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EMOTIONALLY REWARDING

It’s hard to think of a mother who plans to kill herself as a heroine.
Sometimes, reading simply provides appreciation for the problems we own by escaping into someone else’s, but readers want a heroine, despite insurmountable odds, to triumph. With FIVE DAYS LEFT, some readers struggle with the “Brittany Maynard” premise. Because there’s a child involved. Because, they think, what if the daughter finds her? What if? What if? All these questions are propel readers forward.
FIVE DAYS LEFT is structured around Mara’s problem: loss of control. A universal fear – being completely dependent on those around us for our every need. We’ve all thought, “Please, not like that!”
Mara has one thing in her corner. She “knows” how she will die, if Huntington’s takes her.

It will be progressive. And it won’t be pretty.

But, she’s decided to take that back. The how she dies part. Because it’s all Mara has. And if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself, damnit. Under the banner of protecting her family’s memories, sparing them “seeing her like that”, Mara has made a pact with herself to end her life on her own terms, when the time is right.

THE TICKING CLOCK

All stories have them, so the audience knows when they get to turn out the light, get a snack or… pee…
Many readers wrestled with Mara’s decision to end her life based on peeing in her yoga pants. There’s several ways this opening scene would function better, revealing more without continual flashbacks to push the plot along.
Sure, untimely pee is embarrassing, but public humiliation is only truly PUBLIC when some you KNOW sees something you’re trying to hide. If Mara had been with her daughter, whom she’s trying to give a “normal” childhood or had she been approached by a colleague from her law firm, well… readers would have squirmed more during the market scene.

A way to make it better?  Include references to the existing scene with rude little boy, but let this be the SECOND peeing incident. The public humiliation is worsened, revealing the thing Mara’s been denying/trying to hide due to her birthday’s approach. Even a workaholic, driven lawyer would have second thoughts about her “plan.”
The decision on the first-pants-wet makes her seem suicide-happy because Mara’s degenerative health profile has not been explained at this point in the novel. The decision to end her own life based on wetting her pants ONCE, coupled with remarks about her “sexy” kitchen and replacing herself with a car as a gift for her husband (This is no moment of humanity. It tells the audience she believes her worth is equal to a vehicle: replaceable, shiny, only good in top condition) are misplaced. Maybe Mara doesn’t get this because she’s an adoptive mother, but bladder issues during and after carrying a child are part of the way life works. TRANSLATION: It doesn’t just happen to the elderly. These combined assumptions make Mara seem shallow, not simply depressed. This conflicts greatly with the love shown by the people surrounding her. If Mara had one moment of internal reference to jumping the gun emotionally in a previous situation, based on viewing herself this way, readers would see this as an internal, universal flaw, making her more relateable.

PROBLEM, PROBLEM, WHO SOLVES THE PROBLEM?

The heroine, naturally. Mara’s ironic problem is that her gift to herself, her gift to family is seen by some as robbery. Robbing her family of time to pour love on her and learn things about one another before the final end. But there are always what-ifs in retrospect, right? Everyone wants MORE TIME. And Mara, she wants time the way she wants it. Readers can identify with this desire, can say, well at the very least, she deserves THAT. Because of these desires we have, wills are written, letters to open on landmark birthdays, weddings, videos about our pride in accomplishments for graduations … All methods to comfort, to control what happens after we’re gone, so things don’t fall apart. Control when life is chaos.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Bring tissues

CMHimages (1)Calling Me Home
Author: Julie Kibler
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 12, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250014522
ISBN-13: 978-1250014528

Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930’s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper–in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC~

Several reviews compare CALLING ME HOME to THE HELP, so let me address how it stands apart. The main relationship in CALLING ME HOME is between an elderly, widowed white woman (Isabelle) and a middle-aged, single black woman (Dorrie). Many authors agree there are no new characters in any genre, just new relationships. In novels such as THE HELP and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES a character dynamic that is often presented is The Wise Black Woman. CALLING ME HOME offers a fresh dynamic as Isabelle shares her bitter losses and past mistakes in hopes of helping Dorrie through her present-day struggles. The story is about race, but with a different approach.

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING~

Get some tissues, they said. Block out some time, they said. Tragic love story.  Apologies authors, but my reading is done in the carpool line. No leisurely tub reading in this LIFE PHASE – sorry! To be fair, my car is the same place I write fiction, articles and blog posts.

If I’m hungry, I hit this country meat & three with internet. (Don’t worry. I have headphones.) For future reference, when you CRY at a meat & three, the *Nice Guy with a Walker* (whose wife is in a wheelchair & connected to an OXYGEN TANK) will come over and tell you, “Honey, now, it’s just a little ‘ol book.”

You will feel like you’ve been visited by ANDY GRIFFITH.

So, thank you, Julie Kibler. CALLING ME HOME an emotional, rewarding visit. Plus, there was *Nice Guy with a Walker*.

Though the circumstances of the story are extreme – few of us have dealt with Isabelle’s troubles – being controlled by authority figures, feeling powerless, and the intensity of first love, are all universal emotions. Kibler guides readers through these with ease.

ONE FUNNY THING~

Emotional moments during Isabelle’s storytelling are emphasized by a seemingly all-knowing crystal-ball type crossword puzzle book Dorrie picks up at a convenience store on their way out of town.  I wanted the characters to not only note the crossword book’s eerie abilities to perceive/predict the conversation, but to also fling it out the car’s window in terror.

INTERESTING~

Isabelle only states that Dorrie is “African-American”, but Dorrie describes Isabelle’s appearance at length. This bothered me because I thought Kibler had made a white-author-writing-black-people mistake until I reached Isabelle’s description of Robert.

NICE TWISTS~

You think you know, but you don’t. Repeat.

DUAL HEROINES~

I don’t like to compare movies and books, but this novel reminded me of BRAVE in a small way. It took both Dorrie and Isabelle to tell the story, with the small difference being the greater change was in Dorrie.

FINAL THOUGHTS~

A great debut filled with historical suspense. Will she or won’t she? Did she or didn’t she? You can even recommend CALLING ME HOME to your mother. Totally worth it, but not in public. You see, I’m not the crying type. On another note, I searched both Goodreads and Amazon for reviews from readers who aren’t white girls. I only found ONE. I would love to hear reviews from a different point of view.

ImageBook Review: THE ART FORGER, B.A. Shapiro

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Boston / Art World / Art Forger / Art Dealer / Literary Thriller / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Degas)
Publisher/Publication Date: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (10/23/2012)

 Publisher summary: On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye. 
 
 Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. 
 
 Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.

SPOILER: The Degas painting in question does not exist. Don’t waste twenty minutes (or MORE) looking for it on your Smartphone.

What I Think:

If art and Paris stroke your senses, combine that with pulling something over on the snooty and you have THE ART FORGER. Shapiro merges historical fact with her wonderful imagination in this tale of ambition, greed, heist and forgery through the eyes of Claire Roth, a struggling artist with a tainted past and (fictionalized) letters of Isabella Stewart Gardner, an infamous Boston art collector.

Driven by the need to clear her name and establish herself, Claire Roth is shrewd and deals well with conflict, but is not as likeable as she could have been. Her involvement with boys at a juvenile prison where she teaches art is used only as a tool to discover more about forgeries and foreshadow Claire’s brushes with the law. Bitterness over past betrayals within the art community comes through in self-deprecating humor and is sometimes, laugh-out-loud funny, but Claire lacks heart.

Shapiro paints clear descriptions of setting and I had no trouble picturing characters or understanding their motives. The internal struggle Claire faces – her own original works, side by side with the forgeries/ copies she creates provides a great backdrop for the external plot. Museum authorities, art critics and federal agents race to discover the answer of what is authentic art, doubting Claire’s story – and who she is trying to protect –  the entire way.

I particularly enjoyed learning about the world of art forgery. Shapiro’s descriptions of paint and forgeries –  how time affects oil and canvas  – captivated my scientific side. Let’s face it, we all like books that make us feel a bit smarter at the end. THE ART FORGER is a fun read and a fascinating introduction to the world of art, forgery and deception.

Man in the Blue Moon

Author: Michael Morris
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414368429
ISBN-13: 978-1414368429

 Book Description:
“He’s a gambler at best. A con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons. While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins. But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

What I think:

If you like Southern Fiction, there is a great deal to like about MAN IN THE BLUE MOON. Set in a Apalachicola, a coastal town of cypress trees and Spanish moss, the characters face financial hard times and a war that has everyone on edge. Morris’ blends suspicious town gossips married to quiet men who say the right thing at just the right time, self-righteous know-it-all’s nosing around, loyal friends who don’t speak for years and evangelical pastors straining for a buck. He parades them before you with wonderful timing, a familiar step through turn-of-the-century north Florida. Morris brings up many captivating questions about faith, miracles and mysticism – reserving judgment or explanation. That’s an interesting turn for Tyndale, which typically publishes Christian fiction. Can I get an AMEN?

The main character is single mom, Ella Wallace. Due to her no -account husband, Ella is stuck with debts she can’t pay. She tries to run a commissary and raise three very different sons in the middle of a war, holding fiercely to the one thing her Daddy told her to never let go of – her land. Ella’s character is completely relate-able to today’s times. Though I cocked my eyebrow at the Snidely Wiplash description of her husband, wishing he and the “bad guys” had been given as much depth as other characters, the premise and story were so intriguing, I had no trouble continuing.

The GUY (there’s always a GUY): He arrives in a completely unexpected fashion, setting the gossips a-dither. He’s the opposite of the louse-like husband, offers to help right and left, and doesn’t even realize he’s filling the immense void Louse Husband left behind. Dream guy, right? He’s very mysterious, creating more trouble and town speculation than Ella (and her teenage son) can handle. She’s caught between the need for his help and gossip about him helping her and feelings, nothing more than feelings.

Meanwhile, there’s a power-grab for Ella’s land between a scurvy banker and an evangelist who turns local Indian beliefs about healing waters and Scripture on it’s ear. Ella’s is torn between her promise to her father and her debt. How will she survive? Money goes this way and that and Ella struggles to maintain her dignity, her family and her land. The murder described above is a huge slam-bang affair, written powerfully well. I was surprised how Morris, who obviously loves Apalachicola and knows it in and out, quickly turns to a well-drawn action scene that had me guessing.

Also amazing is that Morris pulls pieces of this story from his own family history. A man actually did arrive to his family farm in the same manner as Ella’s visitor to work for awhile before Morris was born. Interesting how family history contributes to authors stories, isn’t it?

If you like MAN IN THE BLUE MOON you may enjoy-

For the Southern aspect, Florida author – JANIS OWENS My Brother Michael, and American Ghost

A Christian, Southern author – CHARLES MARTIN The Dead Don’t Dance

For a Historical & Florida author – MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS South Moon Under

MAN IN THE BLUE MOON is the SheReads.org online book club November read.. You can visit Shereads.org to read more reviews.

The anthology is out! Not just the ebook, but the one where you physically turn pages and smell that booky smell and set it on a shelf and say, “Hey! See that book there? I KNOW someone who contributed to that!” So, yea! It’s out there, folks. Like a plate of fried chicken, waiting to be devoured. I stopped by my favorite tea room downtown the other morning to drop off a complimentary copy to the owner and someone asked how long I thought about the characters before I wrote the story.
How long? Hmmm…
“Do they pop onto the page or what?”
Miles did. Lexie, I’ve thought about for years. Aunt Blanche & Mimi I’ve known all my life.
So, it depends.

I think if writers were honest, we’d say some of those characters walk with us every day. We’re schizophrenic that way. When we slice tomatoes, we wonder how our main character would do it. If we smell our nasty trash can, we wonder if our villain cleans his/hers on a regular basis or if he/she just lets it stink up the garage.

All those movies and books that thrill you and you think, ‘Ah, that’s how it should happen!’ We want to give you that. It’s our goal and it takes work. (Some of us want to disturb you, but that’s another form of entertainment) All the time normal people think we’re off in a dreamy floating state — hint — we are. We’re writing 24/7.

New York Times Best Selling Author, Haywood Smith

I first met Haywood Smith in my early twenties. She is a kind, sassy and inspirational lady filled with laughter and sharp wit. We both love chunky jewelry and views of the outdoors. I hope you enjoy her passion for writing as much as her passion for living!

1. When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

When I turned forty, I was trying to sell houses in a subdivision, stuck in a sales trailer with no bathroom with an ex-stewardess cocaine addict for a partner, who propositioned my teenaged son, lied to the builders to make her look good and me look bad, and called me every Sunday morning from a different man’s bed to tell me she couldn’t come to work on my one day off.   In the middle of the S&L crisis, when mortgage interest rates were 14%.  But I’m loyal, so even that didn’t drive me out of the business.  The final straw came when I went on vacation and my partner sold a listing without clarifying the size of the lot, and both of us almost ended up being sued by the buyers.

That did it.  I called my friend Carolyn Stovall and asked her what else I could do.  I only had a high school diploma.  I couldn’t get a job at WalMart as a greeter, because my arthritis was so bad, I couldn’t stand on the concrete.  And I am so numerically challenged that two personal bankers (at two different banks!) who tried to sort out my checking account told me I could never have a debit or ATM card, or nobody would ever be able to get my account straight.  So I couldn’t check groceries at Kroger without risking a felony.

Carolyn asked me, “If somebody said you were going to die in two years, what would you do?”

I heard my voice say, “I’d write a book and try to get it published.”  News to me, who had always been an avid reader!

Carolyn laughed and said, “Then why are you waiting for a death sentence?”

So I quit my job and went home to write.  It took five years of writing and learning and rewriting to finally get my first book published, but when it came I out, it was nominated for four national awards, and won one.  Now I am living my dream.

2. You are most known for your Women’s Fiction titles, but you started out writing in a genre that required a great deal of research. Can you tell us about how it shaped your writing today?

I love accurate historicals, and when I wrote them, I mirrored the cultural conflicts of the times and places in the relationship between the hero and heroine, which helped the book to resonate on several levels.  I did my research at UGA’s library, getting advice about reliable sources in advance from professors who knew about the era in which I was writing.  (They’re always very glad to help.)

We didn’t have Google then, but I prefer to use works of tried-and-true historians, but take even them with a grain of salt.  Much of current history is revisionist, just as many historians before the scientific method reflected their own sensibilities in their accounts.  I am always aware that even scientific historians may reflect their own personal and political agendas, so I look at the overall accounts and get a wider picture before I decide to use a specific reference.

Now that I’m writing current novels, I still use the conflicts of my characters’ culture to give my stories resonance, but now I’m writing about women’s issues instead of historical events.  Still, I’m driven to “get it right” about my characters and their worlds.  My research background has taught me to do in-depth histories and psychological backgrounds for my characters, to give them believable motives for what they do.  Readers tell me they know these characters in their own lives, or relate to them personally, which is great—except when they sue you for defamation of character, and win!  (Only once, but once is more than enough.)

3. How is your next writing project going?

My next writing project, OUT OF WARRANTY, is way behind schedule, because—at my editor’s insistence—I’ve started social networking, and that takes a lot of my time.  I’m excited about the book, though.  It’s the story of a middle-aged woman who falls apart physically ten years before Medicare and ends up impoverished by medical bills, so she decides she needs to marry somebody for health insurance.  After a series of hilarious courtships, she ends up finding an unusual and satisfying solution.  As always, there are lots of laughs and plenty of heart.  And I send up the medical profession, the health insurance industry, and the frustrations of getting older.

4.    What is your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge is trying to do everything myself and continue to write, promote, and sell my books, as well as manage my wonderful house and yard.  I can’t wait till my six-year-old grandson can become my e-publicist and personal techie.

5.     When do you feel the most victorious?

I feel most victorious when I get fan e-mails that say my books made my readers laugh so loud, they woke their husbands.  Or that my stories lightened their lives in dark times.  Or helped them smile during chemo.  Or showed them they could survive divorce and betrayal.  Or helped them stop blaming and move on to a more positive life.  Or brought them closer to God.  When I read messages like that, I weep for joy and gratitude.