Archives for January 2011

Guest Post: How I Became a Daughter of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

In bleak midwinter 2002, I moved to rural Lancashire, in northern England, an incongruous place for an American expat. The first months were so oppressively dark, I felt I was trapped inside some claustrophobic gothic novel. But then came spring in a tide of bluebells and hawthorn. The wild Pennine landscape cast its spell on me.
I live at the foot of Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received his vision that moved him to found the Quaker religion in 1652. But Pendle is also steeped in its legends of the Lancashire Witches.

In 1612, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were hanged for witchcraft. The most notorious of the accused, Bess Southerns, aka Old Demdike, cheated the hangman by dying in prison. This is how Thomas Potts describes her in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster:
She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had
been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast
place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man
knowes. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no
man escaped her, or her Furies.

Once I read this, I fell in love. I had to write a book about this amazing woman. Bess became the guiding voice and power behind my new novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill.

Reading the trial transcripts against the grain, I was astounded how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written to vilify her. She freely admitted to being a healer and a cunning woman, and she instructed her daughter and granddaughter in the ways of magic. Her neighbors called on her to cure their children and their cattle. What fascinated me was not that Bess was arrested on witchcraft charges but that the authorities turned on her only near the end of her long, productive career. She practiced her craft for decades before anybody dared to interfere with her.

Bess’s life unfolded almost literally in my backyard. To do justice to her story, I had to go out onto the land—walk in her footsteps. Using the Ordinance Survey Map, I located the site of Malkin Tower, once her home. Now only the foundations remain. I board my beautiful Welsh mare at a stable near Read Hall, once home to Roger Nowell, the witchfinder and prosecuting magistrate responsible for sending Bess and the other Pendle Witches to their deaths. Every weekend, I walked or rode my mare down the tracks of Pendle Forest. Quietening myself, I learned to listen, to allow Bess’s voice to well up from the land. Her passion, her tale enveloped me.

History is a fluid thing that continually shapes the present. As a writer, I am obsessed with how the true stories of our ancestors haunt the land. Long after their demise, Bess and her fellow witches endure. This is their home, their seat of power, and they shall never be banished. By delving into their story, I have become an adopted daughter of their living landscape, one of many tellers who spin their unending tale.   
Mary Sharratt’s critically acclaimed novel Daughters of the Witching Hill is now available in paperback by Mariner. To learn more about Mary and the true history of the Pendle Witches, visit her online:

Book Trailer Fridays – Juliette Fay & Deep Down True

I’ve been meaning to blog all week, but I’ve been completely lost in my manuscript. It’s a good thing, but I get to the end of my writing day and I’m kind of shocked that I’m still me. It’s a little disorienting. Like watching a movie that’s completely engrossing and when it’s suddenly over, walking through the doors of the movie theatre back to the normal world seems surprising.

Or like the time The Other 1/4 watched the entire first season of Heroes around the same time that I did.

She called and said, “You know, the only thing I didn’t like about it –“

“–was when you stopped watching and didn’t have superpowers it was disappointing?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Exactly.”

That’s what I’ve been feeling like every Tuesday and Thursday when I finish writing for the day. Not that my main character has superpowers, just that right now, even though she’s not real, I can’t get enough of her.

But this weekend, I’m taking a break from work, writing, and everything else – except laundry, because the clean clothes situation around here is a little dire – and planning a good old-fashioned reading binge. Hot tea, my electric throw blanket, and my HappyLites. I’m going to pretend like I’m not tired of winter and enjoy being cozy while the snow falls. Deep Down Truecame out this week and I’ve been dying to read it!

Here’s the description:

Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice–even to telemarketers–but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad’s departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn’t end in middle school… and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.

Here’s the trailer:

Deep Down True by Juliette Fay book trailer from Keiji Iwai on Vimeo.

And here’s what people are saying about Deep Down True:

“Heartwarming, funny, well-penned, unexpectedly suspenseful, this is a solid page-turner right through to the touching end.” –Booklist

“Familiar material gets sensitive treatment in this subtle novel. It expertly walks a heavily trodden path. ” –Publisher’s Weekly

“Sincere, powerful and heartfelt … the intricate dynamics of friendship and family are immediately recognizable.” –Emily Giffen, New York Times bestselling author of Heart of the Matter

You can learn more about Deep Down True on Juliette’s website.  Follow Juliette on Twitter @juliettefay.

What’s on your agenda this weekend?

Book Trailer Fridays – Kelly O’Connor McNees & The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

I read Little Women in fourth grade, and was completely and totally mesmerized.  It was the first book that made me feel like I was living inside the story while I read it, because I was so emotionally invested in the characters.  I’d enjoyed reading up until then, but Little Women is the book that made me a reader, and it’s still one of my all time favorites.

Little Women was also the book that sparked my interested in writers.  The woman behind the Little Women is just as interesting as the book itself.  Louisa May Alcott was a student of several members of the Transcendental Club, an abolitionist, and an advocate for women’s rights.  She died at the age of 55, but wrote over 270 books in her lifetime.

I love that Kelly O’Connor McNees has written a novel about what could have happened in Louisa May Alcott’s life to inspire the ending to Little Women.

Here’s part of the description:

“In her debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees deftly mixes fact and fiction as she imagines a summer lost to history, carefully purged from Louisa’s letters and journals, a summer that would change the course of Louisa’s writing career—and inspire the story of love and heartbreak between Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Laurence, Jo’s devoted neighbor and kindred spirit.”

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s what reviewers are saying about The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott:

“…The Lost Summer is the kind of romantic tale to which Alcott herself was partial, one in which love is important but not a solution to life’s difficulties. Devotees of Little Women will flock to this story with pleasure.” 

– The Washington Post

“… the book is so compelling and well written that I hated to see it end.”

– Historical Novels Review

“… McNees deftly combines historic figures and documented aspects of Louisa’s life with speculations about what might have been. Fans of Little Women may be first in line to read the novel, but the book will also appeal to others who enjoy historical romance.”

– Library Journal

Check out Kelly’s website, and follow her on Twitter!

Wordless Wednesday Video – Dog Wrestling

Book Trailer Fridays – Tatjana Soli & The Lotus Eaters

I re-read The Things They Carried for book club a few months ago.  It is a stunning book, and I’m completely in awe of Tim O’Brien.  So, my TBR pile has gotten a little taller, since discovering that he had this to say about The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli:

“Set amid the twin infernos of Cambodia and Vietnam in the early 1970’s, The Lotus Eaters draws the reader into a haunting world of war, betrayal, courage, obsession, and love. Tatjana Soli’s spare, lucid prose infuses this novel with a dramatic clarity that makes us eyewitnesses to the collapse of two civilizations. More than that, The Lotus Eaters helps us to see and hear and feel the terrible human costs of that conflagration.” 

—Tim O’Brien, National Book Award-winning author 

From Historical Novel Society:

The Lotus Eaters is one of the most honest, endearing, searing, and intriguing stories about the Vietnam War that I have ever read and as far as I’m concerned, one of the finest novels of the Vietnam era. It goes so much deeper and wider than a typical “war is hell” story. Tatjana Soli has caught the essence of this devastating conflict and the loves that ensue during and after the destruction it wrought. Highly recommended. —Viviane Crystal

I love hearing Tatjana talk about the story and her research for the book in the trailer.

The Lotus Eaters was a New York Times Notable Book in 2010, and is about a woman who begins her career as a photographer in Vietnam during the war.

What’s on your To Be Read pile?

Wordless Wednesday – Snowy Face

2010 in Review

I love this meme!  It’s such a nice way to reflect on the past year.  I swiped it from Jess again.  Here’s my review from last year:  part one & part two

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
There’s that whole having a book published thing, and going on a book tour.  I also made a quilt.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn’t really make any, so does that count as keeping them?  This year, I’ve decided I will eat fewer marshmallows (notice I did not say I’m giving them up), finish my next book, and learn how to sew from a pattern.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes!  And there are some very special babies on the way, too!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

J’s grandfather passed away.

5. What countries did you visit?

Just this one. My travel was USA-centric. 

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?

Better work/life balance.  I’ve been trying to start off 2011 with a schedule for work that leaves me time and space to plug in some leisure time too.  And, I could probably stand to vacuum more often.  2010 was not lacking in dog hair tumbleweeds, and I’d like it if 2011 was. 

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I’m not good at remembering dates, but here are two.  June 11, 2010 – My very first book signing. July 10, 2010 – I had the most perfect day swimming in Lake Michigan with our niece & nephew.  

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Of course, the book.  But I’m also so proud of how far has come.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I was really hard on myself this year.  If I could go back and talk to Decemeber 2009 Allie, I’d warn her to back the eff off me in the coming year.  But I think in the process I learned, finally, how to be kind to myself.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Well, there was the dreaded lurgy.  And I had some stupid little coughs and colds and bumps and bruises here and there.  You can’t live with two German Shepherds and not get some bumps and bruises and stubbed toes along the way (I am so not alone in this, btw).  But overall, especially considering how much traveling I did and how little sleep I got while traveling, I faired pretty well on the health front this year (and am knocking wood like a crazy person right now).  I’d like to thank my little spray bottle of CleanWell for abating my germaphobia sufficiently during my travels.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Plane tickets and a new sewing machine.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

You guys!  All the support and kind words and blog posts and tweets – I wish I could hug all of you.  I always hear people talk about the negativity out there on the internets, but I am always in awe of how many smart, kind, incredible people there are in Blogland, and I feel so lucky to know you. 

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I was completely heartsick over something that happened a few months ago. But in the interest of taking the higher ground, I’m going to tell you, instead, that the whole experience reinforced, on a much deeper level, how vital my friendships are to my life, and how important it is to me to take the time to nurture them.

14. Where did most of your money go?
My book tour.  Yes, most of us authors pay for our own book tours.  But it was an amazing life experience and I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to tour.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing old friends and meeting blog/twitter friends in person for the first time.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?

This one.  Because I turned 33 in 2010, so the lyrics “years go rolling, you’re thirty-three,” were bouncing around in my head all year.  I also think it’s such a great representation of what early-thirties life is all about.  Sometimes, I would still like to cry when I skin my knee.  Wouldn’t you?  Mark Erelli has a great cover of it as his free MP3 of the month.  

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?  

I think this year I’ve learned to be more comfortable being sad when I’m sad, and it makes being happy when I’m happy all the sweeter.
b) thinner or fatter?

Well, I didn’t decide to cut down on marshmallows for nothing.  But I still fit in my jeans.

c) richer or poorer?

It’s funny, because I think many people have the idea that once you sell a book you’re set for life.  I will, again, direct you to this amazing post by Nicole Peeler, if you’re curious about the financial side of being a writer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?


20. How did you spend Christmas?

Warm and cozy at home with J. And visiting with friends who were in town for the holidays.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?

J and I will be celebrating seven years of marriage in 2011, and I love him more than I thought it was possible to love someone.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Veronica Mars.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

The people who cancelled Veronica Mars. :)

24. What was the best book you read?

I refuse to choose.  It’s just too hard. 

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Chris Pureka.  I cannot get enough of Dryland.  It’s such a perfect album.  I want to crawl inside it.

26. What did you want and get?

Sewing machine.

27. What did you want and not get?

World peace, a solution for global warming, and an Easy Bake Oven.  Seriously, I didn’t have one as a kid, and I still kind of want one.  Although, I’m guessing they don’t make gluten-free Easy Bake cake mix, and at 33, I’m allowed to use the actual oven, which I don’t even like doing, really, so it’s kind of a silly thing to want, right?

28. What was your favorite film of this year?


29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

33, and I can’t even remember what we did for my birthday.  I hope the two things aren’t related to each other.  

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Getting to see my far-away friends much more often.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

We’ll call it, Allie, you cannot wear yoga pants to book signings.  I now actually own clothes that are not jeans or workout wear.  And more than 3 pairs of shoes.  This is a MAJOR improvement. 

32. What kept you sane?

J, the dogs, my friends, marshmallows. 

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Can Peter MacNicol be in every television show ever made?  Because I would like that.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

You all know how I feel about the environment.  

35. Who did you miss?
I got to see so many of my friends this year, but it made not seeing them regularly all that much harder. 

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I met so many amazing people this year while I was out and about touring, and it was awesome.  Also, this lady is pretty fantastic. 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.

I’ve learned to recognize that I can only ask so much of myself.  Downtime is just as much a part of accomplishing things as active time.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. (I think I’m going to change this to the Bob Schneider song lyric that sums up my year.)

“Sometimes I feel like Superman, sometimes I’m just recuperating.”   This song was on my playlist for Van when I wrote STAY, and I really really love that line.  

Book Trailer Fridays – Heidi W. Durrow & The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is on my must read list.  And I love hearing stories about what inspires writers as they create characters, so Heidi W. Durrow’s video about her grandmother, who shares a few similar traits with the grandmother in her novel is right up my alley.

My Real Grandmother from Heidi Durrow on Vimeo.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, a story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy,” is the winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction.

Here’s what reviewers are saying about it:

“The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is that rare thing: a post-postmodern novel with heart that weaves a circle of stories about race and self-discovery into a tense and sometimes terrifying whole.”

—Ms. Magazine

“Durrow has written a story that is quite literally breathtaking. There were times when I found myself gasping out loud . . . I was pulled along each step of the way, wanting to know more.”


“[An] affecting, exquisite debut novel . . . Durrow’s powerful novel is poised to find a place among classic stories of the American experience.”

—Miami Herald

And if you want even more ‘behind the scenes’ discussion of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Heidi has a great video of an interview with KOIN-TV Studio 6 up on her website.

Things I’m absurdly excited about

With the holidays, friends in town, and several people I love having birthdays, last week got a little crazy around here, and I didn’t get to blog at all. I’m working on a year end wrap up post for later in the week, but a few things have had me jumping for joy & shouting “Mrs. X can suck it!” recently, and I wanted to share!
  • The cover above is the standard German version of STAY from Weltbild!  The title translates to “Sit! Place! (or stay) Love!” And I’m completely and totally in love with it.  I didn’t know it was out until a reader left me a comment in German on the Facebook page on New Year’s Day.  It was such a fantastic way to start the year!
  • When I did a Google search for the German title, I discovered that I’m listed in the German National Library.  I know this is kind of a “well, duh, of course you are, because your book is out in Germany,” thing, but honestly, it’s completely BLOWING MY MIND.  I really thought the break-down-in-massive-amounts-of-happy-tears-still-can’t-believe-this-is-real thing would start to fade eventually, but so far it hasn’t.  Every little step of the way, I have moments when I so desperately wish I could go back in time to Mrs. X’s classroom to give my heartbroken little teenage-self a big hug, and tell her that it gets oh-so-much better and someday she’ll write something that will end up on shelves in libraries in countries she hasn’t even had the chance to visit yet.  Because it really would have helped to know that back then.  Plus, if I did that, I’d totally get to travel in the Tardis, right?
  • Right before the holidays, Euromedia picked up the Czech rights to STAY!

And, STAY made several best of lists, including:

Also, I did a guest post at Crazy For Books last week, and now one lucky reader can win a copy of STAY!

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