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A Conversation With
THE OTHER LIFE
Carrie: After The Smart One and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, THE OTHER LIFE is a real departure for you. What inspired it?
Ellen: I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of escape. I guess that’s part of the job description for a fiction writer. I was thinking about that one day after my husband left for work and the children left for school. There I was, all by myself, waiting impatiently for my computer to boot up so I could lose myself in the world I had created, when I began to wonder what might happen if a wife and mother could use those magical hours alone to escape in a more literal sense. At once, I had the image of a portal right smack in the middle of the most domestic setting…an opening that would let the woman cross over to the life she would have had if she had chosen a very different path. The more I thought about this idea, the more excited I got. As details about my main character and her two lives emerged, a story began to form. But it wasn’t until it occurred to me that my protagonist’s mother was dead in one life and alive in the other that I knew I had a book.
Carrie: THE OTHER LIFE is about returning to the road not taken and exploring the life unlived. Have you ever longed to see what happened on the other road?
Ellen: Haven’t we all? I think that’s human nature, especially in times of extreme stress. We play the “if only” game, imagining what might have been. What if I hadn’t gotten married? What if we hadn’t bought this house? What if we never had a child? What if I had been there to prevent that accident/suicide/awful mistake? Of course, it’s easy to condemn this line of thinking as counterproductive, but I believe it’s a coping mechanism. There’s only so much grief and anxiety our minds can hold before we need a mental vacation.
Carrie: In this story Nan makes the ultimate sacrifice for a child, in this case her daughter, Quinn, and her grandchildren. Do you think that kind of love is instinctual or learned?
Ellen: I think we’re hardwired to make sacrifices for our children. It’s the basest human instinct, and it gets switched on like a spotlight when we have our first child. I guess scientists can explain the chemistry of it, but from a personal perspective, falling in love with my first child was the most dramatically transformative moment of my life. I was flooded with something that seemed to alter my DNA, restructuring every cell. I was no longer just Ellen, I was Max’s mom, and I knew from that moment on every decision I made in life would be informed by that simple fact.
Carrie: With Nan and Quinn, you brilliantly capture the mother-daughter relationship and the bond that hovers between boundless love and bruising tension. Did you draw from personal experience?
Ellen: Thanks for that compliment! I can honestly say that my own even-tempered mother is nothing like Nan, but I’ve always been fascinated by the wrenching emotional turmoil of family relationships. I’m not sure there’s anything more interesting—or more human—than the ways in which we are tested by love.
Carrie: As her daughter straddles parallel universes, Nan wonders whether having an escape route will help Quinn manage life’s difficulties with more grace, or instead taunt her with a decision no one should ever have to make. Is it a blessing or a curse…or something else?
Ellen: I love this question, because I think it gets to the heart of the book, and I hope readers will explore this issue themselves. What if their life included a portal to what might have been? Would they welcome the possibility to cross from one life to another? Or do they think they would be tortured by the endlessness of the choices they could make?
Carrie: In musing about her mother, Quinn observes: “Sometimes we don’t just simply grow and change. Sometimes life is so harsh and so dark, a part of us gets excised completely, leaving us permanently altered.” It happened to Nan, but what is it about Quinn that keeps her from the same fate?
Ellen: Quinn lives very much outside of herself. She’s introspective, sure, but she’s a giver and feels like her place in the world (or, in her case, worlds) is to take care of others. She’s so acutely aware of being needed that it’s very nearly impossible for her to make the kind of choice her mother did in her darkest hour. To Quinn, suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness.
Carrie: THE OTHER LIFE probes the choices we make in life. Do you think there’s a way to avoid the second-guessing that often accompanies them?
Ellen: No, and I don’t think we should. That constant reexamination of our motives and choices is how we learn and grow. It’s like what Socrates said about the unexamined life.
Carrie: Grief comes in many forms in this novel. Are there lessons here for those stuck in grief?
Ellen: Grief is such a bear and so very personal. So I don’t know if there are any lessons here, but perhaps some comfort in taking the journey with someone finding her way through it.
Carrie: THE OTHER LIFE has been called “the thinking woman’s beach read” (NY Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson), making it perfect for a book club selection. What feedback do you get from book clubs?
Ellen: From my experience, book clubs enjoy novels with fresh writing, complex characters and enough emotional resonance to leave readers with questions that feel very personal. Naturally, I hope THE OTHER LIFE is all those things … and I’m thrilled that the early feedback I’m getting from beta readers suggests that it is!
Carrie: What genres (or authors) do you like to read? Why?
Ellen: I don’t limit myself to any particular genre, but I’m definitely drawn to character-driven stories that take a hard look at human relationships. So a survey of my book shelf would probably reveal more literary and women’s fiction than anything else.
Carrie: Modern women yearn for balance between work and family. As a writer and mother of three, do you have any advice for them?
Ellen: For me, it’s a matter of priorities that boils down to a simple equation: Family = first; Work = second; Housework = dead last.
Click HERE to listen to Ellen’s NPR interview
To enter to win a free copy of THE OTHER LIFE:
Leave a Comment below about the “other life” you’ve always wondered about
U.S. & Canada residents only; No P.O. Boxes, please
Deadline: May 15th, 2011 ~ Midnight, EST
Easy on the Eyes (from Jane’s Website)
At 38, Tiana Tomlinson has made it. America adores her as one of the anchors of America Tonight, a top-rated nightly entertainment and news program. But even with the trappings that come with her elite lifestyle, she feels empty. Tiana desperately misses her late husband Keith, who died several years before. And in a business that thrives on youth, Tiana is getting the message that her age is starting to show and certain measures must be taken if she wants to remain in the spotlight. It doesn’t help that at every turn she has to deal with her adversary—the devilishly handsome, plastic surgeon to the stars, Michael O’Sullivan. But a trip away from the Hollywood madness has consequences that could affect the rest of her life.
About Jane (from Jane’s Website)
Born in Visalia, California, I’m a small town girl at heart. I love central California’s golden foothills, oak trees, and the miles of farmland. In my mind, there’s nothing sweeter in the world than the heady fragrance of orange blossoms on a sultry summer night. As a little girl I spent hours on my bed, staring out the window, dreaming of far off places, fearless knights, and happy-ever-after endings. In my imagination I was never the geeky bookworm with the thick coke-bottle glasses, but a princess, a magical fairy, a Joan-of-Arc crusader. My parents fed my imagination by taking our family to Europe for a year when I was thirteen. The year away changed me (I wasn’t a geek for once!) and overseas I discovered a huge and wonderful world with different cultures and customs. I loved everything about Europe, but felt especially passionate about Italy and those gorgeous Italian men (no wonder my very first Presents hero was Italian). I confess, after that incredible year in Europe, the travel bug bit, and bit hard. I spent much of my high school and college years abroad, studying in South Africa, Japan and Ireland. South Africa remains a country of my heart, the people, the land and politics complex and heart-wrenching. After my years of traveling and studying I had to settle down and earn a living. With my Bachelors degree from UCLA in American Studies, a program that combines American literature and American history, I’ve worked in sales and marketing, as well as a director of a non-profit foundation. Later I earned my Masters in Writing from the University of San Francisco and taught jr. high and high school English. I now live in rugged Seattle, Washington with my two young sons. I never mind a rainy day, either, because that’s when I sit at my desk and write stories about far-away places, fascinating people, and most importantly of all, love. I like a story with a happy ending. We all do.
A bit about N.M. (“Nicole”) Kelly:
N.M. Kelby is the author of Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill, Whale Season, In the Company of Angels, and Theater of the Stars. Named “Outstanding Southern Artist” by The Southern Arts Federation, her work has been translated into several languages and offered by The Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Quality Paperback Book Club. Nicole is working on the film version of Whale Season along with Actor/Singer Dwight Yoakam.
Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill:
Laguna Key is a typical South Florida beachfront retirement community, mired in a swamp. It has everything you need including vultures, bats, the rumor of a resident Skunk Ape, and an authentic tiki bar with a Barry Manilow tribute artist. But, unfortunately, no golf. When a body is found in the dumpster near the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill, the town’s secrets start to unravel. Who’s the killer? Is it Whit, Laguna Key’s loopy millionaire developer? The righteous, yet befuddled, president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce? Or the saxophone-playing stranger who lurks in the mangrove swamp? Helping to solve the mystery are a quartet of unlikely investigators: the community’s only cop, a beach boy (on many levels of the term) who flunked out of the F.B.I.; MacBeth’s last living relative, a charismatic kilt-wearing clown who runs the Rose and Puppet Circus; the Developer’s beautiful daughter, left blind after a scuba accident; and the glamorous owner of the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill, “The Queen of Scream,” who once starred in a string of horror films. As they hunt for the killer, they have their own misadventures, including run-ins with the law, thwarted kidnappings, and stirrings of love.
Quick & Wordy? Yeah, right…sometimes the best intentions turn out differently from our initial expectations—that’s why I try hard not to have too many—expectations, that is. After I recorded the “Quick & Wordy” intro, I started speaking with Nicole and I wasn’t about to cut her off, based on some pre-conceived time limit ~ She’s lovely and so eager to share about the writing craft and her life, so sit back and enjoy.
The book was inspired by a number of nameless homeless men who were found murdered in Sarasota and “no one seemed to care,” according to Nicole. She Googled “Homeless Guy” and suggests checking out Kevin Barbieux’s blog site, The Homeless Guy—He chronicles homelessness in America.
- “I think that life can be a morbid adventure and we all need to be reminded to laugh and take a moment to look at the beauty that is around us.”
- “Being mentored saved my life,”…listen in to find out how Nicole turned pain positive.
- “What a gracious man,” Nicole says of Carl Hiaasen. She says what she learned from this writing mentor was “It’s not just about the craft, but how to live in the craft.”
- “Everything I write, I write with a broken heart,” says Nicole referring to the death of her daughter Hannah. “It’s [writing] hysterical, but it has weight to it.”
- “I think when you write a book you begin a conversation with the world…and you just can’t walk out,” says Nicole about her relationship with her readers.
Don’t be held hostage to your computer ~ subscribe on iTunes to get Words To Mouth delivered to your computer for free, then download to your preferred MP3 player & listen wherever and whenever you want ~ See link above my photo.
I’ve got one more copy of Murder at The Bad Girl’s Bar & Grill ~ Leave a comment below or call 206–309–7318 and leave a voice mail message to be entered to win!
As always, “Thanks” to Natalie Brown for her song You Gotta Believe from the Podsafe Music Network.
Janelle Brown is author of ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS EVERYTHING and an essayist and journalist. Her writing appears regularly in Vogue, The New York Times, Elle, Wired, Self, The Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. Previously, she spent five years as a senior writer at Salon, covering a diverse range of subjects — from Internet culture to the war on drugs, pop culture to style, public policy issues and the digital music movement– and began her career as a staff writer at Wired, working on seminal Web sites like HotWired and Wired News during the heydey of the dotcom boom. In the 1990’s, she was also the editor and co-founder of Maxi, an irreverent (and now, long-gone) women’s pop culture magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, filmmaker Greg Harrison, and their very spoiled dog, Guster.**
ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS EVERYTHING**
Set amid the country club gossip and rampant affluenza of Silicon Valley’s nouveau riche, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a smart, acerbic comedy chronicling one eventful summer when the lives of the Miller family are turned upside-down.
After his pharmaceutical company’s explosive IPO, Paul Miller leaves his wife Janice for her tennis partner, attempting to cut her out of nearly a half-billion dollars. Eldest daughter Margaret is on the run from her creditors after her fledgling post-feminist magazine Snatch implodes; and neglected Lizzie, a naïve teen enjoying a newfound popularity with boys at school, discovers that she’s actually become the school slut. The three Miller women retreat behind the walls of their Georgian colonial to wage battle with divorce lawyers, debt collectors, drug-dealing pool boys, mean girls, country club ladies, evangelical neighbors, their own demons, and each other.
“My second grade teacher was right.”*
The six word memoir book Janelle mentions:
Not Quite What I was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure collects almost 1,000 six-word memoirs, including additions from many celebrities including Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Dave Eggers, Richard Ford, Deepak Chopra, Moby, and more. A New York Times bestseller and subject of hundreds of stories from The New Yorker to NPR and hailed as “American haiku,” SMITH’s book of six-word memoirs is both a moving peek at the minutia of humanity and the most inspirational toilet reading you’ll ever find.
I especially appreciated Janelle’s openness and honesty in sharing with us what at one time she saw as a mistake, but what ultimately turned out to be a silver-lined cloud. Check out her website at www.JanelleBrown.com
To win a copy of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, leave a comment below, post a review on iTunes, and/or call 206-309-7318 and leave a voice mail message I can play on-air.
Click the arrow below to listen or better yet, subscribe on iTunes…
Take good care until next time.
Thanks to Natali Brown for You’ve Gotta Believe from the Podsafe Music Network
**Adapted from Brown’s website
A bit about N.M. Kelby:
Nicole M. Kelby is the author of Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill (Shaye Areheart/ Random House), Whale Season (Shaye Areheart/ Random House), In the Company of Angels (Theia/Hyperion), and Theater of the Stars (Theia/Hyperion). Named “Outstanding Southern Artist” by The Southern Arts Federation, her work has been translated into several languages and offered by The Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Quality Paperback Book Club.Her short stories have appeared in many publications including One Story, Zoetrope ASE, and the audio magazine Verb. Her story “Jubilation, Florida” was selected for National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts, and later recorded by actress Joanne Woodward for the NPR CD Travel Tales, and included in New Stories from the South: Best of 2006 (Algonquin Books). Kelby is working on the film version of Whale Season along with Actor/Singer Dwight Yoakam. She is the recipient of a Bush Artist Fellowship in Literature, an NEA Inter-Arts grant, the Heekin Group Foundation’s James Fellowship for the Novel, both a Florida and Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in fiction, two Jerome Travel Study Grants, and a Jewish Arts Endowment Fellowship.
Carrie: What inspired you to write this book?
N.M.: I think that life can be a morbid adventure and we all need to be reminded to laugh and take a moment to look at the beauty that is around us. I like to say that I write wildly poetic prose for people who are still willing to believe in joy.
Carrie: Tell us about Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill without giving too much away.
Hey WTM Friends!
I’m extending an invitation to anyone interested in being a guest book reviewer here at Words To Mouth.
If you are a book review blogger and would like to share one of your latest takes on a new release OR if you just love reading and would love to share your impressions, but don’t have the time or inclination to start your own blog…Do I have a deal for you?!
I’m inviting you to submit your new book release review for consideration. It doesn’t have to be a highly professional piece, so please check any intimidation at the door. This will just be a place for you to share your impressions and have fun.
There aren’t a bunch of submission guidelines, except these few paramaters:
- The book must be a new release
- Keep it positive ~ I’m not into bashing anyone
- No Spoilers
- Keep the review between 250–500 words. If you’ve got your own blog and have a more extensive review already posted, you can provide a taste of your review on Words To Mouth with a link to the full content on your site.
- I reserve the right to edit for grammar and length
Once you’ve submitted a review, I’d encourage you to leave a voice mail message at 206–309–7318 that I can play as a little “promo” on my next podcast—Something to the effect of “Hi, this is YOUR NAME and I wrote a review on BOOK NAME by AUTHOR NAME” and then maybe a brief blip on your thoughts to entice listeners to go to the site to read your review.
Looking forward to your submissions to Carrie@WordsToMouth.com. Oh, and if you just want to leave a book recommendation or your impressions about a particular book you’ve read that’s not been spotlighted on Words To Mouth, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or on voice mail 206-309-7318.
Love to hear from you ~ Take good care…until next time.
**Scroll down and click gray arrow to listen to interview
THE DARKEST NIGHT (as described on www.RonFranscell.com)
On a chilly autumn night in 1973, 11-year-old Amy Burridge eagerly rode with her 18-year-old sister, Becky, to a neighborhood grocery store in the small town of Casper, Wyoming. When they finished their shopping, they discovered a flat tire on Becky’s car. Two men politely offered them a ride home. But they were not Good Samaritans.
THE DARKEST NIGHT is an intensely atmospheric portrait of people in a simple and safe place, forever changed by evil. It’s the story of how one violent crime has echoed over decades in a small town. It’s also a story of resilience in the human spirit. Humans were not intended to live behind walls, so we must find our place in a messy world … or not truly live at all.
Carrie: What inspired you to write THE DARKEST NIGHT?
Ron: Three weeks after 9/11, I was dispatched by my editors at the Denver Post to wander around the Middle East seeking answers to questions we still haven’t answered fully. On the plane home after a long and exhausting tour-of-duty, I picked up a European news magazine that contained photos of people who leaped from the World Trade Center — the likes of which I had never seen. In one, two people held hands as they plunged to their deaths. Suddenly, I saw in that image two childhood friends of mine who were the victims of a monstrous 1973 crime and who plunged to their deaths from a high, remote bridge near our hometown — which remains palpably haunted by that crime 35 years later. In them, I saw a story that transcended the small town where I grew up. It also transcended my own personal fears. I was compelled to tell it.
There, in the transatlantic darkness, I began to re-imagine their story as a parable for the Age of Terror, where life can be innocent, virtuous and full one day — and bereft of hope the next. Everything changes. And I’ve learned as a newspaperman that our most important stories often blossom in that brilliant moment between the old times and the new.
I also believe in the power of storytelling. Sometimes it’s helpful for us to have all our memories, fears and dreams collected in one place, where we can easily find them.
I was playing around on Chris Brogan’s website where he graciously lists his subscriber’s podcasts (Rockstars) and was thrilled to find Books On the Night Stand ~ A conversation about books and reading ~ by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman. Both work for Random House, but are quick to point out their views are no way affiliated with their employer.
I appreciated Michael and Ann’s latest “Top Ten” and wanted to share it with you. I struggle to find time in the day to read and the list below offers some great ideas. I had to laugh at the synchronicity of finding this list today, because just last evening my youngest daughter and I had a “conversation” (yes, a bit heated) about her goal of reading at least one book this summer. So what if it’s Stephenie Meyer’s third novel, Eclipse, boasting nearly one million pages. Hey, that was her choice, not mine. Anyway, I’m waiting for her to wake up, so I can share the list. Something tells me, she’ll opt for #5 to find more time to read. Not an option!
Hmmm, maybe I should present the Top 9 Ways to Find More Time for Reading…
10 Ways to Find More Time for Reading
- Unplug. Seriously. Step away from the computer. Turn off the television. It’s a no-brainer, but it might be the hardest thing to do all day. A newspaper story about author James Patterson reported that “he also reprimanded adults who say they don’t have time to read: ‘People read thousands of pages. No content. No stories. It’s called your BlackBerry’.”
- Embrace television, but in an old-fashioned way. Drop the Tivo remote. Use the commercial breaks to squeeze in some reading time. Short stories work great for this, or books that have short chapters. I recently read Seth Godin’s MEATBALL SUNDAE this way. The chapters are short, but thought-provoking, making them perfect for commercial breaks. If you’re still reading when the commercials are over, you can pick up the remote and pause the TV until you’ve finished the chapter.
I met Debba Haupert at Podcamp Nashville. She’s an extraordinary woman and the creator of Girlfriendology.com ~ A place for inspiration, appreciation, and celebration of girlfriends. Little did I know at the time, Debba is also the author of a popular craft book on image transfer. I’m honored to help her promote her book and her efforts in new media. Take a moment to read our conversation and if you’re interested in hearing her turn the tables and interview me, check out Girlfriendology (on iTunes).
Carrie: What inspired you to write this book?
Debba: After leaving a corporate job, I followed my creative passion and went into the craft/hobby industry. With a marketing background, I soon was working with craft companies on newsletters, promotions, and PR. I started working with Lazertran, an image transfer paper company out of Wales. At an industry tradeshow, I taught a class on doing image transfer. The acquisitions editor for Lark Books was in the class and asked me to write a book on it! I will add that the product is very inspiring. It does allow you to put a custom image on pretty much any surface – ceramics, paper, wood, glass, fabric, etc. It was a blast to write the book and get to see what new techniques I could come up with!
Carrie: What is the primary message you’d like your readers to take away from this book?
Debba: There isn’t enough instruction and inspiration available on television any more – the Carol Duvall Show (craft show on HGTV and DIY) is no longer taping.* There aren’t any general crafts magazines so books are the best resource for technique and inspiration. I was able to demonstrate some of the projects from the book on the Carol Duvall show and in magazines which was a wonderful way to show people how to combine technology (image creation – photoshop, using photographs, etc.) with craft (surfaces and techniques).
Carrie: Tell us about your writing process.
Debba: Funny, it seems like writing a craft book would be easy and fun. It was fun, but it wasn’t easy! You have to go back and forth with the editor to approve projects, send in chapters on an aggressive timeline, etc. One of the fun parts was the photo shoot. I went to Asheville, NC for a week to take all the images for the book. The Lark Books editors and photo crew were fabulous, especially the talented Terry Taylor–That means you have to have multiple sets of projects in various stages of completion. If the photo doesn’t work out, you have to have another example to use, so there is a lot of prep before the photo shoot.
Carrie: The process of writing a book is not easy, to say the least. What motivated you to keep going, especially in those times when it was far from convenient to write?
I am excited to offer this opportunity to support authors in promoting your new book releases while providing readers with some great new picks for your home libraries.
I plan to provide books from all categories with each post including an author interview and book excerpt, so the reader can get a sense of the story.
We’ll give away books and have the opportunity to get to know some authors on a deeper level through Words-to-Mouth Internet talk show.
It should be interesting and a lot of fun, so…stay tuned and check back often.