“Debut author Bobby Finger wields crisp, bright language in succinct, ample prose to reveal secrets deliberately hidden from the norms of social order. . . . poignant and memorable.”
Sixty-three-year-old Mary Alice Roth doesn’t know how to fill her days. Feeling wronged and slightly humiliated over her compulsory retirement as a high school teacher, she’s deeply invested in her local standing as a local Billington authority figure, though she’s unaware the community reputation she’s earned is equally divided between her abrasive personality, and sympathy for her tragic losses.
Thirty-something Josie Kerr is a fish out of water but intends to embrace it. Born and raised in Manhattan, she’s married to Travis, who grew up in an affluent family that owns a five-hundred-acre compound just north of Billington, Texas, a town “passersby didn’t really see until the fifth or sixth time they drove through it, a blip on a blip that existed mostly in retrospect.”
When news of the death of Travis Kerr’s father arrives, Josie and Travis put their Brooklyn apartment on the market and relocate with their young son to Billington, Texas. Josie’s “New York City friends couldn’t believe how happy she seemed in a town so small it didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.” The optimistic Josie looks on the bright side. “In Texas she had a house. And she had family nearby. She even got a job at a school where teachers never left unless they were forced out or dead.”
Mary Alice resents the existence of Josie, whom she considers the usurper of her school position, now that Josie is her replacement. Were it not for her best friend Ellie’s advice, the intimidating Mary Alice might get away with her repeated attempts at making Josie Kerr’s life miserable.
Ellie Hall is a divorcee who works in a nearby hospital. She has been Mary Alice’s friend for years since she and her son, Kenny, moved into the house next door. As single mothers with sons the same age who formed an immediate alliance, Ellie and Mary Alice enjoyed a strong friendship, until the common tragedy of each losing their son in the same timeframe set their close friendship adrift for 12 years, until Mary Alice reaches out to Ellie from the isolation of her retirement, and the two begin to reconnect over the habit of sharing morning coffee.
At “dark-thirty,” a knock comes to Mary Alice’s front door, and she opens it to discover a ghost from her past in the form of her sister, Katherine, who lives in Atlanta. Three years younger, the once close sisters haven’t spoken to each other since Katherine’s wedding decades before. It was a fight that caused their estrangement, and “Their lives had expanded in different directions, but when you followed the stories down to their roots, you’d find them joined in a million different ways.”
The attractive, well-to-do Katherine is there in person because Mary Alice doesn’t answer her texts, emails, or phone calls. Katherine tells Mary Alice she’s there on a mission “to fix your mess,” and demands she return with her to Atlanta.
When Katherine reveals the urgency of a call to action, the stunned Mary Alice knows the time has come to address what she’s taken great pains to hide from the Billington townspeople, with regard to what really happened to her son, Michael, who had a bond with Ellie’s son, Kenny, that was more than anyone knew. Wanting to forestall public knowledge of her duplicity, Mary Alice asks Katherine to wait with her for three days, until she’s on the other side of the annual Billington community picnic, of which she’s in charge.
For three days, the sisters revisit the tragedies of the past, which were centered on their family’s rural, multi-generational property known as The Old Place, which had been in their family since the early 19th century. “It was twenty minutes outside of town. Not east, toward Trevino, or north, toward the Hill Country, or west, toward Mexico, but south, toward nothing.” “Getting there required directions, not a map. . . . You felt the trip there as much as much as you saw it.”
Because it factored significantly as the setting of troubling stories involving both her husband and son, Mary Alice fears ever returning to The Old Place. In recalling a particular night in high school, when Katherine talked her into throwing a party at The Old Place while their parents were out of town, Mary Alice has reason to consider The Old Place unlucky grounds in her personal narrative. She considers that high school party “as the prologue of her life . . . the start of everything else. And all of it, absolutely all of it, was Katherine’s fault.”
Debut author Bobby Finger wields crisp, bright language in succinct, ample prose to reveal secrets deliberately hidden from the norms of social order. The backstories of intertwined, multiple characters are brought to a common light, thematically including fear of public opinion in a setting that sings the praise of small-town Texas. The characters are fully realized as each reconciles their part in the story. Their mindsets are understandable, and their dynamic creates a delightful arc of plausible cause and effect to immerse the reader in an experience that’s poignant and memorable.
Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.
Bobbie Jean Bell is an avid reader and stalwart champion of authors. In a conversational forum, she asks questions of her guests that delve down to the very essence of the writing process, and it was my great pleasure to be the guest of Bobbie and Jim Bell on their show, Rendezvous with a writer, which was simulcast on LA Talk Radio. I had a great time answer questions such as what constitutes a Southern Writer, which point of view I prefer to write in, and why, then reading two excerpts from my latest novel, Little Tea, which concerns life long female friendships, Southern culture, and healing the past, in the Deep South.
A little about the show, RENDEZVOUS WITH A WRITER
Hosts OutWest Shop’s Bobbi Jean Bell and Jim Bell chat LIVE with creators of the Written Word. Unscripted. Entertaining. Informative. Tune in to enjoy live conversation with our guest about their latest project and the creative process. The guest may be an author, poet, songwriter, screenwriter or blogger. Those that support the wordsmith are included too like literary agents, publicists, publishers, editors and more!
My gratitude to Bobbie Jean and Jim Bell for being so wonderful!
An uplifting, modern day love story written in au currant language that will delight romance readers and more. Author Carol Van Den Hende keeps the reader engaged throughout the story of twenty-seven-year-old Orchard Paige, a beauty industry marketer who hopes to land a job through her company that will give her the chance to work in China, the land of her deceased mother’s ancestry. Orchid perseveres in the face of her unhealed wounds concerning her parents’ tragic death, even as she intends to work with the attractive, Phoenix, who runs a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The author’s knowledge of marketing is informative and impressive, and her taut portrayal of the push and pull of attraction on the road to the eventual allowance of love will keep the reader rooting for Orchid’s happiness with page-turning, even-handed pacing. A heartwarming story full of hope and the promise of happy endings, Orchid Blooming will appeal to lovers of urban fiction and multi-cultural fiction.
A childhood tragedy followed her into adult life. Will she ever claim real happiness again?
Kind and generous, twenty-seven-year-old Orchid Paige will never forget that day. Living as best she can after witnessing her parents’ fatal accident, the beauty industry marketer yearns to win a promotion to China to connect to her mom’s ancestry. But with competition fierce, she despairs she’ll never make the grade… until she meets an encouraging man who makes her feel safe despite her usual distrust.
After Orchid convinces the handsome entrepreneur to let her gain experience at his nonprofit project, she’s determined to keep their relationship professional and ignore their powerful attraction. But when working on his military ad campaign for veterans triggers her own unresolved PTSD, she fears her confident mentor may be too good to be true even if she could trust him with her heart.
Can she conquer her vulnerabilities before she loses her chance at forever?
Orchid Blooming is the captivating first book in the Goodbye, Orchid women’s fiction series, and can be read as a standalone. If you like complex characters overcoming trauma, heart-warming stories, and compassionate connections, then you’ll adore award-winning author Carol Van Den Hende’s emotionally satisfying page-turner.
Carol Van Den Hende is the award-winning author of “Orchid Blooming” and “Goodbye, Orchid” which are inspired by wounded veterans and have won 20+ literary awards, including the American Fiction Award, IAN Outstanding Fiction First Novel Award, and 2020 Royal Dragonfly for Disability Awareness.
Buzzfeed, Parade, and Travel+Leisure named “heartwarming, heartbreaking” Goodbye, Orchid a most anticipated read. Glamour Magazine recommended this “modern, important take on the power of love.” The International Pulpwood Queens, selected Goodbye, Orchid as a 2022 Bonus Book-of-the-Month.
Carol’s mission is unlocking optimism as a writer, speaker, strategist, Board member and Climate Reality Leader. One secret to her good fortune? Her humorous husband and twins, who prove that love really does conquer all.
Q : Orchid Blooming follows your 2020, debut novel, Goodbye Orchid: To love Her, He Had to Leave Her. Can you tell us about the premise and continuation of the story?
A: Thanks for asking, Claire! For both books, I was inspired by people facing challenges. And honestly, who hasn’t faced difficulties in their life? Specifically, the story came to me after seeing a story in the news about a wounded veteran. However, the characters aren’t military people themselves. Rather, they work on military ad campaigns to help veterans.
Here’s the story. In Goodbye, Orchid, generous entrepreneur Phoenix Walker suffers an accident that changes him forever. When he wakes in the hospital, he’s thinking about the woman he loves, half-Asian Orchid Paige. He also remembers that she witnessed the death of her parents as a child, and is sensitive to images of trauma. Now that he’s become the very image of trauma, he has to decide – to love her, will he have to leave her without explaining why?
Orchid Blooming goes back in time to when this couple met. In this prequel, Orchid has worked hard to make a path for herself after being orphaned at the age of twelve. As an adult and successful executive in the beauty industry, she’s motivated to win a work assignment to China, to feel closer to her mother’s ancestry. However, competition is fierce and her best chance is to undertake nonprofit work with Phoenix. Except she must ignore their growing attraction and keep the relationship professional. Then, when they finally begin to admit their emotions, a secret threatens to implode all the trust they’ve built. One beta reader said that the secret “made my jaw drop!”
Q : In your September 2022 release, Orchid Blooming, Orchid Page, the 27-year-old main character, is a beauty industry marketer. What prepared you to write about her background in beauty marketing?
A : I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a long career as a brand marketer and strategist in the fun categories of chocolate, treats and snacks. During these 15+ years, I’ve named and launched new products, worked with amazing agencies on packaging design, been on set for advertising shoots, and so much more. I leaned on some of my favorite parts of these experiences, and also have friends who’ve worked in beauty.
Specifically, Orchid has the opportunity to work with an ad agency founder, and write what’s known as the “brief” for a new ad campaign. (The brief is just industry lingo for a document that lets the creative team know about the relevant target, insights, and benefits of the ad).
Beauty is a fitting industry for Orchid Paige because she comes into the story believing that the perfection of beauty and its curated images might protect her from negative experiences that could remind her of her traumatic past. As with character-driven novels, she’ll find the flaw in her misbelief.
Q : Orchid Blooming is both multicultural romance, and contemporary women’s fiction. Can you tell us how the story fits these genres?
Orchid Blooming has won awards for multicultural fiction and women’s fiction. People are often interested how the series fits these genres (as well as contemporary fiction!) First, the main character Orchid Paige is half-Asian and seeks to travel to China to feel closer to her mother’s memory. Secondly, the story is about her growth as she deals with traumatic events from her past. Ultimately, readers appreciate the hope and optimism in the book’s messages!
Q : Do you anticipate Orchid Blooming appealing to a particular reader demographic?
A: My Goodbye Orchid series appeals to book clubs, men and women, readers who enjoy multicultural characters, disability advocates, and wounded warriors, who inspired Phoenix and Orchid’s story.
Fans explain that they can relate to characters who’ve experienced difficulties in life, or they are readers who appreciate having their empathy deepened.
Q: In your book, you discuss post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What draws you to that subject?
A : Because Goodbye, Orchid was inspired by combat-wounded veterans, my research taught me about the challenges that they can face, including the physical and emotional journey to healing, the effects of PTSD, and sometimes, difficulty transitioning to a civilian career. Each book in this trilogy deals with an aspect of these challenges. My first novel, Goodbye, Orchid, describes Phoenix’s journey after a disabling accident, and was deeply researched with wounded veterans, medical professionals and psychologists.
Experts played a key role in my newest novel, Orchid Blooming, as well. SSGT Aaron Michael Grant read my entire manuscript and shared invaluable input based on his personal experience with PTSD. Clinical Director and trauma specialist Joe Dennis provided important perspective on healing trauma. They’re both thanked in my book acknowledgements, along with scores of others who’ve made this trilogy possible.
Speaking of trilogy, my third book is releasing in 2023. This book, titled Always Orchid, will touch on the difficulty veterans can face when demonstrating that their military skills are transferable to civilian jobs. Early readers have said “This story was captivating from beginning to end!”
Q : The character, Orchid Paige, is interested in connecting with her mother’s Chinese ancestry. What prepared you to write about this subject?
A : Like Orchid, I’m American born and ancestrally Chinese and likewise, I was intrigued how it’d feel to visit my parents’ home country. For more on this topic, please visit Claire Chao’s Remembering Shanghai blog in September, where I’ll be writing about that experience!
Q : . Can you tell us about your background in public speaking?
A : I’m an MBA, global brand marketer and digital strategist for Mars Incorporated, which has given me multiple opportunities to speak publicly.
When I joined the writing community, I was motivated to contribute by translating my experience into actionable knowledge for authors and publishers. For the last decade, I’ve taught foundational workshops on personal brand, visual identity and cover design, marketing strategies and mindset, among other topics at conferences like Writers’ Digest, Rutgers’ Writers Conference, RWA, IBPA and Novelists Inc. I’m proud when attendees provide testimonials like “Carol inspires me and fires me up every time!”
Writers can also find my advice in my Author Marketing Toolkit column at DIYMFA.
Q : You founded Azine Press, which is known for having social and environmental goals into its mission. What inspired you to create Azine Press?
I’m a purpose-driven leader who aims to inspire hope and empathy for people and planet. So when I decided to start a publishing company, it was important that it be registered as a B Corps, or benefits corporation. B Corps “envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good…which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.” This is consistent with my mission to share stories that encourage inclusivity and recognize humanity’s interconnectedness, while pushing the boundaries of why and how we do business.
What great questions, Claire, thanks so much for welcoming me here!
ORCHID BLOOMING HONORS ■ 2022 International Book Award Finalist: Women’s Fiction and Multicultural Fiction ■ 2022 Beach Book Festival General Fiction Honorable Mention ■ 2022 New York Book Festival General Fiction Honorable Mention ■ 2022 July International Impact Award Multicultural Fiction ■ 2022 Summer Outstanding Creator Awards Grand Prize Honorable Mention; 2nd Place Women’s Fiction, Multicultural, Romance, and Drama; 3rd Place Literary & Contemporary Fiction; Honorable Mention Best Couple ■ 2022 Hollywood Book Festival Honorable Mention General Fiction
This post is in celebration of the surprising connections made from years of being a writer. I have four books and one novella out in the world, and another–fingers crossed- hopefully, making its way through the labyrinthian path from my computer to bookstores, but that’s another subject!
I’m thinking about the countless, sung and unsung heroes with whom I’ve had the pleasure to align over the years. “Book people” are passionate people committed to staying the course of what can only be described as an incremental growth pattern fueled by perseverance and dedication to the love of reading and writing. I’ve found the two arenas are tightly woven. You simply cannot have one without the other. It’s a particular breed of cat who knows this, and they are the breed who derive great satisfaction and personal fulfillment in centering their days on the written word.
Writers, and, readers, and bloggers, and book promoters breathe the very life force into the existence of a writer. They are the stalwart citizens of the literary world who take a writer’s work and magnify it, launching it into a wider sphere by ripple effect, creating attenuation by virtue of the fact that they have an audience of like-minded fellows. My gratitude for these passionate people is endless. They understand the solitary creation of writing as an art, and their support is humbling, sustaining, and imperative.
It’s fair to say that authors spend just as much time promoting their books as they do writing them. On average, each of my books took two years to produce, and that’s about the same amount of time I’ve dedicated to book promotion. It takes time to get the word out that a book exists in the first place, and getting to readers is not something that happens overnight; it’s a process, a build that feels like an uphill climb with countless stops along the way. One cannot do it alone. It takes a village, and much is furthered when an author takes the time to compare notes with those who have gone before them.
Which brings me back to the connections worth celebrating made from being a writer. I will now combine a radio host, an author, and a particular outfit dedicated to championing the literary arts to illustrate a case in point:
Bobbie Jean Bell has enjoyed a long career as the co-host of The Writers Block show on LA Talk Radio, which you can access from their online website. It has been a high honor, over the years, for me to appear on the show three times. Sadly, Jim Christina, Bobbie Jean’s charismatic, one-of a kind co-host of many years, died this past year. With continued commitment and touching sensitivity, Bobbie Jean Bell took the show into her own hands in honor of Jim, and rebranded the show, Rendezvous with a Writer, which airs every Thursday night on LA Talk-Radio. https://www.latalkradio.com/content/rendezvous-writer
Johnnie Berhard is the author of four gorgeous novels. She currently lives in Mississippi, and maintains a strong rapport with her native Texas. Looking back now, I cannot recall how I first crossed paths with this extraordinary writer, but I can report I met her in person at The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas in 2020– or was it 2018? I think it was both, but I digress. Let’s just say the fruits of coming to know Johnnie Bernhard are endless. It has been my pleasure to feature Johnnie’s work here on my blogsite. In a minute, I’ll tell you how Johnnie fits into this, but while I’ve got you, look into Johnnie Here: http://johnniebernhardauthor.com/bio
The Catholic Literary Arts is an outfit that conducts itself in the highest manner. Their mission, as stated on their website ( https://www.catholicliteraryarts.org/) is this: “Catholic Literary Arts exists to provide a welcoming home for people of all faiths and goodwill to learn, to improve writing skills, to meet fellow writers and publishers, and to enjoy spiritual and intellectual formation in the great literary traditions of Western civilization.”
How the aforementioned entities collided with yours truly now delighted to be right in the middle is this: I had the pleasure of watching author Johnnie Bernhard teach a virtual class on the mechanics of writing fiction for The Catholic Literary Arts, and in later talking with her about the endless merits of such an important forum, Johnnie introduced me to Sarah Cortez, in the hope she and I would explore common ground. We did. Our common ground is this: Sarah Cortez is the president and founder of The Catholic Literary Arts, and I have much to say about the art of launching a book! Ms. Cortez took me seriously when I told her it would be my honor to teach a class for her noble organization. I am enthusiastic to report I will do just this on Tuesday, September 27th at 7:00 CST. Here is the link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/363439757097
And because Bobbie Jean Bell invited me to be a guest on Rendezvous with a Writer from 6:00PM to 6:50 PST on Thursday, September 15, to talk about books and writing, we will also be talking about my virtual class on Preparing to Launch a Book!
This is what I meant when I said I celebrate the surprising connections made from years of being a writer. The magical alchemy that results from staying the course is the gift that keeps on giving!
I hope you’ll join me on Rendezvous with a Writer on Thursday, September 15th ( link above) and that you’ll register for the class and tell your friends about my virtual class with The Catholic Literary Arts where I share all I know about preparing to launch a book!~
Having written 4 novels and one novella, I’ve devised a strategy in preparation for each book launch, and I’ll be a teaching an online class about it, for The Catholic Literary Arts on September 27th at 7 PM, Central Standard Time.
I’ll be talking about the steps to take in creating a solid foundation months before the release date of your book, and where to establish an online presence with strong connections that will support your efforts at book promotion, once your book is out in the world.
You’ve, no doubt, written a best seller; now it’s time for you to get ready to introduce your book to the world.
Because preparation for a book launch can be daunting, I will share the tried and true steps that can make it fun. I’ll be available for your questions in a question and answer forum at the end of the class, and I hope you join me!
Every March, I look forward to St. Patrick’s Day because it triggers the memory of when I lived on the west coast of Ireland. As an American with 48% Irish DNA, I felt right at home in Inverin, which is a small village in Connemara, 2.7. miles up the road from the village of Spiddal, the next significant town being Clifden, fifty miles or so up the same road.
I lived in Ireland for more than a year and loved every minute of it.. Connemara is a land separated into geometric prisms by grey-stone walls leading down to the rock encrusted shores of the Atlantic on one side of the coast road and bog-land that stretches out forever on the other. Alongside the novelty of discovering Ireland was a curious sense of familiarity that gave way to a sense of belonging. Between the time I arrived in Ireland and the time I left, I managed to ingratiate myself into the rhythm of a land that has more soul and character than any place I’d ever imagined.
Inverin really isn’t much more than a stretch of the coast road at the gateway to the Gaeltacht, which is an area on the west coast of Ireland where Irish is spoken as a first language. Inverin is moody, pastoral, a bit desolate, and those that reside there have deep generational ties. Inverin is 13 miles up the coast road from Galway City. Here are some photographs to give you an idea of Inverin’s atmosphere:
I lived within a short walk of this graveyard. It’s down a gravel road not far from The Centra, which, for all intent and purposes, is the lone gas station/grocery store in Inverin. I have a thing about graveyards that’s hard to explain. They speak to me of the significance of human existence–of love and life and history, with indelible, reverential resonance indicative of a region’s culture. Ireland takes its cemeteries seriously, and walking through an Irish graveyard has always given me an anchored sense of place. They are lonely, haunting, and beautiful, and what I love about the graveyard pictured above is that the headstones all face the sea.
Inverin was my home base, and during the week, I took the bus from Inverin into Galway, where I worked on New Road at the Galway Music Centre. Galway is a college town, which makes it feel youthful and vibrant. Here are some photographs that illustrate my point:
The Claddagh, Galway, a port for anglers on Galway Bay.
As a writer by nature, I walk through life with a running commentary in my head, and keep a journal. I took the experience of living in Ireland and used it as a basis to write a novel about a single American female who leaves the record business in Los Angeles and relocates to rural Ireland, where she meets an Irish traditional musician who won’t come closer nor completely go away. The novel is titled “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” I went out of my way not to patronize anything about Ireland, particularly its people. I wanted to refrain from bringing an American frame of reference to the book because I felt it had been done before and somehow cheated what I wanted to be the point of the story, which concerns the ambiguity of a budding love relationship, with its attendant excitement, hope and doubt. On the one hand, this story could have happened anywhere (I know of very few people who haven’t been thrown into confusion as they navigate the minefield of new found attraction) but because this story takes place in Ireland, I had the opportunity to highlight a setting in possession of unfathomable beauty, with a history of cultural nuances worth the singing of deep praise. In writing “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” I did what all novelists do: tell about how they find the world through the vehicle of one painstakingly crafted case in point story.
In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, there is a Goodreads Giveaway running until March 20 of Dancing to an Irish Reel.
And this will be fun, as well as unprecedented! On Sunday, March 14, I’ll have the immense pleasure of being a part of a Facebook, multiple book page St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I’ll be in conversation with Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan, at noon, Eastern Standard Time on the Facebook page, The Write Review. We plan to talk about Irish culture, the influence of Ireland on our writing, and whatever else comes to mind. I hope to see you there! You can find all the book pages involved in this celebration on the graphic below, so if you’re on Facebook, simply go to the book pages to join in the fun!
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All hail The Pulpwood Queens, the largest book club in the world! The International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club is more than its 800 book club chapters, it’s a literary culture populated by avid readers and enthusiastic authors who fraternize under the Pulpwood Queens literary umbrella to share the love of books!
In existence for more than twenty years, The Pulpwood Queens hold an annual, book club conference experienced more like a party. Featured authors and attendees dress up in the Pulpwood Queens’ signature leopard print and tiaras for three days, in what becomes the ultimate meet and greet between authors and readers. Featured authors are panel guests in the most unique forum imaginable. Nothing staid and stuffy about the proceedings, rather, the panels are conducted as a celebration, where authors share more than the synopsis of the books they’ve written– they tell their background story: where they’re from, their writing process, and what inspired them to embark upon the craft of writing in the first place.
Since a picture tells a thousand words, here are some photographs from the Pulpwood Queens previous, annual event billed as Girlfriend Weekend:
This past Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend was different. What made the January 14-17th’s Girlfriend Weekend unique was that it was a Zoomathon fueled by the power of its good intention! Hundreds of us fretted over a possible Girlfriend Weekend cancellation due to Covid restrictions, but Kathy L. Murphy, the Pulpwood Queen herself, the visionary mastermind and rallying point of the largest book club in the world fit the needs to the moment and conducted the entire weekend on line! It was billed as The Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy’s Reading Nation Slumber Party, and its aim was all about connections. Authors met readers, readers watched authors introduce themselves and their books, panel discussions were followed by keynote speakers, a popular audiobook narrator with a gorgeous British accent read excerpts from featured books and there was great audience participation! You can see a little about it here:
Here are highlights from the Pulpwood Queens January 14-17 Zoomathon:
I had the immense pleasure of being a part of the Pulpwood Queens’s Virtual Weekend by interviewing illustrious literary agent, Marly Rusoff, who shed light on the mysteries of the publishing world, past, present and future. Marly was fascinating, and we all were honored by her presence!
All told, the 2021 Pulpwood Queens Book Club Zoomathon was a rollicking success and an enthralling series of firsts, in that it essentially set the standard of excellence for online, book-related events!
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Now that my book, ‘’Dancing to Irish Reel” is out, I’m being asked the inevitable question, “How much of the story is true?” Everyone who knows me personally knows I picked up and moved to the west coast of Ireland without much of a plan, and that I stayed for a year. Add that to the fact that the book is written in the first person, that the narrator’s interior monologues in the story are unabashedly confessional to the point of unnecessary risk. I’ve been told the book reads like a memoir, and for that, I can only say I’m glad because this was my intention. I can see why readers might think the entire story is true.
But writers make a choice in how to lay out a story, and in my case, I wrote the book based on the kind of books I like to read. I’m a one-trick pony kind of a reader. I want an intimate narrator’s voice with which I can connect. I want to know exactly whom I’m listening to, so that I can align with a premise that makes the story’s swinging pendulum of cause and effect plausible. The way I see it, there are always bread crumbs along the path to the chaotic predicaments people find themselves in, and although many are blind to their own contributions, when I read a book, I want to be the one who divines how the character got there.
What fascinates me about people are their backstories. Oh, people will tell you their highlights, but they rarely reveal their churning cauldron of attendant emotions; they rarely confess to carrying acquired fears. We all want to appear bigger than our own confusion, and the key word here is “appear,” because when it comes to faces, most people like to save theirs. This is the point I wanted to make in the story, but I also wanted “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” to be about discovery, so I started with a narrator who is a fish out of water: a twenty-five year old American ensconced in a specific culture she uncovers like the dance of seven veils. In the midst of this there enters an Irish traditional musician named Liam Hennessey. He is from the region, of the region, and therefore it can only be said he is because of the region in a way that is emblematic. From a writer’s point of view, the supposition offers the gift of built-in conflict, most poignantly being the clash of the male-female dynamic set upon the stage of differing cultures trying to find a bridge. And I can think of no better culture clash than America and Ireland. I say this because I happen to know to the Irish, we Americans are a bit brazen, that we have the annoying habit of being direct. But the Irish are a discreet lot, culled from a set of delicate social manners that seem to dance around everything, leaving an American such as me with much guesswork.
No matter how they shake it, writers write about what they know, even if it has to be extracted from varying quadrants that have no good reason for being congealed. “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is a good example of this: it came to me as a strategy for commenting on the complexities of human beings inherent longing to connect—the way we do and say things that are at variance with how we really feel, in the interest of appearances, and how this quandary sometimes dictates how we handle opportunities in life. In my opinion, there is no better playing field on which to illustrate this point than the arena of new found attraction. I’m convinced the ambiguity of new love is a universal experience, and since the universe is a big wide place, and since ‘”Dancing to an Irish Reel” has something to say about hope and fear and the uncertainty of attraction, it occurred to me that I might as well make my point set upon the verdant fields of Ireland because everything about the land fascinated me when I lived there, and I wanted to take any reader that would have me to the region I experienced as cacophonous and proud: that mysterious, constant, quirky, soul-infused island that lays in the middle of the Atlantic, covered in a blanket of green, misty velvet.
Excerpt from “Dancing to an Irish Reel”
The distance between Inverin and Clifden is approximately sixty kilometers. It’s a visually inspiring hour-long ride through undulating midlands with grass as soft as velvet, gray stone walls that split the landscape, and bubbling intermittent streams as you glide along a two-lane road that cuts through a terrain devoid of street markers, stop signs, or any other indication the area has been previously trodden. There is little suggestion of civilization anywhere in sight and it is a quiet, unobstructed journey through the heart of Connemara with nothing in store, save for the destination of Clifden.
Driving into Clifden, one is abruptly thrust into the center of a thriving village that hosts an annual, three-day music festival wherein every pub door is invitingly open with signs outside announcing which Irish traditional musicians will be playing within the standing-room-only venues. A rudimentary chalkboard sat on the sidewalk outside of Mannion’s Pub with “Welcome Liam Hennessey” sprawled across in large, eye-catching cursive.
I followed Liam into the middle of a waiting crowd, which parted ceremoniously as he made his way to the old man seated against the wall across from the bar. Wind-tossed and toothless, the man sat on a battered wooden chair, tuning a fiddle and nodding his greeting while Liam opened his accordion case and settled in beside him. When a flute player joined them, the crowd fell into an anticipatory hush, ready for the music to begin. I stationed myself in front of the bar, minding my own business, but that soon became short-lived.
“Are you here with Liam?” asked a middle-aged man who was standing too close to me.
“Yes.” I took a step back.
“She’s here with Liam,” the man announced, turning to the man beside him.
“Ah,” the second man gasped, “she is, so!”
“Where did you get that blond hair on your head?” The first man eyed me.
“I brought it with me from America,” I said.
“She’s from America!” The man turned to the other man, his eyes opened wide.
“America indeed!” The second man drew in his breath.
“All I want in the world is for me brother to come in and see me standing here talking to you,” said the first man. “I wouldn’t care if a pooka came for me after that. Will you have a pint? Get her a pint, Tom,” he directed.
“Tom, make that a half-pint,” I said, trying not to laugh. I looked over at an obviously amused Liam, who smiled and winked as if to say he knew what was happening.
I looked toward the door and noticed an unusually small woman walking in with what appeared to be members of her family due to their similarity in stature. I’d met her in Galway before: she was a musician named Deanna Rader who played guitar and sang anything from Irish traditional music to her own compositions. I’d heard her sing in her low, husky voice a few times before, and because she was a friend of Declan’s, I’d exchanged pleasantries with her a few times as well. From the looks of things, she was in Mannion’s with her father and two sisters. She came smiling to my side instantly.
“Well then, you’ve made your way out here now, have you?” She looked up at me.
“I came here with Liam,” I said, grateful to know someone in the crowd.
“I knew you must have. So, it’s the two of you now, is it?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d put it that way,” I said, diverting the implication. I couldn’t recall if I’d seen Deanna while I was out with Liam, or if she asked this because she’d heard people talking.
“You’re a long way from home yourself,” I said. “Is this festival a big deal?”
“Oh God, yes. People look forward every year. Luckily my parents live in Letterfrack, just up the road. I’ve been spending the last couple of nights with them. We’ve all come ’round tonight for the craic.”
“Well, it’s nice to know someone here,” I said.
“My sister came out to sing tonight. Would you mind asking Liam if she could give us a song?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll ask him when they take a break.”
“They probably won’t do that, so you’d be waiting for ages,” Deanna said. “You’ll just have to lean over and ask, like.”
“When?” I asked.
“How about now?” she said.
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” she smiled sweetly.
I looked over at the musicians, who were in full swing. There was no way I was going to butt in, even though Deanna kept standing there looking up at me expectantly. Just then, a man at the bar stepped forward enthusiastically. He leaned into the musicians circle, grabbed Liam by the arm, and shouted loudly, “The young lady here wants to give us a song.” With that, the music came to a screeching halt, and a whirlwind of preparation commenced. Liam leaned over and whispered to the two musicians beside him, instruments were set down, a microphone was raised, a path spontaneously cleared, and into the arena stepped Deanna’s sister. It was like the infamous scene of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.
There was a hush in the room as all eyes riveted upon the girl. She stood all of five foot two, but within that minuscule framework there was a lot going on: thick, raven hair fell in loose waves across her forehead and down her back. Large green oval eyes slanted and squinted catlike beneath thick, dark lashes. Turn by turn, her eyes focused and held one man in the room after another. She stood with her right hand on her hip and her voluptuous weight shifted to the left. With great histrionics, she crooned out a song in the Irish language I’d never heard before.
When she finally stopped, she sashayed over to Liam, totally aware everybody was watching. With grand theatrics, she threw both her arms around his neck and kissed him square on the mouth, nearly knocking him over with her forward advance. All hands in the room clapped loudly, wolf whistles erupted, and a few eyes turned my way.
“I imagine you’d have something to say about this passionate display,” said Deanna’s father, who had materialized beside me.
“Not really,” I said. “Do you?”
“You have to watch that one is all. She’ll be the death of me one day, he said, cocking his head toward her.
“I hope not,” I said.
“No harm done then?”
“No harm at all,” I said.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is available where books are sold!
Some say your novel The Shores Of Our Souls is a romance. Do you consider it such? What genre did you intend it to fall under when you wrote it?
I believe my novel falls on a literary fiction shelf, or an upmarket women’s fiction shelf. I wrote it to open a conversation, so it’s great for book clubs. It’s cross-genre for sure, if you’re trying to label it. It’s about war, love, and international intrigue. It’s a bildungsroman for the female character, and parts of it are historical fiction.
What do reviewers miss about your novel?
My novel is a love story, not a romance in the strict sense of the genre. It’s about why and how we love. It differs from many other love stories in that it’s told from two points of view. It was a risk on my part, but I did it to give my readers a better understanding of Arab culture, religion, experience, and values. That’s what drives any relationship – perspective and values.
It also doesn’t fall into a traditional romance trope of “Happily Ever After.” Instead, it shows what two people, damaged and alone, can do to heal and catalyze each other if they share love, even if it’s short-lived. I don’t like tied-up-with-a-bow finales, although readers who want one may like my sequel better. My sequel A Thousand Flying Things opens a decade later, and my my protagonists Dianna and Qasim have had time and space to heal inside, come into their own, before they reunite again. We’ll see if their love survives the separation. (Hint: There are some surprises that even Dianna doesn’t know about in their decade of separation.)
Call it what you will, love conquers all, especially division. It can also lead to mutual understanding. The connection and empathy it evokes can resolve conflict. Every conflict we face teaches us about each other and the world we live in, but only if we feel enough compassion for others to walk in their shoes. Rarely, love leads to a lifetime partnership. Often, it teaches us who we are.
If there was one thing you’d like to tell your readers about Shores, what would it be?
If people read only the first few scenes, they won’t understand that these two characters have been broken. They want to love, but societal wounds have rendered them incapable of it until they heal. Damaged people don’t make the best decisions. If readers stay with the story, they will watch both characters heal, and heal each other. And as they heal themselves, they widen their hearts.
If they read on, they’ll discover the potential of love to heal and transform. Yet before that point, they’ll also see how secrets lead to distrust, cause love to recede and characters (and real relationships) to backtrack. Miscommunication leads to misunderstanding, but the love endures. And it’s the love that keeps both characters moving on their Life Paths.
What themes and questions did you want to explore in your series?
Love conquers all.
How to love during conflict, be it a marital separation or a world war. (A lot of my coaching practice is about resolving conflict.)
How parental love, familial love, friendship love differ from romantic love.
And the questions I pose:
Do we choose who we love, or does love choose us?
Can we love all those who injure us? Can we forgive?
How does fleeting love change us? Catalyze us?
Can unconditional love awaken us to who we really are and thus empower us?
How did you write from a male POV so vividly?
I wrote Qasim’s POV as backstory first, to better understand him. Then my beta readers fell in love with him.
I realize it’s controversial to write in a POV different from one’s own these days. Yet I think it’s what writers do, put themselves in a situation or a point of view to better understand it, and to show others how to understand. I was trained as a child and as a writing student to put myself in another’s shoes. I may make mistakes, but I tried to portray every character authentically, and especially Qasim, as a full, complex character, who has successes and makes mistakes. Just like we all do, if we are alive.
Yet I didn’t find his voice in a vacuum. I’ve lived and worked in Africa and traveled through the Middle East. And most importantly, I had a relationship with a Middle Eastern man long ago, although the true story, the true human I loved, is nothing like Qasim and his story. Yet that person created a launching place for voice and story.
Do you consider Dianna a strong protagonist, a strong female role model?
Absolutely, although she’s young, naive and head-strong in the first novel. She’s left home and family to go seek a career in order to send money home. She hasn’t rented a brownstone with a bunch of friends and partied every night. She’s on her own. She’s striding forth in a male-dominated world and work force, and she holds her own. She holds her own when Qasim patronizes her. And I believe she evolves into a self-empowered hero, someone who paved the way for the women who came after her.
She, like Qasim, is a woman of her time. Women were just coming into their own. The employment rate for women rose from 38 percent in 1960, to 43 percent in 1970, to 52 percent in 1980, and finally reached 60 percent by 2000. Yet these stats don’t say where the women worked, or their entry annual salaries (mine was $10,600 before taxes), or the challenges they met in the workplace, or how much they earned to a man’s dollar. In 1980, women had a career map, maybe even a role model, but they faced a lot of hurdles. I asked for a raise after two years on the job, and my boss told me that the raise had to go to the man because “his wife had just had a baby.”
I’ve heard readers ask about an audible edition of both your novels? Are those forthcoming?
A strong maybe. Stay tuned.
Your book is full of visual and sensory imagery. Is that how you usually write a scene?
I start with a memory, an interesting person from my life or from history, and a question I want to figure out myself. Then I close my eyes and a story plays out in front of my eyes like a movie. I used to think that most people wrote that way.
And how do you write? Do you ever use an outline?
I write most scenes with incredible speed. Most of my language and voice comes from that very first draft, even if it does have a bad plot.
Then I outline.
Then I make sure I’ve written and approve of my beginning, middle, and end, that both the narrative and character arcs are solid.
Then I revise to the middle, then to the end.
And then revise until someone tells me I have to stop.
How much research did you do for your novels? How much comes from your life experience?
I’m including an informal bibliography in my next novel, because I’ve received this question a lot. I was a researcher for five years for National Geographic, so deep research is part of me. Also, I have a personality like a scientist’s, in that I’m incredibly curious and want to get the heart of things, to as near “truth” as I can. Shores is well-researched. I can provide a bibilography to anyone who requests it. Just sign up for my newsletter at https://shoresofoursouls.com, and I’ll send you a complete bibliography.
Yet I didn’t find the The Shores Of Our Souls story in a library. I was a humanitarian worker for nearly two decades, with a work focus in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. I spent this time meeting and interviewing immigrants, displaced people, people in war, both civilian and military. I was an international humanitarian law instructor for the Red Cross (ie, Geneva Conventions). I witnessed these people’s life stories and I shared them with the world. I’ve spent time in Beirut, the last time in 2006, six weeks before the last war, with bombing raids already happening up the coast.
So that’s why you chose to write about Lebanon?
Not entirely. My initial protagonist hailed from Alexandria, Egypt. Every country in the world has its unique sensibilities, though. Egypt is completely different than Lebanon. Qasim fit in Lebanon, not Egypt. By the way, the man I dated was not Lebanese. But Qasim just had to be.
Do you have a favorite line in Shores?
The lines most readers love just came to me one day. “We often lose ourselves in love. Rarely do we find ourselves there. Never do we see it coming.” They open the novel.
But my favorite lines are at the book’s end. They’re an homage to E.M. Forster’s A Passage To India. The last lines of all my novels in this series will be a tribute to him. He was one of the first to write about the divide between East and West. I also added a falling feather in the scene because my BFF Laura Schmidt, an amazing writer with an amazing life, passed when I was writing the first draft of this novel. She sends me blue feathers as signs that she’s still with me, and she whispers inspiration in my ear on a regular basis.
Who are your favorite authors? Your favorite children’s authors?
My all-time favorite book is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
My all-time favorite books on writing are by Eudora Welty: One Writer’s Beginnings and The Eye of the Story.
I’m an avid reader of fairy tales and myths from all over the world, and my very first book was The Three Little Horses, by Piet Worm, given to me by a neighbor when I was 2 years old. I knew I’d found the man I would marry when he introduced himself as a modern-day Druid, and told me he loved Tolkien.
I also loved C.S. Lewis’ The Narnia Chronicles, and E. L. Konigsberg’s The Crazy Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler changed my life – made me want to write about the world, cultures, history, and how my world related to it all. And it made me start running away from home, much to my mother’s chagrin.
My favorite contemporary authors are Isabelle Allende, Alice Hoffman, and Barbara Kingsolver.
But I almost always fall in love with any book that gets me past the second chapter with its voice and craft. Once I’m immersed in story, it’s tough for me to come out again.
What’s next for author Kathryn Brown Ramsperger?
The sequel to Shores, called A Thousand Flying Things, will be published next year. I’m working on the book cover right now. Then I hope to publish a memoir about adoption, teen suicide, and the mother-daughter bond. I have many books that are still works in progress, including a weird funny memoir on death.
I also host a Facebook Live called Story Hour most every Thursday @ 4 pm EDT on my Facebook Author page, with replays available on You Tube. I also am an intuitive coach at Ground One LLC, and a book coach with my own process. Most of my writing clients are memoirists. My method is called Step Into Your Story! (TM)
I love speaking anywhere, online or off, about story, the writing craft, global citizenship and peace.
Author Bio: Kathryn Ramsperger’s literary voice is rooted in the Southern tradition of storytelling and is informed by her South Carolina lineage. She began her career writing for The Roanoke Times and The Gazette newspapers and later managed publications for the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Switzerland. She has contributed articles to National Geographic and Kiplinger magazines.
Writing from a global perspective, her themes are universal yet intensely personal and authentic.
A graduate of Hollins University (Roanoke, Va.), Kathryn studied under several esteemed writers including—Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Eudora Welty; her mentor Richard Henry Wilde Dillard and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor. She holds a graduate degree from George Washington University.
Winner of the Hollins University Fiction Award, Kathryn is also a finalist in novel, novel-in-progress, short story, and poetry categories in the Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition. The Shores of Our Souls won the 2017 Foreword Indies award for multicultural fiction and also won an America’s Best Book Award.
Kathryn is a mezzo-soprano, has dined with artists ranging from author Marita Golden to musician and writer Kinky Friedman, and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica and Australia. She’s worked in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. She currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two children.