Thank you for Visiting

This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

February 2010 Selection: The Wife's Tale

Manic Mommies Book Club Selection: February 2010

I'm pleased to announce that we will be discussing this book with the author on Feb 17th at 7PM central. Watch for details as we get closer to the date.

If you would like to enter the book drawing for one of 24 copies, watch for details on the Manic Mommies website (details should be up in the next week).

Update Jan 11: Winners of the book giveaway have been notified.  Congratulations: Angie S, Osheta, Lacy J, Amy, Carissa, Janet, Shelle, Randy Teri, Jennifer C, Andrea T, Kim, Julie C, Christy L, Dale, Emily, Rose, Kim I, Jill W, Sarah C, Sharon, Vicki, Amy H, Heather and Adriene

Author Q&A
Tell us a little about yourself:  I grew up in Ontario, Canada in a rural farming community not far from the Detroit border. All three of my novels are set in full or part in the landscape of my youth. The population of the town where I was born is considerably less than the number of Manic Mommies listeners - a thought that humbles me. I'm a 47 year old mother of two - Max is 9 and Natasha, 7. My husband and I have been together for twenty-six years and lived in downtown Toronto until three years ago when we moved to Southern California where he works as producer/director on the television show "24".

Do you write daily?  I struggle, like any working mom, to balance the duelling demands of motherhood and career. I take my children to school in the morning then return to my computer for a solid six hours of work before I have to leave to pick them up. I write 5 days a week when I'm working on a novel. When I'm not writing I am full-on Mommy, taking my kids to soccer practice, supervising homework, playing catch in the backyard. The time in between the final editing of a book and the launch of it has thus far been taken up with the job of promoting the book (in some cases touring with it) and perculating the next. This is the time when I can take a few walks and read novels and allow the next set of characters to emerge from behind the curtain. It's also a time for me to reconnect with non-fictional characters since I badly neglect my friends when I'm writing.

What was it like getting your first book published?  I started writing short stories when I was 20 years old and went on to write some terrible plays and then screenplays, a few of which were produced. I had a brief career as an actor - my biggest claim to fame being that I was cut out of the Al Pacino movie Sea of Love. My husband and I lived in an apartment over a grocery store in downtown Toronto, struggling artists (he was an actor turned filmmaker) trying to pay the rent. We were filmmakers together for a short time and had both invested years trying to produce a screenplay I'd written and wanted to direct. When the financing for it fell through for the third time my husband shook me out of my disappointment by suggesting I take some time away from the film business to write the novel I'd been talking about writing for fifteen years. We also decided it was time to have a family. I was several chapters in to Rush Home Road when I discovered I was expecting. Writing Rush Home Road was an emotional journey - maybe it was the pregnancy hormones - but I felt I'd found my place as an artist. I finished the first draft of the novel in the days before my son was born and my husband read it for the first time and we discussed the characters and plot during the hours that I was in labor. After my son was born, I revised the work on the few occasions that he napped outside of the stroller. I had no connections in the book business and sent the manuscript to a literary agent whose address I got from a directory. Some time later I received a call from her saying she'd found Rush Home Road in the slush pile, and read it, and wanted to represent me. The book was sold at auction in US, Canada and the UK. A fairytale - too ridiculous for fiction.

Can you share some tips for aspiring writers?  I often hear writers talk about the difficulty of confronting the blank page, or dealing with writer's block. The tip I might offer to combat both is just keep writing. I spend each morning editing the previous days work which gives me a running start and creates a flow for the work to come. I'm not always certain about the path that I'm taking but I keep writing. The truth reveals itself to the writer when her or she hits a wall and must go back, like travelling a maze, and start again at another point.

We often hear the refrain "write what you know" which is a phrase that shouldn't be taken too literally. Perhaps "write what you love" would be more accurate. 

What am I reading?  Joeseph O'Neill's Netherland. Fantastic!

Kindles and Sony Readers: I like to hold a book in my hand. I like to turn the pages and refer to the cover art and to gaze at the author's image. I understand and appreciate the attraction people have to the digital readers but they're not for me.

Just for Fun:
Favorite ice cream? Pralines and cream

Morning or night?  I rise early, 5:30 am, and have a quiet dark hour to myself before I wake my children.

Favorite season?  The spring has always been my favorite season. When I lived in Canada I was moved by the brilliant yellow Forsythia that blossomed after the last snow. Now I live in southern California and love the way the winter rains make green our parched landscape.

Where would I visit? My husband and I made several trips to Europe before children and we both fell in love with Italy. We've promised our young ones that we'll take them to Venice one day.

MMBC: Oxygen Discussion begins today!

After dinner was served (takeout Thai for my family and Kim mentioned making supreme nachos) – we had a wonderful discussion with Carol Cassella. I received several emails after the discussion expressing how much the readers enjoyed listening to the author. Thank you to everyone for taking time from your family and busy lives to discuss the book with us.

Let’s get right to it!

Carol is married with two sets of twins, is an anesthesiologist and finds a way to fit writing into her schedule. She starting writing as a hobby but did mention she has always wanted to write a novel and drew upon her life to build aspects of the book. There are two main characters, Marie is a woman with no family and focused on her career and her sister who’s life focuses on family (they are opposites).

The plot twist comes from the fear doctors have, they do not want to harm their patient. She also wanted to write about issues with malpractice and decided to write about her own worst nightmare and what happens when a doctor loses control.

Here are some questions for you, the reader:
- What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?
- Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?
- Did you have a favorite part in the book?
- How did your opinion of Marie change from the beginning of the book to the end?
- We didn’t talk about the men in Marie’s life, on the call but I wonder what you thought of Joe.
- Let’s talk about Jolene’s mom. Did you like her as a character?
- Lastly, do you have any questions for the author? If yes, leave them here and I will send a list to Carol.

The following recap is in my own words.

How would the anesthesiologists protocol change if the patient has an existing relationship with the doctor, versus coming to the hospital via ER? It varies depending on the situation (some surgeries take longer, we are not selected by a doctor or patient). They don’t always have a lot of time to establish a relationship and trust is the most important, the first five minutes are critical.

How did you come up with the plot for the book? Did you start with the characters or the idea of the story? When she started the book Carole mentioned that she thought she knew the characters well but they changed with each revision of the novel (as the plot was tweaked). At some degree every character can be a reflection of an author. The more history you give a character the more they can make decisions on their own.

One reader mentioned getting angry at Marie for taking the blame – why was she the only one? Is that what happens in real life? The author reminded us that this is a work of fiction but it is a realistic scenario. With no bleeding, and no obvious place to cast blame it is common for the anesthesiologist to take the blame since they give the go ahead.

Jolene’s medical issue (defect) wasn’t laid out nor did the author include an autopsy in the first draft. Her editor reminded her that readers want answers, they need a conclusion.

How long did it take you to write Oxygen? It took 3 ½ years. Her goal was to write a book for her children. She did get an agent quickly and when the book wasn’t sold she told us that she started burning copies of the book - on a whim sent it to one more agency. A few months later they called, and it was sold within weeks.

Did her family/friends participate in the editing? How did she take their input? While it’s important to get an outside view but hard to take sometimes. Be selective, find someone who is honest and objective – as a writer you have to have a tough skin.

With the death of a child in the book we had to remind some people reading with us (MMBC) to push through this part of the book. When people pushed through Jolene’s death we did learn the book wasn’t centered around this. Was this intentional? She wasn’t sure she wanted to have the patient be a child but it was more realistic with drug doses. Children are vulnerable, our medical system is not fair. She wanted to show this in the beginning and then move from this aspect of the story.

Are you working on a second novel? Her second novel was going to be about human trafficking – when she did the research she couldn’t write about this topic.

Her second novel, out Summer 2010, and is about a woman completing her medical residency (she is married and learns she is pregnant). Flash forward 14 years - she doesn’t finish her residency and ends up working in the medical field with a focus on the financial situation of a family and helping those in need.

What are you reading? Olive Kitteridge

Carol is a member of the Seattle Seven – a group of writers who support each other and are working to raise money for children’s literacy.

The feedback she has received has been so moving. She mentioned a letter from a mother who lost a child during surgery – it broke her heart. The author would love to hear from anyone who has a question or would like to comment on the book. You can visit her website to reach her.

She was off to a piano recital for three of her daughters. Thank you Carol to talking with us this week!

A few of us stayed on after the call to share what we are reading:
- I’m reading The Woman who named God
- Robin is reading People (she’s in book club for the wine)
- Kim just started Brooklyn and is enjoying it
- Sharon French women don’t get Fat (tip: swap OJ for champagne for breakfast!)

Jan 20 Book Selection: April and Oliver

Manic Mommies Book Club Selection: January 2010

I'm pleased to announce that we will be discussing this book with the author on Jan 20 at 7PM central. Watch for details as we get closer to the date.

If you would like to enter the book drawing for one of 24 copies, watch for details on the Manic Mommies website (details should be up in the next week).

Synopsis: The story of April and Oliver, two inseparable childhood friends whose existences again collide with the sudden death of April's younger brother

Author Q&A:
Tell us a little about yourself: The Nuts and Bolts Answer: I grew up on Long Island, but have lived many places within the United States and abroad. I am married with two children, and teach writing to middle school students. My work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Boston College Magazine, Cottonwood, Stylus Anthology, Newsday, and elsewhere through syndication. An excerpt of April & Oliver was published in Agni and subsequently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I have a Masters in Education from SUNY Buffalo and an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College.

The Amorphous Answer: I enjoy noticing the way light from a window patiently traverses a room over the course of a day. Clouds capture my attention, as well as bird songs, swaying branches, and gusts of wind. My propensity to stop and notice makes me an oddball. At the same time, I live a life teeming with deadlines, appointments, and responsibilities. How do I manage? Not very well! Every day, life gives me ample opportunity to laugh at myself.

Do you write daily? When I am in the momentum of a project, I write daily. I like being swept up by a story and surrendering to it. When I have that kind of relationship with a piece, hours pass like minutes. As a mother and teacher, however, I don’t often have hours at a time. Sometimes schoolwork and other responsibilities take over, in which case I write in snatches.

What was it like getting your first book published? It took time for me to hone my skills as a writer. At some point, I gave up on the idea of publishing and decided to focus on teaching. Nevertheless, I kept writing because it is what I do. I worked on April & Oliver on and off for years, periodically stuffing it in a drawer for long stretches. It was my good friend, novelist Sasha Troyan, who encouraged me to haul the manuscript out one more time. Having been away from it for so long, I reread the manuscript with a blend of satisfaction and horror. Because so much time had passed, and because I myself had changed, (the stretching effect of parenthood), I could clearly see what rang true and what did not. It was as if I was reading someone else’s manuscript, and knew precisely what to fix. When I was satisfied, I sent it to an agent, and promptly forgot about it. Six months later, the agent called, asking to represent it. Two days later, the book was sold. I feel very grateful for my good fortune.

What do you think of kindle? Electronic publishing makes particular sense for subject areas where content is constantly being updated, such as science textbooks. It can also help spare our kids’ spines, not to mention a tree or two. Personally, I do not enjoy reading novels electronically. I like the tactile experience of reading, dog-earing, underlining, and hearing the whisk of each page as I turn it. However, I think people should enjoy books in whatever format is easiest for them. Currently, I spend hours in the car driving my kids to school, travel soccer, etcetera, and have taken to listening to books on tape. Given the demands of my life at the moment, if I were not listening to audio books, I would not be doing much reading at all. Therefore, I think people should enjoy books in whatever format is most accessible to them, whether kindle, audio, or old fashioned paper.

What is one tip you can share with aspiring writers? At the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference some years ago, I had the privilege of working with the late Ted Solotaroff. He said in a lecture that during his tenure as founder and editor of The New American Review, he saw many gifted writers come and go. The ones who went on to become accomplished authors were not necessarily those who showed the greatest natural talent, but those who simply did not give up. My main advice is to keep at it, and always trust your own deepest instincts.

What are you reading now? I recently finished Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Presently, I am in the middle of a reread of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Next in the queue is Herzog by Saul Bellow. The last paragraph of The Road left me so astonished that I am still having dreams about it.

Name some of your all time favorite novels, excluding classics: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez; Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Upcoming Book Club Selections

I'm pleased to announce our book club selections through July 2010! 

-  Watch for book giveaways on Manic Mommies the first week of each month (ie: early Dec we will hold the book drawing for the Jan selection)
-  We will be speaking to each author to discuss the book for 30-40 minutes
-  In addition to the author discussion we will host an online discussion for those unable to joining the call and want to participate with us
-  Watch for an author Q&A as a companion to the book giveaway each month.

Jan 20: April and Oliver, by Tess Callahan
The story of April and Oliver, two inseparable childhood friends whose existences again collide with the sudden death of April's younger brother

Feb 17: The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens
With sharp humor and delicate grace, The Wife’s Tale follows Mary Gooch – morbidly obese and living in denial – as she pursues her husband across the country.

March 17: Why Is My Mother Getting A Tattoo?, by Jancee Dunn
Despite her forty years and a successful career as a rock journalist, Jancee Dunn still feels like a teenager, especially around her parents and sisters. Looking around, Dunn realizes that she’s not alone in this regression: Her friends, all with successful jobs, marriages, and families of their own, still feel like kids around their moms and dads, too. That gets Dunn to thinking: Do we ever really grow up?

April 21: THE YELLOW HOUSE by Patricia Falvey
The story of a young woman fighting to reunite her family and reclaim their ancestral home during the war for Irish Independence.

May 19: LOVE IN MID AIR by Kim Wright
As she approaches forty, a woman struggles to find a new kind of happiness in this sexy and surprising debut novel.

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly is the story of a woman in her mid thirties as she tracks one day in her life during which she ultimately transcends the quagmire of her middle-aged existence and leaves her husband.

July 21: BACKSEAT SAINTS by Joshilyn Jackson
Synopsis: Rose Mae Lolley's past is littered with bad men. From her earliest intimate relationship with her father's fists to the string of bad news boyfriends she dated and ditched after leaving home, she has always courted trouble. As "Mrs. Ro Grandee," she's managed to tamp down the fierce and dirty girl Rose Mae once was under flowery skirts and bow-trimmed ballet flats and lunches cooked for the church bazaar. Trapped in a marriage thick with love and sick with abuse, Ro performs her role of dutiful wife perfectly in her new home in rural Texas, gracefully working in her husband's daddy's gun store in between making eggs, ironing shirts, and taking her punches. She seems doomed to spend the rest of her life battered on the outside by her husband and on the inside by her former self, until fate throws her in the path of an airport gypsy - one who shares her past and knows her future. The tarot cards foretell that Rose's beautiful, abusive husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first.

Hot-blooded Rose Mae escapes from under Ro's perky compliance and emerges with a gun and a plan to beat the hand she's been dealt. Following messages that her long-missing mother has left hidden for her in graffiti and behind paintings, Rose and her dog Gretel set out from Amarillo, Texas back to her hometown of Fruiton, Alabama, and then on to California, unearthing a host of family secrets as she goes. Running for her life, she realizes that she must face her past in order to overcome her fate - death by marriage - and become a woman who is strong enough to save herself from the one who loves her best.

MMBC: Oxygen (Dec 16, 7PM Central)

We held the book drawing of twelve free copies of Oxygen a few weeks ago.  Congratulations to: Connie, Elizabeth, Sharon, Jill, Tara, Theresa, Natasha, Jennifer, Jessica, Tracie, Trisha and Jennifer - the books are in the mail!

If you didn't win a copy of the book and are interested in discussing the book with the author on Dec 16, please send me an email with your contact information.

I plan to use to host the call, which will let each of us select our communication method (Cell, Lan line or Skype).

I will post more details a week before the call is scheduled.

MMBC10: Oxygen

Oxygen is our tenth selection for the MMBC. We will be discussing the book on December 16th with author Carol Cassella. Watch for details for a book giveaway this week on the Manic Mommies website. reviewers give this book 4.5/5 stars! I have read the book and will post my review separately, it’s a page turner!

BN Review: This story is truly a page turner. It is the story of an anesthesiologist, Dr. Marie Heaton, and gives a graphic, realistic read of her daily life and one day, a tragedy. It is centered in Seattle, a place that I've visited often, and it's description of the area and places is right on the money. It's also not "just" a medical read, it gives romance and a wonderful mystery/twist. It doesn't hurt that the author is, really, an anesthesiologist! Would love to find another book by the author someday. Soon!

A conversation with Carol:

Tell us a little about yourself: I am currently wearing lots of hats, so where do I start? I am first and foremost a mother. My husband and I have two sets of twins (I’ll go ahead and answer the question you’re asking—yes they are natural! Set two was quite the surprise!) That alone has made for an interesting life. I’m also a doctor. I started my medical career as an internist, but I wanted a bit more time at home with my family and changed specialties to become an anesthesiologist. I really do love my work, and I’ve never regretted making that change. Anesthesia is challenging, intense, creative, FUN (often) and still does give me lots of patient contact.

Then there is the writer. That was actually my mission in life from the time I was very young, but I kept getting involved in other things (medicine, babies) and never devoted the time and dedication that serious writing takes until I was in my forties. That’s not to say I wasn’t writing—I have drawers of partially finished manuscripts and I worked as a science writer for a few years. But it took a completely different level of commitment to finish a novel. It was much harder than I expected, but also much more rewarding. Other details? I grew up in Texas, lived in the Northeast for few years and then discovered the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Hard to think I’ll ever leave!

Do you write daily? I can’t write daily. Until my children are grown and I work less at the hospital , I’m afraid that will be impossible. But I highly advise all writers to try. Writing fiction, and probably non-fiction as well, is a bit like maintaining a dream while awake. Much as a dream can feel tangible and unforgettable right after you open your eyes, it’s often forgotten by the time you brush your teeth. I try to remember that whatever I would have written today will never make it onto the page unless I make time to put it there. What I write tomorrow may be just as good, but it won’t be the same.

What was it like getting your first novel published? Nothing short of awesome! I had no expectations of being published when I started Oxygen, though I certainly poured my soul into it. I think my path was easier than many new writers, and for that I am very grateful. I found a wonderful agent early in the game and they were able to sell my novel quickly. Still, there is as much work that lies on the other side of the ‘published’ wall as there is leading up to it. Promoting, marketing, learning a whole new industry, and still keeping your next book alive and growing. That has been a huge challenge for me.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? Although I would secretly love to own one, they scare me. I worry that the electronic model may drive our wonderful, critically important independent bookstores out of business, and they contribute so much to the variety and vitality of what is published and made available to the reading public. Regardless, electronic books are here to stay, so we need to hope that they will eventually open avenues for smaller presses and less commercial writers. But we really have to find a model that works economically. If digital publications drive publishers under, many brilliant voices will never make it into any kind of print. We need to pay for books if we want books to survive. I’m a huge fan of libraries, too, but I know so many starving writers who are not getting their second or third books published because their publisher lost money on their earlier work. Support the arts!

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Don’t give up!! Reading is easy and fun, so it is natural to fall prey to the myth that writing should always be easy and fun. That makes no more sense than believing a musician can make music without long hours of practice. Also, read carefully. When you discover a great book, take a paragraph or two and crawl inside it. Figure out what makes it work. Ask not only why the author put those particular words on the page, but why did he or she NOT choose other words, or a different point of view or a different voice. The beauty of writing is that there is always more to learn, always room to improve.

What are you reading now? The Little Stranger by Sara Waters. Really enjoying it! Also, Sing Them Home, by Stephanie Kallos, and a lovely book that hasn’t been published yet—Lies of the Heart by Michelle Boyajian.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Excluding classics? Does All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy count—it may be a classic by now. I think it’s my favorite book of all time, though I have never been one for having favorites. Tomorrow I might say something different! I also love A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, and I think Alice Munro is brilliant.

Just for fun:
Favorite Season: Fall! I’m looking at some gorgeous leaves right now. But ask me again in spring when the flowers are blooming.

Morning or night: I love early morning, but absolutely hate getting up early, so I miss too many, unless I’m running to work.

Favorite ice cream flavor: Mint chocolate chip.

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: India. I have always wanted to see it!

MMBC8: Waiting for Daisy - discussion recap

The Manic Mommy Book Club met last week to discuss Waiting for Daisy. With ten women on the call, from across the country, we had a lively discussion. One might think we were old friends having dinner together or a book club with a long history. We had so much to talk about.

Waiting for Daisy is a memoir, written by Peggy Orenstein. Her story begins when she tells her new husband that she’s not sure she ever wants to be a mother. It ends six years later after she’s done almost everything humanly possible to achieve that goal, from fertility sex to escalating infertility treatments to forays into international adoption. (source: author website)

Jumping right in, our discussion became personal quickly as we discussed our overall impression of the book, sharing the struggles of motherhood and the expectations we put on ourselves (and those put upon us). We all enjoyed the book and felt a bond with Peggy. We loved her writing style and the emotions carried off each page, tugging at our hearts.

We talked about our own quests for motherhood, if it was planned on unexpected. Some of us talked openly about the decision to put off becoming a parent for years, only to face the challenges of infertility. Most of us who feel we are in control of our lives, we want to neatly ‘check the box’ as we move through life and infertility is a journey no one plans for.

At the beginning of the book the author tells a story about an evening out with friends. She was amazed to find everyone talking about their children, which made us wonder how the author feels now that she has children of her own. We were in agreement that its easy to talk about our children and often have to tell ourselves ‘tonight I’m not going to talk about my kids’, only to talk about them most of the night. One member of our book club mentioned she looks forward to travelling for work, it’s not expected that she talk about her family and she can take a brief respite from parenting.

Join in the discussion:
- Looking back, are you the parent you thought you would be?
- If you read along with us, please share your thoughts about the book.

There are so many pages in the book that touched our hearts, a few tears were shed and we all agree that we highly recommend this book. Our next book selection is The Wednesday Sisters. We will be discussing this book live, with the author, on November 7th. Watch for details in the upcoming weeks.

MMBC: Waiting for Daisy update

The Manic Mommies bookclub is evolving!

Next week we will have our first ever live call to discuss Waiting for Daisy. Watch for a recap to post next week.
The call is scheduled for 7PM CST, Wed Sept 23 (on

Do you have a question for the author? If yes, please leave a comment or send your comments/questions to me via email.

Note: We will not be reading a book in October with the Napa trip scheduled for the first weekend in November. I can’t wait to discuss The Wednesday Sister’s with Meg Waite Clayton… in person!

Our December selection is Oxygen. I finished oxygen last week, it’s an eye opener (another solid BC selection). We will be discussing this book with the author, Carol Cassella, on December 16th.

Be sure to click over to the Manic Mommies site for see what’s keeping them busy this week!

Book selections for the rest of 2009

I'm pleased to annouce our book selections for the rest of 2009. I have read our September and November selections, they are really good books. I will be reading Oxygen in the next few weeks and will post a review.

Happy Reading, Mari

September 23: Waiting for Daisy

In addition to our written discussion, I’m pleased to announce we will attempt our first skype book discussion. If you are interested in joining us, please send me an email with your Skype name or phone number with ‘Waiting for Daisy Sept Skype’ in the subject line and I will add you to the distro. I will send a reminder the week before the call, to confirm who can attend. With this being our first call, it will be a MM only call (to avoid technical issues with a full audience).

November 7: The Wednesday Sisters

We will be discussing this book with the author, in person while at the MM Escape in Napa! If you are not able to join us and want to discuss the book, I am working on a way for you to join us in Napa. Watch for more details as we get closer to the event.

This book is available at Target

December 16: Oxygen

In addition to our written discussion, I’m pleased to announce we will discuss the book with author Carol Cassella, via Skype. If you are interested in joining us, please send me an email with your Skype name or phone number with ‘Oxygen Dec Skype’ in the subject line and I will add you to the distro. I will send a reminder the week before the call, to confirm who can attend.

This book is available at Target
Watch for a book give-a-way late fall

MMBC7: A Reliable Wife Discussion begins today!

Originally posted in Big Tent… view comments for full conversation.

Today we start discussing ‘A Reliable Wife’. I encourage everyone to visit the MMBC Blog to read the Q&A with Robert Goolrick. His answers may spark a discussion topic for you, or maybe another question to ask everyone. This dialog is meant to be a discussion between friends – let’s keep the discussion casual and hopefully we will continue learning something new about each other along the way.

Feel free to answer any/all of the questions below:
- What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?
- Deception… what did you like/dislike about Catherine?
- This is a story of despair, what were your thoughts while reading this book?
- Ralph and Antonio have a sex addiction, would the story be different without these scenes?
- Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?
- Did you have a favorite part in the book?

A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick answers our questions!

Thank you Robert for answering our questions!
Our discussion begins tomorrow – I will post questions for us to discuss in the morning.

This is a very interesting plot, did you know Ralph’s journey from the beginning? No. I knew I wanted to write a book about people who were not good, but who struggled to find something of the goodness and meaning of life. Actually, the first scene I imagined from the book was the last one, with Catherine and Ralph in the garden. Then I had to figure out who they were and how they got there.

In your interview you mentioned reading classics as a child, in what way did characters from these books carrying into this story? The classic novels-- Dickens, Trollope, Austen, Tolstoy, the books I read as a child so I would have something to talk about with my aged grandmother, all carry at their center a strong, good, story, often about redemption of some sort or another. I particularly like Austen, who has a trick which never fails to satisfy -- all the happiness comes at the end, all of a sudden, like a magic trick. So it is with Ralph and Catherine. I find a lot of contemporary fiction to be all context and no content, so that, even though I like the process of reading new books, very few of them stay with me for long. I just can't remember the story.

Did you have to research much as you wrote this novel? I’m always interested to learn how easy/challenging the writing process is for authors. I had already read Michael Lesy's WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP many times, but I read it several more. I did some research into St. Louis and Chicago, but not exhaustively. I don't consider this an historic novel. It doesn't attempt to recreate a period or tie a story to important events. The characters are very contemporary people, who are removed from us by time, and put under a microscope.

Catherine... I don’t know if I liked her or hated her. What is your impression of Catherine? Catherine, like all the main characters, is the kind of adult an abused child grows up to be. I am moved deeply by the abuse of children; I have written about it before. They are both deeply disturbed and, at the same time, strangely innocent and hopeful. Catherine, Ralph and Antonio are all facets of this, and not everybody can be saved from the consequences of damage over which they had no control.

If I was Catherine I would have ran quickly after learning about Ralph’s past. Why do you think she decided to stay? He had everything she wanted. And, when what she wanted began to change, she discovered that he was, in fact, a kindred soul, and offered what her heart needed to heal.

Why did Ralph want Antonio home so badly knowing that he was not actually his son? He felt guilty about the way he had treated Antonio as a child, and he wanted to redeem himself through his son, and continue his name after his death.

If Ralph knew he was being poisoned, why did he allow it to continue? When he realized that Antonio wasn't coming home and that Catherine was lying to him, he completely gave up his last hope, and was ready to die out of his own guilt and shame and foolishness.

Do you think about Ralph and Catherine’s future after the book ends? Are they happy, does the baby life or does despair continue to be part of their lives? I think about their future a lot, and I hope that their moment of happiness lasts. Maybe I'll write a sequel. Would that be a good idea?

The writing style comes across ‘cold’ for lack of a better word – was this intentional? I thought it added to the reading experience but this might be personal opinion. Ralph and Catherine come across heartless yet loving, manipulative and deceptive. I think the writing style played an important part in my experience. I want the reader to feel what I write in the body as well as the brain. I hope it is vivid and almost tangible. I wouldn't have called it cold, but it is alternately terse and poetic, kind of like life.

Hannah's Dream: Discussion begins today

Originally posted in the Big Tent.... view comments for full conversation.

Today we start discussing ‘Hannah’s Dream’. I encourage everyone to visit the MMBC Blog to read the Q&A with Diane Hammond. Her answers may spark a discussion topic for you, or maybe another question to ask everyone. This dialog is meant to be a discussion between friends – Let’s keep the discussion casual and hopefully we learning something new about each other along the way.

A few of the questions below were sent to me from other readers, thank you for your questions! Some were taken from the author’s website.

Feel free to answer any all of the questions below:

What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?

Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?

Did you have a favorite part in the book?

Harriet Saul is initially portrayed as the villain in Hannah’s Dream, but does she deserve it?

Did she change over the course of the book, and if so, how? Why?

What’s the deal with Johnson Johnson? Is he a savant, a fool, or a genius?

Sam and Corinna treat Hannah as the reincarnation of their stillborn daughter. Do they mean this literally or figuratively?

Will Sam and Corinna ever travel to the Pachyderm Sanctuary to visit Hannah?

Hannah’s Dream: Diane Hammond answers our questions

Thank you Diane for answering our questions! Our discussion begins Weds under the Big Tent – I will post questions for us to discuss Wednesday morning. Check back tomorrow!

How did the idea for the story come to you?
From 1996-1998, I was lucky enough to serve as press secretary for an ailing killer whale named Keiko, the star of the hit movie Free Willy. I spent every day standing on the pool-top, interpreting for the world media what the handful of men and women were doing as they restored him to health both physically and mentally, spending hours in his icy pool swimming with him, petting him, playing with him and challenging him. The relationships I saw unfold between the staff and Keiko over those two years were powerful, individual, complex and deep. In the end, at its most pure, Keiko’s rehabilitation was a love story.

When Keiko was moved to Iceland for eventual release back to the wild, I left the project. I had thought, once it was over, that I’d write about it, or at least about some of the issues and conflicts it raised. But the story was simply too close and too filled with baggage.

My husband, who’d led Keiko’s rehabilitation, suggested, instead, that I write about a different species—an elephant, say—and see if that freed me to base a work on fiction on my Keiko experience. I agreed that it might be a good idea, and even went so far as to learn about elephants, but still didn’t have a story and let the idea languish. Then, purely by accident, I stumbled upon footage of a weeping man standing by the side of an Asian elephant inside a travel truck. And in that moment, I was given my main characters and a situation that was complex enough to fill a novel. My intention was to inform this story with what I’d witnessed so powerfully during my Keiko years.

It’s so interesting to learn while reading and Diane has such an interesting background (I’m jealous). I would like to ask her if how long it took for write this book, was the story building for years or did the story come to her after she left the zoo/animal world: It took a year to write the story, once I’d met the main characters, and another six or eight months to refine it. It is as pure a work of fiction as I’ll probably ever create, though it was based on the Keiko years. And after my initial research, I was never in the presence of an elephant again as I wrote the book.

When developing the story, where did you start? Did you start with the characters or the storyline? I consider myself to be plot-challenged. I’ve never been able to write to a storyline developed before the actual writing begins, and even then it’s sometimes it’s difficult for me to identify a plot amidst what my first editor termed “throat-clearing,” by which she meant the exploratory character development that doesn’t end up in a final work, but is integral to its development. In the case of Hannah’s Dream, I simply started writing about Hannah, an Asian elephant; Samson Brown, her long-time keeper; and a somewhat dilapidated zoo in Washington State. The rest of the story, including the conflict and all the supporting characters, arrived in piecemeal fashion, and during the writing itself. I remember turning to my husband one day, for instance, and announcing with genuine surprise that there would be a pig in the book—Miles, Truman and Winslow’s potbellied miniature pig. Who knew why Miles appeared in the first place—certainly I didn’t, but it seemed like a good idea to go along with it! And this was just as true for Johnson Johnson, Reginald Poole, Rhonda and the others.

I enjoyed the side story of adding Diabetes to the story, I would be interested to learn why the author chose diabetes (does she have a personal connection or just to add depth to the story): I needed an ailment that would lend urgency to Sam’s need to retire, but I didn’t want to use something acute like cancer, which inevitably introduces the prospect of death, but rather some serious but chronic illness. Diabetes not only filled that bill, but often produces unhealing ulcers, especially on the legs and feet, which gave me a nice parallel between Hannah’s health problems and Sam’s.

What research into animal behavior in general and elephants specifically did the author do? Though I’d love to pass myself off as a dedicated and thorough researcher, it’s not true. I spent a day with several very devoted and experienced elephant keepers at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, picking their brains and asking every single question I could think of: common health issues for elephants in zoos, elephant body language and expression, food preferences, etc. In addition, I haunted the excellent website of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN.

There appear to be several themes throughout Hannah's Dream (Reincarnation, faith and religion, renewal) - How did the author's views on these topics influence the writing? Oddly, although I don’t consider myself a spiritual person, and have never practiced any religion (though I would say I’m an agnostic rather than an atheist), spirituality and religion often play big parts in the lives of my characters. In Hannah’s Dream, Sam and Corinna deal with tragedy both with the help of and, in Corinna’s case, despite their religious beliefs. The notion of reincarnation also strengthens their devotion to Hannah. For the record, however, I’ve never experienced a feeling or example of reincarnation in my own life.
The characters are evolved and well written, I would be curious to hear how the author developed Harriet. We learn of her childhood and on page 156 I was taken aback by her mother’s statement “I’m sorry but if you were my daughter, I would know you, I would love you.” Each character is unique and with multiple levels, did you have to research to create any of the character or are they merely fiction? Do you know someone like Harriet’s mom? On the one hand, I’d say unequivocally that the characters in Hannah’s Dream are works of fiction, but on the other hand, I believe that fiction writers, like magpies, assemble our characters from shiny bits we’ve scavenged from our life experiences, however subconsciously. I did meet a woman whose mother, like Harriet’s, sustained a serious head injury and never again recognized her as her daughter.

I also believe that, with the exception of sociopaths and psychopaths, there are very few truly bad people, only damaged ones. Harriet’s childhood, for instance, was hugely injurious, and she spends her adult life doing the best she can with the damage she sustained in her youth. Harriet is one of my very favorite characters in Hannah’s Dream. Others are Max Biedelman and Johnson Johnson.

I found this last question on the author’s website:

Most of your characters have very close relationships with animals, even above and beyond Hannah. Do you write your animal characters the same way you write your human characters? One of the greatest challenges in writing Hannah’s Dream was to avoid anthropomorphizing—endowing my animal characters with human qualities. To be honest, I’m not sure how well I did: Miles, in particular, is an irrepressible character to whom I gave a very strong sense of whimsy and humor. In my gut it felt right, and animals do sometimes laugh, so I think I got away with it. Hannah, too, though clearly an elephant, has a personality that is entirely her own, transcending but hopefully not violating her elephant-ness. And let’s not forget the thuggish Kitty, one of three cats belonging to Johnson Johnson. He is 100% cat—but then, I have cats of my own, so I knew I was on solid ground there!

MMBC 8: Waiting for Daisy

Book Giveway Closed

Waiting for Daisy is our eighth selection for the MMBC. We will begin discussing the book on Wednesday, Sept 23rd. The author and publisher have generously donated 24 books. If you are interested in participating please send me an email with your address and ‘Waiting for Daisy’ in the subject line. has 25 5 star reviews! I have read the book and to avoid delaying the announcement, I will post my review separately. I can share my experience reading this book – I have a close friend who has been trying to have a baby for years. As I turned the pages I kept saying, I remember ‘friend’ telling me this, telling me that, she felt the same way, etc! I told her about this book and she bought copies for her mother and sister to read. She often feels isolated and this book was welcoming.

An easy read, a must read for anyone who has not dealt with infertility and a sound companion to anyone having dealt with infertility.

A conversation with Peggy:

Do you write daily? I work very regular hours—usually starting between 8-9 and ending either at 3 if I’m picking up my daughter from school or at 5 or so if I’m not. I Three days a week I try to get up at six and take a yoga class before going to work. And about 75% of the time, I actually succeed.

What was it like getting your first novel published? I don’t write novels, but my first non-fiction book was kind of a fluke. I was a magazine editor at Mother Jones and had written some for the New York Times Magazine and Vogue. A study came out on girls and self-image issues and an agent I had worked with (buying pieces of her client’s) knew I was interested in teenage girls (I’d written some about my own girlhood) and asked if I had any ideas how to make the study into a book. So I wrote a 3-page proposal to her out of my head, having done almost no research. Then I left town for a week on vacation. This was before email and cell phones, so I had no contact with home. When I came back, there were a zillion messages on my machine saying to call the agent. I needed to write a thirty page proposal in three days, she said, because sixteen publishers were interested in my “book.” As it turned out, I turned thirty, quit my job to go freelance, got engaged, and got a book contract in the space of three weeks. I spent about a year after that freaking out.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? If they keep people reading all kinds of books, great. However, that said I think readers should know that the royalties writers get for e-books are not proportional to the increased profit publishers make. In other words, while we get a greater percentage of the sale for ebooks, since ebooks are cheaper, that doesn’t add up to greater income for us. Meanwhile, the publisher makes SIGNIFICANTLY more since they save on printing costs. So until writers share more of the profits, I’m against ebooks. Writers already get screwed so many ways, and technology keeps making it WORSE (not getting paid when our work is reprinted on magazine web sites, for instance) even as the potential for publishing profits grows greater.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Marry a man who cooks. If a guy cooks, he knows how to shop for food and odds are good that he knows how to do all manner of domestic tasks. Which means you won’t have to do everything. Which means you might be able to carve out time to write after you have children.

What are you reading now? Laura Rider’s Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Well, since my book is a memoir, I’ll share my two favorite memoirs instead: “Drinking: A Love Story,” by Caroline Knapp and “Autobiography of a Face” by Lucy Grealy (though after you read Grealy’s book you MUST read “Truth & Beauty,” by Ann Patchett, which is about her friendship with Grealy. Grealy died of a heroin overdose in 2002).

Just for fun:
Favorite Season: spring in Northern California
Morning or night: morning, though before age 35s would have said night.
Favorite ice cream flavor: mint chocolate chip
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: My favorite cities are Tokyo, Honolulu, London and Paris in that order, and I’m pretty happy alternating among them, which is what I’ve done for about ten years. But I would like to see Thailand, China and Madagascar.

Type: Memoir, 256 pages, trade paperback

Waiting for Daisy is about loss, love, anger and redemption. It’s about doing all the things you swore you’d never do to get something you hadn’t even been sure you wanted. It’s about being a woman in a confusing, contradictory time. It’s about testing the limits of a loving marriage. And it’s about trying (and trying and trying) to have a baby. Orenstein’s story begins when she tells her new husband that she’s not sure she ever wants to be a mother; it ends six years later after she’s done almost everything humanly possible to achieve that goal, from “fertility sex” to escalating infertility treatments to New Age remedies to forays into international adoption. Her saga unfolds just as professional women are warned by the media to heed the ticking of their biological clocks, and just as fertility clinics have become a boom industry, with over two million women a year seeking them out. Buffeted by one jaw-dropping obstacle after another, Orenstein seeks answers both medical and spiritual in America and Asia, along the way visiting an old flame who’s now the father of fifteen, and discovering in Japan a ritual of surprising solace. All the while she tries to hold onto a marriage threatened by cycles, appointments, procedures and disappointments. Waiting for Daisy is an honest, wryly funny report from the front, an intimate page-turner that illuminates the ambivalence, obsession, and sacrifice that characterize so many modern women’s lives

“Moving and bittersweet, Waiting for Daisy is as funny, thoughtful, biting, reflective as filled with fruitful self-doubt and cautious exuberance, as its author.” – Michael Chabon, The Adventures of Kavelier and Clay

"A gripping memoir of one woman's quest for a baby ... honest, fascinating, and wholly enlightening."-- Cathi Hanauer, author of Sweet Ruin and editor of The Bitch in the House

November Book announced!

Our November book was announced by Erin and Kristin this week! Click here for details and a book giveaway

Eating Heaven - Discussion begins today!

I have been patiently waiting to discuss Eating Heaven for a few months. Reading this book I kept thinking it would make the perfect book club selection, an insecure woman looking for love mixed with family secrets and situations. Special thanks to Jennie Shortridge for donating the books and allowing us to discuss her book online this week.

If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry… you will still be able to join in the discussion. Below is the synopsis:

Nothing gets Eleanor Samuels's heart racing like a double scoop of mocha fudge chunk. Sure, the magazine writer may have some issues aside from food, but she isn't quite ready to face them. Then her beloved Uncle Benny falls ill, and what at first seems scary and daunting becomes a blessing in disguise. Because while she cooks and cares for him-and enjoys a delicious flirtation with a new chef in town-Eleanor begins to uncover some long-buried secrets about her emotionally frayed family and may finally get the chance to become the woman she's always wanted to be.

I read this book in just a few days and I expect many women will connect to Eleanor. When the book opens we learn that Eleanor is a writer and aspiring chef (she loves to try new recipes and cook). We get the sense that she’s overweight and as part of her job she takes an original recipe and manipulates it into a healthy, low cal, low fat option. As she takes inventory of life, simply put she’s not happy. As you get to know Eleanor you might find yourself loosely comparing her to the character from ‘she’s come undone’ at the beginning and by the end Eleanor is transformed into a woman in control of her life and her future.

So to get us started, I have a several questions to guide our discussion:

- Did you like the book?

- If you were behind a dumpster with ice cream... what would you do?

- Eleanor... she's an average everyday woman. How 'big' do you think she is? Could you imagine her as a friend? What kind of advise would you give her?

- What was your opinion of Bennie and his role in the family?

- What did you like/dislike about Eleanor’s mom, Bebe? Do you know anyone like her?

- The discussion of thin versus healthy – so true. Eleanor’s mother is always nitpicking her weight, even when she’s losing it. If you have a daughter, how would you handle this situation? What advise would you give Bebe?

- Eleanor’s men – Did you take the men in her life to mean anything more than what they were? In what way is she still looking for a father?

- Benny’s illness brings the family together at the end – for anyone with a serious illness in their family, has your experience been similar? In this book Eleanor is the main caregiver and puts her life on hold. How did she feel when Benny had the incident and moves to the nursing home?

Eating Heaven: Jennie Shortridge answers our questions

Dear Manic Mommy book club members:

I'm so delighted and honored that you chose to read Eating Heaven for your June book. Your questions are intriguing, and I hope I do justice to them in my answers here. I also have a few questions of my own below!

All best wishes,

The author says in the back of the book that this book was a rework of a piece she had abandoned and then reworked. Is this final product what she envisioned when she started reworking the book? It's so much better than I imagined it could be, because by then I'd written another book and had some actual skill and craft under my belt. I'm so glad it wasn't my first book, after all. There's a reason first novels from beginners aren't usually published! I was able to more fully develop themes and ideas and characters. And the Buddy the cat made an appearance, and I loved that she was in it.

I read that the author did research on eating disorders for the book. What was her inspiration for exploring this issue in the book? I was angry (am angry) at the way our society treats women and eating and food, and I thought one way to get at that would be to have someone suffering from it in an extreme way. I have friends and family with eating disorders, something that was VERY rare until fairly recently. I didn't hear it being talked about in a very real way anywhere else, except for sensationalist news pieces on anorexics, complete with horrifying photos. I just wanted to talk about it in a real honest way, and I didn't want to do any disservice to those dealing with it, so I talked with eating disorder doctors and a nurse, friends who binge, and read everything I could find. I even sat down to binge, on purpose, one day with cookies, my favorite food. I found I couldn't get that far into the package without naturally just stopping, and I'd always thought that if I allowed myself to binge, I would. This told me so much about the actual disorder, that it is chemical and hardwired in the brain, not something that people do just because they're greedy or weak. I can definitely be both of those things, yet I couldn't binge.

Where did the recipes come from that Ellie "made" in the story? Especially the one for "shecret shauce". I wrote and tested all of the recipes, except for Shecret Shauce, which is actually my dad's special marinade, from my childhood. I called him when I was writing the book to confirm the ingredients, and he said them the same way Ellie's dad did. I had to laugh, realizing that i'd completely stolen every detail from my dad.

I love to cook, have cooked occasionally in cafes, and have been a recipe developer, so it was a natural to include Ellie's creations for Benny.

Was Bennie the father of any of the three sisters? I kind of like to leave that up to the reader. I sprinkled a lot of clues, but as with our own parents, there are things we can just never know for sure, you know? I have a feeling that whatever you're thinking is the right answer, though.

Why did Yolonda leave Benny and never divorce him? I don't remember that they didn't divorce, but I also don't remember writing that they did, so . . . It was my intention that they were split up for good. As in divorced.

Why did Bennie and Eleanor's mother never restart their relationship? If I followed the timing correctly, it seems they had at least one opportunity to restart the relationship. By the time Bebe was in a place to be with Benny he no longer wanted her. He wanted to stay with Yolanda, so Bebe took it into her own hands and poisoned that well by telling Yolanda about she and Benny. Then Benny REALLY didn't want to be with her. He rejected her.

There are many directions for personal growth and happiness at the end of the book, yet not a perfect ending (I love that the story ends this way). If you wrote a flash forward at the end of the book, how would you see Eleanor’s life? Ah. Again, that's for the reader to decide. What do you think? I hope she's still with Henry, cooking together and enjoying each other's company. I'm a romantic.

Now, my questions, or rather, some questions I get asked by other book groups:

Just how "big" is Ellie? I really wanted to portray Ellie as the woman we all feel we are when we're not at our best. I didn't want to use any numbers or measurements, just that feeling of "too big," so that everyone could relate. You know, if you say size 16, some people will think "That's not very big," while others may think that's heavy. How big did you picture her?

Where can I find Henry? I seem to have invented many women's idea of the dream date, a man who will cook for us and make us laugh and be kind and tender, and love us no matter what size we are. He's a complete figment of my imagination, I'm sorry to say, although he has my husband's facial features and kindness, and a dear friend's sense of humor.

A Reliable Wife - books claimed in record time!

I’m pleased to announce that the giveaway of our August book selection, A Reliable Wife, closed within hours of the announcement. I hope you will still read with us!

Below is the Amazon link to purchase the book, which has a Kindle and audio formats available:

Amazon, A Reliable Wife

You can purchase this audio from iTunes and Audible as well.

MMBC 7: A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife is our seventh selection for the MMBC. We will begin discussing the book on Wednesday, August 19th. The author & publisher have generously donated 12 books.If you are interested in participating please send me an email with your address and ‘A Reliable Wife’ in the subject line.
The book giveaway is now closed (in record time)!

Click here for details and an author interview.

The Local New - Discussion begins today!

Originally posted in the Big Tent.... view comments for full conversation.

Today we start discussing ‘The Local News’. I encourage everyone to visit the MMBC Blog to read the Q&A with Miriam Gershow. Her answers may spark a discussion topic for you, or maybe another question to ask everyone. This dialog is meant to be a discussion between friends – Let’s keep the discussion casual and hopefully we learning something new about each other along the way.

A few of the questions below were sent to me from other readers, thank you for your questions! Feel free to answer any all of the questions below:

1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?
2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?
3. Did you have a favorite part in the book?
4. What did you think about Lydia and the inspector? Was the inspector letting her ‘tag along’ or did he see value in her involvement.
5. Lydia’s mom… what did you see to be her strengths/weaknesses?
6. Current events – many of us read this book when Sandra was missing and found days later only to learn that someone close to the family killed her. How did this weigh on your mind as you read the book? Were you emotions more ‘present’ with this tragic event in the news as you read the book?

Miriam Gershow answers our questions

Thank you Miriam for answering our questions! Our discussion begins Weds under the Big Tent – I will post questions for us to discuss Wednesday morning. In talking with many of you offline, I expect we will have a lot to share/discuss. Check back tomorrow!

1.This is your first novel, can you share the experience since release date? The experience has been heady, surreal and exhilarating. I had a short book tour for about three weeks, first around the Pacific Northwest and then back in Michigan. Giving readings was more fun and energizing than I had imagined. I’ve even enjoyed reviews – to an extent; I know some authors avoid them completely, but I couldn’t resist them my first time out. For the first month, I read every review and was quite happy with how well-received the book was. Walking into bookstores and seeing the book on display still makes me giggle. The best part, though, has to be hearing from readers. Those are some of my favorite emails. For years, I have written authors when their books have touched or moved me, and to be on the other end of that is just plain wonderful.

2. I have a general question for the author, I hear many writers can not read while they are writing, does the author read fiction while writing fiction? Absolutely, I read. I also know of those writers who can’t read while writing. But I read voraciously, especially while writing. It’s constant inspiration. While writing The Local News, I read a lot of first novels. Jonathan Evison, Lauren Groff and Antoine Wilson all stand out as authors whose debut works particularly spurred me on.

3. I'm interested in is knowing if the initial idea for the story was Danny (as a missing person) or did the author know she wanted to write the story from the siblings point of view when she started writing the book? I always knew the book was Lydia’s. The very first scene that came to me was Lydia in the convenience store, arguing with Kito about hanging the Missing Persons poster. I came to care deeply about Danny by the end of the book, but Lydia was my first love. From the time I started the book, I was most interested in the question: What if someone went missing and the person left behind was secretly relieved?

4. After a school move and Danny no longer participating in a 'resource' program he seems to have become quite popular. As the book progresses we learn that Danny continued to struggle with his education. How did Danny's intelligence impact the story and him driving off with Elvin Tate? I'm wondering if the author has had experience with 'resource' and I'm also curious if parents reading this book have commented (would they make this decision, to let their child come out to resource at some point). My child uses 'resource' for learning and I'm not sure how I would make this decision. Very interesting question. I don’t have direct experience with a resource program, but I’ve been a college instructor for the past seven years, so I’m familiar with different learning styles. In regards to Danny’s decision to go with Elvin Tate, I never thought of that in terms of Danny being unintelligent. I thought about it in terms of the sometimes dumb decisions teenagers make without really thinking them through. Danny had learning disabilities, but I still think he was a smart, savvy kid in many ways. Part of why I first explored the idea of Danny as a person with learning disabilities is because I wanted to figure out the deeper vulnerabilities of his character. I didn’t want him to just be some big, brutish bully. I think it was some of those same vulnerabilities – he didn’t have the best impulse control, he was not the most critical thinker – that may have led him into Elvin Tate’s car.

5. Lydia is lost, her parents are grieving and disconnected. When Lydia is driving with her Dad (page 247) ..." I remembers a little bit that he loved me, so I loved him a little back." This was so touching and my heart ached for her and her family. Was it hard to write this book? I would like to know if the author is a parent. I’m not a parent yet. My husband and I are delightedly awaiting the arrival of our first child in August. As for difficulty writing the book, I have to admit, it wasn’t hard for me to write in the way people sometimes expect. It wasn’t a daily exercise in pain. I loved Lydia so much, especially her wry voice, her intelligence, and her unique take on the world, I most often just looked forward to returning to her each day, even when the subject matter was painful.

6. I know this is fiction and everyone reacts differently to situations and tragic instances (like this). How would this story be different if told from the parents view? Another interesting question. It would have been an entirely different book had it been told from the perspective of the parents. Like I said, I was initially most interested in Lydia’s mixed feelings about Danny’s disappearance. Lydia’s parents have no such mixed feelings. Their story would likely have been more of one of pure, naked grief. Also, I’m sure their perspective of their relationship with Lydia was more complex and nuanced than Lydia was able to see. Teenagers – especially independent, precocious ones like Lydia – often feel forgotten by their parents. And while Lydia’s parents definitely withdrew into their own grief due to these extraordinary circumstances, had this story been told from their point of view, I’m sure both parents would have noted their love for their daughter and likely perceived more of their small efforts to reach out to her.

7. I was happy to see the mom's character evolve at the end of the book. It was sad seeing Lydia's relationship with her family as an adult. How do you see their relationship 10 years after the last page of the book? If Lydia has children? I’m glad you said that about Lydia’s mom, as I wanted readers to find some solace in her evolution. In many ways, I don’t concretely envision Lydia ten years after the book ends. Part of being able to finish my journey with Lydia involved letting her go after the final page of the book. That said, I see the end of the book as the beginning of an evolution for Lydia, as well. I see her capable of one day having richer, deeper relationships with people, including with her parents. And as for Lydia as a mom? I wouldn’t rule that out. In fact, it warms me to think of that possibility.

8. Lydia's class reunion - is she happy as an adult? I’m going to leave this question up to reader interpretation. The idea of “happy” when it comes to the lives of my characters – or my own life, for that matter – is often a complicated proposition. I’m interested to hear what you think as readers about this. I will say this much -- in looking at Lydia’s interactions in Part IV with her mom, with David Nelson, with Lola Pepper, even with paunchy Ben who wants to reminisce about Danny, I certainly see Lydia as someone who wants to strive toward happiness as a 28-year-old more than she did as a 15 or 16-year-old.

9. The characters seem so genuine, has the author ever had a personal connection to a kidnapping case? If not, what was her motive to write the book? Thank you for saying that about the characters. I haven’t had a personal connection to a kidnapping. As I said, my initial motivation was to delve into the mind of a survivor who had ambivalent feelings about someone going missing. While this book is very clearly about a missing boy, I see it being even more about a young woman’s coming of age. I really wanted to explore how Lydia would come to terms with her own complicated mix of loss and grief, and how she would grow through and out of this experience.

10. Who was the author's favorite character to write? Honestly, I loved them all, except for Elvin Tate. Lola was probably the character who surprised me the most, in terms of running deeper than her bubbly exterior initially revealed. Bayard was a great deal of fun to write, if only for his complete, unflappable apathy. David Nelson has a special place in my heart. As does Tip Reynolds. But no one rivals Lydia for the character I just plain enjoyed being with and enjoyed exploring and enjoyed rooting for for 357 pages.

11. I read that you didn't do any research on child abductions for the book. Why did you choose not to do research? One part of it is that I like to make things up. That’s why I love writing fiction. I did do some necessary fact checking to make sure I got procedural issues and details right. Another part of the decision to eschew research had to do with how I viewed the book. All the way through, I saw it as Lydia’s journey. Danny’s disappearance is definitely a huge part of that journey, but Lydia’s emotional life and her progression through high school and adulthood, and her negotiation of her friends and family and community all interested me far more than nitty-gritty details about the disappearance. So I wasn’t particularly drawn to research in that realm. Had this book been a detective novel from, say, Denis’s point of view, I’m sure I would’ve delved into research about real life missing children cases.

12. I read that you like to write in the library. Do you do all of your writing there? I don’t. Most writing happens in my home office. However, the library is my second favorite venue. I use it when I need to get away from the distractions of home and give myself an intensive couple of hours with the work. At the library I have to be quiet and write – no trips to the fridge, no phone calls, no playing with my cat or going to the mailbox or unloading the dishwasher or any of the many tasks that I can preoccupy myself with at home.

Thanks for all of your questions. I’m delighted that you’ve read The Local News and appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts about it with you.

MMBC6: Hannah’s Dream

Hannah’s Dream is our sixth selection for the MMBC. We will begin discussing the book on Wednesday, July 22nd. The author has generously donated 12 books.

If you are interested in participating please send me an email with your address and ‘Hannah’s Dream’ in the subject line.Click here for details and an author interview.

The Life Room - discussion starts today!

Originally posted in the Big Tent.... view comments for full conversation.

Today we start discussing ‘The Life Room’. I encourage everyone to visit the MMBC Blog to read the Q&A with Jill Bialosky. Her answers may spark a discussion topic for you, or maybe another question to ask everyone. This dialog is meant to be a discussion between friends – Let’s keep the discussion causal and hopefully we learning something new about each other along the way.

A few of the questions below were sent to me from other readers, thank you for your questions! Feel free to answer any all of the questions below:

1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?

2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?

3. Did you have a favorite part in the book?

4. The author mentions that she grew to like Eleanor as she wrote her. How did you feel about Eleanor as a person?

5. Steven and Eleanor keep getting together then splitting up. Is this because Steven is running away from Eleanor or is she actually pushing him away?

6. Eleanor keeps picking lovers that are very much like her father. Why, then, did she choose to marry Michael, someone who is so different?

7. Did you believe that Eleanor was really concerned with her husband and children as she traveled abroad? How about when she returned home?

Jill Bialosky answers our questions

Thank you Jill for answering our questions!Our discussion begins Weds under the Big Tent – I will post questions for us to discuss Wednesday morning. In talking with many of you offline, I expect we will have a lot to share/discuss.Check back Wednesday!

I would like to know how the author came up with the storyline. Did she start with Eleanor as a character and the book evolved from there or did she want to write about art/Anna K/lectures (given her writing background) and the character developed along the way? The idea for the novel grew out of my character, Eleanor Cahn. I wanted to explore the nature of our erotic selves. Are they a compilation of the various intimate relationships we have been involved in? Does one relationship inform or predict the next? How do our past relationships inform our present relationships? And I also wanted to explore the idea of passion and responsibility. Are they mutually exclusive? Once I settled on my character and her vocation as an academic, I decided she would be writing a paper on Anna Karenina, and wrestling with some of the themes in that great Russian novel.

Where did the idea for the "life room" come from? The “life room” is a room where a painter paints from a live model. Once I began working on Eleanor’s relationship with Adam and the scenes where Adam paints her, the idea of the “life room”— an intimate room sealed off from the rest of reality—became more interesting for me. It is a very intimate space—and so is the relationship between artist and model. As I began to explore that conceit further, I found that the “life room” also served as a kind of metaphor for Eleanor and her exploration of her many selves, as mother, wife, academic, thinker, and lover.

Eleanor seems very confused in her head and with her life path, was it challenging writing her as a character? I see her as being more complicated than confused. It was challenging in a good way to write her into being. I grew to like her enormously and it was hard, by the end of the book, to finally let her go. She’s struggling with important questions and concerns and at the heart she is struggling to be a good person in the best sense—to know and accept herself.

Did the author have to research a lot to write this book? The paintings, art references, writing etc… how did she decide upon the paintings to include in the book? I did some research for the book. I read a lot about art and about the artistic process. As part of the research, I sat for an artist while he drew me. Some of the paintings in the book were paintings that have moved me over the years.

What was the connection to Stephen’s obsession with fire? Did Stephen start the fire at the house in Colorado and the club in New York? When I was working on Stephen as a character, I wanted to find some kind of exterior action that would convey his internal self. He’s a deeply conflicted character, like Eleanor in some ways, at war with his many selves. And he’s also angry. Starting fires is his attempt to control his inner chaos. His fatal flaw is his narcissism—his inability to see how his own actions impact others. I’m not sure he knows it, but he’s dangerous to others because he’s dangerous to himself. In that way, I think he differs from Eleanor. She is certainly self-involved in her quest to understand herself—yet she is aware, perhaps all too aware, of how her actions will impact others, including her family.

Steven, William and Michael are so different from each other. Was it fun writing these characters? Are they completely fictional or did you draw on past relationships/friendships to help create them? Was this challenging? Yes, they are different. They are completely fictional, but they have aspects I see in people—including myself—from all walks of life. Steven, William, and Adam are all artists of one type or another to a certain degree. And Michael, a doctor, represents the rational, scientific being. Creating character is complicated and eerie; the way a character suddenly comes to life and announces his or her self. Actions inform who characters are. Otherwise they are inert.

All of the men are so different. Was there a conscious decision to make each of Eleanor's loves so different or did that just evolve organically? To some degree, they evolved organically, though I had some ideas of who I wanted them to be.

How did the author's own romantic relationships impact Eleanor's relationships or the inherent struggles b/w the roles many of us juggle (wife, mother, employee) and our "true" selves? The book is a fiction, as are the characters. Of course, many of the concerns of the book are concerns many women have about the demands of being a wife, mother, and having a career or vocation, and also being a passionate person. When I was young many of the heroines I loved in literature ended up killing themselves when passion was at stake. That was a head-scratcher. I thought, let’s see what happens when a thoughtful woman considers saving herself.

Near the end of the book, I found myself really frustrated with the dance between Eleanor and Stephen. I wanted her to either do it (cheat) to end the curiosity or find the resolve to stay faithful to her family. Did you intend to have the reader feel that way in the end to get a sense of what Eleanor must have been feeling? I did want to create tension. The tension is whether Eleanor will transgress or not. I wasn’t quite sure all the way through the writing what she would do. I suppose that kept me interested in her and her plight. One of the early readers of the book said she got tired of Stephen. I thought to myself, well I suppose Eleanor is tired of him too! And yet, we all have had people in our lives we can’t shake for one reason or another. Why would Eleanor be any different?

Does Eleanor come to some peace when Steven leaves the city, after they sleep together? Given her character, I half expect her to have a breakdown. She doesn’t sleep with him! Only a kiss. I find her to be a strong character, though everyone I suppose is capable of breaking down. It’s what makes us human. I think Eleanor finds a certain amount of peace, but as she says, she doesn’t want the quest to ever end, and I suppose part of the quest is to remain vulnerable to a certain degree, otherwise we are dead inside, incapable of evolving.

Whose voice was "talking" to Eleanor in the restroom at then end, God's, or her own, which she has been seeking to nurture throughout the novel, or someone else? I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot pole. I like your many interpretations!

Do you see Eleanor and Michael staying together after the book ends? I think that is for the reader to decide.

Did you know how the story was going to end when you started? Did you ever think that Eleanor might end up with Stephen? As I said earlier, I did not know what was going to happen to Eleanor and Stephen. It was the not knowing that kept the book alive for me. I hoped only to capture the struggle.