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Guest Post: Christa Allan on Writing

13 Sep

If I’d been more serious about writing a book years ago, I’d have a much cleaner house. No, not because I would have sold millions and been able to afford a full-time housekeeper. The good news/bad news is that I could have accomplished the turbo-clean without publication.

It seems that all I have to do is sit at my computer, lift my hands to the keyboard a la concert pianist, and dust bunnies start multiplying before my eyes. I notice the coffee cup rings on my desk, the cat hair floating lyrically to the brick floors, the sun glistening on the polished wood floors which are almost now evenly covered with their protective layer of microscopic crud, the open-mouthed toilets–not even in view–are taunting me. Yesterday, after 30.6 seconds in front of the monitor, I pounced up to (gasp) vacuum. And (double gasp) I walked/ran on the treadmill.

Writing is lonely. Not counting the three mildly neurotic cats (save me the animals reflect their owners psychobabble….you’re doing it anyway, aren’t you?), it’s just me, my lukewarm cup of coffee, and stacks of papers. Not that I’d want an audience. Might make for a quirky SNL skit though. Massive desk, state of the art computer, spotlight on the keyboard, writer dressed in tuxedo (yes, women can wear tuxedos) slowly walks on stage, gently slides back ergonomically designed chair, flips on the monitor and starts his/her fingers dancing on the keyboard. The audience follows his/her progress on the large screen projected to the right and back of the writer. Chapter ends. Applause.

But, seriously, what I did not understand until I came to the keyboard in pursuit of writing with the intent to actually produce something publishable, is that while I may be surrounded by external silence, my head is crammed with uninvited guests.

In one corner, the petulant children whining about where they’d rather be, asking why we’re spending so much time sitting in this boring room when it’s really such a pretty day outside and we could being doing something like pulling weeds. In another corner, the brats who are causing all sorts of trouble with house cleaning distractions, playing with the telephone reminding me of calls I should be making, telling me I need to compulsively check my email because the editor whose name I added an extra “s” to might be knocked off his chair by my query, completely overlook my written lisp, and be attaching a contract AT THIS VERY NANOSECOND (brats scream…yeesh). And somewhere, roaming around aimlessly, is the worrywart aunt, wearing mismatched ankle socks with her orthopedic shoes, wondering about the physical and mental healths of my immediate family, genoicide, taxes, and world peace. The worst of the pack is the sneering and arrogant bullies, rocking back on their chairs asking me who I think I am that I could be on a bookshelf with the likes of ___________(insert almost any author’s name here), don’t I know that I’m justateacher.

Just when I quiet everyone else, one of the bullies yawns and stretches to his/her nine feet tall self, looks at me, and laughs. It’s then I realize that the only way to shut them up is to drown them in words and sentences and paragraphs and pages and chapters. And when I’m finally there, I’m going to throw my book at them.

So, is the choice being thin with an immaculate house and no book? Or lumpy with dust layers protecting the furniture and publication? Is that why book jackets rarely show full body photos of the writers? And how many writer’s cribs are featured on those house shows anyway?

I just may be able to pull this one off. . .

About Christa Allan…

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, The Edge of Grace is Christa’s second novel. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, released in February from Abingdon Press. She is under contract for three more novels that will release in 2012 and 2013. She has been teaching high school English for over twenty years, earning her National Board Certification in 2007. The mother of five adult children and the totally smitten Grammy of two granddaughters, Christa and her veterinarian husband, Ken, live in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Visit her website at www.christaallan.com.

You can connect with Christa at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ChristaAllan.Author.

Check out Christa’s latest book!

Blog Tour + Review: The Edge of Grace by Christa Allan

12 Sep

The Edge of GraceJoin Christa Allan, author of the contemporary fiction novel, The Edge of Grace (Abingdon Press), as she virtually tours the blogosphere September 5 – 30 2011 on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!

About the book…

The Edge of GraceWhen Caryn Becker answers the telephone on most Saturday morning, it’s generally not a prelude to disaster. Except this time, her brother David’s call shifts her universe. Her emotional reserves are already depleted being a single parent to six-year-old Ben after the unexpected death of her husband Harrison. But when David is the target of a brutal hate crime, Caryn has to decide what she’s willing to risk, including revealing her own secrets, to help her brother.  A family ultimately explores the struggle of acceptance, the grace of forgiveness, and moving from prejudice to love others as they are, not as we’d like them to be.

About the author…

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, The Edge of Grace is Christa’s second novel. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, released in February from Abingdon Press. She is under contract for three more novels that will release in 2012 and 2013. She has been teaching high school English for over twenty years, earning her National Board Certification in 2007. The mother of five adult children and the totally smitten Grammy of two granddaughters, Christa and her veterinarian husband, Ken, live in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Visit her website at www.christaallan.com.

You can connect with Christa at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ChristaAllan.Author.

Amy’s Review…

The Edge of Grace sounded like a book I would really enjoy—an edgy fiction tackling the hot button issue of homosexuality.  Unfortunately, I found this book  difficult to read, not because of the plot line, but because of the first-person narrative, in which the protagonist often interrupts her own storyline with meandering thoughts.   While this works well in the world of blogging or even in memoirs, it was frustrating in the context of this story.  Told from the first-person perspective of Caryn, a skeptical widow, who is devastated when her only brother announces his homosexuality.  I found Caryn irritationg and failed to sympathize with her feelings about her brother and the death of her husband.

The only person worse than Caryn is her best friend and neighbor, Julie.  When Caryn shares with Julie that her brother is gay, Julie reacts by telling Caryn that it’s not a big deal.  I mean, the law of female friendship states that if your friend is terribly upset—no matter what it is and if even she is wrong—then you have a reaction of equal or greater turmoil. 

Besides disliking the shallow characters, I was also put-off by the over-familiarized writing.  I felt like a serious piece of fiction was shoved into a fluffy chick lit.  It was difficult for me to read because there seemed to be unnecessary words, which I felt interfered with not only the flow of thought, but also with the overall flow of the story.

Conceptually, The Edge of Grace sounds great and has a beautiful cover.  In fact, the cover was my favorite part of the book.

Even though it wasn’t for me, maybe this book is just what you’re looking for! Visit Pump Up Your Book! to read an excerpt from The Edge of Grace.

*With thanks to Pump Up Your Book!, Christa Allan, and Abingdon Press  for the review copy of this book.*

Blog Tour + Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

8 Sep

Join Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of the women’s fiction book, The Language of Flowers  (Ballantine Books, August 23, 2011), as she virtually tours the blogosphere in September on her first virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!

About the book…

Language of Flowers cover artThe Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, aster for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market inspires her to question what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

About the author…

Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford, she went on to teach art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband, PK, have three children: Tre’von, eighteen; Chela, four; and Miles, three. Tre’von, a former foster child, is attending New York University on a Gates Millennium Scholarship. Diffenbaugh and her family currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband is studying urban school reform at Harvard.

You can visit Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s website at www.VanessaDiffenbaugh.com.

Amy’s review…

The Language of Flowers is a truly unique tale in which the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, tells a back story in alternating chapters within the context of her current plot.  It is a literary device that works as we see Victoria’s life at 10 in a wonderful pre-adopt home with a single woman named Elizabeth and alternately at age 18 being emancipated from a terrible group home.   Why didn’t Elizabeth adopt Victoria?  How did she wind up back in the system?  And what is the language of flowers?

The need to answer the first two questions and interest in the language of flowers itself, drove me straight into the plot of this book.  Everything about Victoria’s personality and demeanor is “hard”–she is quiet, full of anger, full of contempt for the world.  Yet she tenderly cares for flowers–their names, their “definitions” (apparently yellow roses don’t mean “friendship”), and helping people with their own issues by making meaningful bouquets when she manages to snag a job at a flower shop. Her social awkwardness is excused by her innate ability to match flowers to people’s needs.

Despite her love for flowers and plants, Victoria isn’t “girly” and I adore that about her.  She doesn’t care how she dresses, if she smells, or how much she eats–even in front of guys!  She is a refreshing protagonist, who at times, isn’t even likable.  But as the reader comes to know Victoria and as Victoria comes to know herself, there is an increasing awareness of the depth and softness of her character.  Though there is a romance in Victoria’s life, this book is far from romantic. Even though the world “flower” is in the title, this book isn’t flowery.

It wasn’t until I stayed up way past midnight finishing The Language of Flowers that I discovered “Victoria’s Dictionary of Flowers” in the back of the book.  Apparently, Diffenbaugh spent hours pouring over various conflicting Victorian definitions of flowers to compose this dictionary, even consulting with botanists.  It would seem as if the author herself puts the same detail into her work as her characters put into the tedious task of growing flowers. The Language of Flowers is an excellent book, full of emotion, characters that have dimension, and a fresh premise in a world of tired story lines.

Visit Pump Up Your Book! to read an excerpt from The Language of Flowers.

*With thanks to Pump Up Your Book!, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, and Ballantine Books  for the review copy of this book.*

Have you ever heard of the Victorian “language of flowers”? (I hadn’t until I read this book!)  Does this sound like something you’d read–why or why not?  What do you find interesting about The Language of Flowers? If you read the book, what did you think?

Blog Tour & Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

3 Aug

Melanie Benjamin Banner

Join Melanie Benjamin, author of the historical novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (Delacorte Press, July 26, 2011), as she virtually tours the blogosphere in August on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book.

About the Book…

In her national bestseller Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin imagined the life of the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Now, in this jubilant new novel, Benjamin shines a dazzling spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a nineteenth century icon and inspiration—and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength.

“Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it.”

She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity.

Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight.

A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.

About the Author…

Melanie Benjamin is a pseudonym for Melanie Hauser, the author of two contemporary novels. Her first work of historical fiction as Melanie Benjamin was Alice I Have Been. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is her second release. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.You can visit her online at www.melaniebenjamin.com.

Donna’s Review…

Melanie Benjamin’s new historical novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, features the inspiring story of a heroic nineteenth century woman, Mercy Lavinia (Vinnie) Warren Bump. Standing only two feet eight inches tall, Vinnie and show man P. T. Barnum, founder of the Ringling Bros.and Barnum & Bailey Circus fabricate an fashionable life.  Vinnie marries another little person, General Tom Thumb, and the couple travels with Barnum around the globe keeping the company of kings, queens and the powerful tycoons of that time.

Benjamin develops the story with careful attention to historic detail and the apparent difficulties of the life of a little, but determined, woman. I was so taken with Vinnie’s story that I conducted online research about Vinnie, Tom Thumb, and P.T. Barnum to verify historical details.  While this book is fictional, it is an accurate account of Vinnie’s inspirational life. Benjamin brought a little known woman to the world’s attention in The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. I heartily recommend this book.–Reviewed by Donna Landis, special to Backseat Writer.

Remember to visit Pump Up Your Book! to read the first chapter of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

*With thanks to Pump Up Your Book!, Melanie Benjamin, and Delacorte Press for the review copy of this book.*

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