Wow. So, a little dizzy here after a busy week. My husband and I are doing massive yard work thanks to the end of the California drought! (At least as far as the plants are concerned.) There are some downsides to all this fabulous water, and you know I’m grateful. But it’s a jungle out there.
Well, exactly eight months after I submitted it to The Wild Rose Press, Third Strikes the Charm was born. Yay!!!!!
It has thankfully been well received so far. I love the reviews. You know how it is, or you can imagine, holding your breath to see if anyone else besides your critique group, beta readers, and editor like it. No matter how confident you felt when putting on the finishing touches, release day is a little nerve-wracking. I’m actually hugely relieved. There. I admitted it.
But woot! One reviewer was really moved by the story line, in just the way I hoped when I wrote it. She even said that the way it was written, the author must have personal experience with the situation (which is true).
And then one of the most amazing moments was when my mother-in-law called me. I gave her the print copy yesterday, and a few hours later, she called me and was all excited. She wanted to know if it was a continuation of the previous book! I had never mentioned it was a series, and her voice was filled with joy at opening the new book and finding characters she already knew.
That was so amazing to see how happy she was that it’s a continuation, showing me on a personal level the common knowledge that readers love series. Also it was great to see my family member as a reader.
A book birthday is when the book you wrote is grown up and goes out into the world to meet its fate.
I am scheduling this post ahead of time. On Friday morning, or Saturday if you are in Australia, I will be out taking more photos. But I did take some shots of the *ahem* bounty of our yard. Hope you enjoy.
This book has the natural style I love so much about Brenda Novak’s work, and like Brenda’s Whiskey Creek series (see here for all my book reviews), Luke’s #1 Rule is part of a small-town series. The small town is Blue Lake, and when the main character ends up there, I could feel the relief of arriving in a community where people care about each other. But the relief doesn’t happen immediately for Chloe Richards. Oh no, she has a constant source of internal conflict: She’s moving with her kids to Seattle, very far away, and it’s ripping her apart, but she has no choice.
This book is about family and very difficult issues. It’s realistic, not at all forced, and utterly riveting as a result. Yet it is still a romance, and though I cried three times while reading it, they were good tears, and I knew it would somehow all end well. That’s a requirement for me. I dislike books that end sadly, even if I love the book, and I tend not to read those authors again, because let’s face it, who needs more bad news and sorrow when we have life, which has its share for everyone? (Although I do sometimes break this rule for literary work that makes me understand things more, like, for example, Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner, which I really need to review one of these days! And even The Hunger Games, the ending of which infuriated me, but which is still such a profound work of allegorical literature that it informs my thoughts about various things we humans are doing to each other and the way the world works at the moment.)
But back to this wonderful book. Luke’s #1 Rule is thought provoking literature that will leave you feeling happy and satisfied as well as thoughtful and more informed.
Here are some little details from the book that I jotted down as I was reading. After that, I am posting the interview that was included at the end of the book, with the author’s permission. Cynthia is on tap to answer comments, too, so fire away!
I love it when Tommy’s smile spreads over his face like butter on toast. (Tommy is one of Chloe’s children, whom I just adored. Cynthia really captured children realistically. I love the characterization of the children; I could see and feel their excitement over meeting Luke, and over everything fun.)
I love this line:
“Then I’d say you had quite a mess to clean up before your next child arrives, don’t you?”
This was a line by a therapist talking to the drug addict in this book who makes the people around him miserable. This line is just an example of how you feel this book is written by an artistically mature author.
Speaking of artistically mature, the book is so deeply written, I was inside the character’s minds.
I love details like this, feeling the calming effect of something homey when one is in the midst of a very real life crisis.
…and the meatloaf mixture minus eggs sat in a blue bowl. Her mom had used that same mixing bowl since Chloe was a little girl.
And little offhand comments like this that communicate a setting in so few words:
Good stones, she had learned this week, were the ones that made the biggest splash when you flung them into the water.
And I love the realism of this little gem tucked into a scene:
She mentioned the price of a year of college these days. One year for one student. Her mother had been shocked at how college costs had sky-rocketed just since Chloe had finished off her degree.
And finally this, at the crisis point in the book. I felt the emotion because I was living the story with the characters.
Now she knew the rip of kin from kin, and it hurt.
Now for the interview. I love that it was included in the book because I instantly had questions about the author’s own experiences. The book was so realistic that I thought maybe she had experiences along the lines of those of the book’s characters.
There are also excellent book group discussion questions provided.
An interview with Cynthia Harrison
1. You said that your husband gave you the idea for this book twenty-five years ago. Why didn’t you write your true love story?
I’m a fiction writer. I like making things up. I also wanted to protect the privacy of the real people involved in this story. Not just my husband and sons, but their father, their other mother, and their siblings.
Their other mother? Why not stepmom? Do you mean the character of Bettina?
I’ve always felt, from almost the first day, great respect for the woman who would help raise my children. I feel like I can talk to her about anything and she will understand. She’s very friendly and open and nonjudgmental. I love her. She took great care of my children; she is truly their other mother. Stepmom has such negative connotations in literature. She’s the opposite of that.
So the next obvious question is your ex-husband. Is he anything at all like Spence?
Not an iota. Not even close. Spence is the character I had the most trouble with, at first. I didn’t want to make the ex the bad guy. It’s such a cliché. So I did the opposite and that didn’t work. This is fiction, and I needed conflict. I’m a writer who teaches, and the first seven years of my teaching career, I taught at-risk high school children. I learned a lot about addictions and how they destroy families. Then there’s my addiction to chocolate and potato chips, which sounds funny but created serious consequences. I was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes. So no more sugar for me. I have an addictive personality. Fortunately, I can’t drink more than a few glasses of wine without getting dizzy and then sick. So food has been my primary addiction, but I am also a binge television watcher, huge movie fan, and constant reader of novels. Aside from the food, these are all soft addictions, but they all gave me insight into Spence.
What will happen to Spence? Will he be okay? How can the reader know?
As a reader, I sometimes have questions when a story ends, too. In the literature, the relapse number is very high, but Spence has a unique supportive system in Blue Lake. We will see Spence in other stories, but I don’t know if he will relapse because he hasn’t (yet). Still, it’s true what they say: addicts will always be in recovery.
How many books do you plan for the Blue Lake Series?
I still have a lot of stories to tell. I like telling two thematically related stories in every novel. So Fast Eddie’s will be about the reunion of Bob and Lily, who were going off to college in Blue Heaven. They’ve graduated, and Lily comes back to Blue Lake. So does Eddie’s first love. My favorite way to write is to have a new adult storyline and a more mature romance as well.
Blue Heaven was more of a traditional romance, but Luke’s #1 Rule had many more characters. There are the four adults and two children, plus the meddling mothers. Why the change?
They say every writer has a “book of her heart.” Luke’s Number #1 Rule was mine. It was not just a love story, although that’s the main plotline. Using the theme of blending a family was the book I’ve always wanted to write. It was a challenge. And it wasn’t a romance. I will always write love stories because I have a romantic soul, but the larger picture interests me, too. 7. You said you’re a reader. Who are some of your favorite authors? If you came to my house, you would look at my bookshelves and know. I use an e-reader these days, but still collect my favorites in hardback. First came Jane Austen and Erica Jong, then Alice Hoffman, Louise Erdrich, Sara Lewis, Elizabeth Berg. I also love poetry and short stories, so add Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Also Carol Shields.
Do you read male authors?
I do. Raymond Carver is a personal favorite. I also admire TC Boyle and Richard Ford. There is not a book by David Lodge I have not laughed through. Richard Russo is in there, too. I don’t collect any of them except Carver. I think taking two degrees in English literature filled me up with male authors. The classics. After college, I started my own education of contemporary female writers.
Do you read contemporary romance?
I do. I never miss a novel by Barbara Delinsky, Pamela Morsi, or Rachel Gibson. I’m also a fan of romantic suspense and several of my fellow TWRP authors write in that line. Mysteries! Sue Grafton and Anne Perry. Lee Childs. Every book.
How do you find the time to teach, read, and write? Are your little boys grown up now?
Yes, my boys are grown with families of their own. When they were young, I wrote less and read less. I enjoyed my time with them. More recently, I’ve been teaching less, which gives me time to read and write. I’ve found you can do it all, but you can’t do it all at the same time. I’m also dedicated (again, I could say addicted) to Twitter and my blog. My older son suggested I start a blog in 2002. He set it up for me, and I’m still there at http://www.cynthiaharrison.com. For ten years, I wrote about my efforts to publish my novels. Then it happened and I decided to write about other things, the concerns in my novels, but also the love and joy in everyday life.
Do you ever speak to book clubs?
I adore meeting people I’ve only known on the Internet. In real life, I’ve met friends from New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle. I live north of Detroit, but, time permitting, I’d be happy to Skype with a book group from anywhere.
Welcome to the party! Why a party? Because I feel like celebrating:
An enjoyable and thought provoking book
the amazing author and
YOU, my fellow blogger/bloggees. Like Listening to Kerouac, you have opened up the world to me.
Commenters and “likers” to this post will be entered in a raffle for a copy of Mercedes’ fabulous new book and/or some Mrs. Fields cookies. I’ll leave the raffle open for a few days.
Here’s my review:
Reading Looking for Kerouac lets you take a challenging and interesting journey the easy way. The author’s voice is so engaging that you can read some before bed one night, put the book down (that is, turn off your Kindle or other device), open it the next day and pick up right where you left off, speeding by train through today’s America and via the author’s mind through an America of a different time.
The realism and honesty throughout the book are deeply engaging. You learn a lot about the Beat Poets and the history “goes down easy” interwoven with the author’s vivid portrayal of America and her life, now and then. Looking for Kerouac is a Must Read.
Mercedes, congratulations on the publication of your stunning “travelogue, memoir, quest,” LOOKING FOR KEROUAC. Thank you for letting me read an advance copy and for being here today to talk to us. Beautiful cover, by the way!
Looking for Kerouac feels very stream of consciousness in the way the prose flows between present day thoughts and observations, memories of the past and history. Did much of the prose style happen as you were jotting notes while you traveled or did you write notes and then compose the draft to have that effect?
MWP: Thank you for the invitation, Nia, and for helping me by reading and commenting on the advance copy. It is almost exactly two years since I took the trip, and I’ve worked on the book since then, to the extent that I couldn’t see it any more! Your notes helped me with revision, and regaining perspective.
I took notes all the way through my trip, and saved the oddest things; tickets, menus, timetables, hotel bills, the ephemera of travel. When I was ready to start writing I brought these all out, sorted them along with my photos, and sort of recreated the places, went back into them all.
The style of writing is very much a choice – I wanted to emulate Kerouac’s style, using his method of ‘spontaneous prose’.
NS: There is so much detail I marvel at how you collected it all. Did you use a voice recorder or pad and pen?
MWP: I took notes, notebook and pen. I could have taken film with my iPad but just took still shots. When I started writing though, the scenes in my memory came back to life prompted by the pictures and the collection of ephemera.
NS: I also marvel at and learn so much from your honesty. Sometimes I want to write something true and when I read this work it has that feel of truth to it. But there is no one Truth; everything is filtered. Can you comment on the travelogue as memoir technique, using travel as a filter on your own memories and also on using Kerouac’s On the Road as a template?
MWP: Veracity is very important in my writing – but as you note, there is no one Truth. In the end all I can do is call it as I see it! I think Travelogue is a wonderful vehicle for memoir – have thought so since I first read Paul Theroux’s books. Maybe I tried to accomplish too much with Kerouac, weaving his story in with my past and present, so we all floated together in book time. I just know that’s the way the story wanted to be told.
NS: I don’t think you tried to accomplish too much, Mercedes, because you really pulled it off. The way you wove the story threads completely worked and was marvelously seamless and intriguing. In fact, it’s difficult to make one’s own travelogue interesting to others, because a chronological sequence of events can read like a phone book. What you did is the most interesting one I’ve ever read, including Travels with Charley (Steinbeck). I also applaud your veracity and hope one day to dip a toe a bit more deeply in that pool as a writer. Your book caused me to reflect on my own life and thoughts about our society. I found myself in your shoes exploring what my reactions might be and learning from yours.
You mentioned several times that you were no longer interested in having possessions. Can you tell us a bit about what this choice makes available to you?
MWP: I’ve studied Zen Buddhism – or rather, tried to live as an aware person. I acknowledge that attachment and desire cause suffering, and I try to remind myself of this. On a more personal level, I had to leave my home and garden in another country to come back to New Zealand and help care for my mother. Along with this loss I think I have gained in compassion and have learned a little more about the world and my place in it.
NS: Thank you for sharing yet another experience and insight. I agree about learning more compassion and about learning our place in the world. My heart wrenches for you having to leave your home and garden. I can relate to taking care of your mom (a journey in itself) and learning to hold things in life with an open palm instead of a clenched fist. Your sensitivity, wisdom and writing ability allowed me to examine these lessons in a new light and resonated not just with my mind but with my heart. Bravo! And thank you!