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Behind the Book by

I'm James Patterson and I write thrillers such as Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls.

Having said that, let me tell you a love story.

Around 18 months ago, I had a glimmer of an idea to write a novel called Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas.

The story begins with a book editor who has fallen in love for the first time in her life, and she has fallen hard. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, the man walks out on her. A day later, she receives a diary and the following note from her lover:

Dear Katie, No words or actions can begin to tell you what I'm feeling now. I'm so sorry about what I allowed to happen between us. It was all my fault, of course. I take all the blame. You are perfect, wonderful, beautiful. It's not you. It's me. Maybe this diary will explain things better than I ever could. If you have the heart, read it. It's about my wife and son, and me. I will warn you, though, there will be parts that may be hard for you to read. I never expected to fall in love with you, but I did. Matt

Katie can't help herself; she starts the diary. And reading it changes her life. To be totally honest, the prospect of writing this novel scared me, because it was a love story actually two love stories and I had never even written one love story before. I remember that it was a Monday and that I happened to be in the offices of Little, Brown in New York City. I was meeting with the publisher and the editor in chief and suddenly I found myself saying, "Let me tell you a story that I can't get out of my head. I must warn you though, it's not a thriller." I told the story I had in mind for Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, and when I finished, both of these somewhat tough (though tender on the inside) New Yorkers were crying.

At this point, I knew I had to try to get the story down on paper if I could.

For the next 10 months, every day, I continued to be scared, but I also was as excited as I had ever been while writing a book. I customarily write in my office, but I wrote Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas in the bedroom. I usually write six or seven drafts of a novel, but I wrote 11 drafts for Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas.

When I was finished, I gave it to my wife to read. When she came out of our bedroom about four hours later, she was crying.

I gave it to friends to read, and they cried. And then, this spring, a bookseller got hold of a reader's copy and sent me this e-mail. He wrote: "I'm an Irish man, and I don't cry. I never cry. I just finished Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, and I cried for the first time in 20 years. Thank you." Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas comes out on July 16. Take it to the beach. But you better bring a handkerchief.

Former advertising executive James Patterson has become a one-man publishing powerhouse, with a string of best-selling novels, including the Alex Cross thrillers and a new mystery series, launched with the spring release of 1st to Die. His latest novel, Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is a romantic departure from his earlier work. Patterson lives with his wife, Sue, and their young son. They have homes in New York and Florida.

I'm James Patterson and I write thrillers such as Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls. Having said that, let me tell you a love story. Around 18 months ago, I had a glimmer of an idea to write a novel called Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. The story begins with a book editor who […]
Behind the Book by

In 2009, my then-eight-year-old daughter brought home a few slices of Amish Friendship Bread on a paper plate. “It’s so good,” she insisted. Then she pulled out a Ziploc bag of starter and a page (a page!) of instructions. Now if you’ve never seen (or smelled) a bag of fermenting batter, well, let’s just say that it’s something you don’t ever forget.

 It didn’t take long for me to figure out that this was essentially a culinary chain letter, a “bake and share” routine that grew exponentially as you passed the starter on to not one, but three more people. I could see people running in the opposite direction, a bit like I wanted to do at that moment.

Still, my daughter held the plate in front of me, patient. I broke off a corner of the bread and chewed it slowly. It was good, moist and sweet with a sugar-cinnamon crunch. Maybe I was having a sugar rush of my own, or maybe it was because I had a few minutes of peace and quiet, but a vision of a woman came into my mind, reluctantly holding up a bag of starter and regarding it with a frown.

She was lovely, and she was sad. I didn’t know what had happened, just that she was stuck in the day-to-day motions that mimicked life when in fact she hadn’t felt alive in years. I saw her own young daughter, her husband, the home they shared together.

I knew right then that I wanted to find out more. I put the bag of starter in a mixing bowl, the instructions tucked inside, and placed it on the counter. I called to my daughter and told her we would be baking Amish Friendship Bread in 10 days.

 
That night I sat down at my computer, the image of the woman still fresh in my mind. I started writing, and the story of Julia Evarts started unfolding, but still I didn’t know what was going on. Later that night, I saw a quarter flying through the air and landing in the palm of someone’s hand. That hand belonged to Julia’s sister. I liked Livvy instantly—her optimism, her bubbly personality. But I sensed that something had happened between her and Julia, that they were no longer talking though they had once been very, very close. I continued to write, and more central characters started to show up, all with stories of their own—Madeline, a lonely widow who opens a tea salon on a whim; Hannah, a former cello prodigy whose marriage is ending; and Edie, an ambitious journalist who is desperate to make her mark.
 
I started to see all the connections, saw how the bread was linking people together in ways that surprised me. Characters appeared for only a moment but left an indelible impression.

I filled any available moment, day or night, writing. My husband had read the first few pages and agreed that there was something there. We came up with a schedule that let us juggle the kids, work and writing. I figured the story was either there or it wasn’t, and it was my job to write until it became clear either way.

All this time, my daughter and I were following the instructions that came with the starter. For 10 days it was the same thing—mash the bag—a task her brothers were more than happy to help with. We added flour, milk and sugar on the sixth and 10th days, and watched the starter bubble up happily. I still have that same starter, almost two years later.

I’ll admit that I was looking forward to baking the bread that first time. There’s something about squeezing the bag for 10 days that has you counting the days until it’s time to bake. When I realized that we wouldn’t have any starter left once we divided the batter and shared it among our friends, I kept a bag for myself. Ten days later, we were baking again.

It continued like this as I wrote the book, sharing the starter with friends and neighbors. I experimented with new Amish Friendship Bread recipes, all the time fortifying myself with the bread that was at the heart of Friendship Bread, my novel.

Amish Friendship Bread is so much more than a simple recipe; it’s about friendship and community, about sharing what you have with others and expressing gratitude for the good things in your life. I’m reminded of this every time I gather with my family in the kitchen, the bowl of Amish Friendship Bread starter on the counter, waiting for our next baking day.

Darien Gee is the author of Friendship Bread and founder of the Friendship Bread Kitchen. Click here to download a PDF of the recipe for Amish Friendship Bread.

 

In 2009, my then-eight-year-old daughter brought home a few slices of Amish Friendship Bread on a paper plate. “It’s so good,” she insisted. Then she pulled out a Ziploc bag of starter and a page (a page!) of instructions. Now if you’ve never seen (or smelled) a bag of fermenting batter, well, let’s just say […]
Behind the Book by

When I decided to make my grim reaper female in First Grave on the Right, I really didn’t want a being made of death and darkness and skeletal remains, so I decided to challenge lore. I mean, what if grim reapers were just misunderstood? Represented in legends and mythology erroneously? And what it they were really bright, shiny beacons of light that lured those departed who were stuck on Earth toward them to cross to the other side? Of course, my heroine would attract all kinds of trouble in the process, everything from demons who try to kill her to ghosts who try to kill her to, well, humans who try to kill her.

That is Charlotte “Charley” Davidson in a nutshell. And while she’d like to believe she’s a complete badass, she’s really more of an accident-prone, slightly schizophrenic girl from Albuquerque who takes the complications of ADD to a whole new level. And being the only grim reaper this side of forever doesn’t help.

Okay, but why the grim reaper, you might ask. That one is simple. As an aspiring author, I wanted to get noticed. I wanted something different that would pique the interest of agents and editors alike. Fortunately for me, Charley did just that. First, she won the 2009 RWA® Golden Heart© for Best Paranormal Romance, then she landed me an amazing agent. Not long after that, she secured a three-book deal for the rights to her story with St. Martin’s Press. Her journey has been an incredible one and the fun is just beginning.

For me, that Golden Heart final changed everything. Admittedly, I’d been entering the contest for several years, and while I never finaled despite some pretty good scores, every year I really thought I had a chance. Until 2009. I signed up to enter First Grave on the Right for one reason and one reason only: I wanted to force myself to finish the manuscript. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it would not final. No way. No how. And then I was mad that I’d wasted the entry fee. That money could have been used for something worthwhile, like chocolate! But I grudgingly sent it in and dismissed it from my mind entirely.

So when March 25 rolled around and I received the call that I was a finalist, to say that I was in a state of shock would be an understatement. I honestly could not believe it. And when I won? Forget about it. I was so shocked, I forgot my shoes and walked to the stage in a daze barefoot.

In First Grave on the Right, Charley Davidson uses her reaper abilities to help her succeed as a private investigator. It’s a natural progression from her childhood. Since she was five, she’s been helping her detective father solve crimes. In First Grave, three lawyers from the same law firm are murdered, and they come to Charley to find their killer. At the same time, she's dealing with a being she calls the Big Bad. He’s more powerful, and definitely sexier, than any specter she's ever come across. With the help of some living and some not-so-living associates, Charley sets out to solve the highest profile case of the year and discovers that dodging bullets isn't nearly as dangerous as falling in love.

Darynda Jones lives in New Mexico, where she is currently hard at work on the third Charley Davidson mystery.

When I decided to make my grim reaper female in First Grave on the Right, I really didn’t want a being made of death and darkness and skeletal remains, so I decided to challenge lore. I mean, what if grim reapers were just misunderstood? Represented in legends and mythology erroneously? And what it they were […]
Behind the Book by

When is a series not a series? The easy answer is . . . when I write it. But the real answer is more complicated. Now, they say that a sequel for a writer is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But it’s not a sequel when the primary character is—well, when she has to share the stage.

Far more accomplished writers than I (Louise Erdrich and William Faulkner, to whom I’m not comparing myself) have written books that didn’t so much continue the history of one or two people but dipped into a familiar universe for the next story. That’s what I’ve done with my new novel, No Time to Wave Goodbye.

It does, in fact, take up where my first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, left off, 13 years ago. But it begins a series of new events, not a new take on old ones.

What I learned from No Time to Wave Goodbye, other than that I could do this with dignity, was that I had the time of my life. I didn’t realize how vital these ancient characters still were. I didn’t recognize the places they inhabit in my writer’s heart.

And so, perhaps not so surprisingly, I’m back in that universe for the novel I’m currently writing, to be published in 2010.

There’ll be new people with new stories and old faces turned toward new complexities. Turns out, I have a crush on my own Yokapanowtha County—Chicago’s Italian neighborhood at Taylor and Racine Streets and the exurbs beyond.

In fact, The Deep End of the Ocean started with a crush. I thought it was a crush on a boy. Back when I was a young widow with four young kids, pushing 40 and ever so alone, I began to dream at night of my high-school sweetheart, taking refuge in the endless summer nights we shared, lying on a quilt on the hood of his grandpa’s Bonneville, smoking and stroking skin that would never be so soft again.

My honey and I were plumbers’ children, but still privileged. While we had to work, it was only after school. Before our dates, we girls dropped by the cologne counter at Marshall Fields—as one of my pals put it, “renting to own” our cosmetics. Four guys once serenaded me under the window of our apartment, singing “Jackie” instead of “My Girl” in the refrain.

Yet, there were stains on that place and time, just as there were for Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A mile from our apartment, a friend parked his car on the railroad tracks until an eastbound train dragged him and his 15-year-old girlfriend away. She was already dead, from an overdose. Mr. Curry beat his wife so badly he put out her eye and didn’t go to jail. Our great-uncle raped my first cousin. What I felt wasn’t really a crush on a boy, but on the past— particularly the sweet and profane world in which I grew up.

When I wrote Deep End, I keened my own grief through the grief of another mother, Beth Cappadora. My children’s blunt suffering became the blunt suffering of Vincent Cappadora about his little brother’s kidnapping.

The book was a hit and a triumph.

I put away my west-side Chicago youth.

Or so I thought.

Last year, I had another book ready to go—one day to be published. But I found myself writing (around the edges) about the Cappadoras. Finally, it was clear I had the answer to the question that so many readers had asked me since the publication of my first novel: what ever happened to Vincent and the rest of the Cappadoras?

Back to the beginning I went with a purpose. I rewrote and followed the strands. The book bloomed into No Time to Wave Goodbye. Not everyone who read it will have read The Deep End of the Ocean. That’s not necessary. This new story didn’t come from the previous story.

It came from that great interlaced weave of lace and chain link that is my place, my locative past. And as soon as I finished it, I wanted to go there again, because the further we get from the life we once lived, the clearer the details. Why keep that universe under lock and key?

Of course I hope readers like revisiting people whom they once considered beloved, as I did. But more than that, I turn to those streets and those nights to find myself. I walk down a block of two flats, and a dog barks. A passing car trails the ribbon of a Frankie Valli song under the viaduct. Under the light in a kitchen window, a girl opens her books. Her hair is mayonnaised with Dippity-Do and wound on rollers the size of a car’s tail pipes.

I know her. I am her.

When is a series not a series? The easy answer is . . . when I write it. But the real answer is more complicated. Now, they say that a sequel for a writer is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But it’s not a sequel when the primary character is—well, when she has to […]
Behind the Book by

My entry into tango was as convoluted as the steps I would eventually learn.
 
Having grown up in Italy, I was obsessed with America, cowboys and Indians, tepees and corrals, and dreamt to be able to two-step. Several years after my move to New York, I finally enrolled in evening classes at the aptly called Shall-We-Dance studio and began my formal instruction. Since Seven Brides for Seven Brothers had been one of my favorite childhood movies (yes, it dates me terribly), wearing boots and stomping around a fake barn to the sound of a banjo and a steel-guitar, seemed like a fabulous option.
 
Nothing came easily to me: not the steps, the pirouettes, or the arm movements. I felt like an orangutan let loose in a room full of mirrors. I bumped into everything and everyone, terrified by turns, afraid to drag my partner into such inelegant, senseless dancing. Beet-red after each of my mistakes, I’d burst into tears at the thought of my evident inadequacy. Doggedly, I continued to suffer through all those intricate patterns: Pretzel, Basket, Weave, Whip, Flip Flop, Lasso, Turning Crossbow, Barrel Roll, Wagon Wheel, Double-overhead Loop, Starburst and then Wrap, Cuddle, Hammerlock, Sweetheart, Skater’s lock, Killer Duck. The names alone were horrifyingly incomprehensible; imagine trying to remember the 180 degrees spin my feet were supposed to make in order to propel my legs (and the rest of my body) into a passable turn!
 
Two-step was followed by salsa and cha-cha, swing and rumba, waltz and the obscure Peabody and Balboa. As the months went by, I finally got it and began to feel omnivorous and hungry about dancing, any kind of dancing. I tried everything.
 
Then one day John, my teacher, played a song. He took me into his arms and suddenly that was it. Somehow the music of my youth, the notes so often played on Italian radio and never before registered, had seeped into my bones and asserted their power over my heart and brain. It was my first tango. And it would last.
 
I traveled to Buenos Aires, I took classes with the best teachers. I bought a ballet-bar and put it in my dining room to practice my moves. I studied videos of the greatest. I listened to everyone’s advice. “Tango is natural, just walk . . .” In total disbelief I would watch those fabulous performers imparting their simple teachings while their legs, seemingly completely detached from their torsos, whipped the air with incredible arabesques. “Where is your weight?” My weight? Panicking I would try to concentrate on this esoteric question. I had no idea.
 
The very first tango class I ever took in Argentina was at the beautiful Confiteria Ideal. The teacher showed a simple pattern and called me up to demonstrate. Horrified I slowly moved toward him, a sacrificial sheep about to be immolated. And then something happened, I still don’t know what came to my mind, but the moment he took me into his arms I swiftly unloaded a kick. Right at his balls . . .
 
Yes, I’m afraid I did. I had seen too many videos and thought that this was what was expected of me so I went for the first opening. I saw a knee bend, a thigh raise and BAM! My foot, size 10, was there. At full force.
 
I immediately hoped the earth would open under my feet, or a pyre would engulf me in flames, incinerating me quickly before Daniel’s fury unleashed on me. Let go like the pariah I was, I slowly, painfully (never as painfully as poor Daniel, naturally) walked back to the group and metamorphosed into a statue of salt.
 
Thankfully hours, days, months and years went by.
 
I learned to tango—but I will never forget the day I started.
 
A former model, Patrizia Chen used her passion for tango to inspire It Takes Two, a charming debut novel that chronicles a woman’s midlife escape from a dead-end marriage. Chen and her husband divide their time between New York City and Todi, Italy.
 

Author photo by Elisabetta Catalano

My entry into tango was as convoluted as the steps I would eventually learn.   Having grown up in Italy, I was obsessed with America, cowboys and Indians, tepees and corrals, and dreamt to be able to two-step. Several years after my move to New York, I finally enrolled in evening classes at the aptly […]
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Theater writer Laura Harrington based her debut novel, Alice Bliss, on a one-woman, one-act musical she wrote that she couldn't get out of her head. Her desire to dramatize the experience of military families was due to her belief that the story of the war at home and its effect on children, families and communities was one that needed to be told—but it also resonated on a personal level. In a behind-the-book essay, Harrington explains how her family history informed her moving and memorable story of a girl's coming-of-age while her father is deployed in the Middle East.

 

My father was a navigator/ bombardier in WWII, flying missions into Germany from his air base just north of Paris. Both my brothers enlisted in the Air Force in 1966, at the height of the Viet Nam war, directly out of high school and college, respectively. Even though I don’t have a family member serving in the current war, my family has been deeply impacted by war.

My father suffered from what was then called battle fatigue following WWII, a time he would never talk about directly. Nor would he talk about the experiences during the war that had so devastated him. The silence surrounding my father’s war experiences has probably been the single greatest mystery and inspiration in my life. I believe that my fascination with war grows out of my need to understand these experiences and to bear witness to this silent suffering.

I think that making the war personal is important. Telling the stories of those who have a loved one deployed is important.

 

I chose to write about the family of a soldier in the Reserves in 2006 because in my research I learned that Reservists make up 63% of our armed forces. For the families of Reservists a sense of isolation can be especially acute. They often live in communities where few, if any, of their friends and neighbors are in the military or deployed. Not only do Reservists’ children feel that no one knows their story, they often feel that no one even knows they exist.

There are more than 1.7 million military children and teens scattered across the country. Most of us have the luxury of thinking the war is distant; these children do not. They live with this war, day in and day out; they wake up with it, they fall asleep with it; it is woven into the daily fabric of their lives. They are expected to carry on at home and at school, to pretend that they do not have a parent who is risking his or her life, that they are not consumed with worry, that their daily life is not affected by this absence.

How should this sacrifice, borne by less than 1% of our population, affect the rest of us, the lucky 99% of us? What is our responsibility? Most of us have the luxury to blithely choose to remain ignorant of the war, or simply not pay attention. We can turn the page; we can change the channel. There is decadence in that choice and, I would suggest, a sense of shame, a moral disquiet.

I think that making the war personal is important. Telling the stories of those left behind, illuminating the lives of spouses and partners and children who have a loved one deployed is important.

Stories have the unique power to open our eyes and our hearts to people and to worlds and to experiences that we would not otherwise know. I wanted to find a way to tell the story of this endless war, to shed light on these struggles, and most importantly, I wanted to hear these voices.

I hope that Alice Bliss can help us begin to see this war one child at a time, one soldier at a time, one missing father at a time.

Read an excerpt from Alice Bliss on Harrington's website.

 

 

Theater writer Laura Harrington based her debut novel, Alice Bliss, on a one-woman, one-act musical she wrote that she couldn't get out of her head. Her desire to dramatize the experience of military families was due to her belief that the story of the war at home and its effect on children, families and communities […]
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Paola Calvetti is an Italian novelist and journalist. P.O. Box Love, translated by Anne Milano Appel, is her first novel to be published in the United States. Told in letters, it is the story of high school sweethearts (and star-crossed lovers) Emma and Frederico, who get a second chance at love 30 years later.

P.O. Box Love is a story that I had been pondering for years. I wanted to write about lovers of all ages, something for people who believe in “second chances” and are looking for a “feel good” experience (on the page!). I also wanted to write about an independent bookstore. This is what I had in mind when I sat down to start the novel.

From that day on, the novel literally came to me, page after page. And every time I came against an obstacle, or a doubt, something would happen to dissolve it and convince me to go one with the next chapter!

It was a truly incredible experience.

Walking around Milan, I found this tiny little card shop and thought, "That's it! That is how Emma's bookstore would be!" A bookstore that would sell only love stories because ultimately the entire history of literature is one long, continuous love story.

I didn't know what profession to give Federico, though. I knew that he had to be Emma's age (50), because they were classmates in high school, but he had to live far away so that it made sense for them to write each other long letters. Then one day I woke up and thought: an architect. I knew nothing about architecture though, and that frightened me a bit (I always try to write about what I know). So I started to research architecture and the very first article I found was on the revival of the Morgan Library in New York, which the architect Renzo Piano had just finished. It occurred to me that even though I had been to New York many times, I had never seen the Morgan Library. The article was fascinating, and while I was reading it I thought: now that is where Federico will work. I wrote a long letter (by hand of course!) to the architect Renzo Piano, telling him about my intent to set a part of my novel against the construction of the library and asking whether he would talk to me. He answered in the kindest way, inviting me to speak to his right-hand man, Giorgio Bianchi, who could tell me all I needed to know about the preparation and the five-year process of the rebuilding. I knew then that I was on the right track.

Then I began to look to mythology for a little-known love story to use as an archetype. I didn't know any offhand. Which country has given the world legends to love and build on? Brittany!

That area of what is now France is full of mysteries and legends like King Arthur, Merlin the Wizard and Morgan the Fairy. It was July and all the hotels and houses were booked though. I couldn't find any place to sleep there. I called a friend who had a house in Brittany, and asked him if he knew of a place I could rent for July and August. He answered with one word "Impossible." Of course I told him that nothing was impossible. Ten minutes later he called me back . . . an English couple cancelled their reservation on a house in Concarneau! I packed my bags and left immediately!

Then I had to find a legend. It was a cloudy afternoon and I was visiting the town. I stopped for a cup of tea and began wandering along the cobblestone alleys. I happened to enter an old second-hand bookstore run by an elderly man. I found the courage to ask him if he had any books about Britanny's legends . . . maybe a love legend.

"Of course,” he answered, “Jean and Jeanne!” He stared at me, surprised I didn’t know the legend of the two menhirs, or statues, in the small and beautiful island Belle-Ile-en-mer. Once a year the two stones are transformed from stone into flesh so they can love each other.

So I went there by boat and fell literally in love with the legend . . .  I had found my archetype. Then I decided that Emma and Federico would meet once a year on the island Belle Ile, just as Jean and Jeanne do. On April 10.

The next summer I spent a month on the island doing research. The book started materializing and I was impelled from discovery to discovery, coincidence to coincidence . . .

Which was the only book by Jane Austen which I was allowed to see during my visit to the Morgan Library?

em>Lady Susan, which was written between 1793 and 1794, acquired for the Morgan by Belle da Costa in 1947. As chance would have it, it is an epistolary novel. 

I couldn't find anything on Belle da Costa in June of 2007, but while I was in New York, the first biography of her was published!
When my U.S. publisher asked if there was any high-profile person who might be willing to give me a quote, I immediately thought of the Italian actress Isabella Rossellini. That same night, August of last year, a friend of mine invited me to dinner and who was there?   
Isabella Rossellini.
A coincidence??

 

 

Paola Calvetti is an Italian novelist and journalist. P.O. Box Love, translated by Anne Milano Appel, is her first novel to be published in the United States. Told in letters, it is the story of high school sweethearts (and star-crossed lovers) Emma and Frederico, who get a second chance at love 30 years later. P.O. Box […]
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Patti Callahan Henry's new novel, And Then I Found You, centers on a reunion of a young woman with the daughter she gave up for adoption. In a behind-the-book essay, Henry explains how a real-life adoption story inspired this touching and emotional novel.

Imagination is the essential fire for a writer. Questions are the fuel. Why and how and what if and what happens next—these are the questions that occupy my working hours. My waking and sleeping hours, too.

For years I had imagined a baby growing into a toddler, a young girl facing her first day of school, her first date. This was a shared narrative in our family. Everybody wondered. We had to. We knew so little.

Here is what we knew: My sister gave birth to a baby girl on July 18, 1989. She was adopted the next day by a hand-chosen, but anonymous family. She had a shock of dark hair and a dimpled chin. Her dad was a dear college friend of mine and she was blessed with his kind, green eyes. My sister named her Janelle. I only saw a single photo of her. And yet I loved her.

This wasn’t a story in one of my books. It was real life—the ache and tug and wondering of real life. I understood that I had a niece somewhere out in the world and I sometimes imagined her life. And yet for all the what if’s and what happened, never had I visualized the parallel coincidences that marked our crooked paths. Never had I crafted the reunion.

This wasn’t a story in one of my books. It was real life—the ache and tug and wondering of real life. I understood that I had a niece somewhere out in the world and I sometimes imagined her life.

It was a Facebook friend-request that changed my family’s world completely. Her name was Catherine and she wanted to see what her birth mom looked like. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had wondered.

After talking to her mom, my niece typed her birth mother’s name into Google. In this search for Barbara Callahan, Catherine found me—her aunt. I had dedicated one of my novels to Barbi, so Google spit out my books and my name first. But I was a mere stepping stone.

I accepted the friend request, unaware that something life-altering was under way. I was living this, not writing it, so I had no idea what was happening. Catherine then went through my friend list to find her birth mother, Barbi, and our sister, Jeannie. Slowly, incrementally, we realized who Catherine was. We wept with the singular truth that she had found us. All the unknowing ended with a single email.

My sister Barbi met Catherine first. That reunion inspired another and Catherine brought her family to Atlanta. I walked toward her, feeling as if I were meeting a character from one of my novels, or a mythical creature found in an Irish forest. Then I hugged her and there was nothing fictitious or mythical about her. I cried. She cried. I held her even as she let go of me. It was love at second sight.

In the beginning of our relationship, it was all about storytelling, all about how our lives had unfolded without each other. Catherine told us about her best friend and her boyfriend. She told us how she used to look at her eyes or the dimple in her chin or her feet and wonder, “Who gave this to me?” We all laughed about our similarities and our differences. We marveled at how our lives had run parallel without touching. Catherine, Barbi and I all grew up outside Philadelphia. Catherine’s last name is my sister’s first name: Barbi and Barbee. She looks like my daughter. She has Irish parents. Like me, she rubs her nose when she’s nervous.

 

Patti's daughter, Meagan, left, with Catherine, right.

It’s easier to love an image than a living, changing, person. Yet, through cookouts and nights out, through football tailgating and hanging out in the kitchen, I’ve loved Catherine more with every conversation, with every intimacy.

So with that love I wanted to write a novel that captured the emotional changes that this reunion brought to our family. I didn’t want to use the true-to-life details of my sister’s life—this story is hers to tell—so I put aside the facts to write about a young woman who’d done the best she could, and yet still found herself in a terrible situation with few options. I wrote about the life of a young woman and her adopted first-born child, both wondering what had become of one another, both wondering if they’d ever meet. I explored the extraordinary changes that a reunion can bring to a life and to a family. I wondered again, and this time I got to choose the questions and the answers.

Our lives were forever changed when my sister’s daughter found us. I needed to find a way to portray the goodness and grace that our family discovered in the chaos of this event. So I turned to story, because it’s story that has the power to bind us together in our messy lives. It’s story that brings us together in our common human journey. 

Patti Callahan Henry's new novel, And Then I Found You, centers on a reunion of a young woman with the daughter she gave up for adoption. In a behind-the-book essay, Henry explains how a real-life adoption story inspired this touching and emotional novel. Imagination is the essential fire for a writer. Questions are the fuel. […]
Behind the Book by

St. Louis writer Michele Andrea Bowen made a splash in the inspirational fiction world with her Church Folk series, which followed the loves and losses of a tight-knit church community in Durham, North Carolina. Her latest release, Pastor Needs a Boo, launches a spin-off of that series, the Pastor’s Aide Club, and matches reader favorite Denzelle Flowers—a former FBI agent turned pastor—with the woman who will be the making of him. In a behind-the-book essay, Bowen explains why she chose Reverend Flowers to kick things off.

I always have a hearty “laugh out loud” moment when I think about how this book came to be. Pastor Needs a Boo is the book behind the books Up at the College and More Church Folk. The main characters in this story (and in the forthcoming books in the Pastor’s Aide Club Series) are the secondary characters readers were immensely interested in throughout the original series of Church Folk novels.

Every time I wrote a new novel, my readers would ask: “Sooooo, what about Denzelle Flowers?” They wanted to know things like “Is Denzelle ever going to settle down with a good woman?” “You know, I always thought he had a thing for . . . what’s her name . . . yeah, Marsha Metcalf.” “What happened to that pastor where the women in his church went wild, like ‘Church Girls Gone Wild’ during one of his Friday night services? Wasn’t that brother Denzelle?”

My readers wouldn't stop asking, “Is Reverend Denzelle Flowers ever going to settle down with a good woman and leave those hoochies alone?”

And “Is Reverend Denzelle Flowers ever going to settle down with a good woman and leave those hoochies alone?”

Who knew that my characters would touch the hearts and funny bones of my readers to the point of them having that good old “church folk” community connection with Denzelle and the other supporting characters like they were their cousins or something? And honestly, I was beginning to ask myself what was going on in Denzelle’s world. I always liked this character—he had a lot of “old school swag” and was very funny with regard to his approach to life.

Denzelle Flowers was the kind of man that a woman writing about love and the perils of the heart could explore, analyze and investigate. Why would a man with such a deep secret desire for true love run from it like it was some kind of sci-fi concocted nuisance? I also wanted to know what kind of woman would make this man stop running. In asking that question, I became more and more intrigued by another supporting character, Marsha Metcalf.

It was so much fun to get all up in Denzelle’s “grille.” Or, to be more exact, I had a good time digging in the brother’s history, finding out what happened to make him so jaded, and how a woman could be the inspiration to turn his life around. I wanted to know why men in a certain age group ran from the very thing that would actually give their hearts the joy they craved in all of the wrong ways. Well, what I really wanted to know, was why would a handsome, smart, smooth and savvy FBI Agent/preacher like Denzelle Flowers always found himself lookin’ for luuuuvvvv in all the wrong places.

Funny thing—that was the secret question on the hearts, minds and lips of my readers. They just didn’t “get” Denzelle Flowers. They couldn’t understand how he could be such good friends with the happily married Rev. Obadiah Quincey and his wife, Lena, and not believe that love really existed, that there really was a “Ruth” out their waiting to connect with her “Boaz.”

Yes, Denzelle Flowers definitely wanted to connect with a Ruth. He didn’t want the modern-day version of a Queen Esther, or a Rahab, or even Lazurus and Martha’s sister, Mary. Denzelle wanted that sweet, dedicated, smart, hard-working and good-looking Ruth. And just like Boaz, Denzelle needed the chance to watch and observe from afar, to act like he wasn’t thinking and feeling what the readers all knew he was thinking and feeling, and to stay safe while his heart did a soft whirring motion every time he witnessed his Ruth—Marsha—laboring in the field of activities created by his church’s Pastor’s Aide Club.

I had so much fun working with these characters and figuring out how to get this pastor from “needing a boo” to grabbing that boo close to his very fragile and needy heart.

St. Louis writer Michele Andrea Bowen made a splash in the inspirational fiction world with her Church Folk series, which followed the loves and losses of a tight-knit church community in Durham, North Carolina. Her latest release, Pastor Needs a Boo, launches a spin-off of that series, the Pastor’s Aide Club, and finds reader favorite Denzelle Flowers—a former FBI agent turned pastor—the woman who will be the making of him. In a behind-the-book essay, Bowen explains why she chose Reverend Flowers to kick things off.

Feature by

So what makes a novel a Christian novel? There's no quick answer. The four novels considered here are but a small taste of the wide variety now available in Christian fiction. Each fills the category's basic requirements: good and evil are clearly defined, and characters are tested by real-world temptations and aware of what their choices mean in religious terms.

For suspense fans
Sinner is part of author Ted Dekker's Paradise series, which, along with the Circle Trilogy and the Lost Books, makes up his Books of History Chronicles. Dekker describes them as "circular, not linear," and has created a world readers can really dive into. This fast-paced tale is a thriller involving characters with very special powers, a series of lynchings and a constitutional amendment limiting free speech in order to prevent hate crimes. One of the amendment's results is the National Tolerance Act, which "opens the doors to laws that could make the teachings of Christ a hate crime" because they include claiming that Christ "is the only way to enter the Kingdom, [implying] that another's path is wrong."

Dekker is especially adept at examining the way people can be seduced into thinking that their talents give them rights others don't deserve. Sinner is thought-provoking; it left me feeling uncomfortable, but that may have been Dekker's intention.

The dangers of tolerance are also part of the plot of James David Jordan's Forsaken. Former Secret Service agent Taylor Pasbury, a woman who is haunted by her loss-laden past and who drinks and avoids relationships, gets a big client for her new security firm: televangelist Simon Mason, who's been getting threats from Muslim extremists and is especially concerned about the safety of his daughter and only child. Simon, too, has had a large personal loss to shoulder in the death of his wife, but his faith has buttressed him. Taylor is drawn to Simon, who is not without flaws and secrets, and who can be extraordinarily thick when it comes to women.

Simon's faith is tested in a terrible way when his daughter is kidnapped. The drama then moves to another stage, and some last-minute surprises are sprung. Forsaken is a highly readable book, and Taylor is a character who is worth another visit—Jordan is hard at work on the sequel, Double-Cross.

Traditional romance
Cathy Marie Hake's Whirlwind is well named: it's a traditional historical romance that moves from England to Texas without a hitch. After Millicent Fairweather loses the two little girls she's been nanny to for years when their father unaccountably decides to send them to boarding school, she sets off for America with her sister and brother-in-law. When widower Daniel Clark discovers his young son's nursemaid has fled the ship, Millicent finds herself employed. Millicent is something of a super nanny who soon wins over her young charge and, unbeknownst to her, his father. Although they end up marrying for the sake of appearances, each is hiding romantic feelings for the other. This is classic Christian fiction: the characters are devout, and it is common for them to talk with and about God. It is tempting to complain about the too-neat ending, or to find Daniel too perfect. But this frothy tale will entertain fans of inspirational fiction and romance.

Women's fiction
In Heavenly Places, the affluent African-American residents of P.G. County, Maryland, also talk to God regularly, even the not-entirely-saved Treva Langston. In Kimberly Cash Tate's charming debut, Treva has reluctantly returned to the place where she unhappily grew up and the mother who caused her misery. She can't find a new job (she was a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., area), and now has to stay at home with her three daughters, something she's never done. Treva can't get out of joining her sister's prayer group for stay-at-home mothers, but she doesn't feel at home with the women in the group.

Readers will identify with Treva, berate her for her lack of appreciation for her husband (who is on a level with Whirlwind's Daniel in terms of perfection) and her inability to see how great her daughters are, all the while admiring her for her honesty. Treva is not guilty of wanting it all, because she only wanted the career, not the children; and like most of us she's never had it all because something has always had to be sacrificed in order for her to have something else. In the end, she finds balance and discovers what Heavenly Places are.

So what makes a novel a Christian novel? There's no quick answer. The four novels considered here are but a small taste of the wide variety now available in Christian fiction. Each fills the category's basic requirements: good and evil are clearly defined, and characters are tested by real-world temptations and aware of what their […]
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Who doesn't like food and love, together or apart? Together, they are magic, and whether it began with Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate, "foodie fiction" is hot. Three new choices are showcased below: all centered on a female character at or near 40, all tending toward the literary rather than strictly romance or chick lit. Each one is a sensual exploration of foods simple and complex, homey and exotic, and above all, slow. Slow food allows time for the invocation of vivid and luxuriant metaphors (a food is said to be something else: a particular feeling, wet autumn leaves, a magnolia petal, a lover's lower lip, the smell of a mahogany desk and so on). Some descriptions are so inventive they verge on outright cross-sensory synesthesia. And be forewarned—each of these novels will make you very, very hungry.

A pinch of humor

Nancy Spiller's Entertaining Disasters is aptly titled. The double entendre captures the plight of the unnamed narrator to a tee. A freelance food writer, she makes it her business, literally, to orchestrate exquisite dinner parties and record every detail for newspaper and magazine articles. Unfortunately, her journalistic output belongs not under "Style" or "Living" or "Food," but firmly under "Fiction." She makes it all up. Why? Because, without exception, every dinner party she has actually sponsored was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. As a result, her social anxieties have escalated into party paralysis. So, for 10 years she has conducted only imaginary gatherings: sparkling dinner parties peopled by an anonymous and utterly fictitious roster of L.A.'s most beautiful.

Until now. Suddenly, her editor, who has no inkling of her secret, invites himself to her next soiree. Since he's a busy man, the first available date is five months off, which gives our narrator nearly half a year to obsess about one dinner party. Her borderline stream-of-consciousness, tangential terror splits into fascinating diversions about food and food history, and ultimately, about herself. Her past gradually emerges, pulled from silence by a smell, a taste, a touch or a memory of a particular ingredient. Now, at midlife, she is ready to examine the list of her own ingredients: who she is and what she wants.


A dash of romance

The central character of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, by Barbara O'Neal, is also starting over. Elena Alvarez arrives in Aspen poised for the professional opportunity of a lifetime: her own kitchen in an upscale, new restaurant. Poised, that is, with a broken body, a broken family and a string of broken relationships behind her. Thirty-seven, unmarried with no children, she is deservedly proud of her decades of slow, hard work up the kitchen ladder from slave to sous to chef.

Elena has been rebuilding her life since she was a teenager, when a horrific accident killed her boyfriend and several family members. Elena alone survived—albeit with horrific injuries—and she remains haunted by her past. So much so, perhaps, that she is in danger of missing a different opportunity: the possibility of true love. The unlikely candidate is Julian Liswood, who is not only a four-time-divorced hotshot film director, but her new boss, as well. The story alternates between third-person viewpoints of these two, and as the intricacies of each is revealed, the plot thickens quicker than a béchamel sauce. A nice touch is the bit of magic realism O'Neal (aka novelist Barbara Samuel) throws into the mix, giving Elena a bit of ghostly guidance and a sixth sense that serves her well.


Mix with friendship

In The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, eight people are brought together in a monthly cooking class with an intuitive and slightly mysterious chef, Lillian. With the exception of one couple, all are strangers to one another and to a certain degree, to themselves. Lillian's slow but startling method of instruction spills over into their inner lives, gently nudging each to explore what needs to be examined. Along the way, of course, they cook. True to Lillian's style, they cook without written recipes, guided by senses, memory and instinct.

Perhaps the most satisfying character study is the glimpse of Lillian's own genesis as a chef, and her earliest attempts in the kitchen. As a damaged child, she begins with little more than sheer will. With patient, methodical, focused experimentation (and a little help from a Wise Woman archetype), she begins what can be described as a journey of faith. Transforming basic ingredients into new works becomes a type of spirituality, a religion. With it, she saves her own mother, finds her own calling and masters her profession. Delicious.

 

Joanna Brichetto is trying to slow down.

Who doesn't like food and love, together or apart? Together, they are magic, and whether it began with Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate, "foodie fiction" is hot. Three new choices are showcased below: all centered on a female character at or near 40, all tending toward the literary rather than strictly romance or chick […]

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Leif Enger’s third novel, Virgil Wander, centers on the eponymous protagonist who lives in the quaint, rustic town of Greenstone, Minnesota. By day, Virgil begrudgingly works as the town clerk, but by night, he is the proprietor of the Empress, a fledgling movie theater that specializes in projecting its exclusive and illegal film collection. During a drive one snowy evening, Virgil’s car skids off the road and crashes into Lake Superior. Luckily, he is a saved by Marcus Jetty, the owner of the local junkyard. Virgil emerges from the accident with a fleeting grasp of language and flickering memories of his former life.

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