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hose of you who read Pearl Cleage’s What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (an Oprah book club selection) will remember the protagonist’s sister, Joyce Mitchell, who ran a social club of sorts for teenaged moms. Cleage’s new novel, I Wish I Had a Red Dress, continues the story of Joyce and her girls and the men who shake up their worlds for good and for ill.

A resident of a rural African-American town called Idlewild, Joyce has eaten much bitterness. She’s not only a widow, but her children have also died, and when the book opens she’s in the process of being humiliated by a legislative committee for daring to seek state money for her girls. She’s teaching them, with varying degrees of success, to be free and strong women, which largely means crawling out from under the thumbs of their abusive or irresponsible boyfriends. Since the boyfriends tend to ratchet up their abuse during the Superbowl, Joyce stages an anti-Superbowl party which evolves into the “The Sewing Circus Film Festival for Free Women,” featuring films by black directors with strong black women as lead characters. Of course the town’s young men resent the idea of their girlfriends focusing on something other than them, and an event occurs during the festival that underscores the book’s theme of men inevitably barging in to mess up women’s happiness.

Cleage writes in a brisk and credible style, creating instantly recognizable characters. Some of the chapters are no more than a page long, and all of them have titles, some delicious, like “This Denzel Thing,” “When Junior Started Trippin’.” and “The Specificity of Snowflakes.” The girls, especially the bright and responsible Tomika, are valiant, and the boys, especially the brutish Lattimore brothers, are wonderfully hateful. Joyce, though warm-hearted and giving, still has a core of resentment against the perfidy of men, though she was married to a loving and responsible one for many years. Yet Cleage herself is unflagging in her belief in the inherent strength of women. I Wish I Had a Red Dress is a sensitive story of sisterhood, courage and self-determination, always leavened with touches of humor and compassion.

Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.

hose of you who read Pearl Cleage’s What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (an Oprah book club selection) will remember the protagonist’s sister, Joyce Mitchell, who ran a social club of sorts for teenaged moms. Cleage’s new novel, I Wish I Had a Red Dress, continues the story of Joyce and her girls […]
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 […]
Review by

ith a bolt-from-the-blue opening sentence, “They died instantly,” Jacquelyn Mitchard grabs hold of her readers and pulls them into a story of love, heartache, tragedy and triumph in her latest novel, A Theory of Relativity. As evidenced in her previous bestsellers, The Deep End of the Ocean and The Most Wanted, Mitchard proves beyond a doubt that she ranks as a premier storyteller.

Keefer Kathyrn Nye, only a year old when her parents die in a car crash near Madison, Wisconsin, is the focal point of a bitter, prolonged custody battle. Keefer’s bachelor uncle, 24-year-old science teacher Gordon McKenna, seems the most appropriate custodian for his niece, since he helped his parents care for the little girl while his sister battled cancer. However, Keefer’s paternal grandparents, the affluent and aggressive Ray and Diane Nye, challenge his claim, asserting that their deceased son would want his child’s godparents (the Nye’s niece and her husband) to have custody.

The fact that Georgia and Gordon were adopted from different birth parents plays a prominent role in the proceedings, forcing the McKennas to challenge a grievously unfair law that distinguishes between “blood” and adopted relatives. After exhaustive social studies and hearings in which Gordon has to prove that a single man can make a good father, a judge rules that in the best interest of Keefer, she should live with her godparents. As Gordon and his mother Lorraine draw up plans to challenge the adoption, they find that even with an expeditious legislative victory to close the loophole, their hard work fails to bring a satisfying closure to the lawsuit. The decision stands, and the parties must come to a mutual agreement on what’s best for Keefer.

Inspired by a real-life case, Mitchard’s novel draws on her own experience as an adoptive parent to lend realism and emotion to the story. Once again, she captures her reader’s hearts, drains them emotionally and then rewards them with a surprising twist.

Sharon Galligar Chance writes from Wichita Falls, Texas.

ith a bolt-from-the-blue opening sentence, “They died instantly,” Jacquelyn Mitchard grabs hold of her readers and pulls them into a story of love, heartache, tragedy and triumph in her latest novel, A Theory of Relativity. As evidenced in her previous bestsellers, The Deep End of the Ocean and The Most Wanted, Mitchard proves beyond a […]
Review by

his wife of 20 years succumbs to cancer, Robin Meredith retreats into the exhausting but familiar work of tending his English farm. He can’t eat anything more substantial than a hunk of cheese. He doesn’t know how to comfort his grieving daughter, Judy, who has moved to London to escape the rural life her California-born mother disliked. He swats at a nagging feeling that his wife never really loved him.

No sooner have they buried her than Robin’s brother Joe dies. It’s an unexpected, violent death that throws the entire extended family into emotional and financial turmoil and leaves them turning to a stunned Robin for help. Naturally, Robin struggles in his newfound role as man of the family, making awkward attempts to comfort a distraught sister-in-law and his aging parents. He deals with the pressure and his own repressed grief by stumbling into an affair with Zoe, his daughter’s 20-something friend. The unnervingly perceptive Zoe is a less-than-welcome addition at Tideswell Farm, but she gradually charms the entire Meredith family even Robin’s stubborn, unyielding mother and encourages them to create their own changes rather than accept those thrust upon them.

Joanna Trollope’s writing once again shines as she explores the dynamics of loss in an unsuspecting family. As always, Trollope fills her novel with believable characters who say realistic things and live sloppy, imperfect lives like the rest of us. Even 4-year-old Hughie’s voice rings true; his quietly willful way of coping with his father’s death provides some of the most poignant moments in the book. And Zoe, with her piercings, purple hair and black clothes, should be the last person who catches the eye of a mourning middle-aged farmer. Yet through Trollope’s words, their relationship unfolds as naturally as the grief loosening its grip on the family. Trollope excels at detailing ordinary, everyday life, then hurling life-changing twists at her characters without the slightest hint of melodrama or speciousness. Perhaps even more admirable is the restraint she shows by not whitewashing her stories. You come away from this book without an entirely happy ending, but somehow that makes it all the more satisfying.

Amy Scribner is a writer in Washington, D.C.

his wife of 20 years succumbs to cancer, Robin Meredith retreats into the exhausting but familiar work of tending his English farm. He can’t eat anything more substantial than a hunk of cheese. He doesn’t know how to comfort his grieving daughter, Judy, who has moved to London to escape the rural life her California-born […]
Review by
When his wife of 20 years succumbs to cancer, Robin Meredith retreats into the exhausting but familiar work of tending his English farm. He can’t eat anything more substantial than a hunk of cheese. He doesn’t know how to comfort his grieving daughter, Judy, who has moved to London to escape the rural life her California-born mother disliked. He swats at a nagging feeling that his wife never really loved him.
 
No sooner have they buried her than Robin’s brother Joe dies. It’s an unexpected, violent death that throws the entire extended family into emotional and financial turmoil and leaves them turning to a stunned Robin for help. Naturally, Robin struggles in his newfound role as man of the family, making awkward attempts to comfort a distraught sister-in-law and his aging parents. He deals with the pressure and his own repressed grief by stumbling into an affair with Zoe, his daughter’s 20-something friend.
 
The unnervingly perceptive Zoe is a less-than-welcome addition at Tideswell Farm, but she gradually charms the entire Meredith family—even Robin’s stubborn, unyielding mother—and encourages them to create their own changes rather than accept those thrust upon them.
 
Joanna Trollope’s writing once again shines as she explores the dynamics of loss in an unsuspecting family. As always, Trollope fills her novel with believable characters who say realistic things and live sloppy, imperfect lives like the rest of us. Even 4-year-old Hughie’s voice rings true; his quietly willful way of coping with his father’s death provides some of the most poignant moments in the book. And Zoe, with her piercings, purple hair and black clothes, should be the last person who catches the eye of a mourning middle-aged farmer. Yet through Trollope’s words, their relationship unfolds as naturally as the grief loosening its grip on the family.
 
Trollope excels at detailing ordinary, everyday life, then hurling life-changing twists at her characters without the slightest hint of melodrama or speciousness. Perhaps even more admirable is the restraint she shows by not whitewashing her stories. You come away from this book without an entirely happy ending, but somehow that makes it all the more satisfying.
 
Amy Scribner is a writer in Washington, D.C.


 

When his wife of 20 years succumbs to cancer, Robin Meredith retreats into the exhausting but familiar work of tending his English farm. He can’t eat anything more substantial than a hunk of cheese. He doesn’t know how to comfort his grieving daughter, Judy, who has moved to London to escape the rural life her […]
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 […]
Review by

ileen Goudge first broke into publishing when she was asked to launch the Sweet Valley High series, which turned into a phenomenally successful line of teen romances. Later, she branched out on her own and wound up writing seven best-selling mainstream novels, including One Last Dance and Garden of Lies. Now the popular women’s fiction writer returns with Stranger in Paradise, another fast-paced tale that mixes a bit of romance with a contemporary family crisis.

Nestled in a peaceful valley outside Santa Barbara is the little town of Carson Springs. An idyllic community with sun-kissed hills and lush orange groves, it has a magical appeal to residents and tourists alike. It’s in this glorious setting that Goudge launches the first in a new trilogy of Carson Springs novels. The story centers on Samantha Kiley and her adult daughters, Alice and Laura. Each woman is facing a turning point in life, and the interaction between the trio is typical mother-daughter antagonism.

Laura, the eldest daughter and a recent divorcŽe, helps her mother run the family’s gift shop. Alice, a television producer, has just married her over-50 boss, and finds herself questioning the wisdom of marrying an older man, as well as their mutual decision not to have children. Meanwhile the daughters are grousing over their mother Samantha’s not-so secret affair with a younger man. When Sam gets pregnant, the story really gets interesting as her condition sparks the disapproval of the small town.

And what’s a good romance without a little suspense to add some spice? This paradise has its very own malevolent murderer on the loose, and the tranquil little village can’t quite rest until the culprit is caught.

Goudge’s merry mix of secondary characters completes the package. Sam’s best friend and former nun Gerry Fitzgerald, good-looking ranch hand Hector and the colorful residents of Carson Springs add plenty of additional flavor. Add the bevy of nuns at the Our Lady of The Wayside convent, and their Blessed Bee honey business, and you have enough craziness to keep the Hail Mary’s coming.

Stranger in Paradise is a page-turning drama that delivers a little something for everyone romance, intrigue, humor, all brought together in a thoroughly engaging story. Just right for that perfect summer day’s read.

ileen Goudge first broke into publishing when she was asked to launch the Sweet Valley High series, which turned into a phenomenally successful line of teen romances. Later, she branched out on her own and wound up writing seven best-selling mainstream novels, including One Last Dance and Garden of Lies. Now the popular women’s fiction […]
Review by

very once in a great while, a book comes along that you absolutely adore. You devour every word and are terribly misty-eyed when it ends. Then, miracle of miracles, the author decides to pen a sequel to that brilliant book and you’re again enraptured. Big Cherry Holler is the follow-up to Big Stone Gap, Adriana Trigiani’s best-selling debut novel. In the sequel, Trigiani takes her readers back to the small town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where we catch up on the lives of those quirky and fascinating townfolk who so intrigued us before.

In the eight years since town pharmacist Ave Maria Mulligan married her true love, coal miner Jack MacChesney, the couple has had a daughter, Etta, and a son, Joe, who died at the tender age of four. They have settled into the comfortable routine of family life. But even with her joy at being a mother and wife, Ave Maria begins to feel something is missing in her life. She and Jack Mac are just not as happy as she thinks they should be, and bit by bit she feels him slipping away. As things begin to fall apart, Ave Maria takes her daughter to Italy to spend the summer with relatives. While there, she meets a handsome stranger who offers her an eye-opening look at life beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stunned at her reawakened feelings of passion, Ave Maria is forced to define what is truly important to her her marriage, her family and her home.

This time around, Trigiani tells the heart-wrenching story of a marriage with all its deep dark secrets, struggles for equality and whispers of unfulfilled expectations that often exist between husband and wife. She also tells the story of a community that must reinvent itself as it comes to grips with the closing of the coal mine that has always provided employment for the town. Big Cherry Holler is an intricate tale of two people who have temporarily forgotten the reasons they came to love each other in the first place, and their journey to find that spark again. Readers will find a little bit of everything in this heart-warming novel humor, romance, wisdom and drama are all represented in the beautiful mountain settings of Virginia and Italy. Trigiani has created another keeper.

Sharon Galligar Chance is a book reviewer in Wichita Falls, Texas.

very once in a great while, a book comes along that you absolutely adore. You devour every word and are terribly misty-eyed when it ends. Then, miracle of miracles, the author decides to pen a sequel to that brilliant book and you’re again enraptured. Big Cherry Holler is the follow-up to Big Stone Gap, Adriana […]
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 […]
Behind the Book by

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 […]
Behind the Book by

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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