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Posts Tagged ‘contemporary fiction’

Giveaway Opportunity: THE WISHING THREAD by Lisa Van Allen

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Allen_The Wishing Thread“Reader to reader, knitter to knitter: You’re going to love this book.”—Debbie Macomber

For fans of Jennifer Chiaverini and Sarah Addison Allen, The Wishing Thread is an enchanting novel about the bonds between sisters, the indelible pull of the past, and the transformational power of love.

The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.

When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?

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Giveaway Opportunity: DON’T LET ME GO and NO CHILD OF MINE by Susan Lewis

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 10.16.01 AM We have a special giveaway opportunity for our fellow Random House Reader’s Circle members today! Enter below for your chance to win a Susan Lewis book bundle that includes a finished copy of No Child of Mine and an advanced reader’s copy of Don’t Let Me Go. If you love Jodi Picoult then you’ll love these international bestselling novels.

“Unputdownable . . . a compelling blend of family dynamics, courtroom drama, and love story.”—Booklist

“Susan Lewis’s storyline is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. . . . Susan writes with sensitivity, compassion and hope.”—Fresh Fiction

Join the conversation with Susan Lewis on Facebook and Twitter. You can also visit her website for more books news, a Q&A, and event information.

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Giveaway Opportunity: SUMMER BREEZE by Nancy Thayer

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Thayer_Summer Breeze “Nancy Thayer is the queen of beach books.”—The Star-Ledger

June 21st is the official first day of summer. Why not kick it off with the must have summer read? Nancy Thayer’s SUMMER BREEZE should be in your bag when you pack for your next vacation!

In this captivating novel, New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer tells the wonderfully moving story of three women who forge a unique bond one sun-drenched summer on New England’s Dragonfly Lake. Thirty-year-old Morgan O’Keefe put her science career on hold to raise her young son. Though Morgan loves many things about staying home with her child, she feels restless and ready for a change. Struggling artist Natalie Reynolds, fed up with New York City’s hectic pace, moves to the Berkshires for a year to house-sit her aunt’s fabulous home on Dragonfly Lake, where a handsome neighbor becomes her unexpected rescuer. After her mother breaks her leg, Bella Barnaby quits her job in Austin and returns home to help out her large, boisterous family. While an attractive architect has designs on her, Bella harbors long held secret dreams of her own.

Summer on Dragonfly Lake is ripe for romance, temptation, and self-discovery as the paths of these three women unexpectedly intertwine. Summer Breeze illustrates how friends, old and new, can offer comfort, infuriate, or even open one’s eyes to the astonishing possibilities of life.

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Giveaway Opportunity: HE’S GONE by Deb Caletti

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Caletti_He's Gone “One of the best books I’ve read all year.”—Barbara O’Neal, author of The Garden of Happy Endings

“What do you think happened to your husband, Mrs. Keller?”

The Sunday morning starts like any other, aside from the slight hangover. Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat, a headache building behind her eyes from the wine she drank at a party the night before. But on this particular Sunday morning, she’s surprised to see that her husband, Ian, is not home. As the hours pass, Dani fills her day with small things. But still, Ian does not return. Irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic. And then, like a relentless blackness, the terrible realization hits Dani: He’s gone.

As the police work methodically through all the logical explanations—he’s hurt, he’s run off, he’s been killed—Dani searches frantically for a clue as to whether Ian is in fact dead or alive. And, slowly, she unpacks their relationship, holding each moment up to the light: from its intense, adulterous beginning, to the grandeur of their new love, to the difficulties of forever. She examines all the sins she can—and cannot—remember. As the days pass, Dani will plumb the depths of her conscience, turning over and revealing the darkest of her secrets in order to discover the hard truth—about herself, her husband, and their lives together.

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A Reader’s Guide: THE CLOVER HOUSE by Henriette Lazaridis Power

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Power_The Clover House_TPPatras and Memory: How I Chose the Setting for The Clover House

Patras, Greece, is not the kind of city people choose to go to. Its architecture is dominated by boxy apartment buildings; its streets form a maze of one-way routes seemingly designed to prevent motion; its colonnaded sidewalks are rendered impassable by serried ranks of parked motorcycles. People transit through Patras, catching the ferry that will take them to Brindisi or Ancona or the Ionian Islands, or the train or bus that will take them to Athens. Patras is secondary to these other places, a placeholder, really. Just somewhere you have to sit for a few hours while you wait to leave.

But if you look closely, past the satellite dishes and the antennas and the graceless apartment buildings of rebar and cement, you can see the city it used to be before the war, with its neoclassical homes, its public squares, and its harbor with an embracing jetty. And you can always see the beauty of its geography: the deep violet of the Gulf of Patras, the Ionian Sea to the west and the islands rising from the haze, the mountain of Panachaïko, cypress-clad, sloping up beyond the vineyards that ring the city.

I set The Clover House in Patras because my mother’s childhood stories took place there—by the jetty, up the mountain, in those squares—and her stories tantalized me with their hints of who she had really been, and what had made her who she was. I spent much of my own childhood in the city, often trying to relive and recapture my mother’s experiences. In a sense, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been using Patras as a kind of live-in novel, a three-dimensional, real-life way to live an invented life. I always knew I loved Patras. But it wasn’t until after I had finished writing the actual novel of The Clover House that I realized the deeper role that Patras played for me, as a child and as a writer.

Growing up in a Greek household in the United States but spending summers in Greece with my family, I did a lot of coming and going—-linguistically, geographically, culturally. Like many bilingual and bicultural kids, blending in came naturally to me. In Greece, no one could tell I lived in America; and in America, no one could tell I had learned to speak Greek before English, and that I always spoke it at home. Many times, I felt this shuttling as a constant dislocation. I recall a pervasive sense of nostalgia, no matter where I was at any given time. But one thing was certain. When I was surrounded by my family in Greece, embraced by grand-parents, cousins, and above all aunts, I belonged. Nowhere—-not even in my New England hometown—-was that belonging more emphatic than in Patras.
The Patras of my childhood was a land of women—-women who gave me independence and who smothered me with affection. Though they were my aunts, they served, bless them, as my mothers, filling in where my own mother lacked motivation and desire. I suspect now that my aunts and other maternal stand–ins did this quite deliberately. Seeing my need, they circled around me with a perfect balance of strictness and solicitude.

My Aunt Elli’s husband, Pindaros, had a word for all these women: tsoupoules. Don’t look for the word in any dictionary; it was the product of Pindaros’s delighted imagination. The tsoupoules were my two cousins—one exactly my age and her sister old enough for us to idolize—my Great aunt Eugenia, later on two little nieces, and always my Aunts Zita, Elli, and Alexandra. They weren’t really my aunts, any more than my cousins were really my cousins. In America, you’d call them something once or twice removed. But my mother had grown up with these women in the same house. And in the way they embraced, chided, and encouraged, there was nothing removed about them at all.

Pindaros would giddily proclaim himself to be surrounded by tsoupoules when he came to join us at the beach each day. It wasn’t a fancy beach—just a thin strip of coarse sand and pebbles outside the city, and running in front of a tavern shaded by giant eucalyptus trees. We would come up from the sand, salt standing in crystals on our skin, and find Pindaros at a long table beneath the trees, their trunks whitewashed to thwart insects. He would sit there in his monogrammed shirt and dark-framed glasses, his hands scrubbed clean from his surgeon’s practice, looking like some jovial Onassis. He would order what he knew we liked, and we would sit in our bathing suits to eat plates of fried anchovies, wedges of watermelon, and chunks of fresh bread.

Pindaros wanted to hear what all the tsoupoules had been up to that day, but as soon as he had returned to work, the aunts’ conversation shifted to the past. My cousin Zeni and I crunched our anchovies—each one a single bite—and watched the aunts make one another laugh with reminiscences. The boy who wore trousers perpetually too short, lending his name to the phenomenon of flood pants. Hiking trips up Mt. Panachaïko to glide down on skis. How they flooded the entire basement of their grand house in the heart of the city, just so they could play Slip ’N Slide across the hallway tiles. How they raised silkworms and sold the cocoons to the neighborhood children during the war. The crazy cow that chased the aunts into the hayloft on their farm outside the city.

It’s true that this list hardly seems substantial enough to have provided summer after summer full of lunchtime stories. How much can you say about a boy who wore short pants? But as all storytellers know, and as all listeners come to discover, the telling sustains the tale, gives it new energy and life. It was those repeated tellings, I’m convinced, that taught me the power of stories and that gave me the unshakeable conviction that through stories we shape our lives.

Most summers, my mother returned to Athens before me, sometimes to meet my father for a trip outside of Greece, leaving me in my aunts’ care. When she was there to take part in these storytelling sessions, she revealed herself to be a master of cadence and pacing, an expert of the witty phrase. She often found humor and whimsy that others had missed. When I listened to my mother joining in with the aunts, I saw a side of her that I loved and craved more of, but a side of her, too, that I could never reach. In The Clover House, when Callie remarks on the way her mother’s stories fascinate her but keep her at a distance, it’s my own experience I’m evoking. In fact, I come to stories—not just particular fictions, but fiction in general—with that pervasive sense of nostalgia. My love for the story goes hand in hand with the sadness of not being a part of it—of being shut out, stuck in reality while the imagined world spins on just out of reach.

Zeni and I did our best to relive our mothers’ stories. Like them, we played in Psilalónia, shrieking at the bats that swooped over our heads; we visited the cave in the headland of Dasaki; we ate grilled corn on the cob from street vendors in the colonnades. One summer, we bought silkworm cocoons and kept them in Zeni’s basement, feeding the silkworms leaves from the mulberry trees that lined the sidewalk.

But the one adventure we never could recreate was the building of the clover houses. During their childhoods, my mother and the aunts spent parts of the summer on their family’s farm just outside Patras. The area where it once stood is just a short drive from the harbor now, but in the 1930s and ’40s, it was a good carriage ride from the family’s neoclassical house. On the farm, the overseer used to cut a miniature neighborhood out of the tall forage grass in one of the pastures—a grass called trifîli that translates best as clover, but was probably a combination of clover and rye grass. My mother, her brother, and her four cousins (the three aunts and my one eccentric uncle) all played in this neighborhood of grassy streets and houses made of clover and rye for hours, hidden from the world of adults. If I were to ask them now to tell me about the clover houses, my aunts and my mother would sigh with longing and satisfaction, reveling anew in their remembered idyll.

To me, the clover houses seemed a truly magical idea, a children’s world that was at once safe and exotic, domestic and wild. I was growing up with woods and rocks in New England and with beaches and city streets in Greece; an open space like a clover field was unlike anything I had ever experienced. When I learned, during the early writing of The Clover House, that my best friend had experienced something like this in Massachusetts, I was astonished and a little jealous. How could the clover houses from my mother’s fantastical childhood exist in my own reality and still pass me by?

The idea that someone could fashion a house for you where no dwelling was ever foreseen has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. The creation of a safe and secret place out of almost nothing this concept resonates at the heart of The Clover House. Callie’s dislocation from her relationships, her mother, her heritage is a form of what Greeks know as xenitia: self-imposed exile. It’s that isolation and longing of the self-exiled that the clover houses came to represent for me. In a sense, The Clover House is my clover house. It’s how I created for myself the Patras that I loved, and love, and the Patras that I never knew. It’s a world I shaped from what I already had, just as the farm overseer cut the dwellings and streets from the tall grass. And it’s just as fragile, just as ephemeral.

My last trip to Patras took place in March 2011, during Carnival season. While I was there, I couldn’t help following in Callie’s footsteps quite literally. The currents of Carnival and the pull of my family made the duplication inevitable. Like Callie, I stood in George’s Square and watched the parades, deafened by samba music. Like her, I stepped into the quiet of Aghios Andreas for the services of Forgiveness Sunday. Like her, I went across the Gulf of Patras to Nafpaktos for an afternoon’s Carnival respite.
One day, my cousin Alexandra and I drove just a bit out of the center of Patras to a neighborhood of one story houses and chicken wire fences. She pulled onto the broken curb and put her hazards on so that I could dash across the street with my camera. Through a gate, a dirt road disappeared into an overgrown copse, and a black dog barked over his shoulder at me. That was the farm. That was where my mother and her cousins had sat inside their clover houses, hidden away from the real world, lost in make believe. In all my childhood visits to Patras, no one had ever taken us there. I assumed the place had been built over. Now I think perhaps the aunts had given up on it, as if unwilling to bring the farm and the clover houses into a real world that was so changed. That day during Carnival, I stood at the gate, pointing my lens through the fencing at a world that was no longer there, looking in at a place just out of reach. I took a picture.

I still have the photograph, but only in my computer. Though my study is littered with artifacts and photographs from my family’s past, the photograph of the farm is one I may never print. It’s better left to memory and to my imagination.

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Callie grapples with the disassociation of being a Greek American, perceiving herself as an outsider in a land that is both familiar and yet wholly foreign. What steps does she take to reclaim this distinct piece of her identity, and does she always go about it the right way? Has she managed to embrace both cultures by the end of the novel, or does she still feel the need to validate herself in the estimation of others?
2. Clio returns to Greece in the wake of her husband’s death, after having lived in America for more than thirty years. Callie considers that “It must have been hard for her to fit back into the Greek life her sisters had been living. Defiantly not American, she was no longer altogether Greek either.” In what ways does Clio’s experience of attempting to assimilate back into a life she left behind mirror Callie’s, and in what ways do they fundamentally differ?
3. Callie clings to the idyllic stories of her mother’s childhood in Greece—-of the “mischief and delight” she shared with her siblings that eventually gave way to darkness and despondency in her adulthood. What was it like for Callie to realize that her version of events had been based on romanticized memories and utter falsehoods? How did this awareness affect her already tenuous connection to her mother?
4. Callie is struck by how submissive Aliki has become in her marriage, which runs completely at odds with her fierce, unyielding nature as a teenager. Discuss how gender roles and expectations differ between American and Greek cultures, and how this has informed relationships and perceptions within the novel. Is it fair for Callie to judge Aliki’s position based on this, and do you think Callie ever comes to see more nuance in Aliki’s behavior than she had originally thought?
5. In her intimate relationships, Callie tends to assume failure. Why does she deny herself happiness time and again? What finally prompts her to change this pattern?
6. The novel takes place during the Greek celebration of Carnival, a time of wild abandon, extravagance, and self–indulgence. Interestingly, Callie is simultaneously seeking to gain a stronger understanding of herself within the context of her family, her relationship, and her culture. In what ways does this backdrop, and the beginning of the Lenten period that follows it, affect these areas of her life, and either help or hinder her from arriving at a place of greater clarity?
7. At one point, Aliki asks Callie which choice is braver: “to live your life every day or to lug some mysterious past around with you as an excuse not to.” Callie is not the only character to be deeply and immutably affected by the past, but is she, as Aliki insinuates, the only one who seems to be stunted from moving forward? How have the others managed to achieve liberation?
8. Clio engages in a high–stakes relationship during the war that costs her family everything, after which she seemingly spends the rest of her life in a state of penance. She abandons her dreams for the future, enters into a dull and troubled marriage, and flees to America only to hide behind draped windows and cast a pall over her household. Do you think it was right for her to behave this way, considering the combination of her naivety and the extreme circumstances she was forced to grow up in? Does Callie’s understanding, forgiveness, and urging enable Clio to absolve herself, at least to a small degree?
9. What about the second, and perhaps heavier, burden that Clio bears: the shame of the betrayal of Yannis? What, if anything, do you think allows her to cast off that burden?
10. How did the novel’s alternating between Callie’s contemporary visit to Greece and her mother’s WWII–era experience affect your reading? Did you feel a stronger sense of empathy for Clio as her story unfurled alongside Callie’s present–day investigation into her elusive past?
11. The war brought on a series of power shifts that blurred the lines between who could be considered an ally and who a foe. As Giorgio tells Nestor, “It’s a war. Times change. Now, Greeks and Italians, we’re on the same side. It’s official. We even gave you Greeks our guns.” How does this shadowy notion of who can and cannot be trusted impact the characters and play upon their sympathies?
12. Nestor’s note to Callie contains a passage she finds perplexing: “What seems important now was once insignificant and will become so again.” What do you make of the meaning? How does this message apply to the novel as a whole?
13. Do you think Callie and Clio are similar in personality, or not? In what ways do they differ and how are they alike?
14. What do you make of the fact that so many of the stories people tell or remember turn out to be untrue? How does that affect your take on the novel as a whole?

Enter for your chance to win NO CHILD OF MINE by Susan Lewis

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Lewis_No Child of Mine_tp From internationally bestselling British author Susan Lewis comes an unflinching, thoroughly suspenseful novel—perfect for readers of Jodi Picoult—about the darkest secrets a family can hide.

Alex Lake’s life is centered on helping people. Her job as a social worker in a British seaside town is more than a career: It’s the very essence of who she is. And though there are frustrations, Alex takes to heart the rewards of placing a child in a safe and loving home. But when she encounters three-year-old Ottilie Wade, Alex is completely unprepared for the effect the sweet, shy little girl has on her. Though on the surface Ottilie seems to want for nothing—she’s perfectly healthy and lives in a very nice home—she’s mysteriously silent and asocial. Alex knows that something is not right in the Wade house. And the deeper she looks into the case, the more Alex comes to feel that she and Ottilie are being drawn together by fate.

As disturbing evidence mounts and Alex’s superiors seem unwilling to help, Alex knows she will have to risk everything—her job and the life she loves—to save Ottilie. But Alex will also have to wrestle the demons of her own past before she can secure a future for this child in need.

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THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE by Ellen Sussman, a Reader’s Guide

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Sussman_The Paradise Guest House_TPA Conversation with Ellen Sussman and Michelle Richmond
Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog and No One You Know and the founder of Fiction Attic Press. She lives in Northern California. Her new novel is forthcoming from Bantam.

Michelle Richmond: The Paradise Guest House is loosely based on terrorist bombings that rocked Bali in 2002. So often, we hear about these tragic events, they linger briefly on the edge of our consciousness, and then, very quickly, we forget. What was it about the Indonesia attacks that compelled you to write this story?

Ellen Sussman: My husband and I visited Bali right after the terrorist attacks. Friends suggested we cancel our trip but we were determined to see the country. In some ways it was the best of times and the worst of times. There were very few tourists—-great for us, lousy for Bali. The landscape is astonishingly beautiful but it felt haunted by the horror of those bombings. The Balinese themselves, famous for their smiles and for their peaceful outlook on life, were clearly suffering. The country was struggling to understand what had happened to them and to learn how to move on.

It was the plight of the Balinese that captured my attention. Unlike the rest of us, they couldn’t forget what had happened to their lovely country. They’re still struggling with the consequences of those terrible acts of violence ten years later. In writing The Paradise Guest House, I wanted to take a closer look at terrorism and how it affects us. I also wanted to examine our notion of paradise and why we’re so drawn to places like Bali. There’s a wild disconnect between that act of terrorism and the beauty of Bali. As difficult as it was, I wanted to live there in my imagination.

MR: You spent time in Bali with survivors and family members of the victims. How did your conversations and relationships with these people shape your story? Are any of the characters in your book directly inspired by real–life persons?

ES: When I returned to Bali years later I contacted an organization called YKIP. They arranged the interviews, and a lovely young woman, Ida (Sri Damayanti), accompanied me as interpreter. I could not have written The Paradise Guest House without that experience. I got a chance to talk to many survivors and family members of the victims. One woman took me into her one–room house, held her baby in her lap, and described her struggle to survive after she was severely burned in the bombing. Another woman talked about waiting for her husband to come home the night of the bombings—-many years had passed, but she could still barely tell the story. Her young daughter stepped in and, holding her mother’s hand, described the way the village took care of them for the weeks after her father was killed when he drove his motorcycle by the clubs that night. The stories I heard made the event real for me—-they put a very personal face on the tragedy. I’m so appreciative to all of those brave people who shared their stories with me.

It’s odd—-none of those people directly inspired the creation of my fictional characters, and yet all of them did. They whispered to me every day as I wrote, urging me on.

MR: In your bestselling novel, French Lessons, you explored the magical city of Paris. Bali holds a different kind of magic—-a lush green landscape that, for all its beauty, cannot help but remind Jamie of the tragedy she witnessed there. What role has travel played in your life, and how have your experiences abroad made you a better writer?

ES: I lived abroad for five years, something I’d recommend to absolutely everyone! The experience changes you—-it helps you understand who you are in a way that you can’t quite grasp if you’ve never left your home country. And it gives you a perspective on the world—-how big it is, how diverse, how complicated—-that we Americans, especially, often fail to appreciate.

I was in my early thirties when I lived in Paris for five years—-since then I’ve traveled a great deal. I’ve spent time in Bhutan, Thailand, Argentina, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Spain, Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, and many other wonderful places. I travel to learn the world and to learn myself. I travel so that my eyes are always wide open.

It’s funny—-a writer has to have a kind of split personality. We live our lives and take notes on our experiences, watching it even as it happens. (I once read that Philip Roth took notes at his grandmother’s funeral!) Traveling strengthens that ability for me. My senses are heightened in foreign lands, my attention is sharp. Even as I’m having a grand time, part of me is observing, tucking images and memories away for use in my fiction. And it’s not always a grand time—-we come up against all kinds of obstacles in unfamiliar places. That’s rich material for me.

I leave tomorrow for a hiking trip in the Pyrenees. In January I’m headed to Chile. What am I searching for? More. More of the world, more rich experiences, more insight into myself. I need it for every novel I write.

MR: Do you travel to places that you want to write about, or do you write about places to which you have traveled?

Both. I didn’t know that I’d write about Bali when I first traveled there. I had the idea for the novel by the time my vacation ended—-and that idea wouldn’t let go. Years later I went back to spend a month there so that I could learn Bali as well as I could.

When I’m traveling I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to return to that country for a longer research trip!

MR: A few years ago, you edited the well–received anthology Bad Girls. There’s a nod to that book in The Paradise Guest House, when Jamie goes swimming with the niece of her host and a posse of “Indonesian bad girls.” While Jamie’s acts in the immediate aftermath of the bombing are heroic, in the days that follow, she does not exactly follow the “good girl” path. I thought it was brave of you to have Jamie respond in a way that, in its realism and complexity, might cast her, for some readers, in a negative light. What inspired you to write Jamie’s relationship with Gabe in the way that you did?

ES: I’m so glad you asked that question—-I’m sure this will be a controversial issue for many readers. As far as my “bad girl” inclinations, it’s true that I’m willing to break rules or to take chances in my fiction that might displease some readers. I believe Jamie’s actions in the days after the bombing. I also believe that when two people meet each other during chaos or tragedy their connection can run very deep. It might move them to surprising actions. (I’m trying not to give anything away here! Please read the novel before you read this interview!)

But I will say this: I read that more babies were born in Manhattan nine months after 9/11 than at any other time.

Sometime it’s our ability to connect deeply with another person that saves us.

MR: In a previously published autobiographical essay, you write about jumping naked into the ocean as your first husband and his shocked colleagues looked on. In The Paradise Guest House, Jamie dives into the sea. For a moment she considers disrobing, but she recalls that she is a foreigner in Bali, and she isn’t a teenager anymore. Are you, like Jamie, particularly drawn to water? Beyond that, how much of yourself do you find in the character of Jamie, and in what ways do you differ?

ES: Funny that you picked up on that! I put together a collection of short stories when I was in high school and I only noticed after I read it as a whole that swimming featured in every story! (And skinny–dipping was pretty common.) I’m not a great swimmer, but I love hot tubs and baths and floating in the pool. And yes, I prefer all of that without my clothes on. (Note to neighbors: our fences are very high.) There’s something so sensual about the water, and so soothing.

As for Jamie and me—-well, she might be a version of who I wish I had been at her age. She’s more independent than I am—-tougher, scrappier, and even more athletic. I’m probably just as competitive, though! If I could start over, I’d love to be an adventure guide, traveling the world.

MR: The book has a beautiful economy. As a writer, I’m very curious how many pages or chapters were left on the editing–room floor. How different is the finished novel from the first draft? Did you lose any characters or scenes that, at some point in the writing of the book, seemed essential?

ES: Oh, you can’t imagine the cutting–room floor on this one! Gabe had a new wife and a baby—-poor things got trashed along with an offer of marriage by Nyoman. The mistakes I made! The drafts that no one will ever see! After one draft I started over completely—-without even looking at the previous draft. It’s never easy. We writers think we learn how novels get written and then the next novel changes all the rules of the game. Grrrr. But I suppose that’s best—-it’s learning how to write each new novel that keeps us fresh and creative.

MR: There is an incredibly harrowing scene in which you describe the bombings and the immediate aftermath. What kind of research did you do to write this scene? Also, when you’ve written an emotionally exhausting scene such as this one, how do you step out of your writing mindset and reenter your life with family and friends? Do residual emotions from the fictional world you’re so immersed in linger as you go about your day?

ES: I did a great deal of research about the bombings in Bali in 2002. In addition to my conversations with survivors, I read many firsthand accounts that I found in books, articles, and on the Internet. I looked at horrifying photos, mostly on the Internet. And yes, it haunted me day in and day out. When I went to visit the memorial site in Bali, I was as shocked as Jamie on her visit: I expected to see the scenes of those clubs ravaged and burned.

I’m the kind of person who works hard and lives hard. At the end of a writing day, I put the project aside and immerse myself in my daily life with family and friends. But during the writing of The Paradise Guest House, I did have my share of nightmares. I felt a little like Jamie, unable to tuck the experience away.

MR: This novel is coming out soon after the publication of French Lessons. Do you work on more than one book at a time, or do you completely finish a book before moving on to the next?

ES: I can work on only one book at a time. I immerse myself so thoroughly in the world of the novel that it would be impossible for me to switch gears. But I do like to know what my next project is—-so that it’s brewing somewhere in the back of my mind. That way, when one is done I’m ready to dive into the next. (I’m happiest when I’m writing. Really.)

I’m able to write quickly because I’m a very disciplined writer. I write every day, five or six days a week. I produce one thousand words a day, and I move through a first draft pretty steadily. I love living in the world of that first draft. I turn off the noise of my critical brain and just luxuriate in the storytelling. It’s the many rewrites that are grueling for me.

MR: We all want to know: What’s your next destination, and what’s your next book?

ES: I’m back to France, though this time I’ve landed in the south of France. It’s too soon to say much about the novel. I’m really in the discovery phase—-who are these people? What will happen to them? What draws me into their circle? But I’ll say this much: There’s a wedding. And there’s mayhem.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Jamie works as an adventure guide, but her experiences in Bali left her with panic attacks and a fear of crowds. If you were Jamie, would you have been able to go back to Bali? Have you ever had to return to the scene of some difficulty in your life?

2. What do you think helped Jamie more—-coming back to the site of her trauma for healing or searching for the man who helped save her life?

3. Jamie gives Bambang a chance even after the wallet–stealing incident. What does that say about Jamie?

4. Nyoman tells Jamie, “I will be your Ganesh,” referring to the statue in his garden of the Hindu deity with the head of an elephant, who is said to protect his believers from demons. In what ways did Nyoman protect Jamie? And how did her presence at the Paradise Guest House change him?

5. Jamie sees her boss, Larson, as a father figure of sorts. What does she see in him that she doesn’t see in her biological father?

6. What did you make of Jamie’s rejection of Miguel’s proposal?

7. How might Jamie and Gabe’s shared experiences in the bombing have changed their feelings for each other? Do you think they would have felt the same way if they had met under different circumstances? Do you think that a relationship that is created during a traumatic event might have a deeper bond?

8. Do you see Gabe’s time in Bali as his way of running from what happened in Boston with his son, Ethan, or as his running to something unknown and new? Or both?

9. How did Gabe’s response to the bombing differ from Jamie’s? How did it differ from that of the residents of Bali?

10. What did you think of the structure of the book? How did the alternating sections from 2002 and 2003 work to advance the narrative in unusual or unexpected ways?

11. There are many themes in this novel—-love, healing, second chances. What struck you as the most important theme? What do you think was ultimately the book’s lesson?

12. What do you imagine happens after the end of the novel?

Enter for your chance to win THE MEMORY THIEF by Emily Colin

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Colin_Emily The Memory Thief TP “Dazzlingly original and as haunting as a dream, Emily Colin’s mesmerizing debut explores the way memory, love, and great loss bind our lives together in ways we might never expect. From its audacious opening to its knockout last pages, I was enthralled.”—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

In Emily Colin’s exquisite debut novel, perfect for the fans of Kristin Hannah, one man’s vow to his wife sparks a remarkable journey that tests the pull of memory and reaffirms the bonds of love.

Before Madeleine Kimble’s mountaineer husband, Aidan, climbs Mount McKinley’s south face, he makes her a solemn vow: I will come back to you. But late one night, Maddie gets the devastating news that Aidan has died in an avalanche, leaving her to care for their son—a small boy with a very big secret. The call comes from J.C., Aidan’s best friend and fellow climber, whose grief is seasoned with survivor’s guilt . . . and something more. J.C. has loved Maddie for years, but he never wanted his chance with her to come at so terrible a cost.

Across the country, Nicholas Sullivan wakes from a motorcycle crash with his memory wiped clean. Yet his dreams are haunted by visions of a mysterious woman and a young boy, neither of whom he has ever met. Convinced that these strangers hold the answers he seeks, Nicholas leaves everything behind to find them. What he discovers will require a leap of faith that will change all of their lives forever.

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