In Brazil, Nazi fugitive Klaus Holland, aka Matheus Esperanca, raises his son by a prostitute with a Jewish kapo from Udenspul, the concentration camp he commanded. The son, Deus, considers the kapo his mother, and after her death, takes mysterious photos from her to a professor in his US university to research his ancestry, where he learns the true identity of his father and the extent of his crimes. Olokita brilliantly uses the concept of god as a measurement of morality, or rather lack of humanity, as Klaus plays God in determining who dies, though his own religious beliefs remain deliciously ambiguous. The character development is so well done that dear reader will be researching names. Although written in third person for everyone else, Klaus is in first person, bringing the reader up close and personal to a man with his own version of right and wrong based on his complete lack of empathy, exploring the idea of how powerful he believes himself. The ending revelation is quite coincidental and is evidenced only by Klaus’ perception, so it’s not clear why it’s readily believed by Deus and his new love Heidi. It’s anti-climactic after the delightful irony of Klaus’ downfall. With so many rumors, legends, and news items, inspiring a plethora of literature, on the Holocaust, this unique story of a fugitive hiding out in South America is a definite must-read. It’s themes rove beyond the simple good vs. evil and the idea that one can distinguish such traits in anyone, with characters revealing the dangers within themselves. I received a digital copy of this fantastic novel from the author for an honest review.
Marietta left Kentucky after high school, changed her name to Taylor, and become a mother through an unexpected incident, ending up in Tucson with a single mother roommate and a job as a tire mechanic for a woman who rescues undocumented immigrants. Selectively mute from obvious chronic abuse, her newly acquired daughter Turtle learns to trust Taylor, who learns to trust in her new friendships as she seeks a way to keep Turtle legally and build their life in Tucson.
Kingsolver carefully details a young woman’s journey to find herself, taking everything that comes at her and building a valuable life with it all. She’s brilliant at showing the depth of Marietta’s mother’s love at letting her daughter go and make her own decisions, including changing the name her mother gave her, and Taylor’s love in her determination to keep the daughter who was literally handed to her.
Fans of Willa Cather, Celeste Ng, and Elizabeth Strout will appreciate this novel and Kingsolver.
I won Seven Days of Us through Goodreads and devoured it, a story full of complicated family dynamics imploding from mandatory quarantine due to a daughter’s work in treating an epidemic—my review here. Francesca is not the first novelist I’ve interviewed who is also a journalist, which I expect imbues their fiction with nuanced description from honed observation skills, and a broad sense of the real world. I’m honored to share another talented journalistic novelist with my readers. If you haven’t yet read Seven Days of Us, I recommend it highly. Enjoy learning about Francesca’s process and creativity. Links to connect with Francesca and purchase Seven Days of Us are at the end of the interview.
Describe your writing process—schedule, environment(s), strategies / techniques, and inspirations big and small, tangible and abstract: writers, quotes, objects, places, ideas, etc.
I try to write every weekday morning between 9:15 and 12:15, which is the window when both my children are in nursery. I’m actually glad it’s so regimented, as it enforces a kind of ‘exam conditions’ pressure, which I find easier than if I had all day at my disposal. I could write at home, but I generally go to a café or library, as I like to work surrounded by strangers, and I always get more done in a place where I’m not connected to the Wi-Fi. I usually begin by having a really elaborate breakfast over my laptop, which I definitely wouldn’t recommend as a writing strategy, but I’ve now come to believe that I physically can’t write without a particular kind of coffee/juice/toast/peanut butter etc. Other than that I’m not too particular; I just always avert my eyes from the Wi-Fi password and usually wear earplugs—unless I’m eavesdropping on an especially interesting conversation. Inspiration is a mix of internal and external. It might be something I’ve experienced, that I want to relive through a character., or it might be a news story, or a chance conversation, that sparks an idea.
Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product—who does what, your input, and marketing done by you as the author, and talk to me about pre-empted TV rights for Seven Days of Us.
The final product wasn’t hugely different to the final draft, and luckily my editors (I edited UK and US editions simultaneously) agreed on everything. There were two scenes in my draft that we all felt were implausible or melodramatic, so I cut one and changed the other. Jesse’s character (the illegitimate son who gatecrashes his birth father’s quarantine) was also given a little more backstory and depth. The rest of the editing was mostly me finessing the wording. I’d rushed submitting to publishers, as my agent and I were both pregnant and wanted to get the manuscript out before we gave birth. So I wanted to perfect nearly everything—towards the end my US editor did suggest I ‘cease and desist’….
The marketing and publicity I’ve done has mostly been writing pieces for magazines, radio interviews, the odd talk, and Q&As like these. It’s all fun to do, and working in journalism means the press side isn’t new to me—I’m just on the other side to before. The TV rights were bought by a company called Little Island before the book was published, after my agent sent the manuscript out to a few scouts, and now Entertainment One is on board too which is great.
Tell me about your support system online and IRL—who are your biggest cheerleaders, and what keeps you going?
My biggest real life cheerleaders are my husband, mother, agent and editor—although I mostly really enjoy writing fiction, so I don’t really feel in need of a support system (it’s less stressful than working at a magazine!). I’m not part of any online writing community, but I have a few friends who happen to be writers who I sometimes run plot dilemmas by via email. What keeps me going is the fact that I always need that next chunk of advance money! And I don’t like to miss deadlines.
How has your journalist background prepared you for writing novels—how does your life influence your art and vice versa?
I think the obvious thing is that it helps you to see writing as a job, which is useful for actually finishing a draft. But I hope it also makes me more rigorous about what I’m offering a reader. As a commissioning editor and features writer, I spent ten years thinking ‘Would anyone want to read this story?’ or ‘Has this been done before?’ or ‘Is this the most entertaining way I can convey this information?’ and I’m glad I had that training. I don’t think my fiction writing especially influences my life, except that half of my brain is always thinking about what I could be writing. But that was the same when I was a journalist.
What do you love most about your creativity?
The escapism of diving into my own fictional world every day, I think. It’s like having a telescope onto a parallel universe. I also really enjoy wearing athleisure for work.
Connect with Francesca:
Drew stood on the beach, savoring the moment. He was still processing that he was doing exactly what he wanted, and at only 19, starting his chosen career. At 19. He sent his thanks out to the Universe as loud as he could.
“Thank you!” he screamed out across the ocean.
“Yo, bud. What’s up with that?”
His new best friend and right hand man seemed intrigued at his fervor.
“Counting my blessings, friend.”
“Cool.” They hung together side by side absorbing the moment.
“Who’s that chick? Is she with us? I thought I knew everyone.”
Drew responded by waving and yelling, “Hey, Linda!” To Garret, he explained, “It’s my cousin.”
As Linda came closer, Garrett stood taller, straightened his t-shirt, and pressed back his hair.
“No way, man. She’s off limits.”
“Why? She’s hot.”
“The less you say to her, the better. She won’t understand. Her brain takes things literally.”
Watching the staircase tilting in the wind, Linda whispered to herself, “I’m not going up there again. It’s too scary.”
“Why would you? It’s dangerous,” responded a voice from the crowd.
Drew had said every scene could be viewed from the top, yet Linda hesitated. She’d been torn between the years of her mother admonishing her to never touch the stairs and her favorite cousin including her in his movie production.
“No, I can’t do it today.” Tears raged behind her eyes as she raced home to release them into the comfort of her own pillow.
“Hey, brah, your aunt’s on the phone. Does she want you to come to the big house? Shall we hold our breath as we tremble in fear for you?”
“Nah, she’s not like that. Maybe we should quiet down a little, though. Can you pass that around?”
His crew watched as Drew’s face transformed into a visage of ultimatum expectation. After replacing the phone, he scanned the group.
“Did anyone do something I need to know about?”
Quiet faces with wide eyes stared back at him with no sign of guilt.
“Tremble in fear, my friends.”
The longest mile, he thought, as he walked from the carriage house through the dusk to see his aunt. He entered and went toward the light to stand in the doorway of the front room.
“I trusted you.”
Her voice slashed his brain. With no clue to his transgression, Drew considered a general apology, but determined that it was too soon.
“I’m sorry.” Automatic response. He mentally crossed fingers that he didn’t just imply guilt.
“Sit.” He took a chair nearest the egress, eyeing his aunt carefully. Her eyes seemingly riveted to the fireplace, she stated in a soft, yet damning voice, “You broke that trust.”
“What can I do?”
“You’re ignorant of your egregious error.” He stared at the fire with her. Tears brimmed his eyes. “My daughter climbed one of those rickety staircasees every time your crew hit the beach to film.”
“Why?” Names raced through his mind. Who would tell her to do that?
“At your request, Drew, according to her.”
“What? I never . . . fuck . . .”
“Please, Drew. There will be no fucking in this conversation. We’re both educated adults with intelligent vocabularies.”
“Yes, Aunt _____.”
“Those staircases have remained on the beach for over five decades, the last two against my wishes.”
“I know, I know. They’re from that movie. They bring tourists.”
“Tourists.” She said it the way he’d said ‘fuck.’
Life hasn’t gone as planned for Kim and Matthew—Matty—Savage, and their marriage comes to a screeching halt in their cabin in the woods, a world away from Kim’s vamp movie career and Matty’s screenwriting failures in LA. Matty shoving Kim into a glass cabinet with their daughter Rebecca—Bex—a witness demarcates the before and after. A decade later, Kim calls her ex-husband and estranged daughter to the cabin, where they are attacked by supernatural creatures they must fight metaphysically to survive.
The story opens with a sad, but realistic, portrayal of an unhealthy family dynamic. After the divorce, the couple and their daughter are ensconced in their own ugly realities. Enter speculative elements attacking dad and daughter at the family cabin, scary fairies from a book mom gave daughter, who relegated the horrifying Hungarian tome to the annual vacation cabin. All the characters are forced into their worst memories, opening up old wounds and creating opportunities to reconnect. This novel, despite its horror genre, is really about how family goes awry on a foundation of secrets and miscommunications. It turned out to be more substantial than expected, and the writing flows well.
I was fortunate to receive a copy of this delightful story through a Goodreads giveaway.
Rae’s a screwup—according to Rae. To her family and friends, she spreads herself too thin and holds unrealistic expectations for herself. When you don’t even fit into your own family, it’s hard to feel at home anywhere. Plus, peopling is hard; animals are easier. Then a woman jerks her bike in front of Rae’s car—the thump and bump of driving over a human drives Rae to feel responsible for her, though eyewitnesses say she couldn’t have avoided hitting her. The mysteriously damaged woman and a houseful of pre-weaned kittens overwhelms Rae. The romantic interest introduces her to his new-agey gran, who explains Rae to herself, guiding her onto a healthier path. This is a wonderful story of the complexities of life, the importance of connecting with others, and how everyone must find their own way, not to mention that communication is key. King’s writing draws you in and wraps you in a big, fluffy blanket of ambiguities, yet dear reader leaves her work somehow better equipped to traverse these gray areas. King’s talent makes the words disappear as the story flows through the reader, while letting us know that often others see us more clearly than we can see ourselves. Highly recommended!
My joy was in receiving this ebook in a giveaway. Check out King’s work on her website, where you can find links to purchase her books: https://www.kerryanneking.com/
I met Julie in Bloom, the readers group for Tall Poppy authors. She exudes positivity and encourages everyone to be their best selves, enlightening us with her expertise and wisdom. Listen to her TEDx talk: Know Thyself: Two Questions That Will Change Your Life. Julie is a ray of sunshine through the clouds. Her novels take on tough issues, focusing on relationships and communication, with unconditional compassion. If you’re Christian, you’ll appreciate that her faith is woven throughout her novels and her children’s books. I believe Julie lives her faith.
Elaborate upon your writing process.
My process has been different for each book. When my children were younger, I wrote while they were sleeping, never wanting to miss a moment of motherhood. I have had various stages of my writing life, usually squeezing the work into the wee hours of the morning before I would start my hectic day as mother, teacher, speech-language pathologist, organic farmer, etc. Now, I am grateful to be writing and editing full-time. My children are grown, and the entire process is much less intense. I tend to go with the flow and let the creative dance take me where it pleases.
Describe your publishing process, including your publishing team.
Oh, goodness. I could write an entire book explaining the countless people involved in getting a story from an author’s brain to a reader’s hands. It truly is an incredibly complex process, and I learn something new about it every day.
Tell me about your support system and how you came to be a Tall Poppy.
I’m incredibly honored to be a part of the Tall Poppy Writers. As female authors, we cheer one another through the many hurdles involved in publishing, always eager to elevate one another’s work and to lift our voices as a united tribe. Since daring to publish my first books, I have found most authors to be extremely supportive and encouraging at every turn. It’s been a wonderful career, and the best part about it has been the positive relationships I have been blessed to form with writers and readers alike. Fabulous people at every turn.
It’s wonderful how you use your author platform as a medium to serve others through education, disseminating information and raising awareness for social issues. Explain the intertwining of your life, advocacy, and writing.
Thank you, Lael. I do believe in the healing power of story, and I try to give voice to those whose truths have been silenced or shamed. I don’t shy away from difficult topics, but I also believe a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and I try never to be voyeuristic or profane.
My work has tackled tricky issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, mental illness, suicide, human trafficking, etc. I have been inspired by the many positive reader responses I have received through the years, the conversations my stories have sparked in book club meetings, and the impact these fictional tales have had on the lives of many.
I am passionate about encouraging others to live the life they were born to live, to establish healthy relationships, and to know the difference between “love” and abuse. If my stories help people heal, find freedom, or love one another, then I am grateful to play a small part of that process.
What do you love most about your creativity?
As a very young girl, I learned to rely on writing as my way of processing the world around me. I can’t imagine my life without a creative outlet. I spend hours every day reading and writing. It’s just part of my very being. Aside from writing, I also enjoy painting, gardening, creating music, and taking part in other creative activities. While I’m not very good at doing any of them, I never allow my limited abilities stop me from enjoying the creative process.
Honestly, I believe we have each been given creative tools to help guide our emotional and spiritual development. These tools help us manage anxiety, establish greater levels of empathy for others, and develop a broader understanding of our place in this miraculous universe.
I encourage everyone to create something every single day. Whether it’s a meal, a photograph, a song, a piece of furniture , a quilt, or a story… offer something new to this world that no one else can offer. Explore your talents and see where your gifts will take you. I dare you!
Connect with Julie:
Life seems to be careening out of control for Sanna Lund, whose sole desire is to live quietly in her ancestral home, creating apple ciders in her unique way of tasting colors. An accident temporarily incapacitates her father Einars, the new hired hand Isaac stirs new feelings she’s not planned on entertaining—his son Sebastion distracts her as well, and her brother Anders, who moved away, urges her to sell the struggling family business. Secrets crack her long-held paradigms and Sanna comes to realize certain truths cannot be ignored, and she opens herself up to more than she imagined was possible, including a mother she’d tried to cut out of her heart.
This is a brilliant story of a creative synesthete attempting to sustain her insular world, a young woman forced to trust new people, blur her black and white judgment, and broaden her horizon to survive. Reichert carefully weaves the romantic elements into the story while maintaining the integrity of complex characters and challenging relationship dynamics. Novels offer life reminders, and this story teaches us how to let go and open ourselves up to others in order to keep moving forward. It’s a beautiful theme and a gorgeous cast that includes an orchard with heirloom apple trees.
Carrie Morgan turns back to her car after arguing with a parking attendant and finds her toddler Ben gone. Her story seems off to police, family, and friends. Over a year later, she finds him, in his crib, though he’s not aged a year. And he disappears again—from his crib the same night. Now husband John is in on the madness, which he spins into a possible, though improbable, story. An unlikely witness keeps Carrie’s secret, yet it eventually comes out. Carrie’s actions invoke suspicion and mental illness through ambiguous and incredible circumstances and revelations, and she reels from a long-held confession from her mother. Solving the crime may or may not absolve Carrie or prove her sane.
These characters are less endearing than interesting. Simmons keeps readers guessing whether Carrie needs compassion or justice. Even John isn’t sure in what way he could best help his wife, her actions at times eliciting horror. The way that the two investigative cops work independently as a veteran and a rookie read as a transfer from old school to new, and emphasizes the rookie’s discreet gestures of compassion. Different points of view, from family to law enforcement to newly met neighbors offers a kaleidoscope of opinions, as in real life, where the more information one gets, the more confusing it can be. The mother’s revelation about Carrie’s father at the end cheapened her gift, clearly evidenced throughout the story, though perspective painted various pictures for everyone involved.
If you believe even a little that we might have extraordinary powers that lie latent in most, this book will fascinate you. If you believe that extraordinary events can occur through prayer (whatever that means for you), you will appreciate this story. Check out the author on her website http://www.kellysimmonsbooks.com/, where you can find links to purchase her books.
Penelope Dalton inherited a magical table that offers her special chocolate recipes for her chocolate cafe, including the Kismet hot chocolate for the Festival of Fate, a drink that offers townspeople a chance to redirect their fate. It doesn’t work for her little girl Ella, whose illness is fatal. The secret of her father’s identity is harder to contain when he returns to town to assist his injured brother run their bar Rehab. The secret of Ella’s imminent demise spills out of Penelope at a town meeting after she cancels the hot chocolate for the festival. At the same time, Sabine, her mother and business partner, seeks her deceased husband through a chocolaty, magically-induced memory loss. Penelope slowly learns to release her fears and open her heart.
The characters in this story are credible in their complex flaws, with good hearts and the best intentions that go awry. Crispell presents a town a bit magical in itself, the residents leaving notes outside Penelope’s home and cafe to get their point across and to show their support and love. Dialogue between the brothers is laugh-out-loud classic sibling repartee—insulting zingers and tough love. There’s a bit much back and forth between Penelope and Ella’s father on the impossibility of a relationship, and she and best friend Megha on his hotness level. The open ending lends itself less to speculation than a call for a realistic resolution. After all, magic has its limitations.
Readers who love the every day magic of life in a Sarah Addison Allen or Alice Hoffman story will appreciate Crispell’s work. Meet Susan on her website http://www.susanbishopcrispell.com/, where you will also find links to purchase her wonderful books.