Leiyin learns she has three souls upon her death, souls who explain they are trapped with her ghost until she atones for some egregious transgression in her mortal life. They witness her, through memories, rebel against the patriarchal traditions of her father, suffer the consequences, and live with regrets for her naivety. In the early 20th century, Leiyin controls little about her life, and this during a civil war and Japanese aggression. Epiphanies hit her hard and fast reliving her memories. She must communicate with mortals to appease the gods by rescuing the fates of her loved ones in order to ascend to the afterlife with her souls. Chang’s blending and bending of Chinese culture and history create a compelling narrative of inadvertent espionage and acceptance of one’s place in society. The speculative elements placing Leiyin outside her own story fascinate the reader as they astonish Leiyin. Chang’s novels are educational in many ways, to the anticipated appreciation of readers of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and fans of Tatiana de Rosnay and Laura Spinella.
After eight years in a monogamous relationship, Ella expected a proposal at their favorite restaurant. That’s not what she got. So she runs away to Paris to rediscover herself as the adventurer she was before the relationship. Yearning for the most Parisian experience, she falls into a bet to taste all 365 varietals of French cheese, becoming an Instagram sensation. However, she still chooses glamour over substance in men; though the romance is inevitable, it’s still fun to watch Ella grow and evolve. Brownlee creates a character as enchanting and quirky as Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Becky. But she goes beyond Ella’s endearing personality to educate readers on French cheeses, with delectable descriptions and fascinating anecdotes and history, even referencing Napoleon. Fans of Kinsella, foodies, Francophiles, and romantics will appreciate this lovely story that I was fortunate to receive from Amberjack Publishing through NetGalley.
I met Diane in person at a book signing in Topsail Beach at Quarter Moon Books. In my overzealous fangirling, I crashed a book club photo and had to be gently shooed away. I’ve been her most awkward fan since, and she’s been the most gracious literary star. I show up for each new book’s signing / reading like a middle-aged stalker who looks so innocent (muahaha), and Diane keeps smiling and signing my new books. If only she could write super fast; I know I will love each new story. I was fortunate to receive an early copy of The Dream Daughter—my review—coming out October 2.
Tell me about your writing process—any tricks / nuances to keep you on track, inspirations material or abstract, where you write (Topsail!) and when.
I usually write either in my Raleigh area sunroom or at my condo on Topsail Island. I generally have a year to write a book. The first few months, I think about my idea and start doing research, often visiting the area where the story takes place. I begin picturing scenes and putting them on post it notes that I move around on a big presentation board until I like the arc of the story, thus creating an outline. At the same time, I think about my characters, specifically what type of person will have the hardest time dealing with whatever dilemma I’ve come up with for the story. If there is no personal struggle, there is no story. I think about which characters will have a point of view in the story and will they have a first person or third person point of view and will I write the story in present or past tense. I sometimes look on the internet for pictures of people who make me think of my characters. I find this a huge help in creating characters who feel very real to me and hopefully to my readers. These are all decisions I make before I start writing.
Finally, I start writing about 6 months before my deadline. I usually listen to movie soundtracks as I write because I like the emotional ups and downs of the music. I’m always doing research as I write. Also, I listen to my characters because they frequently go astray from my outline and I’ve learned to pay attention to them. I write three to five drafts. Finally, often a bit late, I turn in the book. That’s where my dynamite editor comes in. She reads the book, looking at the big picture. What works and what doesn’t? She makes many suggestions, sometimes requiring a big change in the book. I’ve learned to listen to her, and I rewrite. And perhaps rewrite yet again.
Lead me through your publishing process, as in who does what when, and your marketing responsibilities (book tours! What else?).
Here’s how it works. First I write a book. Then I have an agent who is responsible for finding the publisher she thinks will do the best job with that book. She is also responsible for negotiating the contract with that publisher. You can see in my answer above some of the work the editor does with regard to my book. The publisher then, of course, publishes the book. If the publisher feels strongly that they can make the book a bestseller, they will give it a lot of advertising and other support before and during publication. My publisher for the last six books, St. Martins Press, does a great deal of promotion for me. I try to hold up my end by keeping up with social media (which I enjoy), giving interviews, touring to speak to groups and do book signings, where I get to meet my readers, the best part of the process!
Before the Storm series
Describe your support system: groups online and IRL (MKA, another favorite author of mine)—your biggest cheerleaders…
My biggest supporter is my significant other, John. He’s a photographer and understands the creative process and doesn’t complain that once a year, as deadline nears, I disappear from real life into my imagination, 24/7. Aside from him, I have many local writer friends who I get together with often. And then I have my “official group.” We call ourselves The Weymouth Seven because we originally met up at the Weymouth mansion in Southern Pines, NC, where authors are invited to work for up to two weeks each year. Now we usually meet up on Topsail Island. You’re right that Mary Kay Andrews is a big part of our group. She’s our ringleader, the one who keeps us on track during the week that we meet. Other members are mystery writer Margaret Maron, historical mystery writer, Sarah Shaber, horror and thriller writer Alexandra Sokoloff, and mystery writers, Brenda Witchger and Katy Munger. We have fun but we work hard at the same time.
Keeper of the Light series
You’ve always had touches of history in your novels. Recently, you’ve opened up to historical fiction, and now sci-fi / fantasy with your latest book about time travel. How did this come about; in what ways do your life and work influence each other, and how did your previous profession prepare you for fiction writing? Also talk about secrets, their importance to you and your work, and what kind of secrets you like best to weave into your stories.
When I heard about the eugenics (forced sterilization) program in North Carolina, I knew I had to write about it. That meant setting the story during the years of the program, so I selected 1960 and thus wrote my first novel (Necessary Lies) with a totally historical setting and I found I really enjoyed it. Two books later, I decided I wanted to write about the 1944 polio outbreak in Hickory, NC during which the town built a functioning polio hospital in 54 hours (The Stolen Marriage). So I would say, if the idea that comes to me is historical, I will happily write it, but I am still perfectly happy writing contemporary books as well.
When it comes to The Dream Daughter, that is a whole different subject! For years, I had the idea that’s central in The Dream Daughter: a woman is told that her unborn baby will die, but she learns that if she’s willing to take a huge risk and travel to the future, her baby could very well live. I put this idea off for years because it is so unlike my other books, but finally, I talked to my editor and she gave me the go-ahead. The book was tremendous fun to write and the early reviews have been amazing. I’m grateful to readers who dislike time travel for giving this book a try because it’s still “vintage Diane Chamberlain” and people seem to be loving it.
I think your question about my previous profession (clinical social work) and secrets actually go together. I worked in hospitals and then in a private psychotherapy practice with adolescents and their families, and one thing I learned is how destructive secrets can be in a family. I was fascinated by that topic, so it often appears in my stories.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I’m very grateful for my imagination. It got me into tons of trouble as a kid, but now pays off. I might be stopped at a traffic light and see a woman pushing a baby carriage across the street and within 30 seconds, I imagine a car hitting them, and the police discover it was on purpose and there was a connection between the woman and the driver, or maybe even between the baby and the driver . . . it’s exhausting having a brain like this, but it often pays off in the end if it means I can entertain my readers.
Connect with Diane:
I met Bill on Facebook. He’s unique, pragmatic, wryly funny, and shares lots of mushroom pics amongst his politics. Oh yeah, he’s also a pretty talented writer. He’s always surprising me, in his books, online, and here in his interview. Read about his process and creativity; then read his books. You’re welcome.
Tell me about your writing process—schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, inspirations material and abstract—and if this process differs based on genre / format (I know you write fiction and non-fiction, novels and short stories, essays and memoirs). Also, I think you’re a pantser, yes?
My process shifts from project to project and even within projects. Right now I’m working on a new novel and just finding small blocks of time to operate in, sometimes five or six a day, at any time, like waiting for my daughter at ballet class, just out in the car with the laptop tapping away. I do have a studio and when things get serious I sit out there with the skunks. I do a lot of daydreaming and side reading and more and more social media, unfortunately, or fortunately, I’m not sure which. Politics has clouded my brain, as well, but we can’t sit idly by. I had to look up pantser. I am not a pantser, but draft multiply and give myself all the time in the world.
Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product, including who does what, how it differs for fiction and non-fiction, and what marketing you are expected to do as the author.
I hand in the draft, then start something new or return to something else in progress. Meanwhile, whatever editor reads it, usually too slowly for my taste, and comes back with notes. I attend to the notes fairly quickly when possible, send the pages back in and return to the new project. Usually at that point the old project is accepted. Next come copyedits, possibly a legal reading, then first-pass galleys, second-pass galleys, all while a cover is being designed at the publisher’s, and jacket copy being written, a publicity campaign designed, book tour scheduled, all that stuff, which I have little to do with except approval or disapproval. The book comes out, the tour starts, I go on TV and radio, all the while finding those little blocks of time to work on the new project.
Describe your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?
I don’t know if I have such a support system. I use social media to announce a new book. That helps. But the publicity department at publisher or magazine has the job of cheerleading, though I do wave my pom-poms.
I too have an interesting background of employment (including llama care) giving me insight for specific storylines. How has your background prepared you for your writing career, and how does your life influence your art and vice versa?
Experience is probably nine-tenths of the game when it comes to fiction. Nonfiction is the experience. I remember consciously living an interesting life back there in my twenties, and forgiving myself all sorts of wasted hours. I find I still want my life to be my art, and vice versa. But so much of life is sleeping, and so much more doing stuff you’d rather not.
What do you love most about your creativity?
It’s nice to be able to do things, from building my houses to collecting mushrooms to napping properly. I want to be able to do everything I do reasonably well. This had led to a lot of hobbies, and as I get older, less and less time to pursue them. But in the end I’m hoping it all adds up to one big art project, my life.
Connect with Bill:
Gilly has “visions” that she can’t control and often only frustrate her with their lack of useful details. Jake pushes her to help him find his daughter Zoe who’s been kidnapped, because he doesn’t understand how Gilly’s visions work. Both of their pasts come creeping in to haunt them, endangering Gilly as well. Sissell writes compelling characters with complex backgrounds, which are shared with beautiful and timely exposition, exploring how far-reaching the consequences of poor judgment and denial. The ending’s revelation is astonishing, and heartening, in its humanity. Fans of Diane Chamberlain and Kristin Hannah will appreciate Sissel’s work. It’s a definite must-read!
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:
Katie suffers post-partum OCD in silence for fear of destroying her life, but loses that life when her husband Callum realizes that he’s ignored her problem too long and feels their marriage is irreparable and their daughter is in danger. She disappears and he raises Maisie alone, with support from his best friend Jake, cutting out Katie’s sister Delaney also. In a jarring coincidence, Katie’s artistry brings her in contact with her daughter, who believes her mother died, and she sees evidence of inherited OCD. She must convince Callum, a man whose past blinds him to his family’s needs. With Callum’s pregnant second wife included in the family picture, alliances shift, romances are roused, and a little girl teaches adults how to behave. Though the repetition can be nettlesome to the reader, Katie’s constant fears and reminders demonstrate the experience of OCD. There may have been a bit much to the back and forth of convincing Callum, since Katie’s argument never really shifts. Persistence seems to be the key to OCD. It’s clear the author did her research and she acknowledges her resources. This is a good story to read for a sympathetic, but not pitying, representation of living with a mental illness.
I met Kelly in Bloom, the Tall Poppy author collective readers’ page on Facebook. She’s friendly, frank, and a talented writer. Here’s my review of One More Day. Take a peek into her magic making, which turns out to be quite pragmatic. I’m so pleased to share her process and work with readers.
Describe your writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations material and intangible. What’s in your office? What’s in your head?
Oh, my head is a very dangerous place! Hahaha. I don’t have a physical office; our house is not that big. I tend to take over coffee tables with laptop, books for research, books for blurbing, books to be sent for marketing purposes. I don’t need a room, a view, a special pen, a desk. I can write on a train, at a café, or at someone else’s dining room table. I put in the hours wherever I am, and am not precious about conditions, ever.
Walk me through your publishing process, elaborating upon marketing and what you as the author do to promote your book. What surprised you about the process? What surprised you about your marketing responsibility? Honestly, not much has surprised me, because I work in marketing, and I was part of a vast writers’ community before publication, and I was warned! So all the things that may overwhelm others–build a website, participate in social media, book your own signings, etc.–none of that fazes me. I guess what surprised me though, was the lack of enthusiasm from a lot of bookstores and libraries. In many cases, no one gives a sh—t about your book. Doesn’t matter how big your publisher is, how many great reviews you got, or even if you wrote it in their library. If you’re not famous, many people just don’t care. They don’t want to put you on a panel, they don’t want to do an event, they don’t want your bookmarks, they’re like, meh. There are too many writers, traditionally published and self-published, and they are inundated, and they don’t care. That being said, some booksellers are wildly supportive. You have to focus on the positives, yet be prepared for the negatives. And not take any of it personally. The business, and the internet, have created a world where being an author is not that special anymore. Everybody’s an author.
Tell me about your support system online—how you became a Tall Poppy—and IRL, expounding upon the Liars Club and other organizations to which you contribute. Who are your biggest cheerleaders? Well, The Liars Club is an author support and mentoring group. It’s published writers helping the unpublished, and guiding them to resources. We run free monthly networking meetings in I think, at last count, maybe 15 cities across the U.S. We also run a weekly podcast, and interview all kinds of people related to the business, which is super fun. And The Tall Poppies are an author marketing collective, and that’s about marketing savvy and selling books in innovative ways. That’s about readers, and adding value. I also have a ton of writer friends from literary magazines, colleges, workshops, and writers’ conferences, who write in lots of different modalities–and I value those friendships dearly. When young writers say to me, what’s the first step? I always say, find community. Writing is lonely, and publishing is tough. You need drinking companions.
I think you are maybe on your third or fourth career; how have previous positions prepared you for the writing life. How does your writing influence your life?
I started out in journalism and swiftly made a switch to advertising, for financial reasons. I still work in advertising, for financial reasons haha, and weirdly, when you get published, there’s a sudden entrée to writing articles and essays, so there’s always a tad of journalism here and there. The deadlines and editing abilities from both advertising and journalism are excellent warm-ups for publishing. You just get on with it. You put your ass in a chair. You slash whole paragraphs and chapters to make something fit a space. You don’t wait for inspiration; it’s due tomorrow!
What do you love most about your creativity? I just enjoy making things. I always have. I liked art projects and high-concept things in school. I like to knit. I like to refinish furniture. My dad went to architecture school and built the house I grew up in; I know I get it from him. It’s satisfying to hold that book in your hand, just like woodworking or anything else. I’m a whittler!
Connect with Kelly:
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.