What I’ve Learned Lately (May 2016)

Linking up with Emily P Freeman to share the things I learned in May 2016 (from the fabulous to the mundane).

  1. How to take REAL photos with the camera I’ve had for 10+ years. 13243904_10104871533908892_6134656546631205144_oAfter a friend of mine took an intro to DSLR class, I got jealous and contacted the teacher to ask if she had a more advanced level rather than introductory. I’ve known my way around my camera for a while, but I didn’t ever put that knowledge into use. I asked her for a class to get me more familiar with those settings and then learn a bit more about how to document our lives and take beautiful photos. She totally delivered. After 3 hours, my brain was full, but I’ve grabbed my camera more over the past few weeks to capture the moment than I did in the past 10 years. It was so worth my time and I LOVE my camera now!
  1. Trying to wash wood stain off your hands with water makes a huge mess. 20160522_160921For mother’s day, my husband agreed to buy the materials and work with me to build the next big project I had on our to-do list. It came together well, and then I got to stain it over a few days in our garage. The first day, I just threw away the foam brush I used to put the stain on, but after the second day I decided to wash it out. Holy moly was that a mistake. I SHOULD have bought paint thinner, but instead ended up spending an hour scrubbing out the sink afterwards, and it still looks awful.
  1. 20 minutes to myself in the morning changes my whole day. After being inspired to take back my mornings (the only part of my day where it’s quiet and no one talks to me), I started setting my alarm for 6:15 on Jason’s work days. Then I moved it back to 6:05. The kiddos’ “green light” goes on at 6:45, so that gives me a solid 40 minutes to read TheSkimm, do a short Bible study, catch up on social media, and just generally feel like I didn’t have to give to EVERYONE else all day long. It sets the tone for my day and makes me much more forgiving of all my boys later.
  1. Being pregnant over thirty is totally different from being pregnant under 30. As I’ve entered the last trimester of this third baby, I find I have so many more little complaints than I have in the past. With our first two boys, I felt like I just breezed through pregnancy with no complications. Now, I feel like the years have taken their toll a bit more!
  1. I like Myers-Briggs but I really feel like I know ME better through the Enneagram. This month, I re-took the MBTI test at 16personalities.com and felt like “yeah, that’s me…” But then I took an e-course that recommended determining your Enneagram type as well. As a basic primer, you can check out Anne Bogel’s post at Modern Mrs. Darcy about the difference between the two. When I found out what type I was (2, if you’re curious), I felt like I had been unlocked! It explained so much about what kind of reactions I have, and the way I behave when I’m healthy and thriving versus under stress and floundering. It just felt like a total lightbulb, much more so than MBTI ever did for me.

Author Interview: Asha Dornfest

Asha-headshotHi Asha! I’m so thrilled that you are willing to be part of this new author-centric blog I’ve started. As our first non-fiction author, I feel like I’ve got to frame your interview totally differently, but in a GOOD way! Let’s get started.

First off, tell us a little about yourself, the 2-minute bio, if you will. And please be sure to include something that not many people know about you (i.e. your favorite song to jam out to, your least favorite smell, your favorite food to eat when you are sick, etc)!

My name is Asha Dornfest, and I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband, two kids (16 & 12) and a dog. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Portland right before my son turned two (we love it here). I’ve been a writer for over 20 years, and a blogger for over 10. My newest book is Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life With Kids. I’m also the co-author of Minimalist Parenting and co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, both with Christine Koh.

My favorite band hasn’t changed since 1984 (it’s still U2), I love to garden, hike, read, and talk to people, and I’m a chronic overthinker.

So, first we’re going to talk about your very new and Parent-Hacks_high-res.pngnoteworthy book, Parent Hacks, as taken from your blog of the same name, parenthacks.com. *Full disclosure: I was part of the launch team for this book, so I received my copy for free in exchange for a review. That being said, I’ve already purchased three additional copies as gifts for other mamas in my life.* I found it to be a wonderful treasure-trove of information. Kind of a greatest hits of the blog. It’s pretty easy to find online stories about how you started the blog, so I’m curious about something else: do you find there are seasons where blog activity waxes and wanes? Or a period of time (months or years) when it seemed like the hacks were coming in so fast and furious you couldn’t keep up? Has it increased again since the book or do you feel like you’ve seen the majority of “great ideas” come across your desk already?

What a great question. For sure, blogging has waxed and waned, I would say mostly because online reading has changed so much as the Web continues to mature. First it was websites, then blogs, then social media, and now any number of mobile apps. No doubt it will keep changing. The hacks continue to arrive every day — but no longer in my inbox as they did years ago. Now, hacks arrive via various social media platforms — mostly Instagram.

For a sneak peek at some great hacks and their illustrations, visit: Buzzfeed’s 17 Genius Parenting Hacks You Won’t Know How You Lived Without.

edit your lifeAlong with your awesome book, I’ve also been binge-listening to episodes of the Edit Your Life Show podcast. A friend of mine just recently got me back into podcasts, and I knew about yours from the blog, so I couldn’t wait to dive in, and now I can’t get enough. You and your co-host, Christine Koh (of Bostonmamas.com), have such a great friendship and rapport together. It seems like, between the two of you, you know about everything! Have you had any suggestions for episodes that you both said “no way, we cannot talk about that since we are clueless!” to? I feel like Edit Your Life is kind of like a more in-depth collection of parent hacks for parents of, especially, older kids. Was there any plan to make it a kind of continuation like that? Or has it just developed organically? (as an aside: after that email episode, which I listened to LONG after it aired, I was thinking “oh man, I could ROCK the Gmail chat with these ladies… not that I have a podcast voice or would be a good interview, since I’m a nobody mama, but I’d happily send along some of my favorite gmail hacks anytime!)

I am SO THRILLED that you enjoy the podcast. Honestly, it has been the biggest surprise to me — not that it would be fun, but that it is such a natural way to connect with people. Christine and I started it for two reasons — we talk about this stuff all the time as friends, and we wanted to find a way to keep working together after writing Minimalist Parenting. She and I have the kind of relationship that defies categorizing…we just love each other, and our skills and approaches so complement each other. She is dear to me in ways I can’t describe, and she also makes me step outside my comfort zone to try new things. I credit her 100% for getting our podcast off the ground; whereas I would have hemmed and hawed over the details, she just charged forward and said “we can do this.”

The podcast is definitely an organic thing. We’re talking about things we find interesting, but that we also think will help our listeners.

Episode 25 of Edit Your Life talks about your Inner Rebel. Have you read Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before? That’s one of her Four Tendencies, but the others are different. For instance, I am an Obliger, which means I can’t really stick to a habit unless I have outside accountability (almost impossible for me to do things for myself!). Are you or Christine a Rebel? It seems like you both are able to put together some pretty effective habits (with the exception of your referenced inability to tame the inbox!), so that would surprise me quite a bit! Other than the email issue, do you struggle with taking any of your own (or Christine’s) advice from the podcast?

I LOVE Gretchen! She’s an old blogging friend, and has minimalist parentingbeen hugely supportive of both Parent Hacks and Minimalist Parenting. I don’t feel like I neatly fit into those categories, as I have both Obliger AND Rebel tendencies! As for taking our own advice, the answer is…it’s a journey. I absolutely find myself going back and listening to episodes to reset. For example, I recently finished the first half of the Parent Hacks book tour, and I’m pretty out of balance at the moment. I want to charge back into my regular work routines, but what I really need is some breathing room to process what has happened. So I’m trying to remember to put some space into my days right now, and that’s a GOOD thing.

In 2011, I see that you decided to pull your oldest from school and try homeschool as a last-ditch effort to curb some issues he was facing. What does school look like for you guys now? Did you enjoy homeschooling? It’s kind of like the ultimate “edit your life” decision: trust your gut and do what works for you, and I see you came to that same conclusion in your Lean In blog post as well. Anything you would do differently looking back on it now? What would you tell other parents that are considering homeschool? (another aside: I’m a homeschool mom myself at this time, and so are many of my friends that read this blog, so there will be no side-eye from the blog audience!)

Wow, I really appreciate the research you’ve done. How interesting, as I recently reread that Lean In article to remind myself how far my family has come! In fact, it was our experience with homeschooling that cemented in my mind the central importance of trusting yourself as a parent. Everything you read in Minimalist Parenting and hear in Edit Your Life coalesced during those years. Today, both my kids are back in public school and thriving, but my 18 months as a homeschool parent taught me to open my mind and embrace the learning that’s all around us. As long as my kids are healthy, I’m no longer worried about school performance. I feel like I have my eye on the bigger picture now…not just school success, but life success.

Deciding to homeschool is a personal decision, and one I would never evangelize. But I do feel it’s an option everyone can consider (even those who say “I could NEVER homeschool,” because I was once one of those people), and it offers amazing opportunities for a family to explore, travel, and step outside the system, even temporarily.

Finally, as a fellow mama who has been bitten by the travel bug: your love of travel is pretty apparent in various venues (the book has travel hacks, there are podcast episodes about travel hacks, and other blog interviews about traveling). Where is the next trip (outside of book publicity stops)? What has been your favorite place to visit so far (I KNOW that’s an impossible question for a travel lover!)? Do you have a favorite for yourself and a favorite with the family?

We took our kids to India recently (my dad’s side of the family is there) and it was AMAZING. We’ve always traveled as a family, something I feel very lucky to be able to share with my kids. I feel like there is no better way to open one’s mind. We’ve been to different countries in Europe, India, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the US together.

Thanks again, Asha, so very much! As you all can tell, I’m a big huge fan, and it’s easy to see why! Asha is so down to earth and really believes in harnessing the collective wisdom for the betterment of all of us. I cannot agree more. You were a pleasure to interview, friend!

Quick Lit: What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Quick Lit: What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here right around the middle of each month, in the order I read them.


51rxJ2yKFsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith

I read this as part of the MMD 2016 reading challenge, as it satisfied my “book you’ve been meaning to read” category. I’ve always heard such great things about this book, and it’s easy to see why. The setting (Africa) is gripping, the little mysteries are fun, and the characters are on point. Fun read, but I don’t feel the need to continue the series.


Winter-finalWinter

by Marissa Meyer

This is the fourth installment of the Lunar Chronicles series. I breezed through the other 3 on Kindle from the library, but when I found out the last one was a hefty 800+ pages, I decided to use an Audible credit for it this month (23 hours!! Worth every penny!). Great ending to a great series. I’ve been recommending it to so many friends.


51A+jSADNOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith

This is a sweeping coming of age novel about Francie, a young girl in Brooklyn. It’s been raved about, again by MMD, as a great book that “I would never read just based on the description”. So, I picked it up despite the fact that it didn’t feel like me, and then enjoyed it immensely.

 


51qKM1sZiTL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The Crossover

by Kwame Alexander

After hearing about this one from multiple sources, it came up as an Audible daily deal, so I bought it at a super low cost and listened to it right away. This is a middle-grade, free verse poetry novel about, you guessed it, basketball. But also about the main character’s struggle to define himself separately from his brother. I can see my boys really enjoyed this one as they grow.


41A3pAwY+ZL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The Secret Life of Book Club

by Heather Woodhaven

This one was a super cheap Amazon daily deal and sounded interesting so I picked it up. Although I didn’t love it the story (a few editing issues always turn me away), I DID love the premise of these four friends shaking up their lives through a book club challenge. A fun, quick read.

 


followed by frostFollowed by Frost

by Charlie Holmberg

When I was researching Charlie for her author interview, I realized she had a novel I hadn’t read yet. Just like all of her books, I devoured it in about a day and enjoyed every minute. Completely different from her Paper Magician series, but just as fantastical and fun.

 


miss matchMiss Match

by Erynn Mangum

Look for Erynn’s interview on this blog, coming soon. Erynn is a good friend of mine who is also a prolific author, so I knew I HAD to read one of her books, especially after starting a blog with author interviews. This one is the first of a series about Lauren Holbrook, loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma (the matchmaker!). Lauren is a strong Christian that wants great romantic matches for all her friends. A light read with a load of Princess Bride quotes, which always make me happy!

Author Interview: Charlie Holmberg

CharliePic1.1

Hi Charlie! Thanks for agreeing to be part of my new site. I think it’ll be so fun to get a more personal glimpse at some of my favorite authors. So, I really do thank you for taking a chance on me and answering my questions.

First, I’m going to ask for a brief introduction, and maybe a little something that not many know about you (i.e. favorite song to jam out to, favorite dish to eat when you are sick, your least favorite smell). What does your life look like?

Let’s see… I write books. The end.

😀

Okay, trying again. I write fantasy books (I have the best job ever) that tend to be fence-huggers between YA and adult. I’m a mom of 1 (mom of 2 come July) and I currently own about 20 pairs of glasses (and not that many pairs of shoes).

Something few people know about me… I ran through a glass door when I was nine and I have a scar on my arm that looks like the Star Trek insignia. 🙂

*Edited to add: for more about Charlie, you can always visit her blog or her website!

Next, I feel even more connected to you now, after researching you for this interview series, because we are expecting babies super close together! You’re due in July and I’m in August, so that leads me to my next question: how in the world do you find time to write (so prolifically, I might add) while juggling a toddler at home? You’ve released 4 (soon to be 5) books in just 2 years. It’s astounding!

I literally have no other hobbies.

I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s mostly true. I bake/cook sometimes, and if I had a piano I’d probably play that, but really, I just mother, clean, and write most days. I get the bulk of my work done during nap times and the daily episode of Sesame Street. Having two kids will definitely test my multitasking skills!

Paper-Magician-RD-3-fullsizeFor those who don’t know, The Paper Magician series focuses on Ceony Twill, a young woman who has just completed her training in magical arts and begins her apprenticeship in Folding (much to her chagrin) at the beginning of the first novel. She is assigned to study under Emery Thane, an eccentric and brilliant magician in the otherwise very lacking field of Folders. In case that description isn’t enough, we’ll just go ahead and say that these books fall firmly in the realm of fantasy. I, personally, loved the “learning magic” aspect of the books (Harry Potter-esque) with a female lead. Can you tell us more about what draws you to fantasy? Why this genre, which you have stated you’re firmly devoted to, as opposed to the myriad other options out there?

I like writing about things we don’t get to experience in real life—things that don’t exist in the world as we know it. Writing fantasy is like creating a telescope into another realm that we otherwise would never get to experience. The fantasy genre gives me lots of creative liberties as well, and in fantasy, I can kind of do a little of everything—mystery, romance, adventure, etc.

*Kaytee’s edit to add: In Followed by Frost, Charlie’s 4th novel, she has this fantastic quote that I had to pull and stick in, because it’s so applicable here:

“Fiction is for dreamers”

He smirked. “Is it?”

I turned up the flame in the oil lamp. “Why else would one read unbelievable stories, but in hopes of believing? I always saw novels as an outlet for which the mind can escape this world, not be tethered to it.”

*Thanks for giving  us that unbelievable way to escape, Charlie. If your fantasy novels don’t embody this quote, I don’t know what does!

So, I found your first novel, The Paper Magician, through the Kindle First deal that Amazon puts forward for Prime members every month. So did a lot of other people! I see you received an award that year for having 100,000 readers choose your book as their download for August 2014. Other than the cover change that the publicity necessitated, do you feel like Amazon really helped launch you to the next level with that promotion? Or was it too much, too fast?

I think Amazon has been fantastic for me. I was a debut, a nobody, and Kindle First got my book into a lot of hands. It put me in front of readers I wouldn’t have been able to reach on my own. I’ve said this before, but I really couldn’t have debuted with a better publisher.

After tearing through that first book (I couldn’t put it down), I was so MAD that I got tricked into buying the first of a trilogy that wasn’t complete yet! 🙂 But then they all came out so quickly. Were they all prepared before you even got The Paper Magician accepted? Or are you just an extremely fast writer? You have an article about having stacks of rejection letters (and give a wonderful quote: “Good news is great for the ego, but bad news is better for the craft”), so I guess I’m curious if you were submitting that first novel/storyline, getting rejected, but still working on the others?

The Paper Magician was actually intended to be a standalone (I’m a standalone writer at heart; starting out with a trilogy is almost a fluke!). But with all my books, I like to imagine what would happen next. In the case of The Paper Magician, I came up with a lot. So I pitched the book as a standalone with sequel potential, and my editor at the time liked the idea. I had most of an outline for The Glass Magician ready when I sold the first two books. I sold The Master Magician later.

I’m always working on something. If I’m querying one book, I’m editing or outlining another. I don’t like to have an empty desk, so to say (and because I really have no other hobbies I get very bored otherwise!).

Some of your most recent great news involves selling the rights for The Paper Magician to Disney! What a huge endorsement of your story and your writing! I feel like I got in on the ground floor here. Like, once the Disney films come out you’ll be completely unreachable. 🙂 I’m curious as to what the celebration looked like for you when that deal came through? And if you have any hopes for what that product will look like when it comes to the big screen?

There’s no guarantee that Disney WILL make a movie, just that they CAN… but I very much hope they do! The Disney announcement was a very weird day for me. I was under a strict non-disclosure agreement not to talk about Disney (I had been in contract negotiations for a while leading up to it), and suddenly The Hollywood Reporter is tweeting at me with this big press release. A press release that had information on it I’d never heard myself. And then social media exploded, ha! So I definitely wasn’t expecting it, and I had to stay quiet for a few days because I wasn’t sure what I was allowed to say. It was excruciating.

The celebration has come in little bits over a long time, with each advancement the deal made. I haven’t had a big party yet or the like… but maybe that will come if the book(s) really DOES make it to the big screen. I will wet my pants if that happens.

On a different track, I love that you’ve been writing some personal stuff about self-acceptance on your blog. Especially because, from outward appearances, you are just so gorgeous and darling. What is it about the cultural beauty paradigm that really speaks to you? Perhaps raising a daughter? Or being one of four sisters?

Ah, yes. Needless to say sites like BeautyRedefined.org have brought out the feminist in me. I, like many, many women, have had issues with self-esteem that focus solely on how I look. I’d have a bad day because I felt fat, or I’d freak out because a guy was coming over to my apartment and I’d already washed my makeup off. I couldn’t understand how so many girls could just go out without their hair and makeup done.

But slowly I started to step outside myself and look at the situation objectively. Why do I feel this way? Why are all these beauty standards applied only to women? And bit by bit, I started to get over it. I started to realize that the media was controlling how I felt about myself and that’s just hot garbage right there.

The post you linked to is only a little over a year old, and that’s when I realized that I was still more familiar with my makeup-wearing self than my natural self, and I didn’t want my “real” face to be a stranger to me. I gave up mascara (seriously, hardest beauty thing I’ve ever had to do) so I could replace my mental image of myself with the me God made (and yes, there’s some religious aspect to it, too. Why should I be ashamed of how God made me? Do I think He didn’t do a good enough job?). Ultimately, it’s all been great for me, and that low self-esteem monster rarely shows his ugly face anymore.

Finally, since I am a mom of boys, I’ve become a bit of a reluctant nerd. I see from various interviews that you were raised as a Trekkie, and I really adored your analysis of Vulcans vs. Elves. It seems to me that you really embrace that side of your upbringing and lean into the “geek” culture (I actually don’t know the differences between nerds and geeks, so please excuse any faux pas on my part here!). Even though your books are so different from those series and don’t reflect the same themes, were those two fantasy series (LoTR and Star Trek) especially formative in your love of fantasy?

Star Trek definitely was; I was literally raised on it. My whole family would sit in the basement and watch it. I actually didn’t get into LoTR until the movies came out. But I definitely think being exposed to fantastic stories at a young age helped me develop a love and appreciation for out-of-this-world storytelling.

As a parting note, want to give us a Magic Bitter, Magic Sweetlittle plug for your next book, Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, due out in June? Will fans of your books find any common threads in this one?

Yes! I’m excited for the release of this book. It has no ties to The Paper Magician series or my other standalone, Followed by Frost. I do tip my hat to some fairy tales, legends, and Lewis Carroll in the story.

The book is about a woman named Maire who only remembers the last four years of her life. She has a strange ability to bake emotions and other traits into her food; an ability she barely understands. But an attack by bandits on her village sends her onto a new and bizarre path, where she meets two men connected with her past: one wants to use her amnesia to control her, while the other wants her to remember. Only problem is that if he simply tells her and she doesn’t believe him, her amnesia will become permanent. It’s all a lovely mess of surprises. 🙂

Charlie, thank you so much! I love your nerdiness, your books, your smile, and your passion. It was such fun to interview you, and I’m very much looking forward to the new novel in June!

Author Interview: Katherine Reay

KBR 11_15 HeadshotKatherine, thanks for being my first author interview for my new site! I’m so looking forward to getting to know some of my favorite authors better, whether they are well-known or just getting started. So, I really do thank you for taking a chance on me and answering my questions.

First, I’m going to ask for a brief introduction, and maybe a little something that not many know about you (i.e. favorite song to jam out to, favorite dish to eat when you are sick, your least favorite smell). What does your life look like?

Ah… Where to begin… I wrote a piece several months ago on “10 Things You don’t know About Me.” It’s actually quite a list. You basically know all my secrets after this one… Except I believe that three of the greatest smells in the world are new cars, tennis balls and coffee beans.

  1. I have Vitiligo. This means some parts of my skin have no pigment. It also means that living in Chicago is a lot easier than living in Austin, Texas – despite copious amounts of sunblock.
  2. I eat gluten free. I started three years ago in solidarity with my elder daughter and found it made a difference for me too. We are bakers and, thank goodness, wonderful gluten-free flours are readily available. Only fresh sourdough bread or a good salty soft pretzel can fell me now.
  3. I am not a chef. Or I wasn’t one. I’ve definitely grown, as displayed by some clear chef-ly prowess in Lizzy & Jane, but I only cooked only one dish for my first four years of marriage. No exaggeration required. If my husband ever sees Mustard Chicken again, he’ll… Let’s not go there.
  4. I’m a former runner. That’s so hard to say… Feeling a little weepy. An injury has sidelined me for the past year and now, rather than working out story ideas during runs, I ride my bike along side my ridiculously speedy husband during his training runs and chat his ear off.
  5. I’m a Tae Kwon Do black belt. It’s only surprising once you’ve met me – I come across as extremely demure and mild-mannered. Know me better and some distinct quirky tones emerge, but you’d still never suspect I love to kick things and make loud “hi-ya” sounds while doing it.
  6. I can’t spell. I’ve always been a writer, though I never wrote fiction until Dear Mr. Knightley, and thought I’d grow up to be a history professor. But I can’t spell beyond my own name and a few simple words. My mother gave me a small spelling dictionary for my tenth birthday that I carried around for years. She said it was a hereditary problem, maybe like Vitiligo, so I quit beating myself up about it around that age too.
  7. I’m directionally challenged. Our favorite family show is The Amazing Race and for years my kids have begged us to apply. Yet I can’t navigate my way down a straight street. This summer, on a family trip, I heard a call from the backseat: “It’s okay, Mom. You’re off the hook. We get it now.”
  8. I watch Jeopardy. We eat dinner as a family almost every night. The first half is spent in very healthy communication: “How was your day, dear?” During the second half, we’re fully absorbed in Jeopardy and yelling out answers. We kill it when it comes to random trivia!
  9. I have a weakness for dessert. My first book idea came to me when we lived in London and I set out to find Europe’s tastiest Tiramisu. Sweet idea, but I kept eating all my research. I’ve given up on dessert-driven- literature, but I do eat a small bowl of ice cream. Every. Single. Day.
  10. I’m a homebody. And yet, I’ve moved seventeen times, including three international moves. I’d like to never move again. Please. Like most introverts, I completely over share. So find me on social media or at my website… I answer almost any question.

As we may have guessed from the skeleton structures of your novels, you appear to be a HUGE fan of not just Jane Austen, but classic literature in general. What do you love about it? Do you feel like books today or authors today “don’t make ‘em like they used to?” Are there any contemporary authors that you love or that inspired you? Just to further blow up this girl’s TBR list…

I think writers today are doing a wonderful job – my drift to the classics is in no way indicative of anything lacking in the market today. I reference the classics in my own books for several reasons. First, they form a common language and are part our “readerly” collective past. The stories resonate on multiple levels and have across generations. I think that leads me to my second reason — they speak truth. One must remember that they were not written as historical novels, they told the “truth” as the writer saw it at that time and within that society — and those universals truths still speak to us… And, thirdly, I think they do that because they are so beautifully written. Jane Austen’s use of syntax, grammar, depictions of human nature and satire form a standard today. The Brontes broke all the rules and ushered in a new era for the novel. Very impressive and worth examining today.

As for modern writers, I love the poignant whimsy of Rainbow Rowell. I still regard Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility as one the best books I’ve devoured in years. I anxiously await his next. And… I commend JoJo Moyes daily for her Me Before You. She created so many multi-dimensional and meaningful characters in that novel and left us bawling at the end for sticking to her guns and seeing the premise through. Well done!

The settings for each of your novels have a definite center, but branch out quite a bit as well (Northwestern’s Medill School for Dear Mr. Knightley, Seattle and NYC for Lizzy and Jane, and then a big trip from Chicago to England in The Brontë Plot). You’re currently in Chicago and attended Northwestern University, so those two settings make the most sense since they are currently accessible to you, but I have to know if you did “research” trips to Seattle, New York, and England for these last two novels, or if you drew on previous experiences? I do see that you’ve lived all over the place and that there was a not-so-long-ago trip to Italy, and that location is the setting for your next novel, so I’m hoping to hear about some serious and fun trips to these locations, or even living there!

So far, I write what I know… I lived in Seattle for four years and London for two. Italy might be a tiny stretch as I haven’t lived there, but I have traveled there many times. When we lived in London, we visited often and then last summer I was so privileged to spend a month there. There are still a few places I’ve lived left to explore – Texas, Michigan, Georgia…

51ZU-ukrBlL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_In your most recent novel, The Brontë Plot, your heroine Lucy is trying to put the pieces of her own life back together while also getting wrapped up in her own history and the history of some of her favorite literary characters. I feel like some people travel to escape and some travel to find themselves. It seems like Lucy is doing a bit of both. Do you feel like she is chasing more of one or the other? Do you feel like you personally have done more of one or the other?

I think we are continually redefining ourselves and discovering new things within us – and escape and discovery can sometimes feel the same. All my stories seem to revolve around this aspect and, I think, Lucy articulates it best: “That time when you don’t know where you’ll be, but you can’t stay as you are.” We hit those moments several times throughout a life — and to see a character go through that crucible and come out more whole and with more hope can be a beautiful encouraging experience.

Next, as a serious fangirl, I have, of course, already portrait of Emily Price_3_1 2pre-ordered your next book, A Portrait of Emily Price, due out in November. In the online synopsis, we see some more of the same themes revisited: family secrets, professional chef, love. Can you tell us a little more?

Here is the back cover copy, which I think tells the story well:

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix – until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. When Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family, however, is another matter…

Emily Price – fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist – finds herself in Atlanta, repairing objects damaged in a house fire. As she works to restore the home and dreams of one family, she strives to keep the pieces of her own life in perfect order and secure her own happy ending – a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to reconnect with his brother and breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Picollo. And soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well – inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. Upon landing in Rome, she is enchanted with Italy. But instead of allowing the land, culture and people to transform her, Emily imposes her will upon everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Give me a clue as to which classic novel or author offers the bones for this one? I feel like you’re going to tell me and then I’ll beat myself over the head with my Kindle!

I branched further in this one. You’ll recognize Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man from the title, but again the story doesn’t follow any particular story. Only Dear Mr. Knightley did that with Daddy Long Legs. You find references to Emma, The Taming of the Shrew and a few contemporary novels too. As for the bones, I definitely drew upon some themes explored in C.S. Lewis’s retelling of the Psyche myth: Till We Have Faces and his musings in Surprised by Joy. It’s a light story, a fun story, with some deeper themes that I hope give it sturdy standing legs.

 

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Katherine’s Office Elephant

Finally, I promised you that I was going to ask about the elephant at the header of your website (and, after poking around a bit more, in your office!). I’m a huge elephant lover, and am wondering if there is a specific reason you’ve chosen them to feature so prominently in the physical and electronic spaces around you?

I basically am an elephant: knobby knees, thick skin, no vertical jump, loyal, long memory and poor eyesight, but an amazing sense of smell….

Hehehehe…. Honestly I can’t tell you when, where or how it began. I have simply loved them and called them mine (all of them) for years now.

 

Katherine, thank you again, so much! Your answers are such fun, and I love that you’re an “oversharer”. You’ve set the bar so high for future interviews! 

Author Interviews and Bookish Things

Hello! I’m glad you’re here! I’m so excited to get this blog started.

I have this plan to contact my favorite authors and ask them questions about their writing, their books, their lives. I’ll contact people as I finish books by them, or favorites of mine, or favorites of yours, if you like! I’m a happy reader of both fiction and non-fiction. I read ALL kinds of books, except maybe strict romance novels…

I can’t wait to dig in further with these authors and bring you a little more from them, and hopefully some great book recommendations as well!

Happy reading.