TLC Book Tours: The Story of a Happy Marriage

This-is-the-Story-of-a-Happy-Marriage-198x300Long before Ann Patchett’s imaginative novels (Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, State of Wonder) were bestsellers, she was making a living as a writer – but as a writer of nonfiction for magazines.  Patchett cut her writing teeth as a journalist/essayist in the 1970’s, beginning with a book review for Seventeen magazine (for which she was paid $250). She spent eight years writing almost exclusively for Seventeen, until she herself was thirty years old when she moved on to “grown up” publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and Gourmet.

While she was writing freelance articles, Patchett was honing her craft as a fiction writer, with short stories and eventually novels. She credits her training in journalism – the intense editing, the research, the deadlines – with teaching her the kind of skills and endurance necessary to persevere as a novelist. “All those years of writing articles…made me a workhouse, and that in turn was a skill I brought back to my novels.”

And while Patchett started writing nonfiction as a way to literally support her fiction writing (“The tricky thing about being a writer or any kind of artist is that in addition to marking art you also have to make a living”) she was surprised to find her work as a journalist supporting her fiction in other ways as well. When she was working on Bel Canto, her novel about an opera singer, the editors at Gourmet magazine sent her to Italy on assignment to write an article about famous opera houses. Later, they fronted a trip into the Peruvian jungle while she was working on State of Wonder, her book about scientists in the Amazon. In fact, there have been so many benefits to this “day job” of nonfiction writing that even when her novels were successful enough to provide a living wage, Patchett has continued to write nonfiction, just more selectively than when it was the mainstay of her livelihood.

This is the Story of  Happy Marriage collects a variety of Patchett’s essays and articles into one volume. It’s an interesting look at her life through essays that are well written and evocative of the writers time, place, and personality. We learn about her childhood, her love for her grandmother, her first marriage and divorce. We meet her dog Rosy as a puppy and then, 16 years later, as Patchett says goodbye to this beloved pet. We cheer her on when she writes about the success of her new bookstore in Nashville.

And we hear The Story of a Happy Marriage, with her husband Karl. “I  can tell you how I came to have a happy marriage,” Patchett writes in the title essay, “but I’m not so sure my results can be reproduced. I continue to think back to (my friend) Edra, standing in that swimming pool on a bright day in summer. ‘Does he make you a better person?’ was what she asked me, and I want to tell her, Yes, with the full force of his life, with the example of his kindness and vigilance, his good sense and equanimity, me makes me a better person. And that is what I aspire to be, better, and no, it really isn’t more complicated than that.”

This collection is an irresistible blend of memoir and journalism – the kind of writing I really love, probably because it’s the kind of writing toward which I have aspirations of my own. Whether you’re a fan of Patchett’s novels or not, these pieces form a portrait of a real life, lived with thoughtfulness, compassion, and love.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.



equilibriumEvery woman seeks it, sometimes despairing of ever finding it. For some, this delicate balance between life, work, family, marriage, and relationships is more elusive than for others.  In Lorrie Thompson’s novel, Equilibrium, Laura Klein is struggling to get her life back on an even keel after her husband’s suicide.  It’s been a year since Jack’s death, but the effects of his mental illness linger. Their 15-year old daughter Darcy starts dating a boy who is older in every way. Their 13-year old son Troy is beginning to demonstrate subtle signs that he may have inherited his father’s bipolar disorder. And then, a new man enters Laura’s life, setting her even further off-kilter (but in a rather delightful way.)

Laura Klein has devoted the past 10 years to managing her husband’s illness and career.  A popular novelist, Jack Klein became his young wife’s project, almost from the moment they met when she was his writing student. Not only did she keep him shored up through his bouts of depression, she also helped him revise and rewrite his novels, to the point that the lines of demarcation about whose book it was began to blur. In doing so, Laura has put her own writing dreams aside. By novel’s end, she has begun to find her own creative footing, and explore her own unique writer’s voice.

The domestic drama  in Equilibrium keeps the reader interested, although not riveted. Of all the characters, I became the most attached to Darcy, a young woman reeling from her father’s loss and working very hard to put all the life lessons she’s learned together while balancing a new relationship and her own burgeoning sexuality. As she teeters on the brink of disaster, she manages to pull herself back together in an admirable way.

lorrie1Thompson portrays a family in crisis, working to get their lives back into some semblance of normal. Her novel touches on the way mental illness- specifically bipolar disorder – can devastate an entire family. Though the book is fiction, Thompson has very real experience dealing with mental illness. Her own son was diagnosed with schizophrenia during the time she was writing this book. But the Klein family demonstrates that there is hope if you’re willing to remain open to new possibilities.

I recommend this novel if you are interested in bipolar disorder; enjoy women’s fiction and family dramas; and especially if you’re a fan of happy endings.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

TLC Book Tours: Stargazey Point

stargazey pointEroded beaches, a non-existent tourist trade, and skyrocketing property taxes…this is what Abbie Sinclair stumbles into when she goes to Stargazey Point to recover from a traumatic event. Devastated by her own personal tragedy, Abbie thinks she has nothing left to give, but is slowly drawn into the lives of the people of Stargazey Point – the three elderly Crispin siblings and their struggle to stay in their historic beachfront home; the young, handsome architect, Cab Reynolds, who left behind a successful  career to refurbish his uncle’s antique carousel; and a motley crew of children who touch Abbie’s heart in a variety of ways.

Before she knows it, Abbie is helping the people of Stargazey Point revitalize their dreams. In doing so, she’s surprised to find her own dreams for life rekindled and even more surprised to find a place she might call home.

Author Shelly Noble’s novel is an insightful, hopeful look at the way we can recover from what seems insurmountable tragedy.  I’m always impressed by the human spirit at work, and the way an ordinary group of people can achieve extraordinary things when they come together for a common goal, whatever it may be. Stargazey Point is a novel about just this kind of effort, and I was immediately drawn into the story and interested to see what would become of each character.

Stargazey Point is another perfect summer read…so grab a copy and enjoy it while there’s still some summer left.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

TLC Book Tour: The Orchardist

The OrchardistThe Orchardist is such a rare and beautiful specimen of a book, I barely know where to begin in my praise of it.

Should I write about the sweeping breadth of the Washington landscape that becomes as important as another character?

Should I tell you of the achingly beautiful prose that describes every event in the most perfectly chosen details?

Should I warn you that there are moments so painful your breath will catch, so haunting your eyes will not close in sleep?

Perhaps I should write of Talmadge, the quiet and introspective Orchardist for whom the book is named, and the way he cares with such deep intensity for his land, his product, and the people he loves. The way he sees so clearly into the soul of everything and everyone – except perhaps himself.

Or maybe you’d like to know about Jane and Della, two frightened young girls, heavy with child, who appear at the outskirts of Talmdige’s orchard, fleeing an unspeakable evil,  and work their way bit by bit into his heart, stirring within him every ounce of protectiveness he can muster.

And I must not forget Angelene, Jane’s daughter, whom Talmadge raises and instills with a feminine version of his unique quiet intelligence and intensity.

The Orchardist is stunning, almost Biblical in the epic span of its story about determination and loneliness and loyalty and hope. It takes the reader into a far-away place – the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century – a time when a man’s land governed his life and his choices, when people worked hard from dawn until dark because their very living depended on it. A time when distractions were less, and simple pleasures enjoyed more.

But still there was darkness…there was evil and loss and destruction. Talmadge is no stranger to it, even before Jane and Della with their heavy baby-laden bellies, arrive. His father has died in a mining accident, his mother has died a few years later, leaving he and his younger sister- neither of them barely more than children -alone to run the orchard. And then his sister Elspeth disappeared one Amanda Coplinday, goes out to gather herbs and never returns. Talmadge is nearly crushed by this loss. Forty years later, it fuels his obsession with Jane and Della, and his desire to protect them from the evil they have fled.

Readers and writers alike will savor The Orchardist, for its story, its characters, its maturity of style and prose. A novel eight years in the writing, begun when its young author was only 24 years old, The Orchardist is an amazing tour de force and should become part of the canon of modern American literature.

Link to the author’s website and Facebook page.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the privilege of reading this book.

TLC Tours for The Sunday Salon: Because You Have To: A Writing Life

I’m a writing book junkie.

Sometimes, I’m one of those people who loves to read about writing more than I actually love to write. There is a mystique surrounding a writer’s life, especially for those of us who are wannabe’s, who worship at the throne of “real” writers – you know, the ones with actual books that have been printed with paper and ink.

So when TLC Tours offered me the opportunity to read/review Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank, I readily agreed to feed my reading-about-writing habit.

Frank contends that those who are called to write must do so, no matter what the privation. She uses herself as a prime example, discussing the ways she has supported her writing (a published body of work that include two short story collections and three novels) with mostly low-paying office jobs. She talks about co-workers who complain that she is unresponsive when she drifts into a daydream about her latest work. She relates tales of ekeing out moments to write between fielding phone calls and typing letters. “There is never enough,” she titles one of her chapters. Never enough time, money, silence, appreciation.

She talks about the isolation that writers sometimes feel, the need to “build a kind of coherent wholesome scaffolding around the essentially lonely, aberrant, and certainly unjustifiable act of writing.” She advises the writer to “be careful whom you tell,” about your writing, because “Americans tend to feel uneasy when confronted with someone professing to practice art.” She shares some “gruesome stories” about marketing and rejection.

She does not sugar coat the writer’s life, oh no she does not.

But still, this reader can sense on every page how compelled she is to put words to paper, to express ideas, to work out emotions and scenarios and possibilities on the printed page. Frank looks at the writers life -well, frankly – but in a way that makes you still want to be part of that mysterious brotherhood.

She even writes about those writing books I love to love so much.

You can collect dozens of technique books. In the end, writing that has life in it can’t issue from someone else’s formula, like dance steps painted on a plastic mat. Anyone with an instinct for the shape and sound and movement of language must somewhere in her heart recognize this lonely truth, and agree to trust herself to go forward, absorbing the advice that fits along the way, tossing the rest.

Because You Have To: A Writing Life.  Joan Frank tells it like it is in this very personal, sometimes funny, sometimes acerbic, sometimes joyous book about what keeps her coming back to the page.

We write to investigate, attend, witness. When even the biggest literary names make victorious reading tours, they often admit how unhappy they feel until they have settled into the next writing project – how hungrily they miss working on something, amid whatever aclaim. I believe them. The itch, the yearning, the glimpse of the next tantalizing, disturbing idea – how can I broach it, solve the inescapable problems? Where might I take it; more accurately, more excitingly, where might it take me? The call of the dream: getting back to it, getting it down. Product is good, but process, we learn the hard way, it the real tugging star. One following onto the next, a whole sparkling cosmos of them.