Friday, April 30, 2010

Author Interview -Diane Meier, 'The Season of Second Chances'

On Wednesday I reviewed a wonderful book by Diane Meier called 'The Season of Second Chances'. I am very grateful to her for agreeing to answer all of my questions about her, the book, and her future. Hope you enjoy it!

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself:

A little bit about myself – hmmm. It’s the ‘little bit’ that makes this question so intriguing….. I’m tempted to write “I like civilized men, German dogs and American literature” – and call it a day. But your readers can find out so much more (waaaay too much, if you ask me) at

2. What's it like to get your first novel published:

Just terrifying. For some reason, I thought that I could keep this writing thing a kind of secret; you know, like a weekend painter.

My work in marketing has always been on the other side of the narrative, making sure a brand or a client’s story was clear and true. My professional success was based in measurable objectives (sales, traffic, response, etc). And if an ad got some creative attention or won an award, that might be the icing on the cake, but it wasn’t my brief. Conversely, if someone (a co-worker, a friend, my mother – even the client) didn’t like a headline or an image, I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t take it seriously either; they weren’t the end-users. Much as I might have loved the way something I made looked or read or sounded, the target customer’s “opinion” of an ad was not as critical as whether they walked into a shop and bought the lipstick or the crystal bowl I was advertising. That was my objective. I was paid to make sure that “it” worked.

A novel is a whole other ball of wax. For one thing, reviews are encouraged. Eeeeek! Early on, the publishers explained that they were going to send out Advanced Reader Editions for Amazon Vine’s early reviewers. But they were concerned, they said, because the early readers on Amazon tended to be difficult. Kind of like temple dogs who thought their function was to guard the entrance to Amazon by being overly critical. “Good grief!” I said, “don’t send it!” But they did.

I was lucky, most of our Vine reviewers loved it. Phew. Except for one fellow who claimed that his “Chick-Lit-Loving Wife Hated the Book” – That’s like blaming steak for not being ice cream, I said. No one told you this was Chick-Lit. More on that, another time.

But still – the whole idea of opening yourself up to other people’s opinions is just plain scary; let’s face it. And unlike marketing – this IS the exercise. I must care whether you like the novel. It’s not designed to do anything else but please you, and make you want to tell your friends, and share the news, and look for the next one from me.

I’m getting more and more used to the idea that a really good book can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Like a great brand, it is probably defined as much by the people who don’t ‘get it’ as those who do. So, Like Joy – Old Dog. New tricks. Scary or not.

3. Joy Harkness can be such a frustrating character because she was so sad and closed off for most of her life. I loved that her moving to Amherst really taught her how to live her life fully. Why was it that you felt Joy's story was the one you wanted to tell?

Ironically, I set out to tell Teddy’s story, and thought I would use Joy to do so. More about that in Question Number 6.

As for Joy, I wanted a character from whom we’d find Teddy’s story and a character the reader would be ahead of. And most of all, I wanted to show how a life kept apart from authentic self-expression was likely to be unbalanced and seriously paralyzed.

I’m a New Yorker. Born and bred. And I know first hand that there are no more generous neighbors than those of us crowded on this tiny island of Manhattan. Just stand on a street corner with a map and ask for help. But conversely, if you want to walk up Park Avenue naked and painted blue, or if you want to stay locked up in your apartment and not talk to us – we’re likely to let you do just that. Because we live on top of one another, we’re very supportive of the “live and let live” theory. And for someone like Joy, who is in long-standing and deep-seeded pain, with a real fear of emotional engagement, that kind of environment is likely to become a tomb.

Amherst stands in for the kind of contagious and close hotbed of a community where everyone knows everyone else’s business. A college town can certainly be like this; everyone draws from the same well, there is no place to hide.

And the challenge of a house-renovation that requires personal introspection and a community that breeds scrutiny and intrusion, could become the perfect storm for breaking down Joy’s walls. They weren’t likely to come down any other way, were they.

One point though, I think that by accepting the job in Amherst, especially at her age, Joy was already actively allowing/encouraging change. Each step, choosing the house in the first place; showing up at Josie’s for brunch and appreciating, if guarded, what she saw and felt; tackling the aesthetic, not just the systems or engineered challenges of the house with Teddy – all of these show us, regardless of how many times she professes otherwise – that Joy’s change was internal, not external. She was ready to face change long before she knew she was. And somehow, I knew that she believed that it was probably her last good chance.

4. One of my favorite aspects of the book was the theme of restoring a house and also how it can help restore a person's sense of self. Can you talk a little bit about that.

Making a house a home requires – demands – that you understand how you want to live. You need to know how you want to feel in the house. You must know how you want the house to behave, and how you want the house to reflect your taste. And most of all, you need to understand how you want your house to become the personally reflective home that will help you live an authentic and expressive life.

Joy began to see herself reflected in that house – her books not stacked on the floors, but treated with the kind of affection and respect she’d actually felt for them all along; her family’s things displayed, giving her access to their stories – all locked inside of her – all those years; her taste becoming more assured, her idea of color and comfort and function teased-out and supported and validated. All of this gave her a mirror she could look into with a pride she’d never had before. This wasn’t an expression of a decorator or a model room. It wasn’t about anybody else’s idea of status or correctness or convention. This was the embodiment of Joy.

5. I also really related to the sense of community you created with the women in this book and how they all rallied around each other when someone would get hurt and how they all wanted to make friends with Joy when she first moved to town. Can you talk a little about the importance of female friendships and community?

When I began to develop this book, it seemed to me that we had so many books about women as wives and lovers and mothers, but very few stories about women as friends. The last few years has kind of changed that – so many books about friendships seemed to have all washed up on the shore at the same time.

And still, I think it is the over-riding fact of our lives, that women have the benefit of other women in a way that most men do not. For whatever reason – oppression, biology, cultural direction, we developed a domestic system of using women within social networks. And our lives are made more gentle and richer because of it. We haven’t been quite as good in using this skill in business, especially at the top. We’re better managers because we come to that kind of sharing naturally, but we don’t promote and get behind other women as we climb the ladders of power. Most of all, we don’t build kingdoms. And that’s the part of “friendship” we could learn from men.

6. Teddy Hennessy, Joy's handyman and boyfriend for part of the book, was such an interesting foil for Joy herself. Can you talk a little about Teddy and his role in the story?

Teddy was the character I started with. He is, in every respect, an unlikely hero. A character who would never be Hamlet. And yet, his small story, given his gifts should be just as compelling. We should want him to take a chance, step beyond his limits and move those considerable skills and sensibility into a life of larger purpose. And – I suppose, we should question ourselves for wanting this for him. Does everyone have to grow beyond a comfort level to or toward a realized potential? I know where I fall on the scale of answers, but it’s a worthy question.

I liked the idea of Joy cheering Teddy on, and most of all, of making him the center of the book. And I thought it could be especially interesting if Joy couldn’t see that many of the problems Teddy had were reflected in her own issues.

So – they’re both insulated. Both still reeling from a loss that not only took their brothers from them, but emotionally destroyed their families. They both hide out from living fully engaged lives. But Joy would never be able to tell you that about herself. She can only tell you about Teddy.

Since it is Joy’s story, in her words – I still feel the bit of humor in knowing that she believes this is a book about Teddy. If the book had been called “Teddy Hennessy” – which is what I wanted to call it originally, would you have been as drawn to it?

7. Do you have another book planned? If so, will it be about one of the characters we were introduced to in "The Season of Second Chances" or are you moving on to something new?

I do. It’s about Bernadette. Her whole life – from childhood until just before we meet her in SSC. I’m calling it “The Lowell Girl”. The title harkens back to her ancestors and the great American Labor Movement of the women mill-workers in the 19th Century, in the fabric mills of Lowell Mass, outside of Boston, who became known as The Lowell Girls, and whose serious intent on respect, dignity, advancement and connection were supported by one of the most responsible examples of enlightened capitalism in history.

Bernadette draws upon all of that value as she grows up and becomes what I think we recognize in SSC as a kind of Mother-of-us-all 20th Century Iconic-Feminist. And isn’t it interesting that in The Season of Second Chances – the one really ushering in The New – in a subject that is not based on gender -- is a 70-something year old woman? Probably the oldest character in the story? Well, you’ll see why….

8. And finally, what book(s) are you reading right now?

I am always reading two or three (or ten) things at once. But above all – this is the season for Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, the latest novel by my husband, Frank Delaney.

I couldn’t recommend it more highly – it has everything -- . It’s a big book, full of romance, in huge doses; but most of all, it has sharp barbed and wonderful wit, based in serious insight, history, psychology, politics, and theater. There are villains and heroes, actors and politicians, fathers and sons, and a young man, if not a damsel, in distress. Underneath the story, there are rivers of change, as the Twentieth Century runs through a country small enough to fit into one of our American states – but mythic enough to show us how even here at home, democracy can be twisted to serve power.

So, I can hear you say something like, She would say that, wouldn’t she. And maybe, but I don’t actually think I would recommend a book I didn’t believe in with all my heart. But if it looks like a book too weighty for you – promise me one thing, pick up one of Frank’s audio books –Ireland or Shannon or Tipperary or Venetia (which has just won an audio award) – and let him read to you. You will be hooked. Just as I was. No kidding.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of my questions!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:

God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book–one genre–period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?

*Whether you believe in God or not, pretend for the purposes of this discussion that He is real.

Wow this question is hard! Part of me wants to say historical fiction. I love that genre. I am always learning new things about different time periods but recently they are churning those books out like crazy I often feel like the quality has suffered as a result.

Part of me wants to say chick-lit because when I am having a stressed out week, all I have to do is a pick up a book by one of my go to chick-lit authors and just know that it will help me feel better, but I also know that if I read too many of these in a row I start to roll my eyes too much at all the frivolity!

Part of me wants to say travel memoirs because much like historical fiction take me to long ago places, travel memoirs take me to those places I haven't been to yet or relive those vacations I loved but if I read those over and over again, I'd never stay at my job!

So finally, what would I pick to read for the rest of my life? I would probably pick domestic fiction. I love modern fiction the most and more specifically domestic or women's fiction. Smart books about women, not chick-lit, that deal with male-female relationships, mother-daughter relationships, friendships, growing older, work life balance, etc all through the medium of fiction. I can relate most to these books and I think I would be least likely to get bored with reading these over and over again.

But ultimately, what is the fun of life, if you can't mix it up every once in a while? :)

What would you choose?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coming of Age...A Little Later

'The Season of Second Chances'
By Diane Meier

Format: Hardback
Published: Henry Holt and Co.; 2010
Pages: 304

Synopsis: Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy’s interest to encourage his personal and professional growth.

My Take: Two years ago my boyfriend bought a house in San Francisco and if you know San Francisco, most houses here are old. His was built in the 1920s. Together we had a blast painting walls, hanging molding, and generally making the place a home. So when Diane Meier's book fell into my lap and the main character came alive through her experiences renovating her own home I could totally relate and I completely loved that aspect of it. I haven't read a lot of books that have home renovation as a main theme in them. Food, travel, friendships as a way to discover their true self but I can think of maybe one other book that has home renovation as a central theme to discovering one's sense of self and I think that this is a truly great new theme in fiction.

The heroine of our story, Joy, is a truly sad person. I admit to being incredibly frustrated with her for most of the book. Maybe I would have related to her more if I was older but she had shut herself from others her entire life and assumed that that's how everyone else wanted to live as well, that's probably what bothered me most. As a single woman in New York she had very few friends and at 48 felt she was long past enjoying a date. When she accepted a teaching job that moved her to Amherst, MA she is finally brought out of her shell, however painfully the process is.

An interesting part of Joy's life in her new town is the new relationships that she does make, both with the men and the women. This book really emphasises the power of friendship and how women can really band together and support each other when they are going through hardships. Alternately, as Joy was growing as person the men she chooses to be in a relationship with help her to see that she needs to continue to grow as a person and they both help her to get out of her shell and, as with most relationships that don't work out, see what you do and don't want next in a man!

Joy has to totally reflect on her life throughout this book to discover how she became the way she is. Everyone else around her can she that she is unhappy and closed off and they want to help her. I think a lot of people have probably had periods in their life when they felt like this, certainly after something tragic or a big upset so I think a lot of people can relate to Joy.

I really enjoyed this authors first novel and I look forward to more from her. Please tune in to Amused By Books on this Friday, April 30th when I interview Diane Meier about writing this book as well!

(This book was given to me by the publisher. Thank you!)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My First Book Festival: LATFOB!

This past weekend I met my mom at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for my very first big book festival experience and I had a fabulous time! That's me above - look at the crowds and the sunshine and the booths!

On Saturday we had tickets to two panels. Our first panel was Meg Cabot, famed author of all of those wonderful Princess Diary books. I'll admit that I've never read any of her books but lots of people I've talked to are big admirers so I wanted to check her out. My mom and I were cracking up through her entire talk. She was talking about how wonderful it is to be a woman and how fun it is to write and how she gets her inspiration from everyday things and it was really a fascinating talk. She has written a ton and I really enjoyed it. That's her below - sorry for the crappy photo!

That afternoon, we had a wander around the booths and then I heard above the crowd, the sweet voice of Stefan Richter from Top Chef Season 5 doing a demonstration at the Cooking Stage. I knew that someone would be there from Top Chef to promote the 'Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook' but if anyone out there is as big a fan of Top Chef as I am you will know that they have had many Cheftestants and some you want to see and some, meh. They hadn't really said who would be there so when I heard Stefan I had to get a closer look. Unfortunately the set was just wrapping up so I scurried behind the signing the booth and it was just him and I took a picture. He saw me and was like, "Do you want a picture with me?" (note Stefan is a big flirt!). Um, yes please! Proof below!

That afternoon we went to the panel on: Memoir: All the Single Ladies' with Amy Alkon, Julie Klausner, Guilia Melucci, and Sascha Rothchild. I wanted to go to this because I had recently read Guilia's book 'I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti'. The other women sold me on theirs! It was a fascinating look into why women's memoirs tend to delve into relationships and why it is often painful memories they write about most. This one was great because while it did have a little bit of why men can be so difficult it ended with one brave man getting up and asking, 'So I am a single man, what's they best way to approach a woman?' Laughs ensued. Oh and their answer? 'Just say hi.'

The highlight for me was the blogger meet up for dinner that night at Jerry's Deli. As a newer blogger I was really looking forward to putting some faces to the names! At dinner was Jill from FizzyThoughts, Lisa from Books on the Brain, Florinda from 3R’s Blog, Ti from Book Chatter, Amy from My Friend Amy, Danielle from There’s a Book, Thea from The Book Smugglers, and Mark from Random Ramblings of Sunny Southern CA. Sadly, I don't have a picture but I know Ti and Florinda took a picture so when they do their wrap up they might post one!

Sunday my mom and I mainly wanted to go to some book readings. We went to Alice Waters, a local Bay Area author and chef who has a new book out called 'In the Green Kitchen', Sarah Silverman, comedienne who did a reading from her new book 'Bedwetting' and country singer Trisha Yearwood who was cooking and talking her way through her new book (picture below!) :

All in all I had a fabulous time and hope to do it again next year and was so thrilled to see how many people love books!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Apr. 19 - Apr. 24, 2010

I'll have my full wrap up of the LA Times Festival of Books (which was awesome, by the way!) tomorrow. I need a day to process everything and rest up!

So first, let's Mailbox Monday! Hosted by Marcia over at the Printed Page, Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

This week I got two books that I am so excited to read! Here's what I got from PBS:

1. 'Saving CeeCee Honeycutt' by Beth Hoffman

2. 'An Outrageous Affair' by Penny Vincenzi

What did you get?

Friday, April 23, 2010

LA Times FOB: Hitting the Road!

After wrapping some things up today with life and work I will be hitting the airport tonight to catch a flight down to LA for the LA Times Festival of Books which starts tomorrow and man am I excited! My mom is driving up tomorrow morning to join me. This is my first book festival and I can't wait to take in all the action!

Tickets to the panels were selling out fast but two panels I got us into are a 'Conversation with Meg Cabot' and 'Memoir: All the Single Ladies' with Amy Alkon, Julie Klausner, Guilia Melucci, and Sascha Rothchild. There are over 400 authors at this event so we are really excited.

Also, I've been emailing back and forth with lots of book bloggers and we get to meet up with all of them for lunch and dinner so look forward to some pictures of that! I can't wait to put a face to a blog, so to speak. :)

Full report on the festival will be here next week. Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

BTT: Earth Day

This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:

It’s Earth Day … what are you reading? Are your reading habits changing for the sake of the environment? What are you doing for the sake of the planet today?

This is an interesting question. We are actually celebrating Earth Week here in SF because it's the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day and when it comes to anything to do with recycling we go big or go home. So no, my reading habits haven't changed for this week but at work we are watching movies about how we can reduce more, have a box on each floor where we can bring extra office supplies from our desks that we aren't using to re-use in the office supply room, and the best idea of all I think, tomorrow we are having a 'swap shop' where everyone can bring things from home that they don't want anymore (that they honestly think someone else will!) and in one of the conference rooms they are setting up a store for the swap. You get one ticket for everything you bring to purchase something else. Oh and I think tomorrow is also no paper day. Write on your hand people!

Happy Earth Week! Don't forget to recycle and compost! And harvest that rainwater! :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

All By Myself

'Thinking of You'
by Jill Mansell

Format: Paperback
Published: Headline; 2007
Pages: 352

Synopsis: Ginny Holland’s daughter Jem has headed off to university, leaving single mum Ginny with a severe case of empty nest syndrome. To make matters worse, the first gorgeous man she's clapped eyes on in years has just accused Ginny of shoplifting. So Ginny decides to advertise for a lodger but what she gets is lovelorn Laurel, who can only talk about her ex-boyfriend. However Laurel has a dangerously charming brother, Perry, and add to that the offer of a great new job, and things are looking up...until Ginny realises that her potential boss is all too familiar.

Is it too late for Ginny to set right the first impression she made when Finn Penhaligon got quite the wrong end of the stick? And is either Finn or Perry quite what they seem?

My Take: If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time than you know that I've recently become obsessed with Jill Mansell's back catalog. Basically, 2010 has unofficially become the year I read a ton of Jill Mansell and as of yet I haven't tired of them! They continue to entertain me. When I am stressed with work, studying, and life in general, I open one of these babies up and know that I will be entertained and there is something incredibly comforting in those types of novels.

'Thinking of You', at its core, is a mother-daughter story. Ginny Holland is a single mother, although she remains close to her humorous ex-husband. It is time for her daughter Jem to head off to University and she is concerned about empty nest syndrome but knows that it is also time to let her daughter spread her wings. These two have to learn how to live without the other. It is alternately funny and bittersweet because they both love each other so much but it is time for both of them to move on from the bond of living with each other. Any mother or daughter would appreciate this story.

In true Mansell fashion, both Jem and Ginny were incredibly relate-able and you wanted to root for them. Also the cast of supporting characters was wonderful. They always make the book come to life in a way just a couple of main characters otherwise would not. And the book would not be complete with out some romance and plot twists to keep you guessing until the end. This one even had an unexpected one that I didn't really see coming!

Highly recommend for those stressful weeks or a great vacation read!

(I got this book on PBS)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


'Animal Husbandry'
By Laura Zigman

Format: Paperback
Published: Arrow Books; 1998
Pages: 320

Synopsis: Jane Goodall, not the anthropologist, but rather a bright, thirtysomething Manhattan talk-show producer who is no novice to romance, staggers under the weight of being cruelly, inexplicably dumped by Ray, the man of her dreams. Nearly paralyzed by this betrayal, she becomes a self-appointed amateur scientist, studying the mating habits of the animal kingdom to make sense of her senseless human world. Jane's best friends, magazine executive Joan and David, a gay freelance fashion photographer, commiserate, having been dumped by any number of perfect men themselves. Jane's hilarious, poignant observations lead her to her New Cow/Old Cow theory as observed in the bovine population as soon as a fledgling love interest (New Cow) becomes a familiar and known quantity, she is relegated to Old Cow status, and the hunt is on for fresh bait. Jane is able to parlay her wildlife studies into a hugely successful (if short-lived) magazine column.

My Take: I picked this book up on a whim at a used book sale because on the book I own it says 'A transatlantic Bridget Jones' Diary' and you don't need to tell me much other praise to get me to pick up a book, I freaking loved BJD!

Was it on the same level as BJD? Eh not so much. Was it different then anything else I've read?Yes, definitely, but in a somewhat gimmicky fashion. Here's the thing, every chapter starts with a 'scientific' statement that prefaces the chapter and what might happen having to do with a man: Bull; woman he is currently dating: Old Cow; or new woman he wants to date: New Cow. At first this was funny, eventually it became trite.

I think this might have been because the heroine of the novel, Jane, was hard for me to feel a lot of compassion for. She was in her early 30s and started to date a man who was engaged to a woman. Engaged, I tell you! Then he wanted to move in with her but didn't want to break it off with the woman he was engaged with. When all hell broke loose and he no longer wanted to date her, she was shocked. Seriously? You are far too old to know better. I get it, love is blind. I know this, but come on, she knew before she ever even dated him that he was engaged. Oh and did I mention that they worked together? I mean there were way too many strikes against him to even seem as a viable option to date, no matter how scarce they say men are in NYC.

The book does get better once it moves from there when she moves in with her coworker Eddie. He is a bit of a chauvinist but they play off each other well and it helps to make Jane grow up a lot.

Ok so, beyond all that, I'll give the author credit. The storyline came up with a cute method for telling the story, which some people may find entertaining and not everyone is as frustrated with poor relationship choices as I am so you can give it a try. All I am saying is if you look at the facts ahead of time you may not have to do an intense scientific study :)

Also, this book spawned the movie Someone Like You with Ashley Judd which I remember liking. Now I kinda want to rewatch the movie!

(I bought this book at a book sale)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Apr. 12 - Apr. 17, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Hosted by Marcia over at the Printed Page, Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

After getting a ton of books last week, things luckily calmed down around here! This week I only got one.

From PBS:

1. 'The Girl with No Shadow' by Joanne Harris

What did you get?
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