Bookish Sunday With Library Love

On Sunday I took my newest best friend (there aren’t that many people I give that title to) Library Love on her “birthday date.”  LL’s birthday was actually Tuesday but because she keeps such a busy schedule, we made sure to set aside a day so I could help her celebrate.  You can just imagine my excitement when I learned that Sarah Blake (who lives in Washington D.C.) would be appearing at Politics & Prose Bookstore in our Nation’s Capital on the day LL and I had set aside for us.  Being book lovers, voracious readers and having met at Jennifer Weiner’s book event last summer I thought that Sarah Blake’s book event would be a perfect and memorable activity.  So after surprising LL with lunch and cupcakes in Bethesda, MD, I drove us down to D.C. to Politics & Prose.  Thanks to LL’s quick thinking and lightening fast moves we landed seats front row and center for Sarah Blake’s book reading and Q&A of The Postmistress

The Postmistress

We enjoyed Sarah’s impactful and memorable reading from two different sections of The Postmistress.  After she finished reading aloud to her captive audience it was time for Q&A’s.  Well, let me tell you something.  When it came to the moment when the microphone was open and waiting for the first question to be asked, no one stood up and braved the silence.  I had a question and after looking around at the shy faces I got up and went to the mic.  I told Sarah Blake that I absolutely loved her book and though I read it on my Kindle, I did buy a copy of the hardcover for her to sign and keep on my shelf.  I then asked her about the cover.  I told her that I knew my husband would really enjoy reading The Postmistress, the beautiful purple rose on the cover would be a deterrent for him.  I noted that there were plenty of men in the audience that day but there are also a lot of men out there who probably don’t read as much good historical fiction as their wives/girlfriends do because of the covers with pretty colors and feminine designs.  She of course said that she hoped that men would read her book anyway and she didn’t have much comment on the publishing and marketing of books towards certain sexes. 

 

 As the Q&A continued I remembered I had had a question that I came up with when I had just finished reading The Postmistress the other week.  It was regarding the fact that there really was a female reporter who was a member of “Murrow’s Boys” in London and Europe during WWII.  Her name was Mary Marvin Breckinridge and according to Wikipedia, she reported for Edward R. Murrow a total of fifty times during her tenure with his team throughout Europe and of those reports, seven were from Berlin, Germany.  I asked Ms. Blake if she based her character, Frankie Bard, on M. Marvin Breckinridge and if she’d had the chance to meet her since she lived in D.C. till she died in 2002.  Sarah’s answer was very surprising!  She said that she knew she wanted to make one of her main characters a woman who reported for Murrow in London and Europe but it wasn’t till later in her writing/researching that she learned that there were actually two female reporters who worked for Murrow at that time.  She added that no, she had never met Ms. Breckinridge.  WOW!  Talk about coincidences!  That’s HUGE! 

After the Q&A segment of the hour wrapped up, all the fans gathered in line with their books for Sarah to sign.  LL rushed out of her chair so fast I barely realized she was third or fourth in line.  I set our folding chairs against the wall like the store’s manager asked and joined LL in line.  After Sarah signed our books as well as my mother-in-law’s copy that I brought with me we asked the lady in line behind us to take our picture with Sarah.  So, there we are!  We had such a great day celebrating LL’s birthday and meeting Sarah Blake. 

If you get the chance to read The Postmistress, I can’t stress enough that you will love it.  Even if historical fiction isn’t your cup ‘o tea, it’s really a great story.  You can learn more about my thoughts on the book by checking out my review HERE.

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Book Review & Q&A with Cathy Marie Buchanan, Author of The Day THE FALLS Stood Still

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What a fresh and interesting title to add to the many historical fiction books out there.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still is a must read for those looking to dive into a new book this fall.  Author Cathy Marie Buchanan has created a cast of characters led by Bess and Tom.  Bess is a wonderful heroine whose desires, dreams and fears helped to keep me enthralled as I read.  After reading a few books set during WWII this year, it was interesting reading this book which is set during WWI.  The mood was much different but still set a stress in the story and for its character.  Set between 1915 and 1923 in Niagara Falls, Canada, Ms. Buchanan also presents focuses on a new way of getting energy to the masses is making its way into everyday life.  It’s called hydroelectric power and it will change the way lives are lived and will change the lives of residents in Niagara Falls forever.  Bess is also on the cusp of womanhood and finding love and will never be the same again.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still will keep you enraptured from beginning to end. 

I’m not the only reader singing Ms. Buchanan’s praises these days.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still debut on the New York Times bestseller list at #31 two weeks ago and Barnes & Noble selected the book as a “Recommended Pick.” 

Ms. Buchanan started touring for her debut book last week but has taken a moment to answer a few questions for us here at Planet Books.  I would love to welcome The Day The Falls Stood Still author Cathy Marie Buchanan to Planet Books. 

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PB Having written a book that I consider historical fiction, what other era in history is your favorite?  What is your favorite historical fiction title?

CMB ~ My formal education in history ended in grade nine, and so I hardly feel qualified to have a favourite era.  That said, I did fall in love with the WWI period as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  The way communities pulled together, the way everyone was doing their bit really struck me.  People gave up driving and meat and started war gardens and, if they had a free moment, rolled bandages and wrote letters to buoy the spirits of soldiers they’d never met.  It seemed the crisis brought out the best in people, that sacrifice was widespread.  It made me feel hopeful that at some point, hopefully not too far off, all of mankind will take up the fight against our own looming crisis–climate change.

PB ~  What has been your favorite part of the process you went through to get to this finished product?  The research?  The writing?  The press junket?

CMB ~ I was fascinated on a daily basis as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  Born and bred in Niagara Falls, the lore I’d grown up came to life as I read old newspaper accounts of the stunts and rescues on the river or as I came upon gorgeous old photographs of the river before the massive diversion of water away from the falls for the production of hydroelectricity or as I gazed out over the Niagara River from Loretto Academy, the boarding school the book’s protagonist attends.  A now I have the great pleasure of meeting readers online and in the flesh, and I love being told their stories of Niagara Falls or hearing how The Day the Falls Stood Still has touched them in some way.  Still, I am a writer at heart, and it’s what I love most.  I write everyday, sitting down at the computer as soon as my boys leave the house for school.  The objective is always the same, to lose myself in the words I am setting on the page.  And I have had moments when I look up from the computer, dazed.  It takes a second to grasp that I am sitting at my desk, a further second to decide:  Is it morning or afternoon?  Have I had lunch?  Have I forgotten to pick up my boys from school?  My head was a hundred years away in Niagara Falls.  It’s when the best writing has come, and I overflow with happiness.

PB ~  Being an author, do you feel that book blogs are a great way to get the word out?  Have you enjoyed your blog tour?  Do you find it an effective way of communicating with readers?

CMB~ I was a marketer (among other things) before I was a writer.  In marketing lingo, the groups of consumers who seek out new product information and then go about spreading the word are called chat leaders.  These chat leaders are respected authorities in their areas of expertise, and companies jump through hoops to get newly launched products into their hands.  For a new line of lipstick, the chat leaders might include the beauty editors at magazines, the cosmeticians in stores, that neighbour you’d know to turn to for a recommendation for a lipstick that stays on for more than five minutes.  Book bloggers and their followers fit the bill when it comes to books.  You are the chat leaders–the people who know books, who talk about books, who can’t wait to find that next great read, the people whose opinions on what to read next are regularly sought.  So, yes, absolutely, book bloggers are a great way to get the word out.  And the book blogs do provide a wonderful platform for giving readers further insight into a book.  Through reviews and guest posts and Q&As, the bloggers enrich the experience of reading a particular book for their followers.  I have loved my tour, not only because the chat leaders are chatting but also because having someone thoughtfully consider the work that I’ve poured my heart into for the last umpteen years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Thank you, bloggers and followers, for that. 

For more information about Cathy Marie Buchanan and THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL, be sure to check out her website HERE.

Book Review, Author Q&A and Book Giveaway ~ Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

Summary : Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland ~ In spirit, there was nothing diminutive about Louise de la Valliere, known to her family as “Petite.” A rambunctious girl who could tame the wildest stallion, the impoverished and unmarriageable Petite was also able to tame the heart of the legendary Sun King, Louis XIV. Once she had captured his eye, Petite was quickly ensconced in his court, where, as his mistress, she was elevated to a titled position. Such a meteoric rise was bound to attract attention of the wrong sort, and Petite’s life was filled with the terrors and tragedies that accompany all internecine tales of palace intrigue. Amid rumors of black magic and sorcery, loved ones would die, and Petite herself would ultimately arrive at a crossroads where she would be forced to choose between her loyalty to the king and her own personal salvation. Teeming with the rich period details that make historical fiction so rewarding, Gulland’s dynamic and nuanced portrait of Louis’ notorious reign thrums with page-turning expediency and deliciously seductive machinations. –Carol Haggas  

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Mistress of the Sun is a lush, engulfing and entirely entertaining example of historical fiction in it’s finest form.  From the very first page I was drawn in and have enjoyed my visits (reading time) to seventeenth century France.  Sandra Gulland has done it again.   Having read her Josephine Bonaparte series years ago, I was extremely excited to receive a review request form Gulland’s “virtual assistant” for her newest novel, Mistress of the Sun.  I was not disappointed in the least. 

Gulland introduces us to “Mademoiselle Louise-Francoise La Baume Le Blanc de la Valliere” but known as Petite for short.  She is the daughter of a nurturing, book loving father and a realistic mother who worries about the future and looks down upon dreaming and stories.  When Petite is a young girl, she goes with her father on an errand trip when she stumbles across the a beautiful but wild and dangerous white stallion named “Diablo.”  When Petite’s father brings this horse home for the family, and especially Petite, life is never the same again.  After a few years of not speaking and studying at a convent, Petite recovers from her silence and is soon thrust into the world of the French royal family and discovers a love greater than any she has ever had and ever will as the mistress to King Louis XIV, the Sun King.  Petite’s friendships and experiences at Court ensure great reading.

I really enjoyed this book.  There is plenty of drama, character detail and wonderful descriptions in Mistress of the Sun.  Reading three pages felt like I had read twenty because there is just so much detail and story in every line.  If you are looking for a book to take you away this summer, Mistress of the Sun is the perfect book. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5 stars}

gulland021Q&A with Sandra Gulland

PB Being familiar with your Josephine Bonaparte series and now Mistress of the Sun, I am curious about what draws you to these historical French figures?

Sandra – I was drawn to Josephine because her extraordinary life had been foretold. This still astonishes me. As for Louise, of Mistress of the Sun, I was intrigued by her extraordinary horsemanship. She was described as timid, a wall-flower, and yet she became a devil on horseback. This fascinated me.

PB – When researching for your books do you start with a plot idea?

Sandra – I begin with an interest in the character, and then, in closely examining the facts of that person’s life, I begin to get an idea of a plot.

PB – Have you ever come across something you didn’t know about that caused your story to change completely?

Sandra – With every research trip I make, I have to revise completely!

When I started the Josephine B. Trilogy, I assumed that everything I read about her was true. (Novice that I was about historical research.) I struggled writing the second book (Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe). How could a good mother, a good person, do the things historians claimed? (And how, as a novelist, was I going to get the readers to believe it? A novel, unlike life, has to be credible.) Consulting with the French experts at Malmaison, I learned that “the facts” were incorrect. This caused me to change my story, but it also made the story begin to make more sense.

The most pleasant surprises are ones that make a story better. (Warning: spoiler!) Well into writing Mistress of the Sun, I read in a footnote in the Bastille Archives that Louise’s good friend Nicole ended up at the same convent as Louise. 

I’m now working on a detailed scene-by-scene plot (a blueprint, I like to think of it) of my next novel. It’s forcing me to do deep research at the start and I’ve already run into a number of surprises! Fortunately, a “blueprint” is easier to revise than a full draft.

gulland091PB–  In the beginning of Mistress of the Sun, Louise comes upon a dangerous and stunningly great horse named “Diablo.”  The relationship between girl and horse has a mystical sense about it.  Do you believe in magic and miracles yourself?

Sandra – I don’t, as a rule (but I don’t count them out, either). Louise would have believed in them, however.

PB–  Besides Louise de la Vallière, which character in Mistress of the Sun was the most fun and exciting to write?  What kind of connections do you feel when writing life into your characters?

Sandra– I really love Clorine, Louise’s maid. (Whose name, in real life, really was Clorine.) I love that she’s so tough, and no-nonsense, and yet often fainting.

PB – With The Tudors mini-series, and historical fiction genre films like The Duchess, Marie Antoinette and numerous others, do you wish to see either the Mistress of the Sun or the Bonaparte series go the same route?

Sandra– Yes! The Josephine B. Trilogy is now under option; the producers are looking into developing a mini-series like The Tudors. As for Mistress of the Sun, a producer is looking into making it into a movie. I’d love to see these come about. I think the Trilogy would make a wonderful mini-series, and Mistress a fantastic movie. I just hope it comes about in my lifetime. Movie-making is extremely complex: I think it’s a miracle (note: miracle) that any are ever made.

PB –  So far have you enjoyed your book blog tour for Mistress of the Sun?  Do you think that this way of reaching readers is beneficial for you as an author and for the publishing industry?

Sandra– A Blog Tour is excellent, given how difficult travel has become. I’ve been enjoying it. The response has been overwhelming. Thank you for having me on Planet Books!

To learn more about Sandra Gulland and her novels, be sure to check out her website HERE.  Sandra is in the middle of her blog tour for Mistress of the Sun.  To find out where she has been and will be in coming weeks and months, check out her schedule HERE.  Sandra and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, are generously providing a copy of Mistress of the Sun, which was recently released in paperback.  To enter to win Mistress of the Sun leave a comment including the title of your favorite historical novel on this post by Wednesday, May 6th at Midnight EST.  Good Luck!

Part 1 ~ Q&A and Giveaway with Kelly Garcia and Takako and the Great Typhoon

I am so excited and pleased to introduce my friend, Kelly Garcia, and her new, independently released children’s book, Takako and the Great Typhoon.  Kelly has lived in Okinawa, Japan with her husband for three and a half years.  One year ago they welcomed their adorable baby boy into the world and with motherhood, Kelly set out on a literary adventure.  The outcome is Takako and the Great Typhoon.

  Takako and the Great Typhoon

Kelly has joined us here at Planet Books for a Q&A session and has also donated a signed copy of Takako and the Great Typhoon for a giveaway.  Due to the length of our interview, I am breaking up the Q&A into two posts.  They will publish simultaneously. 

First of all, Karen, since I know your passion for music I should share w/ you my play list as I sit responding to your interview questions: 

Single Ladies, Freedom (George Michael), Smells Like Teen Spirit, Papa Loved Mama, Nuthin’ But a G Thang, Thank You (Dido), Praying for Time, Womanizer, Sabotage, What is Love? (Haddoway…remember that?!), Say It Loud, I Like (Montell Jordan), Say It Ain’t So (Weezer), Kenny Chesney.

Should give you an idea of what generation I’m coming from anyway.  Okay, and onto the interview!

PB ~ I am so excited for you and your independent release of Takako and the Great Typhoon!  Would you please tell us what the story is about? 

Kelly ~ It’s the story of these two shisas (shisas being the lion-dog statues you find absolutely everywhere in Okinawa) that are brother and sister.  Their names are Takako (Tah-kah-koe), the little girl shisa, and Nobu(No-boo) the little boy shisa.  They live on a rooftop and it is their job as shisas is to stand guard at all times protecting their house from danger.  But who the heck wants to sit on a boring ‘ole roof all the time?  Not Takako.  She sees all of these wonderful things going on in the village below and wants to jump in and join the fun.  Nobu warns her that she would be breaking the Shisa Rule of working together and guarding the home if she left. (Boo!  What a party pooper!)  But Takako can’t resist temptation, follows a butterfly into the village and has a fabulous day…until, of course, something bad happens.  The typhoon!  That’s when the adventure really begins!

PB ~ How did this idea first develop and what made you think you could really make this happen?

Kelly ~ To be honest, I can’t remember how the genesis for the storyline originated, of the brother-sister shisas and Takako’s day in the village and the great typhoon. (Although I should mention my friend Kay gave me the idea of how to have Takako save the day in the end. Thank you Kay!)  My real focus was to create a story showcasing the little moments that are representative of everyday life in Okinawa, Japan.  In a way, the book is really selfish ‘cause it captures a very personal experience of Okinawa.  For example, the tree on the back cover is a tree down the street from my house.  The barbershop is around the corner.  And the scene where Takako chases the pickup truck is the view from the back of my house. 

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It might sound silly, but I LOVE these little things.  After I had my son, making the book a reality became more important to me because I knew that he would have no memory of any of this.  We are living in Okinawa as a result of my husband’s work and our time here is limited to a few years.  In fact, we are leaving this summer.  I really wanted to be able to capture the feeling of love that this place has shown my son and my family, so that’s what this book is about.  But, it’s an exciting adventure story too, not all mushy-mushy sentimentality, so I hope that even folks who’ve never heard of Okinawa can enjoy it!
I’m digressing from the question! –
 
Okay, when I began sharing the book idea with people and was met with such a sincere, enthusiastic response, I felt this project could happen.  (Especially from my awesomely supportive husband!)  When Carmen, the illustrator, signed onto the project I KNEW it would happen.  

Karen @ Planet Books made this Shisa pair when she moved to Okinawa in '05 and took a pottery class.
Karen @ Planet Books made this Shisa pair when she moved to Okinawa in '05 and took a pottery class.

PB ~ For those readers out there who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Okinawa and may not be familiar with its culture, what is a “Shisa Dog?”

Kelly ~ It’s a statue that you see pretty much everywhere here.  I can’t exaggerate the popularity of this figure to Okinawa.  More popular than Starbucks in an American suburb, if that’s possible!  In my neighborhood you can find them at every turn: on rooftops, on gateposts, by doorways, etc.  They look like a mixture of a lion and a dog and often they come in pairs.  When they are paired, one has a closed mouth (keeping in the good luck) and one has an open mouth (scaring off evil.)  One is a male and one is a female.  www.wonderokinawa.com has excellent information about shisa lore and history.  It’s actually pretty interesting stuff.  Also on my website, www.shisastory.com I’ll be posting a VERY amateur walking tour video of my neighborhood with tons of examples of shisas in it if you care to have a look.

(For the rest of our interview and the chance to win a signed copy of Takako and the Great Typhoon, check out the next post on Planet Books.)

 

Part 2 ~ Q&A and Giveaway with Kelly Garcia & Takako and the Great Typhoon

(Here is the second part of my Q&A with children’s book author and friend, Kelly Garcia.)

PB ~ Have you always wanted to write a children’s book or was this a surprise to you?

Well, I suppose it was a surprise; although, I never rule out anything!  I find that I enjoy writing about foreign countries, travel adventures and interesting intercultural experiences.  I write about my culinary adventures in Okinawa on a blog called www.okinawahai.com, but other than that have never really written seriously.  I guess though that this story is kind of a travel adventure in its own way…a “travel adventure fantasy folktale”!

PB ~ Takako does a lot of things while on her adventure. You use some terms that non-Japanese readers may have trouble understanding. Would you please explain some of the more foreign things that Takako does with her fellow islanders?

Kelly ~ Let’s see.  Takako plays gateball with the “obaasans (grandmas) and ojiisans (grandpas)”.  Gateball is kind of a croquette game that is very popular with the older folks here.  I can think of three gateball fields within about a five-minute walk of my house.  A “typhoon” is basically a hurricane that forms over the Pacific Ocean.  “Banyan trees” are these gorgeous twisty, gnarly trees that are found in Okinawa.  I’ve got some beautiful examples in my neighborhood.

In a few of the illustrations you’ll see these round things on sticks.  These are actually mirrors.  They are on almost every corner to help drivers navigate through the narrow streets without getting hit by an unseen car.  Very typical Okinawa.  Also, you’ll see a vending machine in one scene.  It may seem strange, but that too is something I would consider to be the quintessential Okinawa.

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PB ~ Living in Okinawa myself, I know that your descriptions of the typhoon are pretty dead on. Thank goodness my Shisa dogs do there job well. What are some of the things your family does during one of these powerful storms?

Kelly ~ Not much, to tell the truth.  We have a huge water cooler, so we are set there.  I try and get some DVDs and books from the library for entertainment in case the satellite goes out!  We bring everything in the house from outside, but that’s pretty much it.  I don’t do a ton of extra shopping.  I guess I’m pretty laid back.  When I see the local Okinawans taking a storm seriously, that’s when I know it’s time to be careful!  But usually for them it’s business as usual.

PB ~ What was your favorite part in the development of your book?

Kelly ~ This is really hard to say.  Practically the whole process, apart from dealing with the folks in the shipping department at the printer’s, was interesting for me.  Writing the story itself was enjoyable because it was a creative challenge that shook the cobwebs out of my brain.  Also, my meetings with Carmen the illustrator, were fantastic.  I especially loved our first meeting after she finished her initial sketches for the book scenes.  Seeing how she brought the story to life with her pictures was pretty darn thrilling.  We talked through each scene and discussed the things we liked about them and ideas for changes to make them better.  I loved that collaborative aspect of it.  Being able to bounce around ideas with another person who was also enthusiastic about the project has been invaluable.  It was fun working with Erin, the graphic designer, too.  She brought me different ideas about page layout, fonts, book cover options and things like that.  So many things to decide!  But totally fun.

If I hadn’t gone the self-publishing route, I doubt I’d have a hand in any of that kind of stuff.  I’m sure it would have been a slicker/cleaner book if I’d gone through a traditional publisher, but I am learning SO much doing it this way.  Heck, I just built a website for the first time and right now I’m learning all the multitudes of things that go into book promotion.  Figuring everything out is actually causing me to lose sleep.  I have a to-do list about a mile long.  But I just love it!

PB ~ Do you think you may write a book that represents all the places you will live in the future?

Kelly ~ I don’t know.  I foresee myself having lived in a lot of places, so that might be tough.  This book, though, was written for my son, Gabriel.  So, if I have any more kids, I guess I owe each of them a book too!  Hopefully it’ll get easier each time I do it.

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PB ~ How can people get their own copies of Takako and the Great Typhoon?

Kelly ~ They can click on www.shisastory.comand order a copy there via Paypal. If they live in Okinawa, they can stop by the AAFES Bazaar at the Foster Field House April 17th-19th.  Or they can email me at kelly@shisastory.com and we can work something out.

Also, you can get a sneak peak of the book on the website in a video my fabulous hubby put together (the image quality is MUCH better in person!  Carmen’s color is awesome!) Even if you don’t get the book, I’d be just as thrilled if you became a fan on Facebook (search Takako and the Great Typhoon) or mention it to some friends or rate the video preview!  Or e-mail me some nifty marketing ideas!  I’m really, really excited about the book and just trying to share any way I can.  Okay, enough shameless promotion from me.  If you’ve read down this far you deserve a medal!  Karen, thank you for your questions and your post!  xxoo — Kelly

You can learn more about Takako and the Great Typhoon, Kelly and life on Okinawa by checking out the website HERE.  To enter to win a signed copy of Takako and the Great Typhoon leave a comment and on this post and tell us your favorite children’s book when you were little.  The drawing will run until Sunday at Midnight, EST.  Good Luck!

Interview With Author Ellen Baker

Author Ellen Baker of the newly released paperback Keeping The House ever so graciously accepted my Q&A request and kindly took time out of her busy schedule to answer a dozen questions about her book and writing.  Ellen is currently promoting her novel, Keeping The House with the help of a book tour.  Her event schedule and more information about her and her book can be found on her website HEREKeeping The House was listed as one of the Chicago Tribune’s “Favorite Books of 2007”, was a featured selection of the Doubleday Book Club, and was selected as an “Insider Discovery” title of the Literary Guild.

To learn more about Keeping The House and enter in the signed copy book giveaway please check out my review HERE.  To refresh your memory, here is a summary of the book followed by my interview with the lovely Ellen Baker.

Summary ~ “When Dolly Magnuson moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, in 1950, she discovers that making marriage work is harder than it looks in the pages of the Ladies’ Home Journal.  Dolly tries to adapt to her new life by keeping the house, supporting her husband’s career, and joining the Ladies Aid quilting circle.  Soon her loneliness and restless imagination are seized by a vacant house, owned by the once-prominent Mickelson family.  As Dolly’s life and marriage become increasingly difficult, she begins to lose herself in piecing together the story of the Mickelson men and women – and unravels dark secrets woven through the generations of a family.  As Keeping the House moves back and forth in time, it eloquently explores themes of heroism and passion, of men’s struggles with fatherhood and war, and of women’s conflicts with issues of conformity, identity, forbidden dreams, and love.” 

PB:  What originally inspired you to write the family saga that became Keeping The House?
 
Ellen:  I was originally inspired to write about the Mickelson family when I spent a summer in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin, during college, about ten years ago.  I was working at the local historical society at the time and learning a lot about the history of the area, and I found it so interesting that “summer people” came back to this idealized place year after year for a break from their everyday lives and concerns, especially since this was a lifestyle I’d never experienced.  I wondered what would happen to a family hoping to go back to their old summer way of life after suffering a terrible tragedy, something they wouldn’t be able to “get over” just by escaping to this gorgeous place.  The story expanded from there, and that original setting – the summer of 1919 following Jack Mickelson’s return from World War I – ultimately became just one chapter of Keeping The House.

PB:  Who was your first character and which one came the easiest to you to write a point of view from?
 
Ellen:  The Mickelson family came first, all at once – John, Wilma, Jack, Chase, Harry, and Jinny.  Dolly Magnuson came toward the end of the process, but she was the easiest to write about.
 
PB:  I have read that you admitted that Harry Mickelson is your favorite character.  Who is your least favorite?  Are you a character in your book?

Ellen:  I really don’t have a “least favorite” character; I imagine I feel about my characters the way I would if I had children – I love them no matter how badly they behave!  I don’t believe that I’m any character in my book, though of course they all contain elements of me.  I’m like Dolly in many ways, although I didn’t think so when I was first writing about her.  I’m more of a “sit back and think” person while she’s “act first and think later,” but we’re both dreamers and romantics and we both wish and strive for the impossible.  I think that Anne is probably who I wish I was… and Wilma is who I might have been had I lived a century ago.
 
PB:  You have a powerful attraction to the World War eras and have devoted so much of yourself to study and preserve this time in American history.  What about this period attracted you in the first place?
 
Ellen:  I’m not sure exactly where it began, but the more I learned about the first half of the twentieth century in America, the more I found it all so fascinating.  I love the fashion, the music, the way people use language.  I love the fact that technology is developing so rapidly and changing the way people live.  And I think that during the wars, life was lived at a very intense pitch.  There’s a lot of love and romance and a lot of violence and grief; I guess the contrast and the collision of all these forces are what fascinate me.

PB:  When you write, do you use paper and pen or a computer?  Do you have a time and place that you have to write within?
 
Ellen:  I use a laptop computer, and I like to be comfortable – so I’m usually sprawled out on the couch, with a cup of tea not far away.  I find that first thing in the morning is my best time to write, but I’ll write and revise all day long if I can.

PB:  What is your favorite part of the novel writing process?
 
Ellen:  I don’t think I could pick just one part of it – I enjoy the whole process.  I love research and character development, I love writing a first draft and being surprised by what happens, and I love editing and seeing all the elements of the story coming together into a coherent whole.
 
PB:  Did the story go the way you always thought it would or did twists and turns surprise you as you wrote them?
 
Ellen:  There were many, many surprises along the way!  When I started writing, I really didn’t know what the story was going to be, exactly, beyond the idea of following the Mickelson family through the two world wars.  I didn’t at all write the chapters of Keeping The House in the sequence they appear in the book now.  Some of the earliest scenes I wrote were about Elissa and Nick meeting at the dance, and about Wilma making pickles, as well as the World War I scenes from John’s point of view (including the one that now is on page 398!).   I’d actually been working on the book for almost two years before Dolly came on the scene.  That she became the centerpiece of the book – what I ended up structuring the rest of the novel around – was the biggest surprise of all.
 
PB:  You wrote Wilma Mickelson as a piano virtuoso.  Do you have a musical background?  If so, is the piano your instrument and what is your favorite piece of music to play?
 
Ellen:  I made Wilma a pianist because she needed to have an abiding passion, something she was conflicted about giving up.  I’m not a pianist – I just took a couple of years of lessons when I was about seven and eight years old – but I was pretty serious about the flute when I was in high school and into college, so I can identify with the process of practicing a piece to try to achieve perfection.  I’ve always liked playing the piano for fun, though, and I’ve enjoyed attempting to play Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, which Wilma plays (much more successfully!) in the novel. 
 
PB:  Have you ever made any of the recipes you researched for Dolly to prepare for her husband Byron?  Any favorites?  In your first years of marital bliss did you keep a cooking journal like Dolly?
 
Ellen:  You’re funny!  I haven’t made any of Dolly’s recipes, actually, but a bakery is preparing her Lacy Raisin Wafers for book clubs (people can visit my website to sign up to win some) so I’ve sampled those and they’re very good.  I had fun researching the recipes and planning the menus for Dolly and Byron… and when I was newly married I guess I did try to plan out each week’s menus and pay attention to what my husband liked and didn’t like, but I certainly wasn’t as efficient as Dolly!  I imagine if I’d been married in 1950 I would probably have been just like her, though, in the context of those times.  Fortunately for me, getting married in 2001, I was able to put most of my obsessive creative energy into writing fiction.
 
PB:  Throughout Keeping The House you have quotes from different publications from the first half of the twentieth century.  Which one did you find most outrageous?
 
Ellen:  The quotes from the Look magazine article “The Other Woman Is Often the Creation of the Wife” and the idea that if a husband is having an affair it is up to his wife to “make adjustments” and “be more cheerful and attractive than usual” seem pretty outrageous. 
 
PB:  On your MySpace page you have posted a picture of a banister and two portraits.  Was there really a Mickelson family and house or are these pictures of your own banister and relatives?
 
Ellen:  The Mickelsons are totally fictional, and somewhere, someone is going to be surprised that I stole photos of their relatives out of a yearbook-type section of photos in a history about a small town in Wisconsin!  It wasn’t my intention – I got the book to help me lay out the town of Pine Rapids – but when I saw those photos, it was clear to me that that woman was Wilma and that man was Harry.  I always rifle through old photos at antique shops, too, to see if I can find unlabeled photos that seem to be a character.  The banister photo was taken in a bed and breakfast that I visited.  I stole architectural details from many B&B’s in Wisconsin to design the Mickelson house.
 
PB:  What is the most interesting question you have received while on your book tour to promote Keeping The House?
 
Ellen:  I’ve received lots of really interesting questions, but one that sticks out in my mind is “What is the significance of the color red for Dolly?”  I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms – somehow I always just knew she’d be drawn to the color.  I remember when I wrote Dolly’s first quilting group scene, there was no question in my mind what she would be wearing – the flaring white dress with red trim and the bright red lipstick (which makes her feel conspicuous among the subdued ladies of the group).  But as a result of getting this question, I realized that red does symbolize Dolly’s passion and daring, and shows how different she is from the other people in Pine Rapids.