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Scrabble Tile Necklaces

To thank the lovely authors that are willing to read my upcoming novel, Triple Love Score, I wracked my brain (Scrabble pun intended) to find a way to thank them.  And I wanted to match the theme of the novel which holds using a Scrabble board to write poems at its core.  So I came upon Scrabble tile necklaces, and I wanted to share the how to with you.

The first step is to print out the image you would like to place on the necklace.  We reduced the size of the image so that when it is printed, it matches the shape of the Scrabble tile.  (I say we because my husband did this fancy piece of computer work for me!).

Then you cut out the image to size.


Use Diamond Glaze to adhere the image to the tile.



After this is adhered, you top the image with Diamond Glaze.  Draw a square around the outside of the image with the Diamond Glaze and then fill in the space.  Tap out any bubbles that form with a pin or use your finger.  (i found my finger worked best). This gives the tile the shiny image.

Here is a great video from Ben Franklin Crafts that goes into more detail about this:


After this dries, you need to attach the back.  I used Gorilla Glue to attach the necklace backing.

On this one, I didn't tap out the bubble before it dried.  But I wanted you to get the idea.

On this one, I didn't tap out the bubble before it dried.  But I wanted you to get the idea.

Then I strung the necklace on a cord.  Here are the materials I used:

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Belgian Waffles: Adventures in Breakfast Part One

Avram and I have ideas.  Well, I have idea, and he usually goes along with them.  People that know us are nodding their heads, clucking, oh, that poor man under his breath.  Let's put it this way: he humors me.  With a big smile on his face and willingness to do whatever.

My latest harebrained scheme (no offense to rabbits) is to one day own a bed and breakfast.  To achieve this, one must get better at making breakfast.  Breakfast should be an orgasmic experience to top a guest's stay.  So, I, in the nature of my grand plans, are charting our journeys to make better breakfasts.  First up: Belgian Waffles.

One cup of butter!!!!

One cup of butter!!!!

Egg whites whipped to stiff peaks!!

Egg whites whipped to stiff peaks!!

And they turned out, okay...the batter was flavorful, but it stayed too moist.  It didn't get that crispy waffle crust.  So next time, I think I am going to experiment with adding more flour for a stronger dough.

Yummy but not crispy!!

Yummy but not crispy!!

You can find the recipe I used here:   http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/true-belgian-waffles 

If you have any waffle advice, I'd love to hear it below.



Please let me know your favorite!

Wyatt-Mackenzie will be publishing my next novel in Fall 2016.  

In this novel as yet untitled, poetry professor, Miranda Shane believes planning to be the key to life. Not an exciting life, mind you, but her life.   Until a man and a Scrabble Board change everything. 

To get ready, we are seeking the perfect title.  Here are some possible contenders:

Love Letters

Triple Love Score
Blocked Connections
Love is a Four Letter Word

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section or on Twitter @brandigranett.  Which one would catches your eye the most? 



Bridge Eight: Fall 2015 featuring Places You'll Go

Bridge Eight

I was lucky enough to have my story, Places You'll Go in Bridge Eight's Fall 2015 edition.  I am going to share the introduction below; please check out Bridge Eight for the full story and many other great stories and poems.

Places You'll Go

One would think the low pile and dizzying pattern of the carpet could hide the vomit stain better.  Instead, Shelia scrubbed at it with the industrial strength cleanser that burned the hair from her nostrils.  Not even the scrub brush typically reserved for just the toilets made a dent in the purple streaked stain.  The kid must have drank a gallon of grape soda the day before.  They didn’t even leave a tip.  Or a note. Just a towel, now streaked purple and green, over the wet spot between the two beds, with the corner of some Dr. Seuss book sticking into the ooze. 

Judging from the baseball cards and muddied cleats in the corner the family stayed at the hotel just off I-10 for some Little League tournament, a state qualifier for the Little League World Series. Next to the man’s side of the bed, he left a stopwatch and a list of times marked first base, second base, third base to home and a list of jersey numbers.  He marked some numbers with stars, other numbers with three angry lines under them; those times seemed the longest.  The longest time matched the number from the dirty jersey she picked up from the bathroom floor.  She imagined the kid puking from stress; she didn’t blame him. 

Sheila examined her cell phone.  Her shift ended two hours ago.  The time she took on this mess got her behind.  She stopped scrubbing a few times and picked up the other rooms on her rotation, but one guest still remained behind her locked door despite the “service please” sign on the knob.  

I hope you check out Bridge Eight to get the rest of the story.





This Broken Shore--and a story for you

I had the pleasure of being selected for This Broken Shore, a literary magazine; I am going to tempt you all the first few pages of the story:

Chan settles his cup of coffee down a little too hard.  Latte bursts from the top like a tiny Old Faithful.  Coffee dots the manuscript in front of him, a “romance” from Walter.  In this one, a woman delivers a pizza and then a whole lot more to the lonely retiree who answers the door.  “That’s not it,” Chan says.  “I wish you would write something that would add value to your life.  What we think is what we are.”

Walter puffs up his shoulders; his belly strains against the confines of his Cosby sweater.  He leans close and whispers.  “Chan, that is the value I want.  I want to get laid.”  He leans back, and in his regular voice adds, “And eat pizza.”

There’s only four of us left in the Saturday morning writer’s group I started during the summer after my senior year.  My in-patient clinic/high school English teacher, Walter, who got fired/retired for drinking too much and over-sharing about his non-existent sex life in class, Michelle, a nurse from the clinic who likes to write vampire and zombie stories, and Chan, a Chinese herbalist/grocer who gives lectures on natural cures for behavior disorders in his free time.  We started with eight people; the half-life of the group is four years.   In two more years, I suspect it will be just me and Chan.  Or maybe Walter.  I can’t tell which one will go the distance.

“Time to open the store,” Chan says.

Michelle looks at her watch.  “My shift starts in twenty.”

Walter shrugs again.  “Not like I have any where to be.”

“I’ve got work,” I say, suddenly grateful for the excuse to shove off, get away from them, the Starbucks, and this town I grew up in.


As I walk from the station to the tavern, I let my mind replay over yesterday.  Or at least what I think was yesterday, maybe the day before.  There’s something about my mind that won’t settle enough for me to sort out my days; they all just sort of run together, like I haven’t slept in weeks and drank too much coffee and maybe didn’t take all the right pills.  But I don’t want to think about that.  I want to think about Bill Johnson.  I’ve written about him for years, imagining myself a lovesick paramour, and he the Ur-male companion, a prototype for love.  I practiced my married name Leesa Johson.  I composed imaginary family trees for our children.  I started the Christmas letter for the year we moved to Colorado. It was all very on paper, the stuff Chan recommends, until Bill walked me home from my evening shift at the tavern. 

There was something about the way he appeared under the streetlights which dotted what passed as Main Street that altered my perception.  Light, dark, light, dark, like a winking eye, only Bill was lid or maybe it’s the pupil.  I can’t remember any more.  He talked to me about Kafka that night, the one where the guy turns into a bug.  As he moved from the circle of lamplight to darkness, he gesticulated six buggy legs.  I suppose that helped too; suddenly, I could see Bill dancing. 

As I walked the next ten blocks, the January chill whipping under my coat, I lost the thread of the conversation and immersed myself in an image of Bill and I dancing a waltz.  I wore a yellow ball gown with a single rose in my hair.  He sported a navy blue tuxedo with tails.  I told Joelle about this vision over French fries with gravy at the diner that night. 

She snorted her Pepsi through her nose, nearly spraying me and the waitress.  “You mean like Beauty and Beast,” she chortled.

            “No,” I said.  But yes, it was exactly like that.

            Joelle regretted the outburst.  “So you like him, like him?” she asked.

            “Yeah,” I said. 

Only it’s complicated.  I’m not sure if Bill is real.



A Conversation With Karma Brown

Come Away With me

When a tragic accident derails Tegan Lawson's life, she turns to an unlikely source for her next steps forward. Karma Brown's novel, Come Away With Me, will both break your heart and give you hope.

What inspired you to tell Tegan's story?

I have always been in awe of those who find a way to move past life-changing tragedies, to find happiness again despite the loss, and I wanted to explore that bravery and grit in a novel. Also, many stories focus on the experience of falling in love and I wanted to look at the other side of it. The "what happens?" to a great marriage, and the people in it, when the unimaginable occurs ... does it pull people closer, like magnets, or force them apart? But this isn't a simple story of loss and grief and marriage, despite how it appears on the surface--however, you'll have to read to the end to understand why!


What would be in your jar spontaneity?

The jar of spontaneity in the Come Away With Me was inspired by a similar jar my husband and I started when we were first married! Now instead of a jar we have a travel bucket list with the top ten places we want to go and things we want to see. We recently ranked the destinations to see where we might end up first, and swimming with pigs in Bahamas was high on my list, while skiing in the Alps tops my husband's list, so we probably need another family meeting pronto to sort it out. One thing I recently checked off my bucket list was indoor skydiving for my forty-second birthday.


I'd love to know more about your 5AM Writing group? How does that work?

The #5amwritersclub is a group of authors who have banded together in the early hours on Twitter to offer support, encouragement, and to commiserate over vats of caffeinated beverages. I have written two books mostly between the hours of 5 am-7 am, and this group has made the early morning writing routine a much happier experience!

What's next for you? What are your working on?

My next book, The Choices We Make, (on shelves June 28, 2016) is a story of friendship, mothers, and the risks we take for those we love. When Ben and Hannah receive the heartbreaking news that Hannah will likely never get pregnant, her best friend, Kate, offers to not only to be her surrogate, but also to use her own eggs to do so.

Everything is going well until Kate suffers a devastating aneurysm--at 26 weeks pregnant -- and ends up in a coma, on life support. Hannah and Ben know their baby is at great risk if delivered so early -- something Kate's husband, David, is pushing for, as he believes removing the stress of the pregnancy could give Kate's brain a chance to heal. What follows is an emotionally charged story about two mothers -- one desperate to protect her unborn child, the other on the brink of death -- and the impact those struggles have on their families and friendships.

I'm also working on my next book, but we've only just started dating (at 5 am no less!) so I can't talk about that one yet.

I'm also dying to know about your name--what is the story behind being named something so powerful?

I'm a child of the 70s, which pretty much sums up how I got my name (which I do love, now that I'm older and past the terrible days of Boy George's Karma Chameleon). My mom said she desperately hoped I would be a girl so she could name me Karma--a name she felt embodied love and goodness and wisdom. I'm not sure I've entirely lived up to my name, but I'm grateful to have it--even though as a kid I dreamed of changing it to Nancy or Cathy. And not to be left out, my parents gave my sister Free as a middle name. When we're asked about our unusual monikers, we shrug our shoulders and say, "We have hippie parents."



Life and Other Near Death Experiences: A Conversation With Camille Pagán


For many people, their bucket lists remain abstract, a list of things to do some day in the future. But for Libby, the protagonist of Camille Pagán's novel, Life and Other Near Death Experiences, a terminal cancer diagnosis prompts her to take charge of the little time she has left to reinvent her life.

I'm very curious about the experience of writing from Libby's point of view. What was it like to immerse yourself in point of view of woman with such a grim prognosis?

I wrote this book on the tail end of a very difficult time in my own life. My situation was not the same as Libby's, thank God, but I had recently lost a dear friend to cancer and was dealing with various other situations that had me feeling fried, fed up, and completely unsure about my future. I channeled my struggle into Libby's voice, as well as her reaction to getting the worst news of her life -- twice in a row! So many readers have emailed me and written reviews saying, "I went through something similar and that's exactly how I felt." That has been incredibly humbling and wonderful.

Do you believe in Libbyland -- the magical place with rainbows and kittens where everything is okay? What does it mean for Libby to walk away from previously optimistic nature?

If anything, my personality is far more similar to Libby's twin brother Paul's: I'm prone to anxiety, catastrophizing, and trying to head off disaster at the pass. I've always marveled at people who go through life looking on the bright side, which is probably why I was compelled to write a character like Libby.

What fascinates me is that research shows that personality is, in many (but not all) ways, innate. We can make choices that help us be the best versions of ourselves -- but in the end, we are the people we are. And that's a good thing. I don't think it's right or wrong to be optimistic or pessimistic; what's most important is to be true to yourself and your values. When Libby's life falls apart, she instinctively changes her attitude and approach. Yet her dyed in the wool personality ultimately resurfaces, and helps her make the most of her circumstances.


You come from a non-fiction writing day job; what is like to switch gears and tackle fiction?

I think journalism is the secret to my fiction, and vice versa. Readers regularly describe my books as page-turners, and I think that owes much to my sixteen-year journalism career, which requires me to "write tight" and clearly portray the message of any given story. On the other hand, fiction prompts me to think about the beauty of words and sentences, and thoughtfully consider the best way to tell any given story -- and that, in turn, has immensely improved my non-fiction.

Beyond any of that, it's just so enjoyable to step away from research and statistics for a while and put together a story -- a world, really -- almost entirely out of my imagination.

The novel paints Vieques as a true paradise. Tell us more about it. Why did you pick this island in particular?

My husband J.P. was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and the island is a hugely important place to us both; we try to visit a few times a year. We went to Vieques, which is a small island off Puerto Rico's southeastern coast, when I was pregnant with my daughter. It was an absolutely magical trip that affected me in a way that very few travel or life experiences ever have, and even then (this was almost eight years ago; I had only just started writing fiction) I had a strong suspicion I'd write about it one day. When I began drafting Life, I knew right away that Libby would go to Vieques, and that the trip would change her life for the better.



Every Mother's Nightmare and Every Writer's Dream: Meet Steena Holmes

As with her earlier novel, Finding Emma, about the after effects of a toddler's kidnapping, author Steena Holmes doesn't back away from tackling the devastating events every mother fears in her latest novel, The Word Game. Holmes introduces us to sisters Alyson and Tricia, their friend, Myah, and their mother, Ida. Despite the closeness between the women, dark secrets threaten their children and their relationships with each other.

The Word Game and your earlier novel, Finding Emma, both focus on terrifying events, the stuff of a parent's nightmares. What draws you to these intense subjects? How did you come to tell this story in particular?

One thing I've learned as a mother of three girls - it's best to face those things we fear the most in order to help raise strong children. In facing those fears, we learn there's a strength deep within us we might not have known before, and that's my goal: to take a journey with my readers through these fears and realize we are stronger than those nightmares. I had to deal with this particular nightmare, the one we see in The Word Game, personally with one of my own daughters. It made me question how well we know those in our lives and tested my own control issues when it came to my children. How much is too much when it comes to protecting them?


The Word Game is told from each woman's point of view. What lead to this use of multiple voices for this story?

I loved the idea of having two sisters be so opposite when it came to dealing with one situation. There was a depth there that wouldn't have been seen if I had only written this story through Alyson's point of view. Their parenting styles, how they faced life... it was fascinating to me. Then I realized that by ignoring Myah and Ida's views, I was missing another dimension. Each woman handles pressure differently and I'm interested to see if my readers are able to connect with one woman over the other or see facets of their own personality through my characters. 

The devastating effects of secrets is clearly woven through this novel. What would you like people in similar situations to take away from The Word Game?

To realize they have a voice, that the topic of The Word Game isn't one that should be kept a secret - not when it comes to our children. 

What proved to be the biggest challenge in writing this novel?

The emotional intensity of it seemed to affect me more than I thought it would. This book went through seven drafts before I felt it was ready. The relationship between women - whether it be moms, sisters or daughters - is intrinsic. I knew that if I wanted to touch a reader's heart with my story, I needed to push through my own past and fears.

Your biography notes that you always wanted to be a full-time novelist. What path did you take to get here?

Sometimes it takes a while for people to have the faith in themselves to see a dream come true. I didn't write my first novel until 2005 where it won a contest and was published by a vanity press. In 2010, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing, and after receiving my rights back from that novel, I published it myself. It was an instant addiction, and I tested the waters by writing novellas. In 2011, I pulled my first contemporary women's fiction novel from agents and published it myself - it turned out to be my 'breakout' novel. Finding Emma is the story that has made my dreams come true in more ways than one - it was also the first story where I decided to push myself and dig into those fears most mothers try to ignore. Being able to live a dream, of having a career that feeds your soul... it's something I never thought I could experience as well as a journey I would never give up.



Put a Ring on It: A Conversation with Beth Kendrick

Put a Ring On It is a delicious romp of a novel by Beth Kendrick, author of New Uses for Old Boyfriends. Here we meet Brighton Smith, a reluctant heartbreak tourist, who changes everything with a drunken night that turns into what she calls a "screw up summer" and a new chance at love.

I love the magic of Black Dog Bay with its heartbreak tourists; how did you "find" this place?

I vacationed with my family in Bethany Beach, Delaware. After three days of drinking chilled white wine and eating boardwalk fries and "not writing," I had an idea for a new series-and by incredible coincidence, it was set at the Delaware beach!

Black Dog Bay's claim to fame is that it's the best place in America to bounce back from your breakup. So I got to create all sorts of thematic local businesses: The Better Off bed and breakfast, the Eat Your Heart Out bakery, the Rebound Salon, and the Whinery bar where you can sing karaoke and spend a restorative weekend with Jake Sorensen, the town's "designated rebound guy" (who looks like the lost Hemsworth brother).

The iconic black dog for whom the town was named just sort of scampered into the manuscript without warning. I called my editor and said, "By the way, there's gonna be a magic dog in the new book," and she said, "Okay, that sounds fine." (This is why I adore my editor.)

Brighton learns not only about passion in the bedroom but passion in her career. What kind of jewelry would you have Brighton design for you? What would make it unique for you?

I'd commission a gold cuff bracelet with inlaid with a small black dog (onyx or black diamonds). Inside, Brighton would inscribe the Louis L'Amour quote that inspired the whole Black Dog Bay series: "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning."

Brighton loved her ten-year plan; what do you think people gain and lose with such long-term thinking?

Ten-year plans have their place. Striving for excellence is admirable, and you can't achieve goals you haven't set. But ten-year plans don't always account for growth and change and all the blessings and tragedies and surprises life throws our way. There is beauty in flexibility and self-forgiveness.

What would you do with a screw up summer?

What wouldn't I do with a screw-up summer? I'd cash out my savings and travel the world, I'd eat sugar and carbs with wild abandon, I'd get a regrettable tattoo in a regrettable location. Surfing and sangria and shortsighted decisions all the livelong day.


The name Genevieve is given a lot of "weight" in this story. How did you pick her name? What about your other characters like Brighton?

I love the name Genevieve; it's elegant and classic. It's also relatively unusual. That's why I chose it--it's familiar enough that readers can pronounce it in their heads but it's rare enough that it's highly unlikely that you know more than one Genevieve. Like, who has two exes who are both dating Genevieves? How can that be a coincidence? It's clearly Fate.

As for Brighton, I wanted to give her a name that was offbeat, and well, bright. A name that belies the strait-laced, corporate image she tries so hard to maintain. She can wear pinstripes and pearls all she wants, but she can't escape the fact that she's an artist.

Put a Ring on it was so much fun to read. I can only imagine how much fun it was to write. What is your process like? How has it evolved now that you have 12 novels under your belt? What do you do to keep it fun?

I love my characters, and they love me. (Don't tell me they're imaginary; our love is real.) You'd think that after 12 books, I'd have established some sort of streamlined process, but no. I just get a little fizz of inspiration and figure out the story as I go along. I originally introduced Jake Sorensen (the hero of Put A Ring on It) two books earlier (in Cure for the Common Breakup). He was meant to be a tertiary, transitional character, but as soon as he hit the page, I knew I'd be back for him.

When I started the first draft for Put a Ring on It, I interviewed a woman who's been designing and selling estate jewelry for years. Turns out, jewelry stores are hotbeds of scandal and intrigue: engagements and breakups and clandestine trysts everywhere you turn. I was scribbling down story ideas as fast as I could when she showed me an unusual piece: a poison ring, which turned into major plot point in the book. That's usually how it goes with research--you don't really know what you're looking for until you find it, and then you can't imagine how you ever could have written the story without it.



Wendy Darling: A Conversation With Author Colleen Oakes

There are certain stories we can always return to. Based on the popularity of the story, plays, and film adaptions, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie is one of those classics. In Wendy Darling (SparkPress, October 2015), Colleen Oakes explores Wendy's experience in Neverland, unfolding this classic tale in a marvelous new direction.

What made you fall in love with Wendy?

When I was searching for a character to adapt for my next YA series, I knew that while I wanted a strong female, I also wanted an interesting female -- the two are not always sympathetic to each other. I had just finished writing about a fierce warrior full of rage in Queen of Hearts, and I really wanted someone different, someone who I could dig deep emotionally with. After reading the original work, I knew immediately that it could and would only be Wendy Darling. She's such an fascinating character -- the book really starts and ends with her, and yet she is treated as a shrinking violet, a lovely magician's assistant to Peter Pan's show of miraculous adventures. Being a woman, I knew there was so much more to the story. My Wendy is a product of her time longing for more -- an Edwardian lady of society, repressed and controlled by the whims of her parents (who are loving, but at the same time bound by their social class.) My main questions for Wendy's character arc were "How does a girl defined by other's expectations become brave?" and "What would a person who was bound of rigid social dynamics be like when taken to Neverland -- a place with no rules?"Wendy Darling: A Conversation With Author Colleen Oakes

What part of Neverland would you most want to experience yourself?

I've always been a child of the sea, even though I've grown up in disappointingly land-locked Colorado, so I would want most to see the mermaids, and experience the perfectly turquoise waters lapping against a crushed pearl beach. Hopefully, they would let me bring some drinks with umbrellas in them.
Why do you think the idea of not growing up has such a timeless appeal?

I think as adults, we long for those carefree days of childhood, where our responsibilities and the daily cares of life were taken over by adults. In addition, I think there is always a nostalgic part of us that wants to go back and be a little more wild, take a little more risks, kiss the person we desired and never did. That is exactly what Neverland is -- a place of no regrets, a place where time doesn't matter. A place where we can let our wildest inhibitions run feral, where we can do what we want when we want. Isn't that what every ad in the world sells us, in some sort of way?

Is Peter a hero or a villain or something in between?

I would say in the original books, that he is perhaps a misunderstood child, rather than a hero or a villain. He's really neither. There was some dark implications in his character, but I'm not sure that was Barrie's intentions. In my books however, Peter Pan is both hero and villain, and we will learn more about that as the story goes on. I think he will make your blood pressure rise either way, and there are absolutely some intense psychological nuances presented in his character. I LOVED writing him.

If you would have dinner with J.M. Barrie, what would you want to talk about?

I would be absolutely fascinated to learn about what being a writer was like around 1904. How do you explain things that people couldn't even begin to imagine? What was the culture like for the literary arts? And how did this man come to imagine something so perfectly attuned to the experience of childhood? What was his childhood like? I would come in with a book of questions, and he would probably be quite annoyed.



A Romance Only Bookstore: The Ripped Bodice

The Ripped Bodice

The Ripped Bodice aims to be the only exclusively romance bookstore, opening in March 2016 in Los Angeles. With tag lines such as "Purveyors of Fine Smut" and "Smart Girls Read Romance," sisters Leah and Bea Koch seek to build an interactive, local community store around a genre adored by millions of women and men both. With the Romance Writers of America estimating the 2013 sales of romances at $1.08 billion, The Ripped Bodice is sure to find fans in its new home. We spoke about their inspirations, goals, and exciting plans.

First, I wanted to say I loved the name, The Ripped Bodice. What started the journey toward creating The Ripped Bodice? When did you know this bookselling niche must be filled?

Thank you! We are lifelong romance readers and Bea even wrote her masters thesis on romance novels. Her thesis was titled, "Mending the Ripped Bodice," and we loved that the name The Ripped Bodice poked fun at the tawdry reputation of romance novels. For us, it's about celebrating romance. No need to shy away from the historical perception, let's embrace it!

Romance is the best selling genre in North America, so it was mind-blowing to us that there isn't a store dedicated exclusively to the genre. We think now is the perfect time to open both a romance only bookstore with both a physical location and an online presence -- this way we can act as a community gathering space for readers in Los Angeles, while also including fans of the genre around the world.


The Ripped Bodice hopes to become a community space with readings and other interactive events. If you could host any authors publishing today, who would make up your wish list and why?

That list could be ten pages long! There are so many fantastic writers working right now and we are so excited to give authors a romance dedicated space to host readings, signings and lectures.

Leah: I primarily focus on contemporary romance novels and my favorite -- and I think one of the most original writers these days -- is Christina Lauren. I would also love to host Kristen ProbyJulie James and of course, Nora Roberts.

Bea: I read Regency romances and particularly enjoy quirky humor and empowered heroines, so I would choose Julia QuinnEloisa James and Tessa Dare.


Your foundation story offers evidence of loving books together since childhood. What about the flip side? What are the books you disagree on? Who has a favorite the other can't stand?

Leah cannot understand heroines who wear twelve petticoats, and Bea doesn't like her heroes to wear jeans. But we actually tend to be pretty in sync. We read mostly from different genres, but we have a lot of fun trying to get each other to read outside our genres. When we travel, we'll switch whatever books we've brought to try something new.

Romance really has something for everyone; you just have to find your place. We see it everyday when we talk about our favorite books.

What sub-genres is The Ripped Bodice most excited about breaking out in your non-alphabetical store layout?

Paranormals are so much fun, and we love that we'll be able to have separate sections for witches, vampires, werewolves, etc.

The growth in the New Adult genre (the protagonists are between 18 and 25) has also been wonderful to see. We are excited to be able to introduce younger readers to romance with books featuring heroines their age. Romance novels are hugely educational for young readers, showing them what informed consent and good sex look like in healthy relationships. We hope The Ripped Bodice will be a safe space for readers of all ages to explore the genre.

Why did you decide to include charity as function of The Ripped Bodice?

It's how we were raised and indicative of the romance community as a whole. We are lucky enough to be able to make our dream a reality so we'd like to give back to our community in whatever small way we can. As female entrepreneurs, we feel it is important that we support organizations that focus on the health, education and advancement of women and girls.

What parts have you enjoyed the most about starting a new business? What challenges remain?

We love when people share our excitement. We are so happy seeing everyone on Twitter getting excited about the store and all of our Kickstarter rewards. As fangirls, it's been particularly exhilarating to see so many of our favorite authors showing support.

The biggest challenge that remains is building our physical location. We've been working for almost a year now on our business plans and all the tiny details, and we had to put that stuff on the back burner while we got our Kickstarter together. Now that our Kickstarter has launched, we ready to get right back into the nitty-gritty of opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore. We have begun scouting locations in downtown Culver City. It is so exciting to imagine our store in different spaces. We plan to sign a lease as soon as our Kickstarter is funded.



Meet YA Author Rebecca Villarreal

Rebecca Villarreal is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Selma Calderón, a magical young adult mystery novel about globetrotting, magic, courage and friendship. We spoke about sharing magic with young readers, honoring grandmothers, and what it takes to start your own press.

Tell me about Selma and her friends. How did you "meet?"

Selma is one of the most curious characters you will ever meet. Whether it's traveling to Paris to taste real chocolate croissants, learning about endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda, or solving the mystery of her missing parents, she's always in a state of wonder. Originally from Philly, Selma is mixed Mexican and Polish. Her best friend Hurley is African-American from the south and now lives in a predominately Latino neighborhood in Chicago. Together, as outsiders, they find a way to trust each other and build a close friendship. Hurley is courageous in his own strong, yet quiet way. A big part of his unique personality comes through in his obsession with playing marbles. I love Hurley for the big heart he shows and for his own brand of courage and conscience. Selma needs him to balance her neverending desire to leap.

Selma was born out of my sense of awe, wonder and curiosity upon moving to Chicago more than a decade ago. Whether riding the L trains or seeing the murals in my Pilsen neighborhood, there was always a story to uncover or a new food to try. I met Selma from the spark of all of that wondering.

Photo credit: Tim Arroyo

Do you believe in magic? Where do you find it? What does it take to share it with others in your writing?

I absolutely believe in magic. It's everywhere if you stop and stay in the moment. You can choose to be open and take notice of little details. Nature is a great place to start. It's even doable in the city by people watching. There are so many magical miracles big and small which have impacted my life. I was feeling that open-hearted joy when I wandered into Café Jumping Bean where I met my husband. (That's also where Selma and Hurley hatch their plans.) An additional magical surprise came when I ended up moving into the very apartment where I had a photo snapped years earlier.

It takes vulnerability and courage to share magic with others in my writing. I've written poems, stories and essays for decades and I've had a blog (http://rebeccainspiresnow.com) for three years. The book took me ten years to finish while working full-time and going through lots of changes, like becoming a mom. Sharing magic in my writing requires a belief that my words will help someone. Many people have told me they felt better, loved and in some cases, even healed by my words. Selma was like that. I was afraid to publish it, because I put so much of my heart into it. And yet, I know now, my heart just keeps filling up. My wish is that the book has that effect on readers around the world. Trust me, believe in magic, ask for it, and you'll get it.

The book jacket copy features several reviews from young readers. What was it like to share your novel with children for the first time?

It was exciting and nerve-racking. Kids are honest. I didn't know if it was going to hit or miss. I did have a lot of faith in the story and in Selma and Hurley. People want to hang out with them. One mom recently told me that her daughter stayed up way too late reading the book. She kept running into her mom's bedroom to say, "Wow, it's funny too!" and "Things are really heating up now!" But she wouldn't tell her what was happening because her mother was going to read it and she doesn't like spoilers. After they had both read it, they were walking together and the daughter found a marble and said she wanted to change her name to Selma and find a best friend named Hurley. Honestly, stories like this bring me to tears of happiness. It's that pulsating joy any artist feels when her work finds its way into the hearts of readers.

Who is Mama Chelo? What is next for the Mama Chelo Press?

Mama Chelo is my amazing grandmother who passed away two years ago at the age of 105 which is how I decided that my novel is for ages 10 to 105. Her full name was Consuelo Calderón before she married. She ended up as a single mother of four from that marriage and then pulled three more children from an orphanage (from my grandfather's previous marriage). She was an incredible seamstress and milliner. She even had hats in the famous Philadelphia department store Bonwit Teller. She had a luncheonette at one point too. I remember Mama Chelo telling me how she needed to repair the chimney on the roof and she just went up there with bricks and mortar and built one. She was an amazing cook, loved to tell stories, sing and dance for people. She even claimed to be the first woman in Mexico to fly a plane. She embodied magic and made me feel so special. The press is named after her because she had the courage to do anything.

The next project for Mama Chelo Press is Book 2 in the Truth & Magic series about Selma. The story is sketched out--it's intense and full of big surprises. I've written one scene and plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November. I'm excited to spend time working on it in April at a writers and artists refuge called "Drop Out" on Orcas Island. I was honored to be invited to write in this tech free cottage nestled in nature. I will also do a reading there at Doe Bay Café --the same place where my novel culminates. This is the full circle magic that happens when you keep showing up and trying. In the long term, I hope Mama Chelo press can produce a cookbook made up of Selma readers' recipes from around the world. Food and fellowship is a great pathway to understanding and compassion. And that is magic.

Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to publish a book?

Yes, do it. First, though, find a team of people you can trust. You need readers who will challenge you without trying to completely change your style of writing. You need people who love your story. You need a careful editor. Read books of all sorts. Take the time to work on it and experience the magic inherent in life. And remember, it doesn't have to be perfect. Take some time away from your manuscript too. Then come back, give your story some love and hit publish.

For more information about Rebecca and her novel, please visit:http://rebeccavillarreal.com. You can find her on Instagram at
rebeccavillarrealwriter and on Twitter @RebeccaVWriter.



Fat Girl Walking: A Conversation with Author Brittany Gibbons

Fat Girl Walking

What if you looked at your daughter and saw yourself? Not only the good parts but all of the negative self-talk you heaped upon yourself since you emerged from childhood. What would you do to stop your daughter from carrying the weight of that nonsense?Brittany Gibbons, blogger and author, answers that question in her memoir, Fat Girl WalkingFat Girl Walking captures Brittany's life from her late teen years to the early years of her marriage and motherhood. She takes an honest look at anxiety, self-image, and how to embrace yourself--no matter what size--not just for your benefit but for the betterment of your daughters, sisters, and nieces, too.

Photo Credit: Andy Gibbons

Between your blog, your TED Talk, wearing a swimsuit in Times Square, you have had many avenues for making your voice heard. What lead you to writing a book? How did Fat Girl Walking come to life? What is your story as a writer?

Every blogger wants to write a book. It's basically our tagline. I truly didn't think that it was going to be in the cards for me, I was just too in love with the online platform. But, following some media attention from a piece I'd written about how I'd used having sex with my husband for a year as a journey of body love, I was approached by a publisher to write a memoir. After that phone call, the seed was re-planted.


You said in a Holiday Café interview that Fat Girl Walking "is literally the hardest but awesomest project, ever." What made it the hardest for you? What made it awesome?

I think I googled "how to write a book" at least 100 times. I was used to jamming a life's worth of thoughts into 1000 words. Writing a book forced me to be expansive, and address the parts of the story that were hard and uncomfortable. Fully reliving something instead of just flashing through the highlight reel was really emotional. But, as hard as it was, and as often as I walked out of my office with my eyes puffy and swollen shut, it was also amazing to see how changed I was from those experiences. Here I thought I was just lucky to make it out alive, when in truth, I am thriving and stronger than I'd given myself credit for.

How do you feel about the term body image advocate? What does that mean to you? What role do you see yourself playing in this conversation about body image in our society?

A few years ago, I would have proudly worn the badge "Body Image Advocate," but these days I consider myself more of a Women's Advocate. This whole movement to reinvent beauty and teach self-love and respect isn't exclusive to plus size women, it's a battle for all women.

What would you like to see happen for young girls growing up to empower them to turn off the negative self-talk?

What young women and girls need is a map for how to treat themselves, and each other. Right now, that isn't happening. All they learn is that in order to be successful and valued, it's at the expense of each other. There is room and value enough for all of us here, it's time we show them how to do achieve that.


What advice do you have for people that want to be passionate advocates for change? What would you tell them about writing and making their voices heard?

Being an advocate isn't about being the loudest when the cameras are rolling. It's doing the hard work when nobody is watching. It's fighting the fight when it feels like nobody cares. And it's counting every singular person that steps up beside you as a win. My advice would be to be consistent and relatable. You wouldn't think fighting for women of all sizes was an issue men would care about, but a week doesn't go by that I don't get emails from husbands, boyfriends and fathers. It matters to them because I made it matter to them.

How does writing for a blog differ from writing a book? What did you learn about yourself and your process as a writer?

Like I mentioned above, books are long. Who knew? The internet is full of hyper-moments. Making the biggest impression you can in the most digestible form of media. Writing a book was the chance to tell a full story, and that was something I'd never done before. Length aside, there is a huge difference in medium. Writing online comes with a healthy dose of instant gratification and discourse. I write something, it's ingested, and we talk about it, good or bad. It took me ten months to complete Fat Girl Walking, and I can barely contain my excitement for its publication. I just want someone- anyone- to talk to about it besides my mom.

Who do you want to play you in the movie of Fat Girl Walking?

I don't care, as long as it's not an actress in a fat suit. I would, however, nominate Aidy Bryant. She is hilarious and my current comedy girl crush.


You mention the important of finding clothes that fit you; how did you figure this out? What process do you use? I mean my god, how much time does it take?

This took forever. It was months of going shopping on a Tuesday afternoon, when I knew the stores would be empty, and the retail staff would typically be older and less shocked by a 30 year old woman crying in a dressing room stall. Because I didn't look like the typical model in a clothing ad, I had no guide for the shapes and cuts that looked great on my body. I tried on everything. With time, I was able to rule out pretty easily what wouldn't work, which cut down on the crying meltdowns by at least 50%.

Along with good clothes, you mention practicing camera angles; I long suspected some women from my high school took a secret class that enabled them to pose for pictures, but it never occurred to me to practice. What are some tips to shorten the learning curve?

Oh yes, learn those angles. Stand in front of a mirror and practice holding your head, shoulders and legs in a way that makes you feel attractive and confident. Practice this every day as you are getting dressed or brushing your teeth. Eventually, your body will remember what those poses feel like. Now, when I pose for a picture, my muscles know what to do and I'm pretty confident I'll like the way it comes out. This does not hold true for those candid shots taken of you eating chips and salsa in the background of a party. What kind of person posts those online and then tags you in them? They should have their Facebook accounts suspended.

What's next for you?

Fat Girl Walking comes out May 19th, and the next week I am hosting the first session of my annual adult summer camp, Camp Throwback. Beyond that, I'm really looking forward to a summer of traveling around and interacting with people who loved the book, and in the rare moments of free time, writing the next one.

You can find Brittany at her blog or on Twitter @brittanyherself.



At the Water's Edge: A Writer's Conversation With Sara Gruen

At The Water's Edge

Sara Gruen author of the new release, AT THE WATER'S EDGE, shared some insight into her writing process and what lead her to set her latest novel at the edge of Scotland's Loch Ness during World War II.

How did the story for AT THE WATER'S EDGE unfold for you? What drew you to writing it?

I had a long-standing fascination with the Loch Ness monster, starting when I was twelve and first visited Urquhart Castle and was convinced I was going to see it, and a random news article rekindled my interest. The idea of incorporating my favorite castle in the world with the looming prospect of the monster was irresistible, so I booked research trips without having any idea of what my story would be. Ultimately, it came to me in a rush when I was standing at the Water Gate in Urquhart Castle (a location that has great importance in the book), and I spent the rest of the afternoon stomping around the castle dictating ideas into my phone. That day was definitely one of the highlights of my writing life!

Both Jacob in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and Maddie and Ellis in AT THE WATER'S EDGE suffer a sort of fall from grace at the start of stories, losing access to a once guaranteed future. What do your stories say about making life your own?

In the broadest sense, almost all stories begin with an upheaval of some sort, because normal people doing normal things does not a good story make! I think the stories that appeal to us as readers are those in which people have to examine what's really going on in their lives, or face a huge change in circumstances, and then see what they do going forward. In the case of AT THE WATER'S EDGE, Maddie and Ellis both face enormous changes in circumstance and their understanding of life as they know it, and react in nearly polar opposite ways to the truths they find.


What roles do travel and research play in your writing? When does imagination come in?

I love the research part. One of the best things about this job is that I get to find something that fascinates me and that I hope will be fascinating to others, and completely immerse myself in it for a few years. It happens different ways for different books, but in this case the location came first, and after a few weeks of full immersion in the Highlands, the story came to me. It happened while I was standing at the Water Gate, and all the little amorphous bits that were floating around in my brain started to take shape, so I sent my guide back to his car and spent the rest of the afternoon stomping around the castle dictating ideas into my phone. That's one of those writing moments you hope and dream will happen, but very rarely do. I still have the files on my phone. They're taking up a huge amount of space, but I can't bring myself to delete them.

Your books draw richly on the history of the times; in AT THE WATER'S EDGE, World War II frames the narrative. What do you think it takes to accurately portray a time period? How do you balance telling the story and setting the historical scene?

For me, I need to take an almost obsessive approach to research. When I'm at the writing stage, I pass through a kind of creative portal every day and feel like I'm really in that other world I've created, and so it has to exist right down to the trowel marks in the plaster, and I'm a stickler for detail. The saying "the devil is in the details" is absolutely right.

This is your fifth book; what have you learned about your writing process as you gained more experience? What stayed the same for you and what has changed?

I've realized that I can't structure my work time and progress quite as rigidly as I would like to. For my first couple of books, I aimed for (and got, even if it nearly killed me) 2000 words a day. Then I moved to 2000 words a day or eight hours, whichever came first. Now, I feel like if I show up for work and put in an honest day, I've done well. Because I can't force the creative process. Sometimes I am typing as fast as I can all day, and have to drag myself away because there's more to be done, and other times I stare glumly at my open file all day, which is okay, because I've come to realize that when I can't get any words out, it means there's something I need to figure out and change in the storyline and even if my fingers aren't busy, my brain is.

Out of all the character's you created, who is your favorite and why?

Before this book, I would have said Rosie, but now I have to say Maddie. She changed so dramatically from what I imagined her to be--coming to life in the way that characters do--and she was so willing to look at things that she had never examined before, in an open-minded and big-hearted way, and she showed courage and resolve in a situation that was utterly impossible, and became increasingly so.


I read that you needed an internet-free zone to write WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Zadie Smith spoke about using a computer program to block herself from the internet while writing her novel NW. How do you keep yourself from going down the rabbit hole of cyberspace?

I wrote a large chunk of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS in a walk-in closet, because at that time we didn't have wi-fi and it prevented me from obsessively checking my email, shopping on eBay, and basically blowing an afternoon watching cats in boxes on Youtube. Then I used Zadie Smith's method--I know the program she's talking about--but I found a workaround, and so that ended up being no help at all. And just in case she ever reads this, I'm not going to say what that workaround is because I do not want to be singlehandedly responsible for the delay of a new Zadie Smith book.



The Good Neighbor: A Conversation With Author Amy Sue Nathan

Amy Sue Nathan, author of The Good Neighbor, brings us the story of Elizabeth aka Izzy Lane and her introduction to the worlds of Internet celebrity and dating after divorce. Set in Philadelphia, Nathan's book really captures Lane's struggle with moving on after her divorce. We talked about the secrets we keep, what makes Philadelphia awesome, and how imagination is the writer's best friend.

Tell us about The Good Neighbor; how did you first come to know Izzy Lane?

I met Izzy Lane when I thought "what if..." Then, Izzy became near and dear to my heart for two reasons. First, she did the opposite of something I did. While we both started blogging anonymously after our divorces, I did it as a way to tell the truth. And I did! I told some funny and obnoxious dating stories, I wrote about my kids, I wrote about motherhood and life. Izzy used her blog as a way to disguise her life, not to recount it. Izzy lied on her blog, and then she continued to lie. In real life, my true blog stories led to writing essays for magazines and newspapers. No lying going on there! It was so much fun to flip life around and really give Izzy good reasons to make up stories, and get herself into a lot more pickles than I ever have. (Thank goodness!) Second, and probably what makes Izzy near and dear to me, is that , I based Izzy's old neighborhood on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood I grew up in, and where I lived until I was twenty-six. That street, and that neighborhood is ingrained in me, and I could easily have been one of Izzy's neighbors. Maybe I was...


What do you hope The Good Neighbor says about secrets?

I think the story says "be careful." Be careful what you tell, and be careful what you don't tell. Mostly I think The Good Neighbor says BE YOURSELF--because a secret or lie that hides who you are might feel good at first, but at its core, it's the worst kind of secret. It robs others of the opportunity to know you. Izzy learns that lesson well in the book.

I see that you live in Chicago while The Good Neighbor is set in Philadelphia. As a fan of Philadelphia, I must ask--what do you think makes Philly great?

That's easy! Soft pretzels, Butterscotch Krimpets, and growing up on a one-way street where you knew everyone and everything by heart.

I lived in Philadelphia until I was twenty-six, it's all I knew. I went to elementary school, Hebrew School, junior high, high school, and I went to Temple University while living in the house I grew up in and commuting to campus for four years. Then I worked in Center City (and wore sneakers with my business suits when I rode the El, bus, and subway) until I married and moved away. And, while I haven't lived in Philly since 1990, I am planning to move back in a few years!

While The Good Neighbor is set in Philadelphia, it's not set in Center City, nor is it sprinkled with historical landmarks. What it does offer the reader, I hope, is the real experience of being part of a working middle class neighborhood where kids played in the middle of the street (and survived to tell the tale), and where everyone lived there for as long as you did, or longer. The Good Neighbor doesn't chronicle Izzy's childhood, but growing up on that street shaped her, as it did me.

It's a little funny that the very thing that gets Izzy Lane in trouble, her great imagination, is what helps you to succeed as a writer. What do you think it take to be a women's fiction writer? What inspires your imagination?

Real people and the funny, happy, sad, and wacky things they do or say inspire me. I'll never tell who inspired Mrs. Feldman and her story - but she and the life she lived were a combination of several people I know (now everyone I know will read more carefully). I usually take something or someone I disagree with or don't understand and I flip it around and make it right, and that's what inspires story details, plot, subplots. I also take something I admire of someone else's and make it my own by giving it to a character. It can be as simple as a haircut or as complicated as a career choice. My characters spur my stories, and they appear ready to tell me what's what. I have learned to listen to everything they say.



The Lioness in Mark Twain's Court: A Conversation with Lynn Cullen

Lynn Cullen beautifully imagines the life of Isabel Lyons, secretary of Mark Twain, her historical fiction novel, Twain's End. Cullen's novel unravels how Lyons shifted from being Twain's beloved secretary who knew him better than anyone else to, as he called her in a 429 page document, "a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction." In this interview, she talks about her discovery process, public versus private personas, and where her research and imagination might lead her next.

Share your discovery process; how do you find the books and articles that informed your telling of Isabel Lyon's story? What first prompted you to capture her story?

After decades of resisting the urging of one of my wisest friends, I reluctantly looked into the life of Mark Twain as a possible subject for a novel. Strife drives a novel, and I wasn't expecting to find much of it in the life of the wry humorist who wrote such homespun Americana as Tom Sawyer. Well, like Isabel Lyon's mother says (with her typical questionable humility) in Twain's End, I can admit when I'm wrong. The man's life was one drawn-out battle--with mankind, with loved ones, with himself.

My study of Mark Twain began with the excellent biographies by Michael Sheldon and Ron Powers. I knew that I must write about Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens once I read in the Powers book that young Sammy's parents sold their only slave, a house servant named Jennie, when Sammy was six. Of the assorted slave dealers in Hannibal, the elder Clemenses chose one infamous for selling his "merchandize" down the Mississippi to certain death in the fields around New Orleans. Mental alarms clanged as I wondered what had provoked Sammy's parents to wish death upon the woman who had served them since their marriage. More importantly, I wondered what damage might have been done to Sammy's spirit by witnessing his parents' cruelty toward a woman who'd had an important hand in raising him.

At the same time, I was reading Sheldon's Mark Twain, Man in White, about Clemens's final years. I learned about Twain's abrupt termination of his relationship with the person with whom he was closest at the time. This sudden turnabout raised another of the alarums upon which I've come to depend when finding my way to the heart of a story. I then looked for biographies specific to the relationship between Clemens and Lyon. One, Karen Lystra's Dangerous Intimacy, takes Clemens at his word when he called Lyon the nasty terms listed above. The other, Mark Twain's Other Woman by Laura Skandera Trombley, presented a case for Twain's change of heart as a cover-up for the scandal caused by his daughter, Clara. Cherry-picking from these sources and more, I put together a case that not only suggests that Twain was covering up his daughter's dirty tracks, but ultimately sacrificed the person closest to him in order to maintain his image as the most beloved man in the world. To me, his overweening need to be adored came from his need to assuage his self-hatred and unconquerable guilt. Twain's End is the result of my personal search for the seeds of the shattering guilt with which he was wracked after the many tragedies in his life. I'm also pretty keen on giving Isabel Lyon a fair shake after more than a hundred years of infamy.

The personal lives of the Clemens's family stands in ironic contrast to Samuel Clemens' professional life as a writer and communicator. The family, Lyons included, suffer from a failure to communicate. Where do you think this failure stems from?

With the success that Clemens found after creating his Mark Twain persona, came the price he had to pay for it: Playing along with the act to keep the love of his adoring public. He soon learned that his image had to be more "sivilized" (his mocking spelling of the word) in order to be more palatable to his public. His choice for a wife in Olivia Langdon, the refined daughter of a wealthy Eastern coal merchant (Father Langdon was also a well-known abolitionist) aided in smoothing Clemens's small-town Southern boy's rough edges, of which he was self-conscious.

"Livy" quickly became his editor, purging his manuscripts of crudities. His daughters got in on the act of "dusting up" Papa's crude manners when with company . Honing the exterior of Mark Twain until it shone--allowing him to be just a little lovably naughty--was the Clemens Family enterprise.

By their teenage years, his daughters resented having to completely subsume their own identities into their roles as Mark Twain's bemused, adoring children. They could see that they weren't going to find relief for their father's need to control them.Twain's End illustrates several actual instances of his daughters' entreaties for him to be a regular dad for once, and to take the backseat during moments of importance to them. But time after time, Sam was unable to honor this simple wish. As much as he loved them, Samuel Clemens was astonishingly unable to empathize with his family; his failure to do so would hamper any chance of his ever communicating with them.


How do you balance research with the creative side of writing? Did you ever make a decision to divert from something you found in Isabel's diary or other research?

I don't ever consciously divert from the facts. It's my game with myself to compile all the details I've gleaned from biographies, autobiographies, period travel guides, and such; from my characters' writings; from family photographs; from my travels to every place my characters had visited together; and, in this case, from the entries of Isabel Lyon's diary, housed in the Mark Twain papers at University of California, Berkeley; and then see how they relate. My thrill is in finding the connections between all these bits. As a novelist, I have the freedom to use all these components to look at the larger picture. I'm not beholden, like a biographer, to take things my characters have said or written at face value or run the risk of appearing unscholarly--it's my job as a novelist to look for the truth which can be found between the lines. I live to decipher the unspoken and then to imagine "what if?" While I'm at it, I'm always looking for the universal truths that might be found through these real-life individuals' struggles. As Clemens well knew, important truths might be told through the guise of fiction.

In your last book, Ms. Poe, you explored the lives of Virginia Poe and her rival for Edgar Allen Poe's affections, Frances Sargent Osgood. Which historical figure might capture your imagination next?

I am homing in on painter Georgia O'Keeffe. I wish I could shut myself away and devote all my time to writing about her. Her battle against crippling self-doubt and overcoming her husband's control to become the most famous American woman painter absolutely fascinates me.



Pretending to Dance: A Conversation With Diane Chamberlain

Molly Arnette, the protagonist in Diane Chamberlain's beautiful woven novel,Pretending to Dance, left Morrison Ridge, North Carolina, and all of her family behind for good. Now their secrets and her own lies catch up to her as she dreams of a different future and starting her own family. Chamberlain spoke to me about her influences, the nature of pretending, motherhood, and her writing process.

Every story starts out with the tiniest of seeds. How did you meet Molly and her Morrison Ridge family?

Pretending to Dance was inspired by my sister Joann's experience of living with progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Joann is a constant source of inspiration for me and all her know her. She helped me understand the physical and emotional challenges faced by Molly's father Graham as he copes with the same disease. I knew, however, that I didn't want Pretending to Dance to be a downer of a book, so I decided to tell the bulk of the story from fourteen-year-old Molly's point of view. The relationship between Molly and her dad was a joy to write.

Pretending emerges clearly as a theme in this novel, beginning with Molly's father's work as a "pretend therapist." How did you come upon pretend therapy? Can we really fake until we make it?

My training as a psychotherapist involved traditional long-term therapeutic approaches, but early in my career, I took a job with an HMO that allowed me very few sessions with my clients. That's when I began studying cognitive behavioral therapy and saw, in the case of many people I worked with, quick, dramatic and positive change. Molly's father Graham takes that approach to heart in 1990 when he writes his books on Pretend Therapy, which I view as a variant of behavioral therapy. In simplistic terms, he would say, "If you want to be brave in a situation, pretend you are brave and you will become brave." I've proven this to myself on numerous occasions. I was, for example, phobic about hospitals. After the death of a friend, I felt a strong calling to work as a hospital social worker. I had to "fake" my courage to be able to take on that sort of work, but the faking ultimately made the courage real. 

Molly struggles keenly with the idea of motherhood in this novel from her own upbringing to her desire to adopt. What does Pretending to Dance say about motherhood to you?

I think the message is this: Different mothers have different strengths and all of those strengths have value. Sometimes, though, it can take us well into adulthood to recognize that fact! That's certainly the case with Molly as she struggles with her memories of her own two mothers and her entry into motherhood herself. 

Novels like Pretending to Dance that weave two time periods together so seamlessly amaze me. How did you tackle this structure during the writing process?

Although I knew I would have a present-day story as well as a story set in 1990, I wrote all of the 1990 story first. I then examined the themes and the character development from the events of the past to determine how they would play out in the present. I then created the current-day story and determined the most seamless way to weave it into the past, chapter by chapter. 

You have written your twenty-fourth book! That is very impressive. What brings you back to the page each day? How do you find inspiration and new characters to enchant you?

I think a true fiction writer sees inspiration everywhere. If I see a dented fence around an old house, for example, I immediately wonder what intriguing event caused that damage. Or I may overhear a startling bit of gossip while in line at the grocery story or read a newspaper article that fires my imagination. I'm at an age when many of my non-writing friends are retiring. Teachers, social workers, Realtors--they're putting on their golf shoes and heading for Florida. Not so my writing friends. Why would we stop doing something that gives us so much satisfaction and joy? Our stories change as we get older and wiser and mellower, and seeing our own growth is part of the pleasure. I imagine I will always have more to say and I relish the challenge of saying it in ways that continue to resonate with my readers. I look forward to every new tale.