Archive | She Reads Selection

April She Reads Selection: And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan HenryIt is a mythically beautiful Sunday evening in Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, the sun reigns the sky for hours into the party on this tucked-away estate, inviting strangers to sip their cocktails outside on the patio. Guests eventually sift in through French doors, navy-wrappered books in hand, and wait for the hostess to take the stage at the front of the room.

Patti Callahan Henry inches through the crowd, seizing each friend or admirer that she meets in a bear hug. We are here to celebrate the launch of Patti’s new book, And Then I Found You, but we also know this is very much a family affair.

And Then I Found You is a novel inspired by the true story of Patti’s sister, Barbi, who gave a child up for adoption. Some 20 years went by with Barbi always wondering what had happened to the baby girl she’d named Janelle at the hospital. Then, one morning, Barbi and Patti both received friend requests from a beautiful young girl on Facebook who resembled Patti’s daughter. To read the best account of what happened after that, you’ll have to download the ebook FrienFriend Request by Patti Callahan Henryd Request.

At the launch party for And Then I Found You, Patti and Barbi each share that they’ve been writing or journaling for years. “Becoming” fictional characters and writing their stories is child’s play for Patti Callahan Henry, who’s been assuming the identities of her characters and writing fiction since she was six years old. Patti, a preacher’s daughter, jokes, “How do you think I got through two-hour sermons?”

However, when Patti attempted to write a nonfiction account of Barbi’s adoption and reunion story, the words would not come. In real life, Patti’s parents, sisters and their families were extremely supportive of her efforts to tell the story. But in the solitude of her writer’s workspace, Patti says the room grew loud and crowded with negative voices, and she succumbed to the fear of not getting it right.

At the same time that she was struggling to write the story, Patti was experiencing major life changes: she and her family were relocating to Alabama, and her first child was getting ready to leave for college. Patti says the only solution was writing a fictionalized account of her sister’s reunion story and incorporating the move and other life changes into the framework of her main character, Kate. The result is And Then I Found You.

At least two women in the audience at Patti’s book launch party ask questions about how to support their adopted children who may be searching for their birth parents. Patti says she consulted with an adoption specialist/psychologist when writing the novel. She asked him, “What’s the one thing that adopted kids want to know?” The consultant answered that adopted children want to know why they were put up for adoption, but more than that, they want to know their story. And like all great works of fiction, And Then I Found You is a great conversation starter based on soulful, real-life questions and every human being’s search for the answers–for their story.

Patti Callahan Henry, author of And Then I Found YouImportant to note: Patti Callahan Henry’s And Then I Found You is the April She Reads Book Club Selection. I was able to catch up with Kimberly Brock and meet She Reads founders, Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon. What a treat! And not only did I get one of those great big bear hugs from Patti, but I also secured a signed copy of the hardback for one lucky Southern Spines reader. Please comment below or post on the Southern Spines Facebook page to enter to win a copy of the book.

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March She Reads Selection: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

When I read an early review of the The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow that compared the book to John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, I was dubious. Owen Meany is one of the most memorable characters in fiction. However, after reading Rita Leganski’s debut novel, I understand the comparison; I think Owen and Bonaventure would have been great friends. So I was thrilled when Rita Leganski agreed to answer a few questions about the book for Southern Spines.

Unspeakable tragedy seals Bonaventure Arrow’s vocal chords when he is inside his mother’s womb, but at the same moment, the boy is gifted with exceptional hearing. Bonaventure can hear colors, flowers growing in the earth and inanimate objects calling to him from his mother’s closet. He can also hear the voice of his dead father, William. And the extraordinary things that Bonaventure hears help him piece together why his father was murdered by a man known only as The Wanderer.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow takes place in the 1950s in the fictional parish of Bayou Cymbaline in Louisiana. But the book’s author, Rita Leganski, grew up in Wisconsin and lives outside of Chicago, where she teaches at DePaul University. Rita says she listened to the voices of her favorite Southern writers–including Carson McCullers, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee–when writing the book, but she visited New Orleans to firm up her research. That research trip inspired my first question.

SS: When you visited the South to research the book, what surprised you about the place that served as the setting for your novel? Was there anything your writer’s imagination didn’t prepare you for when you visited the real place?

Rita Leganski, author of The Silence of Bonaventure ArrowRL: I was pleasantly surprised to find that you can walk or take the streetcar almost anywhere in New Orleans. Everything was on a smaller scale than I’d expected, and that was a good thing; strolling around let me absorb the beauty of brick buildings and filigreed balconies and window shutters that were centuries old. The St. Charles streetcar was a particular joy—like taking a seat in the past. Honestly, I could’ve ridden that lovely old streetcar all day, gazing at those beautiful homes and giant live oaks.

I’ve characterized New Orleans as a society lady with a hole in her stocking. It’s the best way I can think of to describe a place where refinement and revelry enjoy each other’s company. Quiet dignity is that city’s heartbeat, but joyful noise is its lifeblood. I was unprepared for the extent to which that is true.

SS: How did you research and learn so much about voodoo, hoodoo and root work?

RL: Even though The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is fiction, I wanted to be correct in my writing, and that meant months of research. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I was able to access an incredible amount of information without ever leaving my house. I was then able to make requests from library collections all over Illinois.

I usually started with a Google search and would then comb through links and bibliographies for further source and resource materials.

Examples of the topics I searched were: Marie Leveau, the 19th century voodoo queen, homeopathic medicine, and Ancient herbal remedies and abortifacients (which led to Pliny the Elder, Discurides and his De Materia Medica Libri Quinque, and the Académie Impéiale de Médicine).

Works of folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt’s are archived and can be procured online. His “Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork” (HCWR) is a collection of folklore from a number of states, including Louisiana. It contains interviews with professional root doctors, as well as conjure and hoodoo practitioners. It’s amazing!

SS: The novel offers different takes on organized religion, magic and life after death. How did your own personal beliefs about life, the afterlife and spirituality influence your writing?

RL: People tend to have strong feelings about those things. My personal belief is that this life does lead to an afterlife, which influenced the way I portrayed William’s situation. Letice personifies the stock I hold in the power of faith and prayer. She also helped me showcase the beauty and meaning of sacraments and ritual. Trinidad offered a different path to understanding by letting me acknowledge the miraculous tendencies in Nature, yet reverencing its source. I don’t think it’s unusual for people to experience a loss of belief, especially during times of suffering. Even Mother Teresa wrote about going through a trial of faith and a “dark night of the soul.” I tried to convey the pain of that in Dancy.

In The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, I tried to remove “organized” from religion by letting diverse characters show the effects of spirituality. My aim was to convey that no single group has exclusive ownership of goodness. In this story, Trinidad Prefontaine and her altar became my vehicle for integrating the spirituality of Catholicism with the naturalistic beliefs of hoodoo. Trinidad is drawn to the Virgin Mary, while at the same time holding onto her belief in the supernatural healing powers found in Nature. Here’s how I say it in the book:

She laid the note and the prisms on her homemade altar amidst those symbols and souvenirs of her deity’s Spirit—the Blessed Mother who loved every single child; the sea glass, like pieces of broken lives made lustrous and baptized by the ocean’s healing waters; the feathers of a bird that can fly precious little yet proclaims the new hope of every day’s dawn, and those odd little bits of nature’s bounty. From her pocket she pulled a holy card, one given to her in the orphanage by Sister Sulpice. The card was soft as a piece of old leather, made so by the oils in the skin of Trinidad’s hands. The front bore a picture of Francis of Assisi and printed on the back were the words to his Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

Trinidad lives gently. Like Letice, she is a woman of strong convictions. She simply casts her net wider in order to bring close “those things she found spiritual.”

To learn more about The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, the She Reads Book Club selection for March, visit the She Reads website. The website features online discussions and several posts written by Rita Leganski, including a beautiful post about her decision to go back to school after raising a family. You should also like Rita on Facebook: facebook.com/RitaLeganskiAuthor and follow her on Twitter @ritaleganski.

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February She Reads Selection: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Calling Me Home by Julie KiblerIn 2013, when the United States has inaugurated a president born of a white mother and black father, it is hard to imagine a time when interracial marriage was illegal and segregation was the norm. Thanks to the courageous acts of those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement 50 years ago, segregation and sundown laws have not been a part of my lifetime. But they certainly existed when my parents were growing up and were a way of life for my grandparents and the generations that preceded them.

Julie Kibler began writing her debut novel, Calling Me Home, after she learned that her grandmother, as a young woman, had fallen in love with a young black man. The era and social mores in her grandmother’s hometown made the relationship impossible. This real-life forbidden love served as the basis for the fictional romance between Isabelle and Robert in Shalerville, Kentucky.

The narrative alternates between Isabelle as a teenager in 1939 and Isabelle as a senior citizen in the present day. The author does a nice job of describing the differences between the two eras and moving the plot forward–just as the elderly Isabelle and her trusted friend, Dorrie, drive toward the epicenter of long-lost love and untold anguish.

Calling Me Home is the She Reads Book Club selection for February. Julie Kibler has contributed some posts about her writing rituals and her grandmother’s story there. But you should also read the many reviews from other She Reads bloggers to understand why this story is such a great one for discussion. Visit this She Reads page to learn more about Calling Me Home. To learn more about Julie Kibler, visit her author website at juliekibler.com or follow her on Twitter @juliekibler.

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January She Reads Selection: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

The Art Forger by B. A. ShapiroPerhaps it’s because I can’t even draw a proper stick figure, but I am not into fine art. I have visited museums and galleries. I have a few prints hanging on my walls at home (usually because they match the interior paint color of a particular room). But I have never understood why so many people buy or collect works of art. Until now.

In the January She Reads book club selection, The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, you are introduced to the psychology of the art collector. It’s amazing what some people will do to possess a masterpiece. Yes, many buy (or steal) paintings because they are interested in the monetary value of the work, but others just want to possess the thing. It’s like watching a really high-brow episode of the TV show American Pickers–you can’t imagine what would drive a person to buy something of value only to let it sit alone in a shed or hang on a wall in a locked room. But to the collector, the value is in the having.

Or in the sharing. Known as America’s first patroness of the arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner inspired The Art Forger. Gardner was a serious collector in the late 19th and early 20th century, who rubbed elbows with John Singer Sargent, Henry James, James Whistler and other important artists of her generation. She created the museum that bears her name in Boston so that the public could enjoy her artistic treasures, but in 1990, the museum was the victim of one of the largest art heists in history. Two men dressed as police officers overtook the security guards and stole thirteen pieces of art, including Rembrandt’s Storm of the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert and works by Degas and Manet. To date, no one has been arrested for the theft and the paintings have not been recovered. This real-life heist provides some of the mystery and drama in The Art Forger.

Shapiro also plants us in the mind of the artist. The novel’s protagonist, Claire Roth, is a talented painter who has been shunned by the Boston art community. She eeks out a living copying well-known paintings for Reproductions.com. When someone from her past offers her a career-changing opportunity, Claire must decide if she will pursue her dream of becoming a well-known artist through questionable means.

B. A. Shapiro, author of The Art ForgerB. A. Shapiro’s research into the techniques and history of famous art forgers is evident. Those who enjoyed the historical fiction Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier will appreciate Shapiro’s fictionalized letters from Belle Gardner. The book moves seamlessly back and forth between Belle’s world, the backstory that led to Claire Roth becoming blacklisted in the art community, and the present day mystery behind one of the paintings missing from the Gardner Museum.

To learn more about The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, visit the She Reads website. There you’ll find posts by both the author and links to reviews by other She Reads bloggers who have read and enjoyed the book.

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November She Reads Selection: Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris

Man in the Blue Moon by Michael MorrisThis month’s She Reads Book Club Selection is a book we’ve already featured on Southern Spines–Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris. I met Michael in September, shortly after Man in the Blue Moon‘s release. Since then, he’s crossed most of the Southeast on book tour and his novel continues to earn rave reviews.

To learn the story behind the story of Man in the Blue Moon, I hope you’ll read our post, Grandpa, Foxfire and the Piggly Wiggly: History Behind Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris.

As with every She Reads selection, you’ll find blog posts from the author throughout the month and great giveaway items. One of the prizes is a set of notecards featuring the landscape painting below. The artist is Michael’s wife, Melanie Morris. She uses a palette knife to create her acrylic landscapes, and this one was inspired by the Florida Panhandle setting of Man in the Blue Moon. The novel’s protagonist, Ella, is an artist; Michael freely admits this is not a coincidence, but he says that Melanie and others created a composite for Ella.

We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about Man in the Blue Moon over at She Reads this month.

Melanie Morris Landscape Man in the Blue Moon

Man in the Blue Moon landscape by artist Melanie Morris

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October She Reads Selection: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Blackberry Winter by Sarah JioMystery lovers will enjoy the She Reads October Book Club Selection, Blackberry Winter, by Sarah Jio. The book is set in Sarah’s current hometown of Seattle, Washington, and alternates between the Depression era and present day. In both stories, a late snowfall sends a woman in search of answers after losing her child.

In 1933, single mom Vera Ray leaves her three-year-old son, Daniel, home alone because she has to work as a hotel maid. When she returns in the morning, Daniel is gone and his teddy bear lays outside in the snow.

In the present day, newspaper reporter Claire Hanson must find a hard news angle for the “blackberry winter” story. She uncovers Daniel’s unsolved disappearance, and in her pursuit of the truth, must deal with the facts of her own wreck of a life; things are still in shambles a year after losing her unborn child in an accident.

As I write this–on Sunday, October 28, 2012–Blackberry Winter is available for $2.99 in the Amazon Kindle Store. The deal is good for today only.

Blackberry Winter Gift Box She ReadsHowever, there’s still a few days left for you to win one of the beautiful giveaway items on the She Reads October Book Club Selection post for Blackberry Winter. Leave a comment over at She Reads and you’ll be entered to win the pictured “box of blackberry bliss.” This is also where you can find links to other She Reads Blog Network reviews of Blackberry Winter.

One of the extraordinary things about the She Reads blog is that the author contributes to the blog throughout the month. Sarah Jio wrote about The Story Behind the Story of Blackberry Winter and even shared photos of her current writing space in a separate blog entry; Sarah is writing her fifth novel on a houseboat in Seattle.

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Comfort Read: The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March

Southern Spines: The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia MarchWhen I was growing up (wow, that clause makes me feel and sound 95!), HBO and other cable channels re-ran the same movies over and over again throughout the day. My parents made fun of me for watching the same movies and TV shows that I’d just seen. “You already know everything that’s going to happen!” they teased. And that was the point; I took comfort in knowing that I would reunite with familiar faces and enjoy with the same good feelings.

The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March reminded me of this phenomenon. Three women in their 20s and early 30s–sisters Isabel and June, and their cousin Kat–have been soldered together by grief. Their lives take them in different directions, but another family emergency brings them back together at the Three Captains Inn, where they were raised by Kat’s mother, Lolly. Lolly is a huge Meryl Streep fan and hosts movie nights where the women are able to reconnect and apply some of what they’re seeing in the movies to their current situations.

I opened the book, saw the list of Meryl Streep movies that the characters were going to watch, and had a palpable desire to watch a Meryl Streep movie. One night, a few chapters into The Meryl Streep Movie Club, I looked up Heartburn, starring an early 80s Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. I streamed the movie on my computer and laughed at lines written by the late Nora Ephron.

Movies can be an escape or an education, but they can also be a touchstone for another time in our lives. We change, and that causes what we see and feel about a good movie to change. For instance, I’d never watched Heartburn as a married woman, so the infidelity and family rupture that it caused were much more poignant. Plus, I couldn’t get Carly Simon’s synthesizer movie score out of my head for about a week afterward!

I asked author Mia March, via Twitter, if Meryl Streep had read the novel. She said that copies had been delivered to the actress’s “camp” but she had no confirmation that Streep had seen the book. That’s too bad. Not that the Oscar winner needs help getting people to watch her movies, but Mia’s book will definitely make you want to see many of them again.

If you pick up a copy of The Meryl Streep Movie Club, you’ll see that it’s set at a bed and breakfast in Maine and written by an author from the same state. So why is it on Southern Spines? We are fortunate to be a member of the She Reads Blog Network. Each month, She Reads selects a book for the network to read and write about. The selection for September is Mia March’s The Meryl Streep Movie Club. She Reads has already selected books by Southern Spines authors Claire Cooke and Kimberly Brock. We’re pleased to partner with them and it’s nice to step outside our geographic boundaries occasionally. Hope you won’t mind.

What is your favorite Meryl Streep movie? Or is there another movie you have watched a hundred times? Share it with us in the comments below.

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The Many Layers of the Southern Storyteller: Kimberly Brock, Author of The River Witch

Southern Spines Kimberly Brock

Photo Credit: Kacie Jo Photography

If you can acquire the chicken salad recipe at Mittie’s Tea Room, you’ll have a friend for life in author Kimberly Brock. Though she considers herself a regular at this charming restaurant just off the main street in Alpharetta, Georgia, Kim has yet to convince the owners to part with the secret ingredients. For now, she orders a takeout box with the chicken salad croissant, as we talk about her first novel, The River Witch.

Released in April 2012, The River Witch is the story of 24-year-old Roslyn Byrne, who is recovering from a car accident that ended her career as a ballet dancer and stole the child growing inside her body. She leaves Atlanta for seclusion on Manny’s Island, a fictional isle off the coast of Georgia. There, the woman who has lost a child meets a child who has lost her mother; ten-year-old Damascus introduces Roslyn to alligators, pumpkins and hoodoo, and neither of their broken lives are ever the same.

The story unfolds from the alternating viewpoints of Roslyn and Damascus. Kim gave birth to the character of Damascus when she started having problems writing Roslyn’s story.

“I was writing about Roslyn and it was sad,” Kim said. “She’d lost the baby and she was this barren, lost soul. I wrote for six months and decided I didn’t like it. I didn’t like Roslyn until the last page of the book. She was the hardest to write from beginning to end, and I was afraid my readers wouldn’t like her either, that they wouldn’t stick with it.”

Kim, who was the mother of two at the time, put the manuscript away for a while when she discovered she was pregnant with her third child. The imagery of pumpkins that had inspired her to write The River Witch, revisited her one morning when she watched a CBS Sunday Morning news story about a regatta where townspeople were racing in hollowed out gourds.

Southern Spines The River Witch by Kimberly Brock“I found the joy and community that was totally different from what I’d been writing,” Kim said. She decided to put a river in the book, and from the Little Damascus River came the little girl who shared the river’s name. Kim, who does not write her books in chronological order, waded back into the story by writing one of the final scenes starring Damascus and her pumpkins.

“I write in some kind of pattern I guess,” Kim explained. “I don’t see the story chronologically until I’m done. I see it in patterns and pieces. It’s probably the worst advice I can give anybody on how to write a book.”

Kim said she has been a storyteller since at least the first grade when she kept her friends awake at slumber parties by telling them ghost stories. That evolved into her writing plays for her brother and sister to perform, and the “god-awful adolescent poetry” that is forever documented in her high school yearbook. Her first published short stories appeared in the Sweeter than Tea and Summer in Mossy Creek anthologies from Bellebooks, the same publisher of The River Witch.

Currently at work on her second novel, Kim said Southerners love to tell stories because they want others to believe they have many hidden layers. “We like to think there’s a little more to us than meets the eye,” Kim said. “Because we’re all just shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. We want you to think there’s more to us than that.”

Kim’s hoodoo must be working. This convincing storyteller had me leaving Mittie’s with my own to-go chicken salad on that day, and wondering if I could conjure the ingredients in my own kitchen.

If you’re interested in experiencing The River Witch by Kimberly Brock with other readers, The Literate Housewife is hosting a virtual read-along next week (September 24-28, 2012). You can read the first two chapters of the book here.
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Southern Spines Podcast: Claire Cook, Author of Wallflower in Bloom

Southern Spines: Author Claire CookIn the debut episode of the Southern Spines podcast, we talk to bestselling author and midlife reinvention champion, Claire Cook. We also like to think of her as a newly-adopted Southerner with a Boston accent. She recently moved to Atlanta and is appearing at the 2012 Decatur Book Festival.

Claire wrote her first novel in her minivan outside her daughter’s swim practice when she was 45. At age 50, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood adaptation of her second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. Claire’s recent novel, Wallflower in Bloom, is an Indie Next pick, and Publishers Weekly called it “fun and inspiring.”

Southern Spines: Wallflower in Bloom Book CoverWallflower in Bloom is the most recent novel from bestselling author Claire Cook. Click here to read an excerpt from the book, or click on the image to buy it on Amazon.com.

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