A Conversation with ‘Saving Grace’ Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Pamela Fagan HutchinsPamela Fagan Hutchins writes award-winning mysterious women’s fiction and relationship humor books, and holds nothing back.  She is known for “having it all” which really means she has a little too much of everything, but loves it: writer, mediocre endurance athlete (triathlon, marathons), wife, mom of an ADHD & Asperger’s son, five kids/step-kids, business owner, recovering employment attorney and human resources executive, investigator, consultant, and musician.  Pamela lives with her husband Eric and two high school-aged kids, plus 200 pounds of pets in Houston. Their hearts are still in St. Croix, USVI, along with those of their three oldest offspring.

Her latest book is the mystery/women’s fiction, Saving Grace.

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Saving GraceQ: Thank you for this interview, Pamela. Can you tell us what your latest book, Saving Grace, is all about?

Thank you! Saving Grace is the story of Katie Connell, a Texas attorney whose life is one train wreck after another: too many Bloody Marys, a client who’s the Vanilla Ice of the NBA, and a thing for a Heathcliff-like co-worker. She takes refuge from it all on the island of St. Marcos, where she plans to investigate the suspicious deaths of her parents. But she trades one set of problems for another when she is bewitched by the voodoo spirit Annalise in an abandoned rainforest house and, as worlds collide, finds herself reluctantly donning her lawyer clothes again to defend her new friend Ava, who is accused of stabbing her very married Senator-boyfriend.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

First, there’s Katie. Oh, Katie, Katie, Katie. She’s the main character, a 30-something lawyer who vacuums her rugs backwards and is as much a danger to herself as the bad guys.

Nick is the object of her unreturned affections, an investigator in Dallas with a penchant for surf boards and bass guitars.

Ava is an island seductress who convinces Katie to become her new best friend and a second for her vocal duo.

Rashidi John befriends Katie when he introduces her to the jumbie house Annalise on one of his popular-with-the-ladies rainforest botany tours.

And then there’s Annalise, a giant abandoned house in the rainforest who shows her magical side to a chosen few, and, boy does she ever choose Katie.

Q: Do you ten­d to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

I steal most of my characters from people whose big imprints on life inspire my creativity. But if fiction is life without the boring parts, my fictional characters are those people without them either. Their fictional bads are badder and their crazies are crazier.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I am a planner and a plotter, but the novel takes me wherever it ultimately wants to go. Kind of like my kids do, in real life. In Saving Grace, a character named Zane McMillan shows up who wreaked havoc on my carefully constructed outline. I had a heck of a time keeping him from hijacking the whole book. I love it when that happens.

Q: Your book is set in the Virgin Islands.  Can you tell us why you chose this area in particular?

The islands are magical. I lived on St. Croix for six years, and the people and the places just burned into my brain and my heart. I had no choice in the matter: Saving Grace set itself there.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

The island setting, and the rainforest jumbie house Annalise in particular, are pivotal to the story. In the islands, Katie can embrace the magic in herself and the world around her, whereas she is much too pragmatic for that kind of nonsense back in Texas.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Katie is throwing caution and common sense to the wind and is about to make an offer to purchase a half-finished abandoned house in the rainforest because she believes she and the jumbie spirit offer each other a chance at mutual salvation.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

Sure, here’s one I really like:

We had hiked for nearly two hours when Rashidi gave us a hydration break and announced that we were nearing the turnaround point, which would be a special treat: a modern ruin. As we leaned on smooth kapok trees and sucked on our Lululemon water bottles, Rashidi explained that a bad man, a thief, had built a beautiful mansion in paradise ten years before, named her Annalise, and then left her forsaken and half-complete. No one had ever finished her and the rainforest had moved fast to claim her. Wild horses roamed her halls, colonies of bats filled her eaves, and who knows what lived below her in the depths of her cisterns. We would eat our lunch there, then turn back for the hike down.

When the forest parted to reveal Annalise, we all drew in a breath. She was amazing: tall, austere, and a bit frightening. Our group tensed with anticipation. It was like the first day of the annual Parade of Homes, where people stood in lines for the chance to tour the crème de la crème of Dallas real estate, except way better. We were visiting a mysterious mansion with a romantic history in a tropical rainforest. Ooh là là.

Graceful flamboyant trees, fragrant white-flowered frangipanis, and grand pillars marked the entrance to her gateless drive. On each side of the overgrown road, Rashidi pointed out papaya stalks, soursop, and mahogany trees. The fragrance was pungent, the air drunk with fermenting mangos and ripening guava, all subtly undercut by the aroma of bay leaves. It was a surreal orchard, its orphaned fruit unpicked, the air heavy and still, bees and insects the only thing stirring besides our band of turistas. Overhead, the branches met in the middle of the road and were covered in the trailing pink flowers I’d admired the day before, which Rashidi called pink trumpet vines. The sun shone through the canopy in narrow beams and lit our dim path.

A young woman in historic slave garb was standing on the front steps, peering at us from under the hand that shaded her eyes, her gingham skirt whipping in the breeze. She looked familiar. As we came closer, she turned and walked back inside. I turned to ask Rashidi if we were going to tour the inside of the house, but he was talking to a skeletally thin New Yorker who wanted details on the mileage and elevation gain of our hike for her Garmin.

Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

I’m in a perpetual state of writer’s block, or recovery from it. The first thing I do when I feel it coming on is change locations or go outside. If I can’t nip it in the bud, I talk it out with my husband/muse. If it persists, I force myself to write something else — anything to keep me writing. I am a big believer that creativity happens when you’re putting in the work. I had a huge episode of block while writing the sequel to Saving Grace. It took me two months of other writing before the block broke and I could get back to the islands.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

I’d love to say I’d run six miles or snuggle in the front of the fire with my husband, but it’s a lie. If I had an extra hour, I’d keep writing, but I’d at least play footsie (very vigorously) with him on the couch while I did it.

Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?

I wish I had written Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, because of the characters: unforgettable, flawed, and larger than life. Gus and Woodrow, oh, how I love thee.

Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?

More than ever, a fiction author must be fearless and relentless. The number of books published a year is growing exponentially, and you can’t just write yours and hope someone else will sell it for you. You need a marketing plan and an entrepreneurial spirit. It doesn’t hurt if you have a lot of support, too.

Read-a-Chapter: Saving Grace by Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the mystery, women’s fiction, Saving Grace by Pamela Fagan Hutchins. Enjoy!

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Saving Grace

Click on cover to purchase at Amazon!

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Skipjack Publishing (September 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0988234807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0988234802

If you’re at all inclined to be swept away to the islands to fall in love with a rainforest jumbie house and a Texas attorney who is as much a danger to herself as the island bad guys, then dive headfirst with Katie Connell into Saving Grace.

Katie escapes professional humiliation, a broken heart, and her Bloody Mary-habit when she runs to the island of St. Marcos to investigate the suspicious deaths of her parents. But she trades one set of problems for another when she is bewitched by the voodoo spirit Annalise in an abandoned rainforest house and, as worlds collide, finds herself reluctantly donning her lawyer clothes again to defend her new friend Ava, who is accused of stabbing her very married Senator-boyfriend.

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Chapter One

Last year sucked, and this one was already worse.

Last year, when my parents died in an “accident” on their Caribbean vacation, I’d been working too hard to listen to my instincts, which were screaming “bullshit” so loud I almost went deaf in my third ear. I was preparing for the biggest case of my career, so I sort of had an excuse that worked for me as long as I showed up for happy hour, but the truth was, I was obsessed with the private investigator assigned to my case.

Nick. Almost-divorced Nick. My new co-worker Nick who sometimes sent out vibes that he wanted to rip my Ann Taylor blouse off with his teeth, when he wasn’t busy ignoring me.

But things had changed.

I’d just gotten the verdict back in my mega-trial, the Burnside wrongful termination case. My firm rarely took plaintiff cases, so I’d taken a big risk with this one—and won Mr. Burnside three million dollars, of which the firm got a third. That was the total opposite of suck.

After my coup at the Dallas courthouse, my paralegal Emily and I headed straight down I-20 to the hotel where our firm was on retreat in Shreveport, Louisiana. Shreveport is not on the top ten list for most company getaways, but our senior partner fancied himself a poker player, and loved Cajun food, jazz, and riverboat casinos. The retreat was a great excuse for Gino to indulge in a little Texas Hold ’Em between teambuilding and sensitivity sessions and still come off looking like a helluva guy, but it meant a three and a half hour drive each way. This wasn’t a problem for Emily and me. We bridged both the paralegal-to-attorney gap and the co-worker-to-friend gap with ease, largely because neither of us did Dallas-fancy very well. Or at all.

Emily and I hustled inside for check-in at the Eldorado.

“Do you want a map of the ghost tours?” the front desk clerk asked us, her polyglot Texan-Cajun-Southern accent making tours sound like “turs.”

“Why, thank you kindly, but no thanks,” Emily drawled. In the ten years since she’d left, she still hadn’t shaken Amarillo from her voice or given up barrel-racing horses.

I didn’t believe in hocus pocus, either, but I wasn’t a fan of casinos, which reeked of cigarette smoke and desperation. “Do y’all have karaoke or anything else but casinos onsite?”

“Yes, ma’am, we have a rooftop bar with karaoke, pool tables, and that kind of thing.” The girl swiped at her bangs, then swung her head to put them back in the same place they’d been.

“That sounds more like it,” I said to Emily.

“Karaoke,” she said. “Again.” She rolled her eyes. “Only if we can do tradesies halfway. I want to play blackjack.”

After we deposited our bags in our rooms and freshened up, talking to each other on our cell phones the whole time we were apart, we joined our group. All of our co-workers broke into applause as we entered the conference room. News of our victory had preceded us. We curtsied, and I used both arms to do a Vanna White toward Emily. She returned the favor.

“Where’s Nick?” I called out. “Come on up here.”

Nick had left the courtroom when the jury went out to deliberate, so he’d beaten us here. He stood up from a table on the far side of the room, but didn’t join us in front. I gave him a long distance Vanna White anyway.

The applause died down and some of my partners motioned for me to sit with them at a table near the entrance. I joined them and we all got to work writing a mission statement for the firm for the next fifteen minutes. Emily and I had arrived just in time for the first day’s sessions to end.

When we broke, the group stampeded from the hotel to the docked barge that housed the casino. In Louisiana, gambling is only legal “on the water” or on tribal land. On impulse, I walked to the elevator instead of the casino. Just before the doors closed, a hand jammed between them and they bounced apart, and I found myself headed up to the hotel rooms with none other than Nick Kovacs.

“So, Helen, you’re not a gambler either,” he said as the elevator doors closed.

My stomach flipped. Cheesy, yes, but when he was in a good mood, Nick called me Helen—as in Helen of Troy.

I had promised to meet Emily for early blackjack before late karaoke, but he didn’t need to know that. “I have the luck of the Irish,” I said. “Gambling is dangerous for me.”

He responded with dead silence. Each of us looked up, down, sideways, and anywhere but at each other, which was hard, since the elevator was mirrored above a gold handrail and wood paneling. There was a wee bit of tension in the air.

“I heard there’s a pool table at the hotel bar, though, and I’d be up for that,” I offered, throwing myself headlong into the void and holding my breath on the way down.

Dead silence again. Long, dead silence. The ground was going to hurt when I hit it.

Without making eye contact, Nick said, “OK, I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”

Did he really say he’d meet me there? Just the two of us? Out together? Oh my God, Katie, what have you done?

The elevator doors dinged, and we headed in opposite directions to our rooms. It was too late to back out now.

I moved in a daze. Hyperventilating. Pits sweating. Heart pounding. My outfit was all wrong, so I ditched the Ann Taylor for some jeans, a structured white blouse, and, yes, I admit it, a multi-colored Jessica Simpson handbag and her coordinating orange platform sandals. White works well against my long, wavy red hair, which I unclipped and finger-combed over my shoulders. Not very attorney-like, but that was the point. Besides, I didn’t even like being an attorney, so why would I want to look like one now?

Normally I am Katie Clean, but I settled on a quick brush of my teeth, a French shower, and lipstick. I considered calling Emily to tell her I was no-showing, but I knew she would understand when I explained later. I race-walked to the elevators and cursed them as they stopped on every other floor before the Rooftop Grotto.

Ding. Finally. I stopped to catch my breath. I counted to ten, took one last gulp for courage, and stepped under the dim lights above the stone-topped bar. I stood near a man whose masculinity I could feel pulsing from several feet away. Heat flamed in my cheeks. My engine raced. Just the man I’d come to see.

Nick was of Hungarian descent, and he had his gypsy ancestors to thank for his all-over darkness—eyes, hair, and skin—and sharp cheekbones. He had a muscular ranginess that I loved, but he wasn’t traditionally handsome. His nose was large-ish and crooked from being broken too many times. He’d once told me that a surfboard to the mouth had given him his snaggled front tooth. But he was gorgeous in an undefined way, and I often saw from the quick glances of other women that I wasn’t the only one in the room who noticed.

Now he noticed me. “Hi, Helen.”

“Hi, Paris,” I replied.

He snorted. “Oh, I am definitely not your Paris. Paris was a wimp.”

“Hmmmmm. Menelaus, then?”

“Um, beer.”

“I’m pretty sure there was no one named Beer in the story of Helen of Troy,” I said, sniffing in a faux-superior way.

Nick spoke to the bartender. “St. Pauli Girl.” He finally gave me the Nick grin, and the tension left over from our elevator ride disappeared. “Want one?”

I needed to gulp more than air for courage. “Amstel Light.”

Nick placed the order. The bartender handed Nick two beers beaded with moisture, then shook water from his hands. Nick handed mine to me and I wrapped a napkin around it, lining up the edges with the military precision I adored. Nick sang under his breath, his head bobbing side to side. Honky-tonk Woman.

“I think I like you better in Shreveport than Dallas,” I said.

“Thanks, I think. And I like seeing you happy. I guess it’s been a tough year for you, losing your parents and all. Here’s to that smile,” he said, holding his beer aloft toward me.

The toast almost stopped my heart. He was spot-on about the tough part, but I did better when I kept the subject of my parents buried with them. I clinked his bottle but couldn’t look at him while I did it. “Thanks, Nick, very much.”

“Want to play pool?” he asked.

“Let’s do it.”

I was giddy, the sophomore girl out with the senior quarterback. We both loved music, so we talked about genres, bands (his old band, Stingray, and “real” bands), my minor in music at Baylor, and LSD, AKA lead-singer disease. Over a bucket of beers, we swapped stories about high school, and he told me he’d once rescued an injured booby.

“An injured booby?” I asked. “Implants or natural? Eight ball in corner pocket.” I sank it.

He gathered the balls out of the pockets and positioned them in the rack while I ground my cue tip in blue chalk and blew off the excess. “You’re so land-locked. A booby is a bird, Katie.”

I rolled his use of my real name back and forth in my brain, enjoying how it felt.

“I was out surfing, and I found a booby that couldn’t fly. I carried it back home and took care of it until I could set it free.”

“Oh, my gosh! How bad did it smell? Did it peck you? I’ll bet your Mom was thrilled!” I talked fast, in endless exclamation points. Embarrassing. I was a Valley Girl on acid, like Oh-My-Gawd. “It was in shock, so it was calm, but every day it got wilder. I was fourteen, and my mom was happy I wasn’t in my room holding some girl’s real booby, so she was fine with it. It smelled really bad after a few days, though.”

I broke. Balls clacked and ricocheted in every direction, and a striped one tumbled into a side pocket. “Stripes,” I called. “So, your mom had caught you before holding a girl’s booby, huh?”

“Um, I didn’t say that . . .” he said, and stuttered to a stop.

I was more smitten than ever.

“Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover” was playing in the background. I hadn’t heard that song in years. It got me thinking. For months, I had been fighting off the urge to slip my arms around Nick’s neck and bite the back of it, but I was aware that most people would consider that inappropriate at work. Pretty small-minded of them, if you asked me. I eyed the large balcony outside the bar and thought that if I could just maneuver Nick out there, maybe I could make it happen.

My chances seemed good enough until one of our colleagues walked in. Tim was of counsel at the firm. “Of counsel” meant he was too old to be called an associate, but he wasn’t a rainmaker. Plus, he wore his pants pulled up an inch too high in the waist. The firm would never make him a partner. Nick and I locked eyes. Until now, we’d been two shortwave radios on the same channel, the signal crackling between us. But now the dial had turned to static and his eyes clouded over. He stiffened and moved subtly away from me.

He hailed Tim up. “Hey, Tim, over here.”

Tim waved to us and walked across the smoky bar. Everything moved in slow motion as he came closer, step by ponderous step. His feet echoed as they hit the floor, reverberating no . . . no . . . no . . . Or maybe I was saying it aloud. I couldn’t tell, but it made no difference.

“Hey, Tim, this is great. Grab a beer; let’s play some pool.”

Oh, please tell me Nick didn’t just invite Tim to hang out with us. He could have given him a short “hey how ya doing have a nice night I was just leaving” shpiel, or anything else for that matter, but no, he had asked Tim to join us.

Tim and Nick looked at me for affirmation.

I entertained a fleeting fantasy in which I executed a perfect side kick to Tim’s gut and he started rolling around on the floor with the dry heaves. What good were the thirteen years of karate my father had insisted on if I couldn’t use it at times like these? “Every woman should be able to defend herself, Katie,” Dad would say as he dropped me off at the dojo.

Maybe this wasn’t technically a physical self-defense moment, but Tim’s arrival had dashed my hopes for the whole neck-bite thing, and all that could have come after it. Wasn’t that reason enough?

I cast out the image. “Actually, Tim, why don’t you take over for me? I was in trial all week, and I’m exhausted. We have an early start tomorrow. It’s the last day of our retreat, the grande finale for the Hailey & Hart team.” I handed my pool cue to Tim.

Tim thought this was a fine idea. It was clear women scared him. If I had hoped for an argument from Nick, though, I didn’t get one. He reverted to his outside-of-work “Katie who?” act.

All I got from him was “Goodnight,” with neither a Helen nor a Katie tacked on.

I grabbed another Amstel Light from the bar for the plod back to my room.

Reprinted with permission from Saving Grace by Pamela Fagan Hutchins. © 2012 by Skipjack Publishing

Read a Chapter: Women’s Fiction ‘The Third Grace’ by Deb Elkink

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the women’s fiction, The Third Grace, by Deb Elkink. Enjoy!

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  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Greenbrier Book Company, LLC (December 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1937573001
  • ISBN-13: 978-1937573003

WINNER OF 2012 BOOK OF YEAR AWARD
The past casts a long shadow — especially when it points to a woman’s first love.
Her name was Mary Grace until she fell in love with the French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm. François renamed her “Aglaia” — after the beautiful Third Grace of Greek mythology — and set the seventeen-year-old girl longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith. Now, fifteen years later, Aglaia works as a costume designer in Denver. Her budding success in the city’s posh arts scene convinces her that she’s left the country bumpkin far behind. But “Mary Grace” has deep roots, as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into a Bible during that long-ago fling, a silly errand imposed by her mother, and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench. The Third Grace is a captivating debut novel that will take you on a dual journey across oceans and time — in the footsteps of a woman torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self.

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Chapter One

Light from the floor lamp winked at Aglaia through the garnet wine as her guest swirled the glass upward—winked as though it shared Aglaia’s secret, just waiting for her to ask her question again. But she held back. She was pacing herself . . .

She studied the profile of Dr. Lou Chapman, the critical eye and the nose thrust aggressively into the bouquet of the vintage. She shifted on the sofa and reached for her goblet to mimic Lou’s actions, careful not to slosh her own wine over the rim. She didn’t want to appear gauche; it was awkward enough trying to draw outfrom Lou the information she needed to prevail in her search.

Maybe she shouldn’t have asked the professor up following the theater tonight after all, she thought. Work had beendemanding of late, and this afternoon’s traffic brutal in the drenching rain. She’d arrived back at her apartment with no time to slouch into relaxation—just a few minutes to pin her hair into a messy nest and slip on the sapphire chemise that now lay against her skin, silky as a French boy’swhisper.

“Nice legs,” Lou said.

Aglaia crossed them instinctively but caught herself before saying thanks, realizing just in time that the compliment was intended for the wine. Feeling foolish, she straightened her back and feigned a worldly, knowing air.

Lou picked up the bottle, tilted it towards the light, and read the label through the bottom half of trendy spectacles. “Where did you purchase it?”

“At Santé on East Sixth Avenue,” Aglaia said with a shrug, as though she stopped in at the posh Denver cellar regularly on her way home from work rather than just the once—last week for a tasting with her wine appreciation class. But Aglaia wondered if she’d ever truly appreciate wine. This bottle of imported pinot noir had cost her dearly but it was worth the money to gain Lou’s confidence and, besides, Aglaia’s growing collection of corks in the green bowl on the coffee table proved she was recovering from her habit of temperance.

With eyes closed Lou sampled the wine, swished, sucked air in past pursed lips. “Subdued, earthy with a subtle berry, long finish. Excellent choice.”

Aglaia couldn’t detect earth or berry, but she was glad now she hadn’t caved in to her first impulse to grab a domestic merlot at half the price.

“A toast to your enduring success in the arts,” Lou said, wine stem raised, “even if it is in the private sector instead of the university, where talent like yours belongs.”

Glasses clinked; the two women sipped.

Aglaia swallowed the astringent and watched Lou’s eyebrows, the most animated part of her face. They signaled her mood, usually dipping downward at the outer edges in world-weariness but arched now in approval. Lou’s slate-cold eyes themselves were flat, two dimensional, and gave nothing away.

Aglaia angled her glass and looked into its blood-red interior. Wine was a symbol of communion, she thought, and she was using it with carnal deliberation to seal this relationship that had so much to offer her. As she lifted the glass to her lips again, she hoped her own silhouette projected an image of glamor. Alcohol had been taboo in the home of her youth. In her current lapsed state, the mere thought of consuming it was intoxicatingin itself—and emboldening. She was about to pose her question again when Lou spoke up.

“The costumes in tonight’s performance were remarkable, but your Phantom stole the show.”

“Not myPhantomexactly,” Aglaia said.

“Don’t be coy. You’re obviously an accomplished artisan and you deserve to be discovered.”

Heat rushed to Aglaia’s cheeks but she knew she’d earned the praise. Her boss at Incognito Costume Shop wouldn’t let another employee touch the feature pieces contracted for the production, and they’d shown well on stage tonight.

Earlier this evening the curtains had closed to robust applause, but Aglaia waited until the last scalloped hem and tip of a feathered cap disappeared into the wings before joining in with the rest of the audience. When she recognized a critic from the Denver Post dashing backstage for an interview with the cast, she knew for certain that the name of Aglaia Klassen, up-and-coming costume designer, would appear again in the weekend reviews; her creations had worked their usual opening night magic. Indeed, Aglaia herself had been transported in her imagination to the play’s setting of the world-famous opera house in Paris.

Paris! It was the city of her dreams where, in just three days’ time, she’d finally be walking in the flesh. Aglaia took another sip to sober her elation over the imminent business trip, particularly regarding her plans for how she’d spend her free time there. Of course this would include a whirlwind tour of the city sights but other, admittedly idealistic, aspirations were at the forefront of her mind and had been all evening.

After the play, as Lou had driven through the city to take her home, Aglaia barely heard her scholarly assessment of the musical score because she was caught up in her thoughts of international travel. When Aglaia did speak, it was to articulate the undercurrent running though her subconscious for most of the performance—for most of her life, it seemed. That was when she’d casually brought the subject up with Lou.

“I wonder how someone can just disappear in Paris.”

Lou, slowing to make the turn onto Aglaia’s street, had said, “I suppose you’re talking about the masked villain spiriting the fair maiden away to his lair beneath the OpéraGarnier.”

“No, I mean nowadays, in real life. How would someone find a missing person in Paris?”

“That’s hardly the first question that comes to mind in critiquingThe Phantom of the Opera,” Lou had said, and she coughed out a laugh as if expecting an analysis of the play’s Faustian implications or something as cerebral. Aglaia’s own interests were much more intuitive, and she’d let the matter drop as Lou pulled into the space facing the apartment block, armed the car lock, and followed her up the steps while pontificating on the literary elements of the script.

Lou had remarked on Aglaia’s use of the Greek mask of tragedy as a pattern for the Phantom’s own disguise—a clever adaptation—and her mirroring of Hellenistic fashion in the simplicity of the heroine’s robe, guessing correctly that Aglaia’s inspiration had come from the Greek style of the Opéra’s architecture.

But all the while, right up to the time Lou had opened the wine, Aglaia was reviewing and reframing her question—her quest—regarding Paris. Lou, a sociologist at Platte River University and a jetsetter, was versed in things European, and Aglaia could use an expert at this point. Her Internet surveillance over the past month had turned up nothing very helpful.

Now Lou plucked a cat hair from the arm of the loveseat and Aglaia regretted not having vacuumed more thoroughly—Lou probably had a cleaning lady. Before the other woman could resume her intellectualized thread of the discussion on the evening’s entertainment, and at the risk of sounding fixated, Aglaia ventured a third query.

“So, Lou, if you were looking for someone in Paris, where would you start?”

This time Lou heard her, though she frowned. It clearly wasn’t her topic of choice. “Well, maybe I’d launch an investigation through the préfecture or contact the American embassy. Sightseers must go missing now and then. Or,” she gibed, “are you afraid of getting lost yourself when you’re over there, all alone in the big, bad city?”

Aglaia ignored her sarcasm. “It’s not a tourist issue.”

“You’re referring to a resident?” Lou asked with her eyebrow cocked. “The telephone book then, I suppose.”

The local phone book, of course. Aglaia would start with that notion as soon as she got to Paris. It might be a long shot, but she had this one chance for disclosure and she wasn’t going to let it slip away. She knew now how she would begin her on-site manhunt and felt herself unwinding for the first time all night.

But then the apartment buzzer rasped.

She didn’t expect anyone. Before she could answer it, the door was bumped open by her elderly mother. Tina Klassen, cheeks perpetually rouged by prairie wind and high blood pressure, was caught midsentence as though continuing an interrupted dialogue, her Low German accent still discernible.

“. . . and your father is in such a hurry to get home, Mary Grace. When harvest is wet like this and so late, you know how tense he is.”

She pronounced it “tanse” and, more out of habit than necessity, threw a Plautdietsch word into her ramble here and there—about the rain rotting the crops on the Laundt and about how Henry was waiting in the Trock outside. The tongue of the Klassen heritage was still spoken in many rural Mennonite households, but it was just partially understood and strictly avoided by Aglaia herself. She hoped Lou didn’t catch Tina’s flat, sticky words and the use of her old name, which Mom still hadn’t given up after all these years—or wouldn’t give up.

Maybe it was just as well. Tina wasn’t able to pronounce “Aglaia” correctly either, no matter how many times she was reminded that it rhymed with “I’ll pay ya.”

Tina pushed farther into the apartment. “Your father needed to pick up a tractor part none of the local dealerships had, and I don’t like it when he drives alone so long and so far. I only have a minute, dear. I brought you some fresh-baked Zwieback.

Aglaia was trying to lose a few pounds before the trip but—oh!—those rolls smelled delicious. The aroma disarmed her; she knew she should be hustling Tina out the door but couldn’t find her words.

“Did you get my parcel?” her mother asked, not yet noticing Lou sitting on Aglaia’s couch. “I didn’t know I was coming to town or I would have waited to bring it along and saved the postage. But I wanted to be sure it got to you before you left on your trip.”

In fact, when Aglaia received the package yesterday after work, she immediately began to tear at the brown paper, piqued about what her mother might be sending, until she saw the two-word title on the spine glaring through torn edges: Holy Bible. Annoyance at her mother’s intrusiveness soured her then and rose again now like acid in the back of her throat. Tina knew Aglaia was disinterested in religion—and that was an understatement.

Before Aglaia could shut the closet door, her mother spotted the packet amongst the shoes in the shadow of the coats and reached down for it. “Why, it’s right here,” she said. “Didn’t you read the note to call me?” Aglaia hadn’t gotten that far in her unwrapping, and she recoiled as Tina shoved the bundle at her. Then her mother glanced up, for the first time seeing Lou in the living room. “Oh, my,” Tina said, tightening the knot on her kerchief, “I didn’t know you had company.”

Tina seemed to have shriveled even since the last time she and Henry made the two-hundred-mile pilgrimage to Denver—a city, a state, a lifetime away from their Nebraska farm. Aglaia looked down on her though she wasn’t tall herself. She looked as far down on Mom as she looked up at Lou. Tina’s jacket didn’t hide the dowdy housedress and her shoes were muddy. Aglaia was sorry again that she ever gave her mother a key to the apartment. Resigned she made introductions.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Lou arose and offered a manicured hand. “Do come in,” she said, as if she were the hostess. Aglaia didn’t blame Lou for wanting to compensate for her own uncomfortable silence.

But Tina, a teetotaler, now eyed up the wine glasses and Aglaia could almost hear her judgmental thoughts about her daughter’s rejection of long-held Klassen values. Aglaia couldn’t risk letting Tina make further comment in Lou’s presence and took hold of her mother’s arm to steer her towards the outer hallway.

“Isn’t that Dad honking outside? You have a long drive home tonight.” That was true; they wouldn’t get back until well after midnight. “I’ll walk you down.”

“No, no. I need to explain.” Tina, flustered, ripped the butcher’s paper fully off the cumbersome black leather book, exposing it to Lou’s purview. “I found this when I was digging around under the basement stairs. I haven’t opened that trunk since the summer the French boy came to stay with us. You remember?”

Did she remember? It was all Aglaia could do to keep her memories under wraps.

Tina was opening the Bible now to the dedication page. “It says, ‘Presented to François Vivier from the Klassens.’ I thought to myself, that boy must have meant to take this home with him, since he carried it to church every Sunday he was with us, and to every Wednesday prayer meeting.”

Horrified, Aglaia opened her mouth to protest, but no sound emerged. This was worse than she first imagined—worse than her mother simply sending her a Bible for reasons of maternal concern over her spiritual state. Tina was trotting out the one aspect of Aglaia’s life she’d been trying to hide, especially from Lou. Not only was this a Bible that linked her to a personal religion, but it was the very Bible owned by the person who’d totally reformed her religion.

“He wrote notes into the margins, starting right here in Genesis,” Tina said. She pointed to a finely penciled script but, thankfully, didn’t read the misquotation aloud: In the beginning, the gods created.Tina went on, “It was too small for me to make out without my reading glasses there in the basement, and Henry was about to leave for town so I had to rush if I wanted to get it into the mail. Can you see what it says?” Tina held the book out at arm’s length for a moment before giving up. “Anyway, I decided that, since you were going to Paris, you should pack it into your suitcase and take it to him.”

Aglaia bit down hard to stop herself from exclaiming and kept her face turned towards her mom so that the other woman wouldn’t discern her mortification. She heard Lou say under her breath, “Ah, hence the questions,” and was immobilized by her mother’s proposition—in fact, by her own resolution—to find François, which sounded completely ridiculous when spoken aloud.

“Mom, I have no idea where he lives,” she said, but in her heart she wanted to shout, If only I knew where he lived!

Tina responded, “He said he was going back to that famous school. What was it called?”

“The Sorbonne, but that was years ago.” Aglaia kept her voice curt, not wanting to give Lou—who was openly eavesdropping—any reason to suppose she’d put up with the nonsense of taking a Bible along to France. “Who knows what’s happened to him since? It’d be impossible to find him.”

Aglaia doubted her mother would yield to the argument. Once she got a bone in her teeth, she was stubborn. Aglaia wouldn’t mention that looking for François had been her daydream all along. Hoping her own voice didn’t reveal her desire, she quickly added, “Besides, I’m in Paris for only a few days.” Only a few days allotted to explore the world’s most elegant city, an impossible few days to run an old heartthrob to ground.

Tina’s wrinkles deepened as her forehead puckered. True to her nature, she persisted, “I just know he’d want this precious Büak.”

As if François would care about that Bible, Aglaia thought.

Tina fiddled with the cover, thumbing the gilded edges that on her Bible had long ago lost their shine. A museum postcard slipped from between the pages to the floor, image facing up, immediately recognizable to Aglaia. She hadn’t seen the postcard for fifteen years and she stared at it, transfixed all over again by the sculpture of the three nude women. Helpless, she plummeted into the memory of that first viewing like a pebble into the pond behind the barn, once again sitting with her family around the table with François on the warm May night he came to them—seated close to him, touched by his breath.

Tarrying together, the three marble nudes stand silken in the light, immortal young sisters polished with the ages—arm encircling waist, head on shoulder. Mary Grace is intoxicated with them, captured on one of the many glossy cards he brought to show off Paris to his American host family. She doesn’t pay attention to his descriptions of the Eiffel Tower or the bridges, but only to the timbre of his voice, the poetry weaving through his hesitant English.

He turns to her for a moment and says, “They have your name, non? Les TroisGrâces—Mary Grace.”

Her brother grins and kicks her under the table but she ignores him. She’s consumed with the statues and with François’s fingertips tracing the two-dimensional outline, caressing the nymphen forms as though they’re warm and living flesh. She’s disconcerted because her own womanhood is so new. Does he mean to excite her? 

Lou stepped forward to pick up the card before Aglaia shook her reverie.

Tina squinted at it. “I hope that French Jung didn’t take such a picture into church with him.”

“Perhaps he was using it as a bookmark,” Lou said. She turned the card over and Aglaia saw it was blank except for the museum information printed on the back. “Pradier, 1790-1852. Les TroisGrâces—the Three Graces,” Lou read aloud. “Your François appreciated the female form, I see—good taste.”

Aglaia attempted to change the course of conversation. “Mom, it’s too bad I didn’t know you were coming tonight or I’d have gotten you and Dad tickets for the play.” Not that they ever attended the stage.

But Lou, looking at the photo again, continued in spite of Aglaia’s red herring. “Pradier sculpted in the neo-classical style and used the ancient Greek mythsas subject material. The Three Graces, companions of Aphrodite, were very popular, and you can see that Pradier included their signature themes of fertility, beauty, and hospitality in this work. Note the way he utilized plants and jewels to get his idea across.” She stretched her arm out so that mother and daughter could see what she meant, but Aglaia knew Lou’s point would be lost on Tina. “The mythology of Greece made its imprint throughout history along many avenues,” Lou said. “For example, the plot of The Phantom of the Opera may well have had its origins in the story of Europa, the beautiful maiden who was stolen away by Zeus disguised as a bull.”

Tina scrunched her face in confusion.

As for Aglaia, she’d first heard the Greek tale whispered into her eager young ear by François’s impassioned young lips, and then read it again in Bulfinch’s Mythology, a text she discovered in twelfth grade on the shelves of the school library after her curiosity about the gods had been aroused. Her reading matter since her childhood days might surprise and even disturb Tina if she understood its content; it wasn’t quite the holy pap Aglaia was brought up on. But Tina’s disapproval wasn’t her concern at the moment, for Lou—satisfied with her examination of the postcard—was now craning towards the Bible as though she wanted to get a good close look at it next.

“Mom, I’ll take that,” Aglaia said. She reached for the book.

Tina handed it off to her readily. “Then you will return it to the boy? I knew you’d agree that it’s just meant to be.”

Aglaia intended only to get it out of sight—out of Lou’s sight, especially. The thought of delivering it was preposterous. But she zipped it into the front pouch of hersuitcase, packed and ready on the entry table. There was time enough to deal with it later, after she got rid of her mother and recouped her image with Lou, who probably thought she was totally incompetent about now.

Reprinted from The Third Grace by Deb Elkink. © 2012 by Greenbriar Book Company.

Women’s Fiction Author Kristina McMorris on ‘Letters From Home Virtual Book Tour 2011′

Kristina McMorrisJoin Kristina McMorris, as she tours the blogosphere February 21 – March 25 2011 with Pump Up Your Book to talk about her new women’s fiction novel, Letters From Home (Kensington). Kristina will be on a nationwide blog tour giving interviews, giving away copy of her books and meeting and greeting new and old fans!

Kristina’s foray into fiction began in the fall of 2006 as a result of interviewing her grandmother for the biographical section of a self-published cookbook intended as a holiday gift for the family. Inspired by her grandparents’ wartime courtship, Kristina penned her first novel, a WWII love story titled Letters from Home. This award-winning debut is scheduled for release in trade paperback from Kensington Books (2-22-11; U.S.) and Avon/HarperCollins (5-5-11; U.K.). The condensed book rights have been sold to Reader’s Digest, and the film rights are represented by the prestigious Creative Artists Agency of Los Angeles.

Prior to her literary career, Kristina acted in numerous independent films and major motion pictures. She began hosting an Emmy-award winning television show at age nine, and most recently served as the six-year host of the WB’s weekly program Weddings Portland Style. Adding to her diverse résumé, McMorris is a professional emcee, literary workshop presenter, and former owner of a wedding/event planning business. Her previous writing background includes being a contributing writer for Portland Bride & Groom magazine and ten years of directing public relations for an international conglomerate.

Letters From HomeInspired by a true account, LETTERS FROM HOME is a story of hope and connection, of sacrifices made in love and war – and the chance encounters that change us forever. n the midst of World War II, a Midwestern infantryman falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he’s writing to is not the one replying. Woven around this tenuous thread are three female friends whose journeys toward independence take unexpected turns as a result of romance, tragedy, and deception, their repercussions heightened by an era of the unknown.

A portion of Kristina’s sales proceeds from Letters from Home will benefit United Through Reading®, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children. She is currently working on her next novel.

“A tough book to put down!…Sprinkled with fabulous historical detail and true-to-life characters, Letters from Home is a beautifully told story.”
–RT BOOK REVIEWS, 4-star rating

“Interspersing unflinching images of combat with more intimate, emotional scenes personalizes this historical period and will touch your heart….I enjoyed this book from beginning to end.”
–FRESH FICTION, Lenore Howard

“An absolutely lovely debut novel.”
–KRISTIN HANNAH, New York Times bestselling author of Firefly Lane

“An evocative and compelling storyteller, Kristina McMorris gives us a novel to savor and remember.”
–BEN SHERWOOD, president of ABC News and bestselling author of The Death & Life of Charlie St. Cloud

“Skillfully written…sweeps the readers away. The research and attention to detail commendably honor veterans of World War II.”
–LYNN “BUCK” COMPTON, famed WWII “Band of Brothers” veteran

Watch the trailer!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q62fC3PlQ6E

For more information about her virtual book tour, you can visit Kristina’s official tour page here.

Letters from Home

Pump Up Your Book is an innovative public relations agency specializing in online book publicity for authors looking for maximum online promotion to sell their books. Visit our website at www.pumpupyourbook.com to find out how we can take your book to the virtual level!

Interview with Shana Mahaffey, author of SOUNDS LIKE CRAZY

Shana  Mahaffey lives in San Francisco in an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends and five cats. She’s a survivor of Catechism and cat scratch fever, and is a member of the Sanchez Grotto Annex, a writers’ community. Her work has been published in SoMa Literary Review and Sunset Magazine.  She welcomes all visitors to her website www.shanamahaffey.com, and is happy to meet with book groups in-person or in cyberspace (phone/webcam/the works).

Her latest book is Sounds Like Crazy.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Shana. Can you tell us what your latest book, Sounds Like Crazy, is all about?

Sounds Like Crazy Sounds Like Crazy is as a darkly comic and ultimately healing story about Holly Miller, an Emmy Award winning cartoon voiceover performer who has actual voices in her head, multiple personalities who make her career a huge success, and shield her from a terrible secret in her past.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Holly Miller, the main character of the novel, has suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, for almost thirty years. She has five people—the Committee—living inside her head:

The Boy in the red converse sneakers—she can’t see his face, only his shoes.

The ancient man who spends all his time in meditation. She calls him the Silent One because he’s spoken to her once only since she met him, which, according to her, makes him the perfect manager of her spiritual life.

Sarge who keeps her safe.

Ruffles, a whale-sized woman who sits on a purple pillow eating Ruffles potato chips all day. Her bulk and position is what makes Holly’s head always tilt slightly to the left.

Betty Jane, a modern-day Scarlett O’Hara who makes Holly’s life hell on a good day.

The Committee makes it possible for Holly to slip through life as an observer. She can’t even be bothered to name her cats and her biggest passion is smoking.

There is also Sarah, Holly’s oldest sister and biggest supporter. Milton, Holly’s shrink (yes, you have to expect a shrink in a book about Dissociative Identity Disorder) who makes some unorthodox treatment choices in an effort to get Holly to understand why she has her Committee. And, of course there is the boyfriend, Peter who is the guy only Holly’s mother would love—i.e., not the guy you want to bring home to most mothers.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

I think it would be impossible for my characters not to be influenced from people I know, because aren’t we all influenced in some way small or large by the people we know? Even if it feels like I am making up a character from scratch, the foundation for this character absolutely comes from those who I know. So, it is safe to say my characters are based on a combination of real people and my imagination, which is influenced by real people.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

Before I begin writing a novel, I figure out what I want to explore on a thematic level. For example, in Sounds Like Crazy, I wanted to explore the act of forgiveness—both self and others. Once I determine the theme of my book, I figure out who are the main characters I will explore this theme through (my novels are very character driven). At this point, the actual story itself, including plot, arc, etc. will take very loose shape. In Sounds Like Crazy my I settled on Holly, her Committee, and Milton. Once I had a woman with five characters inside her head and a shrink along for the ride, it was a pretty easy jump from forgiveness to DID. After I know who  my main characters are, I write the end of the story. The rest of the book may evolve and change, characters often assert themselves in unpredictable ways, subplots attach themselves to the story line, and so forth, but the end remains constant, shining like a beacon at the finish line. I keep my writing eyes fixed on that end and let my main characters take me on a circuitous route to it.

Q: Your book is set in New York City.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

This is one of those instances where real is a huge influence. I lived in New York City for six+ years and loved every single second of it. Even though I have a fantastic life in San Francisco, one of the biggest regrets of my life was leaving New York. By setting the story in New York, I got use the advantage of the page to spend another couple of years there while at the same time giving Holly the distance she needed from her home and family.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

To quote Holly, “New York is as far away as I can get from my mother without leaving the continental United States.” So, it is safe to say, yes, New York is integral to the development of the story. It provides the much sought after physical distance and the blanket of anonymity that comes with a big city. We see almost immediately, though, that even hiding amongst the crowds in a big city doesn’t shield Holly from the bigger issues that she ultimately has to face.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Holly is in the middle of an argument with her older sister, and biggest supporter, Sarah. You see Holly has just been offered an opportunity to be the lead voice in an animated television show. Holly’s most dominant personality, Betty Jane, maneuvered her into this. Then instead of shutting this down, Holly’s analyst, Milton made a deal with Betty Jane. Sarah is shocked Milton would do such a thing and is insisting Holly say no to the job and move back to California.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

I sat in my darkened room, lit a cigarette and watched the orange tip glow as it burned.

Six hours to go. Then it would be over. Six more hours and I, Holly Miller, could mark off another milestone—twelve Christmases spent alone. Well, technically not alone if you counted the Committee. At least that’s what I told Sarah last April when she started asking how and where I planned to spend Christmas. She’d asked me the same question for the last eleven years, each year asking it earlier than the last. Each year I evaded the question until the day came and went with me still sitting in my New York City apartment counting the hours until the birth of Jesus passed and “normal” loomed once more on the horizon.

The first time I said I wouldn’t make it home for the holidays nobody protested. My mother said, “Things are too complicated at the moment to add you to the mix.” Sarah had just gotten married so she was caught up in making memories and didn’t ask any probing questions about what I’d do for the holiday.

I remember sitting in my freshman dorm room on Christmas day thinking this was how cracked glass must feel—not broken enough to be shattered and replaced but disfigured enough that it mars the view of the world. The following year my mother sent my Christmas gifts in October. She lives in Palo Alto, California, where I grew up. Okay, mail deliveries are notoriously slow around the holidays, but you don’t need two and a half months to deliver a package to the East Coast.

When I’d interviewed at New York University, they’d asked me if the distance from home would be a problem. My answer was, “New York is as far away as I can get from my mother without leaving the continental United States.” Unlike with my father whose random appearances in between business trips made it easy to ignore him regardless of proximity, I could avoid my mother’s duplicitous deeds only with physical distance between us. I didn’t realize my mother shared my need for distance until my Christmas gifts arrived early. After that, the tacit agreement between us went like this: as long as I remained in New York City, my family would continue to supply financial aid.  In my absence, Mom could spin any tale she wanted to her bridge club. Having me show up on her doorstep would be imperfect reality colliding with perfect fiction. Trust me when I say that comparison would provoke from my mother far more than an end to money flowing from a bank account in Northern California.

I lit another cigarette and listened to people shouting at each other outside on the streets. In the Lower East Side, holidays are not exempt from altercations when you have a bottle of Colt 45 and an attitude to match. I didn’t have either so I sat there muting my own regret tinged anger by chain smoking.

I inhaled and wondered what the people hurling insults were so angry about. What was I angry about? To root out the cause meant I’d have to dig into my past. Avoid the past was another one of my mother’s lessons. Trust me, I’ve mastered the ability to avoid all introspective journeys down memory lane.

When I pulled back the curtains, I didn’t see anything. Never did. I’d rented my place sight unseen because I couldn’t believe “a four room apartment with a view” was offered for such a low rent with no upfront fee. The day I moved in, I understood. My new abode consisted of a hallway (so small you had to step into the bathroom to enter and exit), bathroom, main room, and a closet. That’s four rooms in Manhattan. After eight years, I had yet to find the view. All I saw outside my two windows was a brick wall. But if I angled my body just right, I caught a sliver of sky. Regardless, the small space with only enough room for my bed, armchair, dresser and tiny table with two chairs, suited me just fine; and, the brick vista had grown on me.

My childhood was spent in a large house where we each had our own bedroom. We also had guest bedrooms, a great room, a living room, a family room, library, dining room, kitchen, hallways, pantries, sun porches, and way too many bathrooms. Sometimes hours—and when I got older, days—passed without seeing another family member.

Since leaving the Miller mansion, I’ve preferred snug spaces. After all, there’s just me and two cats I’ve never bothered to name. I refer to as them Cat 1 and Cat 2. For the Committee, whose house inside my head mirrors mine, the cramped quarters creat a strain. The deal is that the Committee lives at my level of means. I live in a studio apartment. They live in a studio apartment inside my head. When we moved to New York, I gave up my car, so Sarge had to leave his ‘57 Chevy behind. I didn’t have a car so he couldn’t have a car. You get the picture. All to say, the Committee’s snug space has to accommodate Ruffles on her pillow and Betty Jane’s California King. This doesn’t leave much room for the other three. Sarge installed a triple bunk bed with the Boy on top, him in the middle, and on the bottom, the Silent One so he doesn’t have to climb over anyone to get to bed after nighttime prayers. At least they didn’t have pets. Not yet anyway.

I let the curtain drop and took another drag on my cigarette. I shouldn’t be smoking. But I liked to smoke. Cat 1 ran into the room, let out his siren sound, a warning that the vomiting was about to begin. I looked at the cigarette. Do I keep smoking and wait for him to barf up his Christmas surprise, or do I get up and chase him around with the newspapers? I’d always thought Cat 1 was bulimic. Cat 2? He’s just fat. Me? I have five people living inside my head. What do you think?

Being my mother’s daughter, I do manage to appear passably normal even though I don’t do cute outfits with matching shoes. I wash my pale Irish skin, brush my dark brown hair, and iron my black and blue clothing. The dark colors down to my footwear help me blend in. Even my workout clothes follow this color scheme. The only variation is the white beacon of Nike hope on my feet for the forty-five minutes a day I run, although my hope remained fixed on a smaller ass, not a brighter wardrobe. As for the rest of it, lipstick equaled trauma in my world because I have had to look at Betty Jane’s ruby red lips issuing one searing indictment after another for the last twelve years. So I don’t use it and rarely wear makeup of any kind. I walked through life looking like a permanent bruise on a bleached background, half the time so focused on what is going on in my head I don’t hear people talking to me. I’d probably go completely unnoticed if Ruffles hadn’t parked her pillow in the upper left corner of my skull. At over three hundred pounds, her bulk always causes my head to lean to the left. The first time I met someone, they felt the need to mimic my left lean as if to let me know my head wasn’t on straight.

Appearances aside, most days the Committee’s chaos kept me discombobulated, but it rarely made me lonely. Holidays were an exception and required extra everything to keep the pressure of it all from closing in. Thankfully, without me asking, the Committee found something to do that didn’t involve conversation or sound of any kind.

Christmas evening, when I lit up, I was hoping I could sit, smoke, and enjoy the quiet while I waited for everything to turn normal again. The shouts on the street helped. Watching the cat puke was an unexpected bonus.

I stubbed out my cigarette and started to light another one when the phone rang.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hey, it’s me,” said Sarah.

“Please tell me you’re not calling to find out what I am doing next Christmas.”

“No, I want to know what you’re doing for your birthday. I thought I’d fly out.”

I was born on New Year’s Eve. You might think it’s great that the whole world has a party every year on my birthday, but I’ve never been big on celebrations. I usually spent the anniversary of my birth avoiding the ghosts of the past. This year I was turning thirty. Entering a new decade would bring a multitude of ghosts and their friends. Having Sarah cross the country to see me safely over that threshold quashed any worries I had about yesteryear clamoring for attention.

Sarah was the only family member who’d ever visited me during the twelve years I’d lived on the East Coast. My parents would have come for my graduation but getting them there together was complicated and getting me on the stage was more complicated. I told them I’d decided to skip it. Then I made sure to charge my cap and gown on the emergency credit card my mother gave me when I started at NYU. I did so with the faint hope that someone might see the bill and show up. At least take me out to dinner.

Turns out my mother didn’t bother to look at the credit card statement until a couple of months after I graduated. Sarah wouldn’t fill me in on the particulars of the conversation they had. She didn’t need to. The expletives Sarah uttered after I told her I had marched in the graduation ceremony said it all. After that, Sarah started reviewing my statements on her weekly visits to our mother’s house. She noticed everything.

After she had her first child, Sarah no longer liked to travel. Then she had the second one and she started saying, “I have my male alphabet—Doug, Elliot, and Francis—and the Bay Area offers everything you could ever need. Why would I want to be anywhere else?” One of Sarah’s goals in life was to be a better partner and parent than her role models growing up. Just thinking about doing a better job put her far ahead of my parents. But that wasn’t enough for Sarah. What she accomplished as a wife and mother would put most spouses and parents to shame.

The thing was, Sarah hadn’t turned up on my twentieth birthday and she only had her first letter of the alphabet—D—then. So why my thirtieth? I immediately ignored that thought because if I asked her, Sarah would tell the truth and I didn’t want any honesty to trump the happiness I felt at that moment.

When Sarah finished giving me her flight details, I said, “I’m glad you’re coming. See you next week at six PM. Hanging up now.” I never said goodbye and I hated it when people said it to me because I always felt like goodbye meant I would never see them again.

“Hang on. Holly,” Sarah interrupted, “for the short time that I am there, I’d like to set some limits around that Committee of yours.” What was about to follow bit into my anticipation. “I’d like to request that Betty Jane not be present for the birthday festivities.”

Before I could react, I felt what can only be described as an invisible hook around my waist and caught a glimpse of Betty Jane’s red lips pursed in a resentful line as she executed what Milton and I referred to as a hostile takeover.

“Who do you think you are to banish me?” shot out of my mouth in a sugary southern tone edged with sour.

“Betty Jane,” Sarah’s voice sounded severe, “how dare you. I will not tell you again that you are not to speak to me. You return my sister immediately or I will take steps you will not like.”

Inside my head, the Committee and I exchanged worried glances while we waited for Betty Jane to respond. None of us had any idea what Sarah meant, but her voice made clear that whatever it was, she could make good on it.

“Do you understand me?” said Sarah.

Betty Jane immediately let go, but I felt the sting of her outrage as we transitioned.

“Holly?” said Sarah.

“Yes,” I whispered. Betty Jane had never backed down to anyone and I didn’t know what scared me more, that she did it or Sarah’s threat that made her do it.

“I am serious. No Betty Jane.”

Sarah still didn’t get that I couldn’t exactly banish someone who lived in my head, and for a moment, I considered telling her to forget it. But as funny as it sounds coming from someone living in New York City, I was lonesome and wanted physical interaction that didn’t include pretenses, wasn’t superficial, and/or didn’t have fur and four legs. I wanted my sister, my confidante, my friend, the one person who accepted me rips, tears, cracks, leaks, the Committee and all. It was a tough blow to discover Sarah accepted all but one part of me. That transformed the idea of a fun birthday into a day like any other day in my life with me trying to muddle through while trying to manage Betty Jane. After all these years, I’d only been successful on that front when our desires matched.

I sighed. “Okay.”

“Also, Holly,” said Sarah, “it would be nice to meet your boyfriend.”

I had learned a long time ago that separation of church and state, as it were, was the best way to maintain secrets. My relationships always ended when the sex got boring and the guy wanted to know my middle name. Suffice to say that my boyfriend, Peter, didn’t know about the Committee, that I had a sister, that New Year’s Eve was my birthday, and that I didn’t have a middle name.

I sighed again. “I’m sure he’d like to meet you too.”

My boyfriend, Peter, was an enigma. Half of him was a tall, sexy, urbane devotee of Tim Gunn and Project Runway, mimicking him down to the suit, tie, and slicked back hair. The other half was a serious graduate student in religious studies. I met him the diner where I worked as a waitress one morning when he came in early to try to stave off his post all-night partying hangover with greasy food. He never would have noticed me if not for an off the cuff reference to Kierkegaard I made that piqued his interest. We’d been together for only two months and as the antithesis of all his previous girlfriends in height, weight, intelligence, looks, and so on, I found myself wondering, hourly, if we really were in a relationship. Luckily, we hadn’t yet reached the point where the stardust had worn off and/or I’d lost my ability to charm him with my witty repartee. I’d been there with previous boyfriends enough times to know it meant you have to actually learn more about each other better, or hop off the train. You can guess which choice I always made. But I wasn’t ready to let Peter go yet.

Meeting Sarah would definitely accelerate our journey to that fork in the road.

I called Peter immediately after Sarah and I hung up. His big New Year’s plan included Times Square, the most populated place in the country, me, and all of his friends. He’d mentioned it a few weeks earlier and my response had been the same one I had for most things I didn’t want to do—remain noncommittal and pray for a solution. When Sarah called and offered me one, I figured God was having a light day.

“So, my sister is going to be here on New Year’s Eve,” I said.

“Cool, she can come with us to Times Square,” said Peter.

“Well, the thing is,” I hesitated, “she’s arriving at six o’clock in the evening and leaving the following morning. She was kind of hoping we could do a quiet sister thing.”

I heard Peter breathing on the other end of the phone and asked the obvious question, “Are you mad?” He remained silent.

“Are you?” I asked again.

He still didn’t answer.

“I’ll see if I can work it out,” I said, “but if not, you’ll be with your friends.”

“Yeah, that’s why I have a girlfriend.”

“I’ll figure it out,” I said.

The day before New Year’s Eve, Peter still thought Sarah and I were spending the next evening with him and half the world in Times Square and Sarah thought Peter had other plans.

I grew up with a woman who excelled at igniting roaring blazes with one word; and I’d had the pleasure of Betty Jane, who’d lived inside my head for the past twelve years and was equally good at setting fires. I probably had other options, but when desperate, you go with what you know.

I took a seemingly innocuous comment from Peter—“The jeans you wore the other day look better on you”—and  doused it with verbal gasoline: “You think I’m fat.”

“Don’t be difficult—”

“Fat and difficult.” I raised my voice several octaves for effect. “What else?”

And with that, I ignited the roaring fight that got me out of introducing my sister and my boyfriend.

Most people would probably think I’m a horrible person for doing this; they’d probably also think one night in Times Square was not a big deal.  Maybe I am a horrible person, but I live in a crowd. I didn’t need to extend it by standing in the middle of a much larger one. Not to mention that I’d be with people I didn’t know well enough to dislike, a boyfriend who didn’t have the first clue about me, my sister who’d probably expose me in her attempt to protect me, and Betty Jane who was liable to pull something really awful because she’d been excluded. If you were in my shoes, even if you said you wouldn’t, when the time came, you’d be willing to do anything to avoid that situation. Trust me on this.

When I opened my eyes on the morning of my birthday, Betty Jane raised her glass in a toast. I thought she’d forgiven me for her impending banishment. Then, as I buttoned my work uniform, she said, “I’ve told you many times that style doesn’t flatter your figure, or maybe Peter was right, and you’ve put on weight.”

“He never said that,” I said. She arched one eyebrow. “I said it.” Betty Jane smiled. “Never mind.”

I stood five foot three if I held my head up straight. My waitress uniform with its tie at the waist drew attention to my long torso and short legs, making me appear squat and fat. Betty Jane had an eye for clothing that flattered. I didn’t. But Betty Jane and I had been playing the game of retribution in the form of insults thinly veiled as truth for a long time. Only she played it much better than I did. She knew all my weaknesses and plunked on them like Beethoven on a fortepiano. The notes were soft or hard depending on her anger. Commenting on my weight meant her hands were crashing down on the keys. You couldn’t find an ounce of excess fat on my body if you put me under a microscope.

In other words, I was not forgiven.

She raised her glass again at that thought and I realized that there was more than orange juice in it. I’d never seen Betty Jane drunk before but having witnessed the combination of my father and a bottle of booze on many occasions while growing up, I recognized a mean drunk when I saw one.  But I’d chosen to comply with my sister’s wishes, and I left the responsibility of containing Betty Jane to Ruffles.

On my way home from the diner, I made my daily stop at the A&P grocery store. I believed that shopping weekly would force me into choices I might not like. How was I to know on Tuesday what I might want to eat on Saturday?

I stood in front of the cereal boxes debating with Ruffles and Sarge about whether Sarah would want Cheerios or toast for breakfast. Then Betty Jane slurred, “She banished me. Don’t get her anything.”

“I can’t believe you silenced her with a bottle of gin.” I said.

Inside my head, Ruffles held up her hands, “Hey, I did the best I could under the circumstances.” Betty Jane controlled the Committee, so they couldn’t banish her any more than I could. The only other option was to make her unavailable. Getting her drunk accomplished that and then some.

“Can you at least take the bottle away and hide it?” I asked.

I closed my eyes. Sarge reached for it. Betty Jane slapped him as she stumbled towards her bed, upending and draining the bottle on the way.

“Jesus, she’s smashed,” I said. I shook my head. “Quick, before she goes down, cereal or toast?”

Chatting in front of the Cheerios with nobody but myself went unnoticed in a big city. If I let down my guard like this back in Palo Alto, Nancy from my mother’s bridge club would spot me and tell Marjorie and Kate, and the next thing you know all the families would be sitting poolside at some neighborhood barbeque whispering about me instead of their monthly Botox treatments.

Living in New York definitely had its abject moments, but when the woman standing next to me pulling a box of Rice Crispies off the shelf didn’t even glance sidelong as I discussed Betty Jane’s inebriation along with the pros and cons of cereal vs. toast, those moments didn’t seem so bad.

We decided on cereal and toast and I also bought the makings for a salad and pasta. On the way to the checkout, I grabbed a thirty dollar bottle of wine and a coffee cake in a box. We’d need something to stick the candles on later. Then I decided I should start the new year with a new toothbrush, toothpaste and floss and walked over to the dental hygiene section.

I picked up two packages and said, “Do you know the difference between unwaxed and waxed floss?”

“I read that dental tape is better,” said Ruffles.

“Is it?”

“Is what?” I turned and saw an A&P clerk standing next to me.

I shook my head and threw both packages in the cart.

By the time I arrived home, Betty Jane lay sprawled on her bed in a drunken stupor inside my head. Her incapacitation made the Committee unable to speak and participate. I knew the rest of the Committee would give me a pass on this one, especially since the solution to the “how to keep Betty Jane out of Sarah’s face” problem came from Ruffles. Hopefully, nasty remarks, and a hangover would be the extent of Betty Jane’s retribution.

The upside of Betty Jane’s drinking was that her hangover should keep her in bed for at least a day after Sarah’s departure, which would give me time to apologize to Peter, grovel if necessary, and then initiate a passionate reunion. Milton had warned me once about the consequences of using this method to restore harmony in a relationship. He said, “Do this and you become more enmeshed in the fantasy, when the reality is that the relationship wouldn’t exist if you ever thought about what made you stay.” This time, I ignored him.

I checked my watch, two o’clock. I had four hours to kill before Sarah arrived.

It was just past ten o’clock. Sarah and I sat under the covers in my bed. We’d had all our conversations like this while growing up—me against my pillow and Sarah with her back against the wall and legs hooked over mine. “Holly,” said Sarah, “Mom asked me to ask you when are you going to get a real job and support yourself like most people your age do? She thinks you wait tables to spite her.”

My working as a waitress bothered my mother almost as much as it did Betty Jane—especially when she compared me to Sarah who went from high school, to college, to marriage, and to a career in accounting, hitting all the success milestones at just the right time. By age thirty, Sarah had embarked on motherhood, and four years and two perfectly timed children later she was now hitting all the right child rearing achievements on schedule. From my mother’s perspective, by now I should have a successful career and a husband trying fervently to impregnate me.

I said to Sarah, “Ask Mom if she’d prefer to tell the bridge club that her NYU honor student can’t seem to find career success outside of the food industry because she has a little problem of five people inhabiting her head.” I smirked.

My sister sat silent. A few years ago she had decided it was best to remain neutral on the topic of my employment. She could not see the causal link between the fact that my job required me to interact with so many people and how often I changed employers.  The missing piece I never shared was that I waited tables, and subsequently, it was Betty Jane’s behavior that always got me fired within six to eight months. When Sarah suggested I try to stay put, build stability in my life, I asked her to trust me that this was the best I could do. “At least I have a boyfriend.” I said, hoping to direct the conversation to accomplishments my mother did care about.

“Well, yes,” said Sarah, “she was thrilled until I told her your boyfriend is a graduate student on scholarship. She figured out where the excess charges were coming from pretty quickly after that, Holly.”

“Is that why you wanted to meet him?” I asked. “Did she tell you to?”

“She didn’t have to. I see the credit card bill. And—”

“You’re always going to protect me,” I said. Sarah had told me this so many times over the years, I recognized the specific way her mouth shaped right before the words came out.

“I am always going to protect you.” Sarah squeezed my hand and my chest ached. Just once I wanted to be the one who protected her. It wasn’t fair that she seemed to walk through life as my bullet proof vest.

I sighed.

“I expected Mom to take comfort in the fact that my mind was not wasting. This seemed to be her chief complaint,” I said. “I addressed it and still she’s not satisfied.”

“We are now on the avenue called sarcastic,” said Sarah. “Maybe she is right. You do keep working as a waitress to spite her.”

A few years earlier my mother had asked Sarah how someone with an expensive education could have no ambition other than to serve breakfast. It was an appropriate question for most parents and had my mother been like most parents, we would have had a credible, albeit misleading answer prepared. My mother so rarely asked questions about me or my life, and her query had caught Sarah off guard. Her answer came across as vague and neutral and my mother immediately interpreted my behavior as a slight against her. I’d never admit it to Sarah, but I did derive a certain pleasure from imagining my mother trying to explain my career path to her friends.

Betty Jane stirred inside my head. I looked at the view out my bedroom window and whispered, “Not her.”

“What? And why are you whispering?” Sarah raised her voice.

I reached out my hand to cover her mouth while I pressed my forefinger to mine and shushed. “Betty Jane,” I said softly, “I don’t want to wake her.” If Betty Jane was a mean drunk, she’d definitely be meaner the day after with a hangover.

“I’m not going to whisper,” said Sarah.

“Please, Sarah. You asked that she not appear. Please. You’re leaving tomorrow but I’ll still be here with her.”

“Oh, all right.” Sarah made a face but her voice had dropped an octave. “What did you just say?” she whispered.

“Nothing.”

Waiting tables in a diner meant my means were meager, which was the main source of contention between me and Betty Jane. I wanted to retire as a waitress to keep that one tiny corner of control. She was inclined to charm her way into earning every penny possible waiting tables. Explaining to Sarah that my battle was with Betty Jane and not my mother would take us straight out of the valley of whispers and straight up the mountain of screams.

Sarah sat silent, no doubt struggling over whether to push me or let it lie. I bit my lower lip. Please let it lie. I bit harder and tasted blood. Sarah’s face became pained.

“I can’t keep excusing your working as a waitress,” she said quietly.

I mouthed the words thank you.

“Holly, your inability to exercise any control over your life…” Sarah let the rest of the comment hang suspended in the air. This tired discussion only resulted in me feeling more inadequate, and inadequacy was not exactly a means to motivate me. It was easy to hide under the blanket of anonymity a big city offered, but that just covered my social anxiety and failure to manage many areas of daily life. It didn’t get rid of them.

“I’m doing the best I can,” I said sadly. “Asking me to lead your version of a normal life is like asking a quadriplegic to get up and walk. Of course he is desperate to stand up and run as fast as he can away from that chair. But he can’t and neither can I.”

Sarah frowned and shook her head. “Holly, nobody is asking—”

I stopped her with the palm of my hand. “I know my inability to lead a normal life, with a normal job, a normal relationship, and normal friends after all these years seems excessive and unreasonable, but I’m not you and I never will be.”

“You’re spending way too much money, Holly,” said Sarah. “We’re having a hard time explaining the excessive charges to the Father.”

I laughed softly. I had started calling my father “the Father” when I was fourteen and his conversion from alcohol to God had failed. I’d never heard Sarah use the moniker. She usually said it was disrespectful. I wondered what the father did to overcome Sarah’s deference, but I didn’t ask.

“Your life is excessive and unreasonable under the circumstances,” she said.

“Not true. I’m making enough now to cover my rent. Betty Jane is even helping.”

“How?” said Sarah.

“Well,” I paused. I realized that I’d just blurted out something I should have left safely unsaid. This was the downside of Betty Jane passed out drunk. She usually prevented me from blurting out Committee secrets.

“Are you letting her speak?” Sarah sounded ominous.

I nodded my head slightly and looked away. By taking over when I worked, Betty Jane managed to turn waitressing straw into gratuity gold. Ruffles helped me in my fight to maintain control by also working through me in the diner. The resulting competition between them had quadrupled the tips. I knew I was playing a dangerous game, but when you’re trying to hang on, the risks seem smaller and the consequences are always too far ahead to notice.

Sarah said, “Part of the process of integration involves limiting the Committee as much as possible. You know this. Why are you giving them free rein?”

Your process, I thought. Sarah and Milton’s goal was integration of the Committee, which meant one Holly and no Committee. My goal was to avoid the immobilizing anguish I felt at the thought of losing everyone Betty Jane. “People like it. Besides,” I said indignantly, “it’s only Betty Jane. Well, and Ruffles. But only those two.”

“Oh, for God sake, Holly. If you let your Committee, as you call them, do everything for you, you’ll never have any control over your life.”

“It’s only fair that they help.”

“You can’t do this, Holly,” said Sarah, “I forbid it.” Sarah always “used her words” when she wanted to assert control over me. She should have learned that the phrase made no difference when she forbid me to continuing seeing Peter after several charges for expensive restaurants came in on the emergency credit card. She thought he was using me, which was another reason for them not to meet.

I listened to the sound of Sarah’s breathing. “Holly, I’m very concerned,” she said. “Does Milton know about this?”

Yeah right, I thought. Betty Jane is going to let that conversation happen. I shook my head.

“No wonder you’ve made absolutely no progress in the last five years.” Sarah paid the bill Milton sent her every month.

“Making it through the day is progress, Sarah,” I said. “It’s a constant battle, one that requires all my energy to hold the line. You have no idea how exhausting it is to live with her, Sarah. No idea.”

“Maybe not, but you still place me in a very awkward position, Holly. I have to explain to the Father why there’s no end in sight to the therapy bills.”

I sat up straighter. “He pays for my therapy?” My father and I hadn’t spoken since the day I graduated from high school. I thought Sarah’s contact with him was limited to a Christmas card and the annual perfunctory birthday call. I realized that for her to get him to cover these costs, the contact had to be a lot more than rare.

Sarah nodded her head. “Yes, he’s been paying since you started.”

Knowing my father covered the costs of my treatment and Sarah had had a hand in getting him to do it made me happy in a sick sort of way. I thought everyone in our family should make restitution in some form or another for what had happened. Everyone, including me. We were all guilty. Some of us more than others.

After I blew out the candles, Sarah said, “Holly, I really want you to have a good life. I want you to have everything you deserve.” When she said it, a heavy wash of sadness pressed in on my chest. “You have to forgive yourself, Holly. You have to forgive yourself. It’s the only way through it.”

“Have you forgiven yourself, Sarah?” I said.

“A long time ago.” she sighed and squeezed my hand.

I couldn’t tell her that even when you decide you’ve paid in full, if what you’ve paid for has become part of the framework of your life, you can’t let it go that easily. But if Sarah had forgiven herself, maybe it was time for me to try.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Shana.  We wish you much success!

Thank you!!

Women’s Fiction Author Shana Mahaffey on ‘Sounds Like Crazy Virtual Book Tour’ Dec. 6

Shana MahaffeyJoin Shana Mahaffey as she tours the blogosphere December 6, 2010 to January 14, 2011 to promote her new women’s fiction novel, Sounds Like Crazy (Penguin Books).

Though she doesn’t remember the trauma that caused it, Holly Miller, the main character of Shana’s novel, has Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her personality has fractured into five different identities, together known as The Committee. And as much as they make Holly’s life hell, she can’t live without them. Then one of those identities, the flirtatious, southern Betty Jane, lands Holly a voiceover job. Betty Jane wants nothing more than to be in the spotlight. The rest of The Committee wants Betty Jane to shut up. Holly’s therapist wants to get to the bottom of her broken psyche. And Holly? She’s just along for the ride.

The San Francisco Chronicle says, “Mahaffey documents a realistic setting and progression of psychotherapy…both funny and poignant, Sounds Like Crazy celebrates resilience as an essential element of the human condition.”

Sounds Like Crazy“Mahaffey has infused the book with keen insights into human nature and the complexities of life that challenge all of us,” says San Franscisco Book Review. “Sounds Like Crazy is a novel that should appeal to anyone who has ever wondered about the little voice in the back of their head.”

Tish Cohen, author of The Inside Out Girl, says “Tender, fresh, and darkly comic, Sounds Like Crazy is a sweet and poignant debut. In exploring the reality of a lonely woman living with dissociative identity disorder. Shana Mahaffey has created an honest and compelling character that will both touch your heart and have you laughing out loud.”

Shana Mahaffey lives in San Francisco in an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends and five cats. She’s a survivor of Catechism and cat scratch fever, and is a member of the Sanchez Grotto Annex, a writers’ community. Her work has been published in SoMa Literary Review and Sunset Magazine. She welcomes all visitors to her website www.shanamahaffey.com, and is happy to meet with book groups in-person or in cyberspace (phone/webcam/the works).

If you’d like to find out more about Shana during her virtual book tour, visit her official tour page here.

You can purchase Sounds Like Crazy at Amazon.

Interview with Allie Larkin: ‘My stories tend to spring from my characters’

Allie Larkin

Allie Larkin lives in Rochester, New York, with her husband, Jeremy, their two German Shepherds, Argo and Stella, and a three-legged cat.

She is the co-founder of TheGreenists.com, a site dedicated to helping readers take simple steps toward going green.

STAY is her first novel.

You can visit Allie’s website at www.allielarkinwrites.com.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Allie. Can you tell us what your latest book, Stay, is all about?

Savannah “Van” Leone is heartbroken when her best friend marries the guy she’s been in love with since college.  She has to be the maid of honor in the wedding (and wear a hideous bright orange dress).  When the wedding is over, she goes home, has a few too many vodka and grape Kool-Aid cocktails, watches a Rin Tin Tin marathon and accidentally orders a German Shepherd off the internet from Slovakia.  The tiny puppy she thinks she’s getting turns out to be a 100lb beast who only responds to commands in Slovak, but Van quickly realizes that the dog, who she names Joe, is the loyal friend she’s been looking for.  Joe leads Van to Dr. Alex Brandt, a veterinarian with floppy blond hair and a winning smile.  But just as things start to heat up with Alex, the newlyweds come back, forcing Van to decide between old relationships and the promise of new ones.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Van has a good heart, and she tries very hard to find her place in the world and do the right thing.  She’s also an awful housekeeper, a closet Boston fan, and someone I’d be proud to call a friend– if she were real. Janie, Peter and Diane are all people she’s known for a very long time.  One of the major issues Van has to navigate is how to keep people she’s known so long in her life when her life has changed so much.  How do you find a way to grow up and move on and still keep ties to your past?

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

Joe is loosely based on my German Shepherds, Argo and Stella, but otherwise, all of my characters are pure fiction.  I like to use real locations a lot in my work, but I like the freedom of writing about characters who don’t resemble people I know.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

A little bit of both.  I have a vague idea of some of the things that might need to happen, but my stories tend to spring from my characters, and as I get to know my characters better, I discover the details of the story.

Q: Your book is set in Rochester.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

I’ve lived in Rochester for ten years now, and it feels like home.  So many books take place in very big cities or very small towns.  I wanted to put Van in a location that would make her relatable, and I liked being able to use the places in Rochester I’ve come to know and love while living here.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Van needed to start her life away from where she grew up, and Rochester was a great place for that to happen for her.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Van has just returned from the airport after picking up the 100 pound German Shepherd she accidentally ordered off the internet from Slovakia.  She’s not quite sure what to do with a 100 pound dog, and still a little afraid of him.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

The words on the screen were starting to blur, but I didn’t care. I needed a dog, and I wasn’t going to stop until I found one. I clicked from one site to another and then, I saw him.

He was a shaggy ball of fur. Jet black, except for a small pink tongue hanging out of his mouth. His head was tipped to one side like he was listening to something intently. One of his ears flopped over. The breeder was in Bratislava, Slovakia, and the site wasn’t in English, with exception of a few shaky translations. At the top of the picture of the puppy, it said something I couldn’t read, and then male 11/5. The puppy was only a few weeks old. He was just a baby. Under his picture, there was a link that said, order form. I moused over it, ready to click.

I took another long slurp of my Kool-Aid. I couldn’t just decide I wanted a dog and order one off the Internet. It was crazy. Crazy! I tried to go back to watching Rin Tin Tin, but I couldn’t stop staring at the picture of the puppy. It was like one of those paintings where the eyes follow you everywhere. From every angle, I felt like that dog was looking at me. He was going to be taken away from his mother. He was going to be given to some random family and he was going to get lonely and miss his mom and they wouldn’t understand. Not like I would.

“You need me, don’t you?” I asked him. I felt like his eyes looked more and more sad and lonely every time I looked at the picture.

I clicked on the link. The order form said that the cost for the dog was one hundred and forty thousand koruny, which, seven drinks in, I figured was like pesos or lira or something like that, where a thousand of them equaled a dollar. I thought about looking it up, but my vision was starting to blur, and I wanted a dog. Now. I didn’t want to wait any longer than I had to. What if someone else was sitting around in their pajamas watching the Rin Tin Tin marathon, realizing they needed a dog too? What if, in the time I took to look up the conversion rate, someone else bought my puppy? Someone else would get to cuddle up with that little ball of fuzz. Someone else would get sloppy dog kisses on their cheek. Someone else would have a true and loyal friend who would hop over burning hay bales for them, and I’d still be alone. And whoever got him wouldn’t understand him the way I would. It was probably really cheap. Cheaper than buying a dog from the United States even, I was sure.

I grabbed my purse off the coffee table and rifled through the mess of business cards and discount cards, dropping them all over the couch, until I found my credit card.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Allie.  We wish you much success!

Thank you so much!

Book Excerpt: My Sister’s Voice by Mary Carter

Title: My Sister’s Voice
Author: Mary Carter
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Kensington (May 25, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0758229208
ISBN-13: 978-0758229205

What do you do when you discover your whole life was a lie? In Mary Carter’s unforgettable new novel, one woman is about to find out. . .

At twenty-eight, Lacey Gears is exactly where she wants to be. An up-and-coming, proudly Deaf artist in Philadelphia, she’s in a relationship with a wonderful man and rarely thinks about her difficult childhood in a home for disabled orphans. That is, until Lacey receives a letter that begins, “You have a sister. A twin to be exact…”

Learning her identical, hearing twin, Monica, experienced the normal childhood she was denied resurrects all of Lacey’s grief, and she angrily sets out to find Monica and her biological parents. But the truth about Monica’s life, their brief shared past, and the reason for the twins’ separation is far from simple. And for every one of Lacey’s questions that’s answered, others are raised, more baffling and profound.

Complex, moving, and beautifully told, My Sister’s Voice is a novel about sisterhood, love of every shape, and the stories we cling to until real life comes crashing in…

Excerpt

Chapter 1
It was here, in the City of Brotherly Love, at twenty-eight years of age, that Lacey Gears first discovered she had a sister. An identical twin. Of course it wasn’t true. A joke, a hoax, a prank. As if. It was completely ridiculous, and although she of all people appreciated a good—Gotcha!— she didn’t have time for games today. She had to buy an anniversary gift for her boyfriend Alan, then race off to paint a chubby Chihuahua and its anorexic owner. An identical twin. Funny, ha-ha.

The hoax came by way of her red mailbox. She wasn’t going to open the mail, she usually waited until the end of the day to sift through it, preferably with a glass of wine, for a single bill could depress her all day long. But as she jogged down her front steps, she caught sight of the mailman wheeling his pregnant bag down the sidewalk. He had just passed her house, when he caught her eye. He made a dramatic stop, and waved his arms at her as if she were an Airbus coming in for a landing instead of a 5’6 slip of a girl. He jabbed his finger at her mailbox, then patted his large stomach, and then once again jabbed his finger at her mailbox with an exaggerated wag of his head and a silly smile. Lacey had to laugh. She gave him a slight shrug held her hands out like, Can-I-help-it-if-I’m-so-popular?

He winked, blew her a kiss, and then pointed at her mailbox again. She caught his kiss, pretended to swoon, and blew him a kiss of his own. By now they had an unappreciative audience. The woman who lived next door was standing in the middle of her walkway, hands on hips, glaring at the mailman. She was a large white woman in a small red bathrobe. He gave Lacey one last wave, one last jab at the mailbox. Oh, why not. If it would make him happy, she could spare a few seconds to open it. Lacey waved goodbye to him and hello to the woman in the red bathrobe. Only one wave was returned. She turned her attention to the mailbox.

He wasn’t kidding. It was stuffed. She had to use both hands to get a grip on it, and exert considerable effort. She managed to yank out the entire pile, but she moved too fast, causing the precarious mound to shift and slide through her hands. As the mail swan dived the steps, she bent at the knees and lowered herself, as if she’d rather let it take her down than give up. She finally, got a rein on the loose bits, and nervous she was wasting time, she began to flip through the day’s offerings.

Bills: AT&T, Time Warner; Catalogues: Macy’s, Deaf Digest, Galluadet University; Advertisements: Chow Chow’s Chinese restaurant, 20 percent off carpet cleaning, Jiffy Lube. Waste of time. Lacey stuffed the mail back in the box, and was about to close the lid when she spotted it a white envelope, sticking out of one of the catalogues. She’d almost missed it. She pulled it out and stared at it.

No address, no stamp, no postmark. Just her name typed across the front, looking as if it had been pecked out on a typewriter from the Jurassic Period. An anonymous letter with its mouth taped shut; a ransom note. For a split-second she was worried someone had kidnapped her dog. She glanced up at the window to her bedroom, and to her relief spotted her puggle, Rookie. His nose was smashed up against the windowpane she’d spent hours cleaning, drool running down and forming Spittle Lake, brown eyes pleading: How can you leave me? She air-kissed her dog an obscene amount of times, then once again turned her attention back to the envelope.

Lacey Gears

Mysterious letter in hand, she jogged down the steps to the curb where her Harley Sportser 883 was parked, slung her leg over her motorcycle, and perched comfortably in the custom-made leather seat. She soothed herself in her fun-house reflection elongated in the bike’s polished chrome, detailed in Red Hot Sunglo and Smokey Gold. A feeling of peace settled over her. When she was on her bike she felt sexy and confident, something every woman deserved to feel. Some days she wished she could figure out how to stay on it 24/7.

She’d bought the bike after selling her first piece of abstract art, a kaleidoscope of hands coming together in slow motion, bought by PSD, the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, where as a little girl Lacey had longed to go. At least a piece of her was there now, hanging on the walls as a reminder to Deaf children that they could be anything, achieve anything, do everything but hear. It sold for a decent amount of money, leaving her feeling giddy and slightly guilty as if she had gotten away with something. She bought the Harley as quick as she could, in case they turned around and asked for the money back. Alan said it was proof she could stop painting pet-and-owner portraits and focus solely on what she wanted to paint. But despite her luck with the one sale, the only paintings she was doing besides the portraits were ones she didn’t want to share with the world. Not just yet. And for the most part she liked her job. She had to admit, she usually liked the pets a little more than the people, but even most of them weren’t so bad. She turned her attention back to the envelope, peeled the edge up, and slid her finger across the inside-top. The envelope sliced into her finger, cutting a thin line across her delicate skin. A drop of blood sprouted and seeped onto the envelope. She jerked her hand back, as a slip of white paper slid out of the envelope like an escaped prisoner, and fluttered to the ground.

Lacey hopped off the bike, and chased the paper down the sidewalk. It stayed just enough ahead of her to make her look like an idiot chasing it. A slight breeze picked it up and lifted it into the air. It hovered mid-stream, like a mini-magic-carpet. Make a wish, Lacey thought. She reached out and caught it before it sunk to the ground. After all this fuss, it had better be good.

You have a twin sister. Her name is Monica. Go to Benjamin Books. Look at the poster in the window.

Lacey looked up the street, convinced the mailman was standing by with another wink and a laugh. He wasn’t. He was way up the street, his cart parked in the middle of the sidewalk, his bag now slung over his shoulder, thwapping into the side of his leg with each long stride up the steps in front of him. Bathrobe-woman was nowhere in sight either. For all Lacey knew she only came out once a day to wither away civil servicemen with a single look.

You have a twin sister. . . .

My Sister’s Voice by Mary Carter is available for pre-order at Amazon. Add My Sister’s Voice to your Amazon Wish List by clicking here. To find out more about Mary Carter, visit her website at www.marycarterbooks.com.

Women’s fiction author Mary Carter on virtual book tour with My Sister’s Voice

Mary CarterWomen’s fiction author Mary Carter will begin promoting her new book, My Sister’s Voice, on April 5 to kick off her April & May 2010 virtual book tour.

Mary will begin her tour with an interview at The Writer’s Life on April 5 and will be stopping off at 40 blogs before she winds it up with a book review at Book Reviews by Buuklvr81 on May 28. Some of her stops include Dear Author, Examiner, Blogcritics, and will include over 20 book review blogs. Readers will have a chance to win a free copy of her book during several of her stops just by stopping by and saying hello.

Mary’s book focuses on Lacey Gears who, at twenty-eight, is exactly where she wants to be. An up-and-coming, proudly Deaf artist in Philadelphia, she’s in a relationship with a wonderful man and rarely thinks about her difficult childhood in a home for disabled orphans. That is, until Lacey receives a letter that begins, “You have a sister. A twin to be exact…”

My Sister's VoiceLearning her identical, hearing twin, Monica, experienced the normal childhood she was denied resurrects all of Lacey’s grief, and she angrily sets out to find Monica and her biological parents. But the truth about Monica’s life, their brief shared past, and the reason for the twins’ separation is far from simple. And for every one of Lacey’s questions that’s answered, others are raised, more baffling and profound.

Complex, moving, and beautifully told, My Sister’s Voice is a novel about sisterhood, love of every shape, and the stories we cling to until real life comes crashing in…

Mary is a freelance writer and novelist. My Sister’s Voice is her fourth novel with Kensington. Her other works include: She’ll Take It, Accidentally Engaged, Sunnyside Blues, and The Honeymoon House in the best selling anthology Almost Home. She is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has just completed A Very Maui Christmas, a new novella for Kensington that will be included in a Christmas of 2010 anthology. She is currently working on a new novel, The Pub Across the Pond, about an American woman who swears off all Irish men only to learn she’s won a pub in Ireland. Readers are welcome to visit her online at www.marycarterbooks.com.

If you would like to follow Mary’s tour, click here.

Other books include:

Friendships among women shines through for Sheila Roberts

Small ChangeRachel, Jessica, and Tiffany all share a difficult secret: they’re all struggling with major financial problems. A sudden divorce has turned Rachel from a stay-at-home mom to a strapped-for-cash divorcee about to enter the workforce for the first time. Tiffany’s spending has been out of control for years, and her mounting credit card bills have put a major strain on her marriage. And Jessica just had the rug pulled out from under her. After struggling her entire life to make ends meet, she’s just gotten engaged to a man with a big bank account…and now he’s asked her to sign a pre-nup.

When the women share their problems at their weekly crafting group, they decide to band together to take control of their finances. As they struggle to bring balance back to their checkbooks and their lives, they learn that some things in life, like good friends, are truly priceless.

This is the exciting premise of Sheila Roberts’ new women’s fiction novel, Small Change (St. Martin’s).

Sheila RobertsSheila is no stranger to penning novels and books that speak of friendships among our fellow sisters are her specialty. Her other books include Love in Bloom, Angel Lane, On Strike for Christmas, and Bikini Season.

How many women know of a special woman friend they could lean on through thick and thin? Small Change gives all of us reasons to believe nothing is too hard to tackle as long as we have a little help from our friends.

Here’s a little excerpt from Sheila Roberts’ Small Change:

There it sat, a Cloud Nine queen-sized luxury gold comforter with red ribbon applique and metallic embroidery. Forty percent off. It was the last one left. Tiffany Turner had seen it, and so had the other woman.

The woman caught Tiffany looking at it and her eyes narrowed. Tiffany narrowed hers right back. Her competitor was somewhere in her fifties, dressed for comfort in jeans and a sweater, her feet shod in tennis shoes for quick movement – obviously a sale veteran, but Tiffany wasn’t intimidated. She was younger. She had the drive, the determination.

It took only one second to start the race. The other woman strode toward the comforter with the confidence that comes with age, her hand stretched toward the prize.

Tiffany chose that moment to look over her competitor’s shoulder. Her eyes went wide and she gasped. “Oh, my gosh.” Her hands flew to her face in horror.

The other woman turned to see the calamity happening in back of her.

And that was her undoing. In a superhuman leap, Tiffany bagged the comforter
just as her competitor turned back. Score.

Boy, if looks could kill.

It would be rude to gloat. Tiffany gave an apologetic shrug and murmured, “Sorry.”

The woman paid her homage with a reluctant nod. “You’re good.”

Yes, I am. “Thanks,” Tiffany murmured, and left the field of battle for the customer service counter.

As she walked away, she heard the other woman mutter, “Little beast.”

Okay, now she’d gloat.

She was still gloating as she drove home from the mall an hour later. She’d not only scored on the comforter, she’d gotten two sets of towels (buy one, get one free), a great top for work, a cute little jacket, a new shirt for Brian, and a pair of patent metallic purple shoes with 3 1/2 inch heels that were so hot she’d burn the pavement when she walked. With the new dress she’d snagged at thirty percent off (plus another ten percent off for using her department store card), she’d be a walking inferno. Brian would melt when he saw her.

Her husband would also melt if he saw how much she’d spent today, so she had to beat him home. And since he would be back from the office in half an hour, she was now in another race, one that she didn’t dare lose. That was the downside of hitting the mall after work. She always had to hurry home to hide her treasures before Brian walked in the door. But she could do it.

Tiffany followed the Abracadabra shopping method: get the bargain and then make it disappear for a while so you could later insist that said bargain had been sitting around the house for ages. She’d learned that one from her mother. Two years before, she had successfully used the Guessing Game method: bring home the bargains and lull husband into acceptance by having him guess how incredible little you’d paid for each one.

She’d pull a catch of the day from its bag and say, “Guess how much I paid for this sweater.”

He’d say, “Twenty dollars.”

“Too high,” she’d reply with a smirk.

“Okay. Fifteen.”

“Too high.

“Ten.”

“Nope. Eight ninety-nine. I’m good.”

If you’d like to find out more about Sheila and her books, visit her website at www.sheilasplace.com. If you’d like to order her book at Amazon, click here. The book will be available on March 30.

If you’d like to follow her virtual book tour in March and April, click here.