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

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