Sunday Salon ~ August 3rd, 2008

This last week has been a busy one here at Planet Books.  We’ve been graced with guest posts from three great new authors.  (Click on the highlighted names to view the guest post.)  Kathleen McCleary, author of House & Home talks with us about what she learned in the three years it took to write her debut novel.  Author of Keeping The House, Ellen Baker, shares with us her different experiences that helped evolve a story she was writing that became her novel.  And last but not least, author of Schooled, Anisha Lakhani tells us why she chose to write her first guest post ever here at Planet Books and gives a little hint of what she’s up to now.   
I’m working on reading some ARC’s I received in the mail last week and staying cool during this extremely hot and humid Okinawan summer.  A schedule of reading in the air conditioning is what I have to look forward to this week.  Whew!  Oh, and watching the Washington Redskins play in the 2008 Hall of Fame Game against the Indianapolis Colts.  “Hail To The Redskins!!”
I’m really enthralled with an advance reading copy of Deborah Copaken Kogan’s Between Here and April right now.  I started it last night and am half-way through.  It’s a page turner!  What are you reading?  Any ARC’s or something that you purchased recently?  Not living in the States right now, I was unable to participate in the craziness that I’m sure filled many bookstores nation wide this past Friday night at midnight.  Did you get your copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn?  If you did, or your teen did, are you/they done yet?  Is it any good?  Please no spoilers!!

Guest Post ~ Author of House & Home, Kathleen McCleary

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of reading House & Home by Kathleen McCleary.  I absolutely loved it and reviewed it HERE.  Kathleen is now a Washingtonian (D.C. that is) but she left her heart in Oregon which is where this novel derived from.  I asked Kathleen if she would kindly write a guest post about her expereinces while writing House & Home for us here at Planet Books and she has graciously obliged. 

It still seems somewhat unreal to me that at age forty-eight, I can walk into a bookstore and find my book, the one I wrote, there on the shelves.
Writing my first novel was a little like stumbling off a curb in the dark. I started the novel not because I wanted to write a novel, but because I had just moved across country and left my home of twelve years and was in such a turmoil of grief and anger over the whole thing that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Here’s what I can tell you I learned about writing during the almost three years it took me to write a novel:
-Try not to care what anyone else thinks. I got about 100 pages into my novel and suddenly realized that maybe I actually WAS writing a novel. I started to worry about what other people might think if they read it, whether or not I could ever get it published, if it might get savagely reviewed. I got so worried that I stopped writing, for almost six months. My husband finally gave me a piece of advice that I clung to like a shipwreck survivor: Just finish it. The act of actually writing an entire book is a huge accomplishment in itself, and something you can be totally proud of, regardless of whether or not it ever gets published.
-Listen to your readers. After spending several months writing alone in a room in my house, I had no idea whether or not my first efforts at fiction were good, average or god-awful. So I signed up for an online novel-writing class at There, I read other writers’ work, and posted my own chapters for feedback from the teacher and other class members. It was invaluable. While the writers were an eclectic group (genres included vampire fiction, chick lit, a CIA-thriller, and a detective novel), they all read my novel carefully and responded honestly. In response to their feedback I changed several key plot points, added dialogue, and worked to flesh out various characters. Now that the book is out in the real world, I love hearing from readers about what worked and what didn’t. I’m absorbing all the input and applying what I’ve learned to my second novel.
-Go for a lot of walks. Any time I got really stuck while writing, I went for a long, hard walk over a route with lots of hills. Puffing and sweating was a great release for me, and I got most of my best ideas and sudden insights while walking.
-Listen to music. I can’t write with background noise, so my room is pretty silent when I’m working. But when I’m walking or doing housework, I listen to music—Counting Crows, Martina McBride, Lyle Lovett, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen. They’re all terrific songwriters. I found that listening to the vivid imagery in song lyrics, and to the rhythm of the words, really inspired my writing.

You can learn more about Kathleen McCleary and her novel House & Home at her website  House & Home was featured in the Home & Garden section of  The N.Y. Times.  You can check out the article HERE.  Also, if you are interested in checking out the classes that has to offer just click HERE.

Book Review ~ House & Home by Kathleen McCleary

                              House and Home
Summary ~ “Ellen Flanagan has two precious girls to raise, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop to run, terrific friends, and a sexy husband.  She adores her house, a yellow Cape Cod filled with quirky antiques, beloved nooks and dents, and a million memories.  But now, at forty-four, she’s about to lose it all. 
     After eighteen roller-coaster years of marriage, Ellen’s husband, Sam – who’s charismatic, spontaneous, and utterly irresponsible – has disappointed her in more ways than she can live with, and they’re getting divorced.  Her daughters are miserable about losing their daddy.  Worst of all, the house that Ellen loves with all her heart must now be sold.
     Ellen’s life is further complicated by an unexpected relationship with the husband of the shrewish, social-climbing woman who has purchased the house.  Add to that the confusion over how she really feels about her almost-ex-husband, and you have the makings of a delicious novel about what matters most in the end…”

“House & Home” is the rich, beautifully detailed and heart-filled debut novel by author Kathleen McCleary.  It’s a story about a woman named Ellen Flanagan, her daughters Sara and Louise, her husband Sam and their beloved yellow house in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon.  We meet the Flanagan family during a very tumultuous time in their lives.  Ellen is the owner of an eclectic neighborhood furniture and coffee shop.  She has decided to file for divorce from her want-to-be-successful inventor of a husband, Sam, not for the typical reason of adultery but because of an inventor’s dream that just ended up costing too much financially and emotionally.  She agreed to allow a second mortgage to be taken out on her treasure of a house in order to put more money into the experimental stages of Sam’s latest invention.  After Sam says that another move is necessary for his plan to take off, Ellen decides she can’t take a lifestyle of uncertainties anymore and makes the decision to end her eighteen year marriage.  Unfortunately because of the financial situation she is in she will have to sell her house.  

Cue the up-tight, perfectly groomed East Coaster and her team of contractors who has bought Ellen’s Cape Cod.  This woman is the antithesis of Ellen.  She proceeds in making Ellen’s life hell by renting back the house to her for one last month so Ellen can pack up ten years worth of memories and move them and her two daughters into a house across town that she doesn’t care about.  The new owner is the thorn in Ellen’s side while dealing with the move and how it is effecting her and her daughters, especially her eldest Sara. At the beginning of the book Ellen believes that if it isn’t her living in the house than no one should. 

“The house was yellow, a clapboard Cape Cod with a white picket fence and a big bay window on one side, and Ellen loved it with all her heart.  She loved the way the wind from the Gorge stirred the trees to constant motion outside the windows, the cozy arc of the dormers in the girls’ bedroom, the cherry-red mantel with the cleanly carved dentil molding over the fireplace in the living room.  She had conceived children in that house, suffered miscarriages in that house, brought her babies home there, argued with her husband there, made love, rejoiced, despaired, sipped tea, and gossiped and sobbed and counseled and blessed her friends there, walked the halls with sick children there, and scrubbed the worn brick of the kitchen floor there at least a thousand times on her hands and knees.  And it was because of all this history with the house, all the parts of her life unfolding there day after day for so many years, that Ellen decided to burn it down.”

As I read “House & Home” I was struck with the feeling the book physically has.  The cover is warm and inviting with warm yellows and gold tones in the bedroom picture and the lush greenery just beyond the windowsill.  The characters who live inside “House & Home” are very realistic and while reading, I am immersed in Portland, Oregon, enjoying a vanilla latte at Ellen’s shop “Coffee @ Home”.  Then I am hanging out in the yard between her house and her neighbor and best friend Jo’s house.  I became emotionally invested in what happened to these people; Ellen, Sam, their relationship, the girls and the family buying Ellen’s pride and joy, her house. 

Just when you suspect that the story will continue down one road, twists comes out of nowhere and make you second guess the characters motives.  As is life.  I loved “House & Home” and the familiar voice that came from the author’s story telling.  The characters could be real people facing these challenges today, especially with the way the housing market is panning out.  I enjoyed the imagery McCleary used to set the mood and setting for her characters.  The author’s own time spent living in her beloved Portland, Oregon came through on the pages of her novel about what happens when you think that the one thing you can’t live without is actually not at the top of the list like you thought it was.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

I have included the book trailer for “House & Home” to help peak your interest in reading it even more.

Book blogger friend Lisa over at Books On The Brain  also enjoyed HOUSE & HOME.  You can read her review HERE.