agent has already landed a film deal for The Associate with Paramount Pictures, no small feat at a time when the economic slowdown finds even best-selling authors having trouble selling their stories to studios. The film will star Shia LaBeouf, a choice that might surprise moviegoers who remember him best as the shaggy teen star of the Disney Channel and the movie Holes. At 22, however, LaBeouf has grown into a handsome young actor and bona fide Hollywood celebrity (with the arrest record to prove it). This film will be his sixth major movie for Paramount, including the 2007 hit Transformers. A director has yet to be named for The Associate, which will be the 12th film based on a Grisham book or story.

Grisham remains active in the legal world, regularly serving as host or keynote speaker at events for organizations like the Legal Aid Justice Center. At a recent benefit in Virginia, guests bid on the right to have a character in an upcoming Grisham novel named after them. Grisham has also faced legal issues of his own related to his 2006 work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, based on the life of Ron Williamson, who was wrongly imprisoned for murder. Grisham and two other writers who've written about Williamson's case were sued for defamation of character by three of the Oklahoma law enforcement officials who prosecuted Williamson back in 1982. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the justice system deserved the criticism it received. George Clooney has purchased the film rights to The Innocent Man, which is currently in development. 

Making a move that's sure to delight connoisseurs of the legal thriller, John Grisham takes something of a sentimental journey in his latest novel, The Associate, on sale January 27. The book's plot might sound strangely familiar to fans of his 1991 blockbuster, The Firm: newly minted Ivy League law school grad takes job with […]

Though he's no stranger to the bestseller list, TV and radio personality Glenn Beck ventures into new territory with his latest book, The Christmas Sweater, a heart – wrenching holiday story drawn from a painful episode in his boyhood.

Beck's two previous books, including the New York Times #1 bestseller, An Inconvenient Book, deal with the political and social issues he explores on his radio talk show and during his two – year prime – time stint on CNN's Headline News. (The conservative host is moving to the Fox News Channel early next year.)Beck's new book follows the anguished journey of 13 – year – old Eddie, who is bitterly disappointed with his mother's handcrafted gift. When his mother is killed in a car accident shortly after Christmas, Eddie is forced to re – evaluate his life and priorities. Though the tale is presented as fiction, Beck, whose mother died when he was 13, acknowledges that the story was drawn directly from his own life. BookPage recently asked the author to reflect on his holiday traditions and plans.

What was the best holiday gift you received as a child?
The best gift I ever got was the sweater my mom made for me shortly before she died. I didn't know it was the best gift at the time – in fact I hated it. I wanted something cool like the other kids got. I tossed it in the corner of the room and left it in a crumpled mess. Looking back, I realized that the sweater was all my mom could give and that she worked really hard to make it for me. To me it's a reminder of how much she loved me.

Did you have a favorite holiday book when you were young?
My favorite books as a child were magic books. Yeah, yeah – I didn't have a lot of friends. But the worst part is I wasn't even really good at magic either. Aspiring magician with no talent for magic – not a recipe for coolness.

What are your favorite books to give as gifts?
Of course I like to give out the books I have authored – but aside from those I'm the guy that people dread getting books from – because I give them the tough stuff. America Alone by Mark Steyn, The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes and The 5000 Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen. Sure, they may take a couple of months to read – but when they are finally done they will have a really firm understanding about what is going on in the world – and how we can avoid repeating the mistakes of our past.

What are you reading now?
At the moment I'm reading Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. If I ever had another career it would be in teaching (scary to many, I'm sure) because I feel that slowly but surely our nation's history is being carefully edited to fit an agenda. I don't want to let my children grow up getting an education that's left out key parts of our nation's history, so I'm reading as much about history and education as I possibly can.

What books are you planning to give as gifts?
I'll probably buy people books from some of my favorite fiction authors – Ted Bell, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Daniel Silva and others like them. I feel many of these authors are taking real news events and intertwining them with fiction – and that's the best kind of entertainment. You can learn about what is going on in the world yet be completely entertained at the same time.

What would you like to get from Santa this year?
Actually, I'm very blessed – there's nothing I really need. For me, Christmas is a time to be with family and also volunteering out in the community and helping those who are less fortunate. That's the best gift I could ever get – the feeling that comes when you've helped someone you have never met, that lonely person in need. Nothing compares to helping someone else. No gift could ever feel better. Well, a 100 – inch plasma would come pretty close.

 

Though he's no stranger to the bestseller list, TV and radio personality Glenn Beck ventures into new territory with his latest book, The Christmas Sweater, a heart – wrenching holiday story drawn from a painful episode in his boyhood. Beck's two previous books, including the New York Times #1 bestseller, An Inconvenient Book, deal with […]

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall. . .  

So begins The Golden Compass, the first of three books in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, which has attracted millions of avid fans around the world. Lyra's extraordinary story comes to theaters Dec. 7, the latest children's fantasy series to make it to theaters in a big-budget, multi-part adaptation.

Though the movie's themes have attracted controversy, the all-star cast and lavish special effects make it one of the most anticipated films of the holiday season. Writer/director Chris Weitz has created a thrilling fantastical world of Gobblers, armored bears and icy wastelands, a darkly enthralling visual treat likely to appeal to adults as well as children. When Lyra leaves her freewheeling life in Oxford behind to launch an epic quest into a parallel universe, the audience is pulled along on her unforgettable journey.

The film has been in the works for five years, enduring changes in scripts and directors before finally reaching completion this fall. Heading the cast is Nicole Kidman, reportedly Pullman's own first choice for the part of the mysterious Mrs. Coulter. Filling the role of the heroine, the feisty young Lyra Belacqua, proved more difficult, as thousands of English girls turned out for auditions around the country. Ultimately, newcomer Dakota Blue Richards, a 12-year-old acting student from Brighton, landed the part, bringing an ethereal innocence to her role.

Also starring are Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond, as Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel, and Sam Elliott as Lee Scoresby, a Texas balloonist played with appropriate Wild West flair.

Though the cast shines, what's most likely to dazzle viewers are the incredible special effects created by the Rhythm & Hues studio, particularly the daemons, or talking animal spirits, that accompany each figure and provide an outward representation of a character's soul. Lyra's daemon is Pan, a ferret that sometimes morphs into other forms, while Mrs. Coulter's is a more devious golden monkey; like the other daemons in the film they come alive with special effects that lend the creatures a startling reality.

All of these creations originated in the mind of Pullman, formerly a middle school English teacher in Oxford. Though he published his first adult book in 1978 and had been writing children's books since 1982, Pullman was still a relative unknown when The Golden Compass (titled Northern Lights in the U.K.) was published in 1995. The Subtle Knife followed in 1997, and The Amber Spyglass, the first children's book to win England's Whitbread Book of the Year award, was released in 2000. Producers New Line Cinema and Scholastic Media say all three books will eventually appear in film adaptations. Devoted readers were distressed when director Chris Weitz recently announced that the last three climactic chapters of The Golden Compass would not be included in the first film, but pushed forward into the next movie. Louder complaints have targeted Pullman's religious beliefs, arguing that the books, and the film, are an assault on Christianity, and more specifically, the Roman Catholic Church. Pullman, who says he's somewhere between an atheist and an agnostic, scoffs at the charges and says children will be more interested in his storytelling than any religious controversy the books have generated.

Readers who aren't familiar with Pullman's imaginative universe will want to start with the original books, while established fans will have several new choices. To coincide with the film's release, Scholastic is publishing seven Golden Compass titles, including a movie poster book, a movie quiz book and a movie storybook. The World of the Golden Compass uses movie stills to re-create the look of the people and daemons that inhabit this magical world, and includes a press-out golden compass and sticker sheet for further adventures. Golden Compass: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion offers storyboards and interviews with the cast and crew.

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall. . .   So begins The Golden Compass, the first of three books in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, which has attracted millions of avid fans around the world. Lyra's extraordinary story comes to theaters Dec. 7, the latest children's fantasy series to make it […]

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