Karen Trotter Elley

Behind the Book by

My nonfiction story, “The Messenger,” is one of 101 miraculous stories of faith, divine intervention and answered prayers selected from thousands of submissions to be included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel book. Now, that’s a miracle! But it almost didn’t happen because I almost didn’t send my story in.

One might suspect a lack of faith, but my reluctance was born more of a deep desire to avoid yet another rejection. Writers never get used to their work being turned down no matter what positive spin we put on it. Publisher rejections are kind of like getting a speeding ticket. You never quite feel as if you deserve it, but they give it to you anyway and there’s nothing you can do about it.

After I put the finishing touches on “The Messenger,” I pressed the send button and breathed a prayer, asking that my story be well received.

I recall attending a Book and Author Dinner several years ago where I was seated at a table with seven other writers. During the lively conversation that ensued, the topic of rejections came up. Emboldened by a couple of glasses of wine, we decided to conduct a contest to see who had received the worst rejection letter. One guy won hands down with a letter stating, “This rejection is for this manuscript and anything else you may ever write.” Ouch!

I simply didn’t want to go there. Then a friend intervened in the form of a forwarded email containing a Chicken Soup for the Soul request for submissions, a communication I chose to ignore. While still stalled in a state of rejection avoidance, I received another message from a different friend, referring to the Touched by an Angel call for submissions, saying virtually the same thing as my other friend, “Karen, this sounds like you.” It seemed to be a sign. I threw up my hands in surrender. After all, I reminded myself, the Chicken Soup for the Soul books initially struggled to see the light of day, repeatedly rejected by publishers a grand total of 140 times.

In the end, the lure of being a published author and sharing my own angel experience won out over any lingering doubts. After I put the finishing touches on “The Messenger,” I pressed the send button and breathed a prayer, asking that my story be well received.

My friends’ persistence, (or was it my prayer?) paid off and my story made it through to the final round. In mid-September, I held the finished product in my hands—Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel had become a reality—a dream realized.

Up until this point, the process had been all about me, about my story and my acceptance; but on that day, as I opened the book for the first time and leafed through the pages, something shifted within me. Suddenly, I felt a connection and kinship with all the other writers and their miraculous stories, and I had a strong inner-knowing that this book is going to make a profound difference in our collective spiritual lives and those of our readers. I’m grateful to be a contributor to the book and for the guidance I received from my messenger.

Prepare to be awed and inspired by 101 stories from people who have been touched by an angel, including these:

• John and Mary prayed for a highway angel when their motor coach broke down in an isolated area in the desert with no cell phone reception. Their prayers were answered in an unusual way.

• Kimberly’s grandmother and a mysterious adviser acted as her guardian angels, shielding her from harm and unwise decisions.

• A drowning boy rises from the pool with his arm held aloft and his hand clasped around the invisible hand that pulled him up through the water.

• When Linda was in the hospital in unbearable pain, a lady stayed with her, doing all she could to help despite the fact that she shouldn’t have been there in the first place and no one else saw her.

• Catherine’s parents, her doctor and the hospital tried to find the man who showed up on her doorstep one blustery night to save her life. They never found him.

• When a van made a left turn directly in front of Jan’s car, divine intervention was the only explanation for her survival.

In each angelic encounter, the message of hope, peace and love is the common thread binding our hearts and souls as one and reminding us to, “Be calm. Don’t worry; everything is going to be all right. Remember that you’re not alone.”

I know that the encouraging, prophetic words I received from a stranger in Jesup, Georgia in 1988 were not just for me, but for everyone—for now, for always, in all ways—“You are in good hands.”

 

Karen Trotter Elley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines, including the Christian Science Monitor, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, the Tennessean and the Toledo Blade. For more than 12 years, she was on the staff of BookPage as a production designer and writer. Karen lives in Nashville with her husband Michael. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel is her first book contribution.

My nonfiction story, “The Messenger,” is one of 101 miraculous stories of faith, divine intervention and answered prayers selected from thousands of submissions to be included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel book. Now, that’s a miracle! But it almost didn’t happen because I almost didn’t send my story in. […]

Debut author Ruth Reid puts a fresh spin on the growing genre of Amish fiction by adding an angel to the mix. In The Promise of an Angel, the first book in Reid’s new series, Judith Fischer’s five-year-old brother, Samuel, falls from the roof of their barn; then Judith sees a tall, glowing figure kneeling by the critically injured child.

Judith tries to convince her family that she has spoken with an angel and that her paralyzed brother will one day walk again, but everyone—including Levi Plank, the man she had hoped to marry—thinks she is talking dangerous nonsense. Meanwhile, her younger sister Martha is smitten with Levi and intends to have him for her own. She blames Judith for Samuel’s plight and does all she can to create more trouble for her sister. Soon the angel returns with more messages that test Judith’s faith, alienate her family and threaten her standing in the community. Only the bishop’s son, Andrew Lapp, will listen to Judith. As her faith grows, so do her feelings for Andrew. Will Judith continue to hold to the promise of the angel—even if it means losing all she knows and loves?

The Promise of an Angel takes us inside Judith’s Amish community as Reid writes engagingly about the issues closest to her characters’ hearts—God, family and community.

Debut author Ruth Reid puts a fresh spin on the growing genre of Amish fiction by adding an angel to the mix. In The Promise of an Angel, the first book in Reid’s new series, Judith Fischer’s five-year-old brother, Samuel, falls from the roof of their barn; then Judith sees a tall, glowing figure kneeling […]

It’s spring in Bon Temps, and an urge to clean out her grandmother’s attic leads Sookie to the discovery of some life-changing secrets in Charlaine Harris’ latest Sookie Stackhouse adventure, Dead Reckoning. Lately, due to visits by her fairy kin, Cousin Claude and Great-Uncle Dermot, Sookie has been feeling more and more fae, but she doesn’t have time to dwell on it. Merlotte’s, the bar where she works, is firebombed, and later Sookie is tracked and attacked by hired thugs. It seems her archenemy, the revenge-crazed Sandra Pelt, is once again on the loose.

Meanwhile, her vampire lover Eric and his “child” Pam have decided to go up against their new vampire master Victor, and Sookie gets drawn into a plot that has only one possible outcome—a double dose of death and destruction.

If that isn’t enough for Sookie to deal with, a vampire queen has her eyes on Eric, the right to claim him and the paperwork to prove it. Is Sookie in danger of losing the one thing she values more than her own life?

Readers, prepare to be amused and entertained by Harris’ captivating characters and nonstop action in Dead Reckoning.

It’s spring in Bon Temps, and an urge to clean out her grandmother’s attic leads Sookie to the discovery of some life-changing secrets in Charlaine Harris’ latest Sookie Stackhouse adventure, Dead Reckoning. Lately, due to visits by her fairy kin, Cousin Claude and Great-Uncle Dermot, Sookie has been feeling more and more fae, but she […]

Much to the delight of his fans, the brilliant, fabulously wealthy, king of cool FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast is back in action and out for revenge. Pendergast, the brainchild of best-selling coauthors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, has been the driving force behind 13 previous novels, including Relic, Dance of Death and The Book of the Dead (the only books in the series that the authors recommend reading in sequence).

Their latest book, Fever Dream, is a stand-alone read that exemplifies the authors’ mastery of the suspense genre. The story unfolds as Pendergast and Helen—his much-beloved wife of two years—are relaxing at the end of an African safari. Their peaceful moment is interrupted when Pendergast is summoned to kill a rogue, man-eating lion and Helen—who is a crack shot—goes with him. She is killed during a vicious attack, but an emotionally scarred Pendergast survives the tragedy. Some 12 years later, he discovers that her weapon had deliberately been loaded with blanks. Obviously, his wife had been murdered.

He sets out to find her killer and commandeers his closest ally, NYPD Lt. Vincent D’Agosta, in a search that takes them from Africa to the swamps of Louisiana. Meanwhile Vincent’s love, NYPD Homicide Captain Laura Hayward, is not happy. This isn’t the first time that Pendergast has taken her Vinnie along on a chillingly dangerous ride.

Clues drop and bullets fly as they get ever closer to the elusive truth when Pendergast uncovers Helen’s obsession with artist John James Audubon—and a quest for a missing Audubon painting that proves to be the motive for her death. He can’t help but wonder if he ever really knew his wife.

When deeper, darker secrets are revealed, a disgruntled Captain Hayward is forced into the fray as the killers close in and the action heats up even more as the tale races to its violent conclusion. At the end, though, some questions remain unanswered. Sequel, anyone?

Although the authors live 500 miles apart, their writing is seamless and totally absorbing, the byproduct of a friendship that began around 1985 when the two first met. At the time, Preston worked for the American Museum of Natural History, and Child was an editor, a rising young star in the book-publishing world. They soon became close friends and the rest is history—mixed with heady doses of science and mayhem. Preston & Child fans won’t want to miss Fever Dream.

Much to the delight of his fans, the brilliant, fabulously wealthy, king of cool FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast is back in action and out for revenge. Pendergast, the brainchild of best-selling coauthors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, has been the driving force behind 13 previous novels, including Relic, Dance of Death and The Book of […]
Interview by

Now firmly established as one of the royalty of romance writers, Fern Michaels began writing in 1973. When she submitted her first manuscript she was sure it was going to be published. Actually, I was greedy. I thought I was going to be a millionaire. Her second manuscript crossed in the mail with the rejection letter of the first. The second manuscript was published, and Michaels has never looked back.

"I made $1,500 on the sale of that book and bought some things for the house." A frog toilet seat stands out in her mind. Since then she has written over 50 books, been on the New York Times bestseller list many times, and sold approximately 60 million copies of her books throughout the world.

But as Michaels knows, the only thing constant in life is change. After being with the same publisher for 22 years, Michaels accepted an offer from Kensington Books, fired her agent, and moved from New Jersey to South Carolina, all at the same time. It was a traumatic move as she made a quantum leap from the known to the unknown, from the fast track northern lifestyle to a slower Southern pace, and endured the resulting culture shock.

The change turned out to be for the best. Michaels now lives in an historic home (the oldest part was built in 1702) near Charleston. It's an L-shaped house with an unusual, convoluted layout and a resident ghost. "She came with the house; her name is Mary Margaret."

"It's not scary or spooky but Mary Margaret does let you know when she's around." One Christmas Day, in front of several eyewitnesses, the ghost decided to pass the plate, lifting a decorative platter from a stand and setting it gently on the floor. "No one wanted to touch that plate," the author says.

Late on sultry, breezeless days an empty front porch swing glides back and forth. "Clocks stop on Monday morning at ten after nine, but not every Monday. Sometimes months will go by before it happens again," Michaels says.

Her latest book, Listen to Your Heart, has a supernatural twist and a Mother's Day theme. This delightful story about orphaned twin sisters is set in New Orleans where Josie and Kitty Dupr run a catering business. With Kitty about to get married, Josie finds herself alone and at a crossroads. At times, Josie feels that their deceased mother is trying to send her a message. She senses her presence and smells her mother's cologne.

On the eve of the hectic spring catering season, Josie's life is turned upside down by the arrival of mysterious Paul Brouillette and his rambunctious boxer, Zip. After one look, Zip instantly bonds with Josie's tiny Maltese dog, Rosie. Despite all efforts to keep them apart, the two dogs are inseparable, resulting in problems for their owners. As the story unfolds, Paul and Josie are challenged to deal with issues of death and emotional abandonment as each of them learns to Listen to Your Heart.

Michaels says she writes from her own personal experience. "Anyone who writes a book and tells you there is nothing about them in it — is full of it. I may try to disguise it, but that's me in 87 different directions." She also writes about her friends, like singer/songwriter Corinda Carford. The two met at an event and hit it off instantly. Both are gutsy ladies who love food, music, and animals and hate pantyhose. When Michaels received a copy of Carford's CD, she loved The Pantyhose Song and decided to include it in Listen to Your Heart.

Her love for animals comes through in her writing and in her life. When she learned from a news broadcast that a local police dog had been killed in the line of duty, Michaels had bulletproof vests made for every dog in the police department.

When asked what she feels is the best part of her writing career, Michaels says it's her readers. "I get a lot of e-mail. I wrote a book called Dear Emily about overweight people. At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to do it because I might offend people; it's such a sensitive subject. But after it was published I received the nicest letter from a lady who was on her third copy of the book. She had read it so many times; she knew it by heart. She said, 'You saved my life.' " It doesn't get any better than that.

Karen Trotter is a writer with romance in her soul and boogie in her feet.

Now firmly established as one of the royalty of romance writers, Fern Michaels began writing in 1973. When she submitted her first manuscript she was sure it was going to be published. Actually, I was greedy. I thought I was going to be a millionaire. Her second manuscript crossed in the mail with the rejection […]
Interview by

For the past 15 years Julie Garwood has been writing historical romances very successfully. With over 30 million books in print and 15 New York Times bestsellers, it would seem to be her niche. In her latest book, however, she breaks new ground (and possibly the hearts of some loyal romance readers) with a venture into a new genre the thriller. But never fear, dear readers, Heartbreaker is also a passionate love story sprinkled with the famous Garwood humor.

"My mentor Sister Mary Elizabeth would have had a fit," Garwood laughs, recalling the nun who first introduced her to the world of books. "I was sitting in a 400-year-old church in London, plotting a crime." She says she couldn’t help herself; the ornate confessional tucked into a dark recess of the church fascinated her.

In that moment, the plot for Heartbreaker began to unfold. "What if a priest, expecting to hear a typical confession, isn’t prepared for what he hears? In a whisper, a man asks the priest to grant him forgiveness for a sin he has yet to commit — he wants to kill a woman. He’s done it before, and he wants to do it again. Only this time, he says he wants to warn the victim so it will be more of a challenge for him. The priest is just the one to do that, because the woman he is after is the priest’s sister."

Before she left the church, Garwood knew she had the start of a story she felt destined to write. For a couple of years, the idea remained filed away, but it continued to tug at her — a story waiting to be told. "When I took it out and looked at it last fall, a chill ran through me. Suddenly, I knew who the man in the confessional was and why he had chosen this woman." Immediately, she sat down to write Heartbreaker.

The result is is a riveting thriller in which Garwood employs all the senses, creating vivid characterizations and unexpected twists and turns. The lead character, FBI agent Nicholas Benjamin Buchanan, is an intense, passionate man, totally committed to his service in the missing children unit, a group consisting of 12 handpicked men aptly named "The Apostles." The unit is spearheaded by Pete Morganstern, an unflappable man nicknamed "Prozac Pete."

Agent Nick is about to leave for a long overdue vacation when he receives a cry for help from his childhood friend, Father Tommy Madden. Nick is a man who likes to be in complete command of his emotions. Only three things trip him up: his fear of flying, his deep affection for Tommy, and his instant attraction to Tommy’s alluring sister, Laurant — the target of the deranged killer.

Laurant is eight years younger than her brother Tommy. After their parents’ death in an accident, Laurant grew up in a Geneva boarding school for wealthy young girls. Tommy had tried to bring her to America, but the terms of the trust and a battery of lawyers kept her sequestered until she came of age. She eventually moves to Holy Oaks to be close to her brother who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Nick is determined to stop the killer. In order to stay close to the intended victim, he is forced to assume the role of Laurant’s fiance. Meanwhile fellow agent Noah shadows Father Tommy by posing as a priest, giving ample opportunities for comic relief and zingy one-liners.

Garwood maintains suspense throughout the book by exploring a tangled web of motives and relationships. During the suspenseful finale, in one synchronistic moment, the reader "sees" the true identity of the killer through Nick’s eyes.

Heartbreaker is very visual, and has already been optioned for film. It is also being serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine this summer.

Although her latest story is in a different category from her previous books, Garwood says certain things will always be present in her writing. "The importance of family, whoever that might be. The family setup has changed over the years and the problems are different, but the basic values are still there, and that’s what I want to celebrate in my stories. To me, it validates why we’re here." The character of Tommy is based on her own brother who died four years ago of a brain tumor. "He wasn’t a priest, but he was quite a man."

Nuns and religion are also prominent themes in Garwood’s books — with good reason. At the age of six, she had her tonsils removed and complications from the surgery resulted in a long period of recuperation. Garwood fell hopelessly behind in school and never caught up. "I was a slow, slow reader," Garwood says. "I hated it."

At the age of 11, her mother discovered her daughter’s secret and promptly enrolled her in a summer remedial reading class at the local high school. "When I got there the nuns immediately realized I wasn’t even remedial. By chance, Sister Mary Elizabeth passed us in the hall and was drafted to tutor me." They spent the summer together, and Garwood came to know Sister Elizabeth as a friend and mentor. The patient teacher eventually unlocked the door to the world of reading. "She taught me to love the written word."

"First, she introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries. One of her favorite authors was O. Henry, and he became one of mine, too. Of course, some of the vocabulary was beyond me so I had to look up a lot of words. I sat on a large dictionary — got up, looked up a word, sat back down." Garwood jumped up and down like a jack-in-the-box all summer.

Garwood believes in payback, so she freely offers advice and counsel to aspiring writers. "If you don’t know how to format a manuscript, find out. One of the writer’s best friends is the librarian; she will get you where you need to go. They are extremely helpful, especially with research. I would be up the creek without librarians."

She also goes into school classrooms. "It’s so easy for kids to slip through the cracks. I do what I can for literacy with little kids, reading and talking to them. It’s an opportunity to reach them before self-esteem becomes the big issue."

"Sister Elizabeth made reading fun for me — and writing. She gave me a journal and encouraged me to write in it daily, to write my stories or what had happened to me that day. Sister Elizabeth made a great impact on my life and pushed me onto the road I’m on today." Unfortunately, the nun died before Garwood achieved success as a author. "But I think she knows."

 

For the past 15 years Julie Garwood has been writing historical romances very successfully. With over 30 million books in print and 15 New York Times bestsellers, it would seem to be her niche. In her latest book, however, she breaks new ground (and possibly the hearts of some loyal romance readers) with a venture […]
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Fate—author Nora Roberts believes in it. "After all, I'm Irish Catholic, I come by it naturally," she said in a recent interview. Blessed with a diverse style, a fertile imagination and the discipline instilled by the nuns, Roberts has racked up some staggering statistics and become a publishing phenomenon. A total of 69 books written by the prolific author have shown up on the New York Times bestseller list, including five written under her J.D. Robb nom de plume. With over 145 million copies of her books in print, Roberts is on the fast track of women's fiction. Her mass-market sales now surpass Danielle Steel, and based on USA Today's 2001 bestseller list, she is closing in on J.K. Rowling.

Roberts' writing career began in 1979 when she was snowbound at home in western Maryland with her two kids. "When school was canceled every morning for a week, I'm not ashamed to admit I wept," she says. On impulse, she decided to write down one of the stories in her head. "As soon as I started, I fell for the process of writing, and I knew it was what I should have been doing all along." Roberts went on to write six manuscripts before she was finally published.

"I'd written all these books and nobody was buying anything, but it didn't matter to me whether they got published or not, it was something I needed to do for me. I love being able to make believe. So many of us lose that when we grow up the ability to be able to just go with our imagination." But where do all those ideas come from? "From the National Idea Bank," she laughs. "Actually, I'm clueless. I'm never quite sure what the process is or where these ideas come from. I think writers are hard-wired for stories, it's what we do, it's what we are." The idea for Roberts' latest book, Three Fates, came while she was on a trip to Ireland, the land of her ancestors. She stopped at Cobh (pronounced cove), a historic, picturesque city by the sea, and the port of passage for more than 2.5 million Irish immigrants. "My own ancestors would have departed from there," Roberts says.

The people of Cobh are all too familiar with the whims of fate and destiny. The harbor was the last port of call for the Titanic and is the final resting place of the Lusitania. On May 7, 1915, the passenger ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank offshore, killing 1,198 people.

Roberts was fascinated by the stories of the Lusitania disaster. "But I don't write historicals," she says, "so what was I going to do with that? I started thinking what if. What if something was on the ship and somebody had it and survived?"

The something turned out to be one of three silver statues known as the Fates. According to Greek mythology, the Moerae or Fates are three powerful goddesses who determined the lives of men. Clotho wove the thread of life, Lachesis measured it out and Atropos cut it off with her scissors of death. As one of the characters in Three Fates points out, "Three parts . . . one purpose. Alone they would be nothing but ordinary if interesting women. Together, the most powerful and honored of gods." The someone in Roberts' "what if" became passenger Felix Greenfield, a petty thief who survived the disaster to become a changed man. He kept a small silver statue he had pilfered as a good luck charm, and it became a family heirloom.

Nearly a century later, Greenfield's heirloom has been snatched away from his rightful heirs. Malachi, Gideon and Rebecca Sullivan are determined to recover their statue, find the other two Fates and make their fortune. Almost as determined is Cleo, an exotic dancer, who sees the Fates as her ticket to a new life. In New York, they join forces with a formidable although somewhat neurotic female professor and a sexy security expert who knows how to play high-tech hide-and-seek.

Relationships develop among the treasure and pleasure seekers, who see more action than the craps tables in Atlantic City. All the while, their every move is being tracked by Anita Gaye, an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to acquire the Fates. As always Roberts creates strong, well-defined characters that practically leap off the page and make you hate to see the story end.

But never fear Roberts is already back at work. "I'm in the process of writing a complex, problematic trilogy that is currently driving me insane. The story deals with three women who meet for the first time when they are challenged to take on three parts of a quest to unlock a box that holds the souls of three Celtic gods. When it's going well, I'm rubbing my hands together; when it's not, I'm beating my head against the wall."

Roberts should have plenty of money for aspirin. In the time it takes to read this sentence, another eight of her books have been sold.

 

Fate—author Nora Roberts believes in it. "After all, I'm Irish Catholic, I come by it naturally," she said in a recent interview. Blessed with a diverse style, a fertile imagination and the discipline instilled by the nuns, Roberts has racked up some staggering statistics and become a publishing phenomenon. A total of 69 books written […]
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The seeds of Kristan Higgins’ writing career were sown when, at the age of 13, she swiped Shanna—a notorious bodice ripper by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss—from her grandmother’s nightstand. Woodiwiss has been called “the founding mother of the historical romance genre” and has inspired a whole generation of writers, Higgins among them.

“I was hooked,” Higgins says. “For several years, I controlled the black market for romance novels at my Catholic girl’s school, and now they actually carry my books in their library, which I find shocking!”

Higgins began her writing career as an advertising copywriter right after college, and worked until her first daughter was born. Then when a second child came along, and the two kids started napping simultaneously in the afternoon, the young mother had a couple of hours to herself for the first time.

“I wasn’t one of those people who carried a notebook around and wrote down everything,” Higgins recalls, “but I was a reader. And since I’d been reading romance novels for decades at that point, I thought I’d like to see if I could write one. The jump from ad copy to fiction wasn’t too hard,” she says with a laugh.

When Higgins finished her first novel, Fools Rush In, she shipped it off to an agent who immediately took her on as a client. “I was really lucky,” Higgins stresses; “the timing was right, and the agent was willing to take a chance on a new author, and she made a sale.” She advises other aspiring writers to keep working, make sure you know what you do well and hone that skill. “Keep your head down, work hard and never be satisfied,” she says.

Apparently Higgins took her own advice. Her second book, Catch of the Day, won the 2008 Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for best contemporary romance. Next came Just One of the Guys in August 2008, followed by Too Good to Be True in February 2009.

Her latest offering hits bookstores this month, just in time for Valentine’s Day. As in Higgins’ past books, family relationships are the stars of the show. The Next Best Thing is a multi-generational, heartwarming tale of lost love, broken hearts and second chances set in a small New England town, peopled with plenty of funny, quirky folks to provide some timely comic relief.

The heroine, Lucy, works in the family business, Bunny’s Hungarian Bakery, as a bread baker who secretly yearns to create desserts. Her mother and her aunts Iris and Rose all share the same maiden name—Black—and all were widowed by the age of 50. As a result, they have been dubbed the Black Widows, and five years ago, 24-year-old Lucy joined their ranks when her one true love, her husband Jimmy, died in a car accident. Now, Lucy’s very pregnant sister, Corinne, lives in constant fear that her husband Chris is next.

So Lucy has decided that it’s time to get on with her life, find a husband and have children. Ethan, a friend with privileges, is immediately ruled out because he is much too attractive and their relationship is way too complicated. Lucy wants someone more mundane, secure and safe and, dare we say, boring—somebody she won’t ever love too much. Lucy’s learned her lesson: Love hurts, especially when the one you love is gone.

After going through a series of false starts, Lucy may have found a promising candidate. But to date, no Black Widow has ever remarried, and the fact that Lucy has supposedly made up her mind doesn’t stop her aunts and Jimmy’s parents from doling out more unsolicited advice than Dr. Phil. Soon Lucy is yo-yoing back and forth between her head and her heart, trying to make a decision—and making everybody else crazy in the process. A pseudo-psychic offers guidance from Jimmy on the other side, but will Lucy be able to interpret his message before it’s too late?

Much like the extended family in The Next Best Thing, Higgins herself grew up in a large, tight-knit Hungarian family. “All my heroines are involved with their family, sometimes to their detriment, because nobody knows you and can torment you as effectively as your family. But hopefully no one loves you and accepts you as much as your family.”

Higgins’ three great-aunts and her mother, all widows, inspired the fictional Black Widows. “Unfortunately my aunts have all passed away,” she says, “but I hope somehow they’ll know that they’ve been immortalized.”

Although Higgins says she tries to focus on universal ideas and concerns, writing about the death of a husband is not a common romance theme. She handles the issue with grace and humor and strikes emotional chords by putting into words what is in the hearts and minds of many who have lost loved ones.

“My dad died unexpectedly when I was 23,” she explains. “Losing someone like that re-creates your world; it’s suddenly different and you have to learn how to negotiate that landscape.” The plot of The Next Best Thing revolves around Lucy’s struggle to accept the fact that her life with Jimmy is over—and that she still has a lot of living left to do.

“Being widowed young is something I live in fear of because my mom was widowed when she was 46, and my husband’s a firefighter. So if he’s late coming home from work, all these worried thoughts go through my head. You never trust the fates in the same way as someone who hasn’t been through that experience.”

Although not every real romance has a happily-ever-after ending, Higgins doesn’t think those endings will ever go out of style in fiction. “It’s about the quest to find the one person to share your life, help carry your burdens, celebrate your triumphs and love the real you. Romance novels are a promise to the reader that love makes you stronger and life better, and you’re going to feel good at the end of a book.”

 “I want to write big memorable love stories about regular people,” Higgins says, “like me or my best friend, or my sister. Not everyone is rich, famous, beautiful, psychic or immortal.” On her website there’s a quote that sums it all up: “Real life, true love and lots of laughs.”

The seeds of Kristan Higgins’ writing career were sown when, at the age of 13, she swiped Shanna—a notorious bodice ripper by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss—from her grandmother’s nightstand. Woodiwiss has been called “the founding mother of the historical romance genre” and has inspired a whole generation of writers, Higgins among them. “I was hooked,” Higgins […]
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A good “what-if” is one of the most powerful tools in a fiction writer’s arsenal, and author Sue Miller has come up with a doozy. What if you’re planning on leaving your lover today, but haven’t told him yet? What if he’s on a plane that’s been hijacked? Add one more what-if—the date is 9/11/2001. Then throw in a few what-might-have-beens, and you have the rhyme and reason for The Lake Shore Limited, a beautifully crafted novel by a writer displaying the full range of her considerable talents.

In a recent phone interview from her Boston home on a beautiful but frigid day, Miller recalls that on 9/11, she was in Vermont, writing. “We had a place there, but we had no television. We listened to the radio all day, and I didn’t see any images until several days later. I was actually grateful not to have seen those images. So I was, in an odd way, removed from the way that most people experienced the attack because of not having that immediate visual experience.”

The fictional what-ifs of her new novel were sparked by a real-life connection to the events of that tragic day. “I had a friend who was staying with someone whose sister was killed on 9/11. Due to the circumstances, my friend felt it was necessary to stay longer than she would have otherwise, and to enact a role, something my main character ends up doing in the novel.”

The experiences of her friend set Miller thinking about the way we insist on one response from all those who lost someone on 9/11. She pondered the varieties of reactions that people might have had on that day. “Things could have been much more complicated for any number of people than what they appeared to be on the surface,” she says. With that dichotomy in mind, she chose to further explore the possibilities, although there would be a delay in bringing her ideas to the page.

At the time, she was working on other projects and finishing up The Story of My Father, a memoir about her father’s death, and still processing her loss. “With the passage of time, I’ve been able to think fondly, affectionately and with humor about people or even animals that I’ve lost, but I can also call up tears very quickly if I think in a certain way,” she says. “You gradually learn to live with less pain around the loss; it might ease over time, but I think there is always grief.”

Eventually, Miller began to think about the 9/11 story concept. “I started to see my way into it, fictionally, well enough that I was intrigued enough to pursue it,” she says.

In The Lake Shore Limited, four characters are brought together by a stage play that strikes a little too close to home for everyone involved. Three years after her younger brother Gus—the dearest person in her life—died in a 9/11 plane crash, Leslie is still trying to make sense of the senseless, including her marriage and her relationship with an architect friend, Sam, a man she was once strongly attracted to. Leslie has invited Sam to see The Lake Shore Limited, a play written by Gus’ girlfriend Billy, intending to set Sam up with her. Sam has his own backstory, but in the present moment, it is Billy’s gamine, enigmatic beauty that he is drawn to.

Although she was still living with Gus at the time of his death, Billy had already left him emotionally and had planned to tell him so on that fateful day. Now everything has changed, and Billy has attempted, as best she can, to mourn Gus and honor his memory in order to avoid hurting Leslie (who still thinks they were deeply in love) and possibly destroying a friendship she values. The play is Billy’s somewhat unconscious way of coming out of her emotional closet and healing some of her own wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise.

In her play, a story within a story, the main character learns that there has been a terrorist bombing on the Lake Shore Limited train, and that one of the passengers is his wife—the woman he was planning to leave for his mistress. Meanwhile, in what passes for real life, Miller’s characters continue to explore the intricate workings of their relationships.

Everyone in The Lake Shore Limited has plenty of baggage to sort out, and Miller is a master at volleying back and forth between the past and the present to reveal the rich inner and outer lives of her characters. Cutting through the chaos and confusion of daily living, she penetrates to the heart of the matter with great skill.

The author of nine previous novels, Miller is keenly aware of the redemptive power of art. “I believe that those who make art, and those who see it and participate in it, are changed by it,” she says. “There have been times when I’ve read something that triggered an incredible emotional response in me—an opportunity to re-experience a situation, but in a way that articulates it more clearly than I could have myself. I certainly intended that to be the case for some of the characters in the book.”

Although some may manage to rise above their challenges, there are no heroes in The Lake Shore Limited. “I don’t believe in heroes,” Miller says. “People do heroic things unexpectedly, but I think no one would ever choose them, and probably most people would wish them away, the very brave things they’ve done. I think they’re accidents that happen and people find something within themselves to respond to them.”

When asked what life experiences had most shaped her writing, Miller responds with one of her favorite quotes. “There’s this wonderful line from Flannery O’Connor that says, ‘Anyone who survives his infancy has enough material to last a lifetime.’ I do feel that to some degree.”

“I had an interesting growing up, an unusual one in some ways, and an interesting marital history. I’ve had the wonderful experience of being a parent and now a grandmother and worked for many years of my life with little children and their parents in day care. I’ve heard a lot of stories and imagined a lot of ways of proceeding through life and feeling things,” says Miller, who is currently the Elizabeth Drew Professor of English Language & Literature at nearby Smith College.
“But for the most part,” she says, “many of the specifics in my writing come to me as I’m working on a novel. It’s always part of the pleasure of having ideas come out of the blue—they seem like gifts.”

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A good “what-if” is one of the most powerful tools in a fiction writer’s arsenal, and author Sue Miller has come up with a doozy. What if you’re planning on leaving your lover today, but haven’t told him yet? What if he’s on a plane that’s been hijacked? Add one more what-if—the date is 9/11/2001. […]
Interview by

Recently, Karen Kingsbury, the prolific author crowned the queen of Christian fiction by Time magazine, will celebrate the publication of Leaving, the first book in her four-part Bailey Flanigan series.

But she won’t be celebrating alone.

“I created the series because the reader friends asked for it,” Kingsbury says in a phone call from her home in Vancouver.

“Whenever I wrote about the Flanigans, the reader friends wrote back and asked for more Bailey. Then I introduced Cody, a kid with problems, and readers just loved him.” Now, fans will get what they’ve been asking for in a series that will finally complete the Bailey/Cody love story.

In Leaving, 20-year-old Bailey prepares to leave her childhood home in Bloomington, Indiana, headed to audition for a Broadway musical in New York City. But Bailey’s heart is heavy as she leaves for what may be the opportunity of a lifetime. If she gets the coveted role on Broadway, it means leaving family and friends for an extended period of time—and that includes Cody Coleman, the love of her life back home. Cody has suddenly disappeared from Bailey’s life, taking a coaching position in a nearby small town to be closer to his mother, who has been jailed on drug charges. Bailey is always on his mind and in his heart, but Cody doesn’t think he’s good enough for her. Complications arise, as they always do; for Cody, it’s the presence of lovely Cheyenne, the widow of his best friend who was killed in Iraq; for Bailey, it’s the possibility of a whole new life in New York—and a deepening relationship with her handsome movie star friend, Brandon Paul.

Since the Flanigan family is loosely based on Kingsbury’s own family (which includes husband Donald, one daughter and five sons—three of whom are adopted from Haiti), she didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

“It was crazy, because while I was writing scenes in Leaving about Bailey packing up to move to New York, my daughter Kelsey suddenly decided to go to college 1,500 miles away from home. It certainly added an emotional intensity to my research.”

But where does Bailey end and Kelsey begin? “My daughter has the same courage and conviction as Bailey, but God’s plan for her life is still unfolding, and that takes a lot of patience. Kelsey and Bailey are both enrolled in college and interested in musical theater, but Kelsey hasn’t starred in a movie, or been offered a spot on Broadway. And she doesn’t have a Cody or Brandon in her life.” Yet.

One thing that stands out in Leaving is that two of the characters—Bailey and Ashley Baxter Blake, whose husband is facing health issues—repeatedly, consciously choose to live in the moment. When asked about that choice, Kingsbury says, “In the past, I was vaguely aware of the concept of being fully in the moment, and I might have mentioned it at a women’s seminar or at a conference, but it wasn’t a principle that I had put into daily practice.”

Then in January 2010, her husband Donald had a stroke, followed by successful surgery in March to close a hole in his heart. “After the challenges of last year, I learned to appreciate every moment, and I do my best to savor and enjoy each experience.”

One of her favorite times for making memories is Easter. “When I was growing up,” Kingsbury says, “I had three sisters, so there were always plenty of pretty dresses and the usual Easter eggs, baskets and bunnies—symbols that we associated with the renewal of life.”

Easter was always full of light and hope in Kingsbury’s childhood, especially compared with the somberness of Good Friday. “Even as a young girl, I really grasped the sadness of Jesus on a cross. It always made Easter so much better. The sun always seemed to be shining on Easter morning—a reminder of God’s promise after the darkness.”

These days, one of Kingsbury’s favorite Easter traditions is talking with her husband and children. “Each Easter Sunday, we gather and share about how we’re doing so far in the new year. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives, our hopes and dreams, and how the Lord is working among us. Always we’re amazed at the miracles of God around us.”

Surely Kingsbury has already fulfilled many of her hopes and dreams. With 54 books (and counting), millions of copies sold worldwide, her name on USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists and honors galore, she has become a mainstay in Christian fiction. And she’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. Next in the Bailey Flanigan series is Learning, followed by Longing and Loving.

In Leaving, Kingsbury delivers an entertaining story with memorable characters and a powerful message about the only things that last—faith, love and our connection with God. As she says, “Jesus stays.”

 

Recently, Karen Kingsbury, the prolific author crowned the queen of Christian fiction by Time magazine, will celebrate the publication of Leaving, the first book in her four-part Bailey Flanigan series. But she won’t be celebrating alone. “I created the series because the reader friends asked for it,” Kingsbury says in a phone call from her […]
Interview by

The signs were favorable for my call to debut author and astrologer Mitchell Scott Lewis at his Manhattan home. Consulting the stars for any matter of events—even a phone interview—is run of the mill for Lewis, who has been a practicing astrologer in New York City for more than 20 years. Well in advance, Lewis successfully predicted the exact top of the housing market, the deterioration of the mortgage business and the 2008 market crash. He has appeared on 20/20 and been quoted in Barron’s, the New York Post and other leading publications.

“You can use astrology for anything,” Lewis says, “and I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. Many of my clients have asked me why I didn’t write an astrology book. The effort that goes into that would be the same as a novel and, quite frankly,” he admits, “the only people that would read it would be astrologers.” Lewis hopes to appeal to a wider audience. “I wanted to fit the astrology into the mystery genre, not to shove it down people’s throats, but to show them what can be done.”

In Murder in the 11th House, the first book in Lewis’ Starlight Detective Agency series, birth chart, street-smart savvy astrology detective David Lowell takes on the investigation of a pro bono murder case to help out his young defense attorney daughter, Melinda.

“I wanted to fit the astrology into the mystery genre."

When asked if he had ever assisted in a murder case investigation, Lewis was at first hesitant to reply. “I’ve been consulted by private families—not by the police—to do some work on a murder case. It was a pretty sordid affair. To tell you the truth, it’s a little bit scary when you’re dealing with murder and you’re not David Lowell with a bulletproof car, a bodyguard and all the money in the world.”

Lewis says he conjured up a wealthy private investigator for a reason. “I got so tired of all those poor schleps, like Rockford—although I love the guy, I wanted someone with power so I could see how he uses it, someone who has money in a society that has been corrupted by it.  All around him is a society that is crumbling . . . hopefully it will pull itself together, but as of now, we’re in a dark time of the history of mankind.”

In Murder in the 11th House, darkness comes in the form of a car bomb explosion in the parking garage of the courthouse that kills Judge Farrah Winston, a beautiful, much loved, paragon of virtue. The accused is Joanna (Johnny) Colbert—a foul-mouthed bartender with a gambling problem and a hair trigger temper.

“In the case of the judge,” Lewis says, “I developed the character first, then fit the astrology to her. With Johnny, her chart came to me first, very quickly, because I wanted certain personality traits. Then I wound up changing it right before publication because the moon was within a few minutes of the sun, which makes it more powerful and brings up the father figure more, an area where Johnny has a big problem.”

The astrology used in the book is researched and authentic. “I’m going to put the charts up on my website so anyone who’s studying astrology can see what I’m talking about. But I’m keeping Lowell’s chart a secret for a reason. I’m giving clues, and at some point, I’ll probably ask my readers what kind of chart they think he has and why.”

As the story progresses, all the evidence—celestial and otherwise—points to Johnny. Determined to find out who killed Judge Farrah even if it turns out to be their client, Lowell meticulously examines the charts of the judge’s clerk, a self-important senior partner in a prestigious law firm, the judge’s sister; a pathologically shy, mousy woman who stands to inherit her dead sibling’s fortune; and even the judge herself. As time grows short, Lowell enlists the aid of his feisty secretary Sarah, a smart cookie with a penchant for expensive shoes, and his trusty sidekick, Mort, an accomplished hacker and sometime psychic.

When someone tries to kill Johnny, Lowell knows he’s on the right track. But there’s a bad moon rising, and they’re all endangered as the action heats up.

Although you may not believe in signs, by the time you reach the end of Lewis’ Murder in the 11th House, you might be wondering if it’s possible to determine the identity of a murderer with a little help from the stars.

In spite of all the darkness he sees around him, Lewis has a well-developed sense of humor that shines through in his quirky characters, resulting in a fun, entertaining, socially insightful and informative read.

 

The signs were favorable for my call to debut author and astrologer Mitchell Scott Lewis at his Manhattan home. Consulting the stars for any matter of events—even a phone interview—is run of the mill for Lewis, who has been a practicing astrologer in New York City for more than 20 years. Well in advance, Lewis […]

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