Breaking the Silence by Author Nancy King Spotlight
I am so happy to share my special spotlight for author Nancy King’s memoir, “Breaking the Silence”. I will be sharing my review of this book soon, but I wanted to share more about this book and what it’s about.
About Breaking the Silence:
Secrets. Lies. Silences. Stories told by parents and their families to protect themselves. A father who defends his wife despite her damage to their daughter’s health and welfare. A mother, shielded by her husband, who perpetuates murderous acts of violence against the daughter, and keeps secret her husband’s sexual “play” with the young girl.
And yet … Nancy King, determined to learn the truth of her childhood and the heartbreaking effects it has had on her adult life, uncovers the secrets. Sees through the lies. Breaks the silence.
Empowered by the stories she told herself as a child, she learns to use stories as part of her work as a university professor teaching theater, drama, world literature, and creative expression. Gradually, with the help of body work and therapy, she finds her voice. Says no to abuse and abusers. Reclaims herself and life. Writes a memoir.
She climbs mountains. Weaves tapestries. Writes books. Makes friends. Creates a meaningful life.
I was born in Brooklyn, NYC. From the time I was 8 years old, until I left for college at 17, I traveled by myself into Manhattan to take a dance, theatre, or music lesson. After class I was free to wander about the City until I had to leave for home at 4:30. I ate in small Mom & Pop ethnic restaurants, savoring food I could neither spell nor pronounce. Theatre and dance tickets in the balconies were cheap and museums were free. All I needed were two nickels for the train rides, a nickel in case I had to make a phone call, and a quarter for lunch. The City was mine to explore. These years made an indelible impression on me in many ways: I enjoyed being with a diverse group of people, attending a variety of arts performances, and making my way in unfamiliar worlds with confidence and curiosity.
Early experiences with abuse both at home and school led me to becoming a teacher, writer, playwright, and essayist, always focusing on issues of empowerment. I have taught creative writing, storymaking, drama, and literacy workshops in schools, universities, professional development programs, prisons, Head Start, mental hospitals, recreational centers, programs for children and adults with learning differences, and older adult programs in the US and abroad.
In 1985 I was diagnosed with a rare and anomalous form of leukemia. When treatment allowed me to think in terms of years rather than months, and ten years after becoming a full professor at the University of Delaware, I received my PhD, in multi-disciplinary studies focusing on literature, psychology, and philosophy.
As an award-winning author of seven books of nonfiction, my focus has always been on developing creative expression, arts-based approaches to learning, and student-centered learning. I have also written five novels, one of which, The Stones Speak, has been optioned for a movie. The focus in all of my writing and teaching has always been on empowerment. My newest book, a memoir, Breaking the Silence, is about the healing power of stories.
Today’s book spotlight at Word Magic is Nancy King’s memoir “Breaking the Silence”. Readers will also hear from Wisconsin student Carmen Otto as she shares her thoughts after reading this insightful story.
December 28th @ Bring on Lemons with Michelle DelPonte
Wisconsin mother and healthcare worker Michelle DelPonte couldn’t wait to get her hands on Nancy King’s memoir “Breaking the Silence”. Today Michelle will share her review of this touching memoir. Stop at Bring on Lemons to learn more!
Readers at Boots Shoes and Fashion will be enlightened as Linda interviews Nancy King about her newly released memoir “Breaking the Silence”. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn from someone who has overcome the odds!
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I started my career as a volunteer teacher in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo) during 1968-70. There, I became an international filmmaker and later a multimedia producer, working for development agencies and living in or traveling to countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Russia until 2013. I had written three technical books and many journal articles during my career, for example on the role of communication in defeating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But I never had time to write creatively until I retired. I started by taking an evening course and drafting stories at St. John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland. After my wife and I moved to Albuquerque in 2015, I attended Master’s-level workshops in creative nonfiction and poetry at the University of New Mexico. That’s when I started writing my Borneo travel memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo, and another travel memoir on my ancestors, Guns and Gods in My Genes. These have both won awards. Simultaneously, I also began drafting short pieces of what became Kid on the Go! for review by my professor and fellow students in those workshops, and revised them after feedback. So, it’s my third book from to be released from the time I became a creative writer.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
I spent the first 19 years of my life in Elmira, Ontario, Canada—a formative place for me. It’s where I learned life skills which helped me as I went farther and farther away from my hometown. As I recall in my memoir, I had to work for monetary rewards from a very young age. My father’s father was killed in a farm accident in 1933 and my dad and most of his brothers had to quit school and take over the farm. In spite of this, they all became successful businessmen. Only one of them stayed on the farm. So, my role models included men who overcame obstacles and succeeded in life by using their brains. But I also had a lot of fun and great freedom in Elmira and that sometimes got me into trouble with authority figures of all kinds—especially in my rebellious teenage years. Such experiences are life skills building too. I have dedicated the book “To my late parents. Russell and Alma McKee, who gave me the time and space to wonder, and wander far from home.”
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I hope that readers conclude that it is possible to write an interesting childhood and/or youth memoir even if you had loving parents, supportive siblings, and haven’t suffered from abuse, neglect, discrimination, war, terror, etc. So many top-selling memoirs are written by people who have beaten such odds and risen to a successful life, accomplishing great things. But many more of us have stories worth telling if we dig into our memories and let our creative juices flow. It does help to have an antagonist to fight against. In my case, it was my hometown’s polluted environment in which I lived from 1945 to 1965—a chemical factory that produced insecticides and herbicides, the latter employed in the making Agent Orange for the American Army’s use in Vietnam. Although few people in town knew about that ugly fact at the time, we all knew the place often stank from by-products of that factory, as well as a fertilizer plant, a foundry, and more—all proud signs of the post-war boom. The pollution provided conflict in my stories, allowing me to use the theme of “escape” by just about any means possible—finding various routes out of town, fishing, hunting, building or renovating “escape vehicles,” working on my dad’s farm in the summer, dreaming about girls instead of paying attention in school, confronting authority in my teenage “rock n’ roll” years, being introduced to philosophy and Zen Buddhism in senior high school, taking “existential leaps” out of airplanes, going out West to Calgary, Alberta for clear air, big blue skies, and mountains to complete my B.A., and finally leaving Canada in 1968 for the verdant Island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
By genre, I believe you mean creative nonfiction memoir. I was drawn to it because I have had such a rich and varied experience in life, both in my formative years and my 45-year career traveling and working all around the globe. In my mid-70s, I am lucky to have the health and good memory to write about experiences in a creative, nonlinear way. During my career, I wrote technical books and articles in my field and wanted to do something different in my final decades. Creative nonfiction seemed to be a natural thing for me. I was never much interested in fiction, except for watching movies for relaxation.
5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
Quite frankly, I am not sure. I do post on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, linking people to my website, hopefully. But I haven’t seen evidence that this drives up sales. I have a large email list which I use to send out updates when I have something significant to announce. Social media might increase your visibility in google searches. But I’m of the opinion that most people only spend a few seconds on each post in this age of minimum attention span. I love to present and discuss issues in person or on zoom and connect with potential readers that way. I also take my books on blog and review tours, like WOW! Women in Writing; enter contests and try different innovative ways such as Shepherd.com: https://shepherd.com/best-books/exotic-asian-travel;
6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
a) Be prepared for very hard work. I put in about seven hours of research, writing, corresponding, and promotion each day. b) Get reviews from readers and other writers before you publish, and make revisions accordingly, if you feel they are helpful. After all, readers should know. In my former communication work we call it “pretesting.” c) If you have five or more years to wait, you can try to get a publisher. I had a couple of late offers for my Borneo memoir but the companies involved wanted to start over on the editing and didn’t want to put any money into promotion. So I set up my own company and employ a good literary editor, copy editor/proofreader, and designer. I print and distribute through IngramSpark. This company sends out your book and e-book files to many distributors: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, a chain bookstore in Canada called Indigo.com, to many other ebook distributors, and my books are available through most independent bookstores and libraries. It is one way to begin no matter what age you are. You have to be prepared to put a lot of time into promotion, however. I think that is the case for any author because every day about 1,000 new titles are released in all genres in North American.
7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I have completed over half of the first draft of my next manuscript on my career as an international filmmaker and multimedia producer, working for two Canadian development agencies, UNICEF, Johns Hopkins University, and my last job in an agency called FHI360 in Washington, D.C., where I was director of a communication project with 150 staff and a large budget.
During my career, I lived for four years in Malaysia, four years in Bangladesh, seven years in Kenya and Uganda (East Africa), and my last overseas posting was in Moscow, Russia during 2004-2007. Besides that, I traveled to about 80 countries on short-term assignments. All this has given me significant experience in learning about the issues within so many fields of endeavor that aim to improve human life in the developing world: volunteering during your youth; the role of science and technology in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture; finding solutions for delivering health care, clean water, sanitation and hygiene; empowering girls, women, and young people to take charge of the their lives, while attempting to change the behaviors and social norms that restrict them from reaching their full potential. I think there’s a good story here. I’ve set up a website on my main projects, including most of the videos, comic books, and other media products that I have been able to retrieve, so far.
My challenge is to write about my career creatively and coherently in a way that will entertain and educate—that is, make readers smile, wonder, and think about the present state of our planet. I am also including thoughts on what was achieved or wasn’t achieved in the projects I documented or created, my advancement in skills, personal development, marriage and family life, and memories of many of the people I met in my travels and those who influenced me and propelled my way forward.
I hope to complete this book by the end of 2022. In the meantime, I also want to begin a new writing project, probably involving travel through New Mexico and America’s Southwest. That project is gradually taking shape through reading and thinking about the history, ethnicities, and cultures I have encountered here.
In this new book, McKee takes readers on a journey through his childhood, adolescence, and teenage years from the mid-40s to the mid-60s, in the small, then industrially-polluted town of Elmira, Ontario, Canada—one of the centers of production for Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
McKee’s vivid descriptions, dialog, and self-drawn illustrations are a study of how a young boy learned to play and work, fish and hunt, avoid dangers, cope with death, deal with bullies, and to build or restore “escape” vehicles. You may laugh out loud as the author recalls his exploding hormones, attraction to girls, rebellion against authority, and survival of 1960s’ “rock & roll” culture—emerging on the other side as a youth leader.
After leaving Elmira, McKee describes his intensely searching university years, trying to decide which career path to follow. Except for a revealing postscript, the story ends when he accepts a volunteer teaching position on the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia.
Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has written and published three books in this genre since 2015. His latest work is Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth, a humorous and poignant account of his growing up in an industrially-polluted town in Ontario, Canada, and his university years. This memoir is a stand-alone prequel to his first travel memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah (2019) on his first overseas adventures in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo), where he served as a Canadian volunteer teacher and program administrator during 1968-70 and 1973-74. This book won the 2019 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for Biography–(other than a New Mexico/Arizona subject) and a Bronze Medal in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards (Ippy Awards).
In late 2020, McKee also releasedGuns and Gods in my Genes: A 15,000-mile North American search through four centuries of history, to the Mayflower—an entertaining account of how he searched for his roots in Canada and the US, in which he employs vivid descriptions, dialog, poetic prose, analytical opinion, photos and illustrations. In this work, McKee slowly uncovers his American grandmother’s lineage—ancestors who were involved in almost every major war on North American soil and others, including a passenger on the Mayflower, as well as heroes, villains, rascals, and ordinary godly folk. Through his search, McKee exposes myths and uncovers facts about the true founding of America.
McKee, who holds a B.A. Degree from the University of Calgary and a Masters in Communication from Florida State University, lived and worked in Asia, Africa, Russia and traveled to over 80 countries on assignments during his 45-year international career. He became an expert in communication and directed/produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos, and wrote a many articles and books in the field. McKee is now busy writing another travel memoir on his career. He does readings/book signings and presentations with or without photos. He prefers lively interactive sessions.
Join us as we celebrate the launch of Neill McKee’s newest memoir, Kid on the Go. Come by and read an interview with the author, find out more about his newest book, and enter to win a copy for yourself.
Hello everyone! I’m so honored to be working on this next blog tour, for author Hurri Cosmo’s “The Ex’s Boyfriend”. I had the pleasure of working on the author’s last book, The Superior Jewel, and I have always been so honored and proud to work with and connect with authors and writers in the (or who celebrates the) LGBTQ+ community. I hope everyone will check out this amazing excerpt, and the chance to enter this giveaway as well.
Hurri Cosmo has a new MM paranormal ghost romance out: The Ex’s Boyfriend. And there’s a giveaway!
Mark has always been a Dominant. The Top in every relationship. Just ask Leon, his very ex-boyfriend, because that’s what he told Mark he was.
Okay, Mark’s only had the one relationship so the ‘always’ was a reach, but it didn’t matter. It was more than over with now, and Leon was long gone. That is until Leon felt it necessary to show off his new boyfriend, a gorgeous mountain called Rogan, by evidently telling him that Mark was stalking, bullying, badgering, harassing and get this, abusing him.
“He’ll kill you, Mark, because he loves me and wants to protect me.”
From whom? Skinny little Mark? What a joke. Because all Mark has ever done was exactly what Leon told him to do and that now included staying as far away from Leon as he could get. But how can he do that when Leon is hell-bent on proving all the lies he’s told Rogan about Mark were true, and by any means possible except the actual truth? Thankfully, it seems Rogan’s not quite as clueless about Leon’s wild imagination as Mark has always been. In fact, the big, beautiful man has come to Mark’s rescue a couple of times and has made it clear, Leon and he are not a thing. At least, not anymore.
Which is good since Mark is going to need Rogan’s help. Mainly because something else is out to get Mark. Something not Leon.
They took the elevator to the sixth floor and headed cautiously down a deserted hall. Okay, maybe it was only Mark who walked warily. Rogan marched slightly ahead of him and seemed to barge down the hall with his chest puffed out like some storybook bodyguard protecting the prince. However, no apparitions flew out at them this time, no lights exploded trying to kill them. When they got to Mark’s apartment, Rogan snatched the set of keys Mark dug out of his pocket and opened the door of 612 and attempted to turn on the light.
“It doesn’t work,” Mark remarked. “It never has.”
As if that might have been important in the whole scheme of things, Rogan turned to him. “Really? Why?”
“I have no idea. They have never been able to fix it, either.”
Rogan grumbled a string of profanities against landlords as he pulled out his phone. “Hey Raptor. Flashlight.” The phone shot out a bright beam and Rogan shined it into the apartment. “Where is a switch that does work?”
“Right here.” Mark glanced around the apartment before he tiptoed over to the switch in the kitchen and turned it on. The apartment lit up enough to see that everything was normal―so to speak. The destroyed TV was right where it had been when they left, debris still everywhere. Not the chaos Mark had walked into with Leon, but shivers of that time chased through him as well. “What I don’t get is why you don’t even have a scratch on you.”
“That is a mystery,” Rogan murmured. “What’s even more an unknown is why you were basically sliced in the first place. Cut, I would understand. But sliced?” He walked over to the large, jagged piece laying against the wall, the piece that had been laced with blood but no longer appeared to be and picked it up. “This should never have been sharp enough to do that.” He brought it over for Mark to see.
“Fuck,” Mark whispered as he gazed at the piece of plastic. “It’s… like a knife.” And it was. The six-inch, razor-edged side appeared paper thin, to the point of it being see-through. As if someone had purposely honed it down to that sharpness. “But… didn’t it have blood on it?”
Rogan narrowed his eyes and glared back at the plastic as if it had just lied to him. “You’re right. It did. Exactly my point.”
Rogan glanced briefly at Mark. “This isn’t right. I mean, how does something like this even happen?” Rogan’s lips pursed together.
“So, what are you saying?”
“I’m not sure.” Rogan gazed down at Mark. “And I don’t like not knowing. I will find some answers. That I promise.” He sighed. “Now what do we need to take with us so we can get out of here?”
Mark packed a backpack while Rogan kept watch. Mark would have thought it laughable if he wasn’t so panicked. It was one thing to be bullied by Leon. Quite another by a ghost.
“The extra apartment key is in the kitchen drawer,” Mark told Rogan as he threw the backpack over his shoulder.
Rogan immediately reached over and grabbed the backpack. “Go get it. I got this.”
Heat climbing Mark’s face he walked quickly to the drawer. “I can carry it. I’m not a princess.”
Rogan smirked but remained silent as he adjusted the backpack and held out a hand to accept the key. “Thanks,” he said, winking at Mark when he dropped the key in his hand.
“I don’t know what you plan on doing but have at it.”
Rogan grimaced as if he were guilty of something and shook his head.
When they arrived at Mark’s dad’s house, Rogan insisted on walking Mark in. “I didn’t keep you safe like I promised. He deserves an explanation.”
“Are you kidding me? I’m not some fragile teenager on a date. Besides, I can take care of myself.”
“I know that. But security is my job, and I should have…”
“Should have what?”
“Known.” He knocked on the door.
“Known? How? Why?”
But Rogan remained silent. Except it was clear he was battling something in his head.
“Whatever,” Mark mumbled. “Just… I can take care of myself.” Mark went to knock as well but the door flew open in front of him, Mark’s dad standing on the other side.
“What the fuck is going on out here?” Rob snarled, startling both Mark and Rogan.
“Sir!” Rogan nearly shouted back, gaining the older man’s attention. Then he lowered his voice probably realizing how loud he was being. “Mr. Corda. Sorry to wake you…”
“What the hell happened to you?” Rob grabbed Mark and pulled him into the house. “Why the bandages?” He turned his attention back to Rogan. “Why is my son covered in bandages?”
Mark took immediate offence. “Dad, I’m standing right here! Ask me!”
“Um… sir…” Rogan interrupted. “it’s a long story.”
I am Hurri Cosmo and I live in Minnesota where I hold tight to the idea that here, where it’s cold a good part of the year, I won’t age as fast. Yep, I avoid the truth as much as I avoid mirrors. But one of the reasons I love writing is reality doesn’t always offer up a “happily ever after” and being able to take control of that is a powerful lure.
Being a happy ending junkie, writing just makes them easier to find. Oh, I don’t mind “real life” and I do try to at least keep it in mind when I write my stories, but I truly love creating a wonderful couple, knowing they will fall in love and have their HEA. Every – single – time. And, of course, that is exactly the reason I love reading this genre, too.
Give me a glass of red wine, some dark chocolate, and my computer, whether I am reading or writing, and I will entertain myself for hours. The fact I actually get paid to do it is Snickers bars on the frosting on the cake.
Two nights later Anna, Rogan and Mark were standing at the back warehouse of Streeter Manufacturing. Rogan had a couple of his people help haul the boxes to the entrance but told them they were not needed for anything else. Mark understood the reason but didn’t necessarily agree with it. He was thinking the more humans in this place, the better. Rogan had made it clear he had no idea how this night would go.
“Why night, Rogan? Why darkness?”
Rogan only rolled his eyes at him.
Anna had brought all kinds of things with her. She was the first to enter the space burning some foul-smelling thing. ‘Smudging’ is what Rogan whispered to him.
“What’s it supposed to do?”
“Clean the space.”
“I thought you wanted the bad energy to come, not run and hide.”
“Yes…” Rogan shook his head. “It’s complicated.”
They set up the equipment, seven each of the Molecular Polarization Arrays and Variance Sequencers, after Anna finished her chants, of which, the words and tone of voice oddly sent shivers through Mark. He never saw the stone that she banged on the cement either, Rogan explaining that that was what it was, but the vibrations of each tap seemed to shake his very bones. Finally done, the two of them picked a spot to wait for the action to start, Anna decided to venture to the other side of the warehouse.
“Are you okay with her being all the way over there?”
Rogan huffed. “She does what she does. I don’t question her. I’m grateful she once again listened to me that this damn shadow was back.”
“It’s not like that,” Rogan whispered. “She knows things and sees things that I just don’t. I have to trust her judgment of what she feels she has to do in a space and where she thinks she needs to be. Just as she implicitly trusts me and my equipment to do what we do.”
“How long will we have to wait?”
“Honestly, I expected to be interfered with as we set up the equipment. The last few times I have entered this space the shadow has attempted to stop me.”
“So, you don’t know?”
“I do not.”
“Okay. So, we wait.”
And wait they did.
“There’s no sign of the shadow,” Rogan whispered after they had sat silently for what seemed to Mark hours.
“Is that a problem?” Mark whispered back. He had been crouched down ready to spring to action, but his legs and feet were completely asleep now. He needed to move. He squirmed to scratch an itch he could not find.
“Might be.” Rogan glanced at him, his eyes narrowing. “My equipment needs to have close proximity with the energy, or it can’t even read it much less capture it.”
“That’s unfortunate.” Mark squirmed some more trying to allow blood to flow back into his lower extremities but then the pins and needles began in earnest. Oh hell. He wouldn’t be able to stand now anyway.
“Are you alright?”
“No. I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Bad.” It was true. The moment he thought it, he couldn’t think anything else.
“I really don’t want you out of my sight.”
Mark’s heart stuttered. “I don’t want to be out of your sight.” Mark wiggled some more. “But I got a go.”
Rogan sighed. “I could go with I suppose. Not much going on here anyway. I’ll radio Anna.” Rogan had insisted on the walkie talkies if Anna wanted to be separated. She had complied as long as the volumes were low, and it didn’t interfere with her aura. “I’m walking with Mark to the bathroom,” he announced softly into the radio.
“You’re what?” came the instant reply.
“Mark has to go to the bathroom. I don’t want him going alone. We’ll be right back.”
“Fine but be careful.”
“Don’t worry. We will.”
They left the warehouse and Mark led the way to the bathroom nearest the back warehouse area which happened to be the same one that he had accused Leon being in. Maybe he should have gone to the one in the other warehouse. Too late now. Didn’t matter. He would be fast. Mark slipped into a stall while Rogan remained at the main door. He kept it open as he gazed out. “Do you think it will show?” Mark called from the stall.
“I have no idea.”
After he finished, Mark went to the sink to wash his hands. “Have you had this happen before where the ghost never shows?”
“Yes.” Rogan said as he continued to gaze beyond the bathroom. “Sometimes in big areas like this or like your apartment building ―”
“― or mine, an energy can move around. The repeats can also be random. I have had several incidents where I was called to what I understood to be a very active sighting and before I could do anything, the activity stopped. Completely.”
“Very. That was going to be my next focus. Some sort of way to detect the paranormal that isn’t active. Find even dormant paranormal energy. I would be able to rid a place of the ghosts prior to there being any problems with them.”
“Sort of a housewarming service?”
“Hey. Yeah.” Rogan chuckled as he turned to Mark. He lowered his voice to mimic a radio announcer. “Hire Ghost Securities to clear your new home of any and all paranormal energy.”
“Um…we’ll have to work on that catchy phrase though,” giggled Mark as he wiped his hands.
Rogan laughed but then jerked back around with an in-take of breath to look out the door again. “What was that?” he breathed.
“What’s wrong?” Mark squeaked as he jumped back from the sink farther away from the door.
“I don’t know. Stay here for a moment,” Rogan said and left the bathroom, the door swinging shut.
“Oh God, don’t leave me,” Mark whispered, his heart beating in his throat. He backed up until he was up against the far wall of the small bathroom. Why why why had he agreed to come? Fuck. He slid down the wall as he waited for Rogan to return and put his head in his hands. The stupid endorphins he had been floating on for days now were totally gone and who in their right mind ever wanted to face a fucking ghost. Or a shadow. Demon. Fuck. Clearly Rogan did!
“Marky,” came a voice from in front of him. It was more a hoarse whisper, maybe a grumble. One thing for certain, it wasn’t Rogan’s voice. Fuck. He didn’t look up right away. He honestly did not want to see what the thing that wasn’t Rogan actually was.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Three friends from their youths must reunite when their fourth friend dying of cancer summons them to the summer camp they spent their youth in, and must find the dreams they left behind as they face the challenges of their own lives in author Viola Shipman’s “The Clover Girls”.
As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman’s novels never fail to deliver a heartfelt story of friendship and familty, encapsulating summer memories in every page. Fans of Dorthea Benton Frank and Nancy Thayer will love this new story about three childhood friends approaching middle age, determined to rediscover the dreams that made them special as campers in 1985.
Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where they called themselves The Clover Girls (after their cabin name). The years following that magical summer pulled them in very different directions and, now approaching middle age, the women are facing new challenges: the inevitable physical changes that come with aging, feeling invisible to society, disinterested husbands, surley teens, and losing their sense of self.
Then, Elizabeth, Veronica and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily – she has cancer and, knowing it’s terminal, reaches out to the girls who were her best friends once upon a time and implores them to reunite at Camp Birchwood to scatter her ashes. When the three meet at the property for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, another letter from Emily awaits, explaining that she has purchased the abandoned camp, and now it belongs to them – at Emily’s urging, they must spend a week together remembering the dreams they’d put aside, and find a way to become the women they always swore they’d grow up to be. Through flashbacks to their youthful summer, we see the four friends then and now, rebuilding their lives, flipping a middle finger to society’s disdain for aging women, and with a renewed purpose to find themselves again.
Such an incredible and emotional story, author Viola Shipman has crafted a truly beautiful and heartbreaking story of lost friendship, loss, and regaining that which has been lost in our lives. The multiple POV of these characters really brings a sense of wholeness and driven narratives to their story.
So often in life friends drift away, becoming busy with their growing lives and diverging paths that take them away from one another. Yet less often is the events that bring us back together again. This narrative does a fantastic job of exploring the uncharted path towards unification with the people who made us feel like ourselves again.
The setting and imagery of the narrative felt alive and become a character all on their own. I love the flashbacks and letters from the early days of the Clover Girls that really captured the essence of the 80’s style era that part of the narrative took place in, and the pacing really helped with the friend’s journey to not only find themselves but to find the friendship that brought them so much happiness and joy.
A mesmerizing, emotionally driven, and engaging read, author Viola Shipman’s The Clover Girls is the perfect summer read for those who love women’s fiction and tales of friendship and the bonds we share with others. The author takes the readers on such an emotional journey and showcases how the painful reality of loss can sometimes bring and heal those who have been lost to each other back together again. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!
About the Author
Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.
Fizzy water (cherry, lime, watermelon, mixed berry)
Chips (lentil, quinoa, kale, beet)
Cereal (Kashi, steel-cut oats, NO GMOs! VERY IMPORTANT!)
Whatever happened to one kind of milk from a cow, one kind of water from a faucet and one kind of chip from a potato?
My teenage children are seated on opposite ends of the massive, modern, original Milo Baughman circular sofa that David and I ordered for our new midcentury house in Los Angeles. Ashley and Tyler are juggling drinks while pecking at their cells, and it takes every fiber of my soul not to come unglued. This is the most expensive piece of furniture I have ever purchased in my life. More expensive even than my first two years of college tuition plus my first car, a red Reliant K-car that would stall at stoplights.
I still don’t know what the K stood for, I think. Krappy?
That was a time, long ago, when that type of negative thought would never have entered my mind, when the K would have stood only for Konfident, Kool or Kick-Ass. But that was a different world, another time, another life and place.
I steady my pen at the top of a pad of paper emblazoned with the logo of my husband’s architectural firm, David Berzini & Associates.
Los Angeles is the latest stop for us. My family has hopscotched the world more than a military brat as David’s architectural career has exploded. He is now one of the world’s preeminent architects. David studied under and worked with some of the most famous midcentury modern architects—Albert Frey, William Krisel, Donald Wexler—and has now taken over their mantles, especially as the appreciation for and popularity of midcentury modern architecture has grown. Now he is working on a stunning new public library in LA that will be his legacy.
I glance up from my pad. A selection of magazines—Architectural Digest, Vogue, W—are artfully strewn across a brutalist coffee table. The beautiful models stare back at me.
That was my legacy.
“Mom, can I get something to eat?”
This is now my legacy.
I glance at my children. Everything old has come back en vogue. Ashley is wearing the same sort of high-waisted jeans that I once wore and modeled in the ’80s, and Tyler’s hair—razored high by a barber and slicked back into a big black pompadour—looks a lot like a style I sported for a Robert Palmer video when every woman wanted to look like a Nagel woman.
Yes, everything has made a comeback.
I look at my list.
My kids, like my husband, have never met a Pop-Tart, a box of Cap’n Crunch, a Jeno’s Pizza Roll or a Ding Dong. My entire family resembles long-limbed ponies, ready to race. I grew up when the foundation of a food pyramid was a Twinkie.
I again put pen to paper, and in my own secret code I write the letter L above the first letter of my husband’s name. If someone happened to glance at the paper, they would simply think I had been doodling. But I know what “LD” means, and it will remind me once I get to the store.
You know, I actually hide these around our new home, which isn’t easy since the entire space is so sleek and minimal, and hiding space is at a premium. It took a lot of effort, but I, too, used to be as sleek and minimal as this house, as angular and arresting as its architecture. Anything out of place in our butterfly-roofed home located in the Bird Streets high above Sunset Strip—where the streets are named after orioles and nightingales, and Hollywood stars reside—is conspicuous.
Even now, on yet another perfect day in LA, where the sunshine makes everything look lazily beautiful and dipped in glitter, I can see a layer of dust on the terrazzo floors. Although a maid comes twice a week, the dust, smog and ash from nonstop fires in LA—carried by hot, dry Santa Ana winds—coat everything. And David notices everything.
Swiffers, I write on the pad, before outlining “LD” with my pen.
David hates that I have gained weight. He is embarrassed I have gained weight.
Or is just my imagination? Am I the one who is embarrassed by who I’ve become?
David never says anything to me, but he attends more and more galas alone, saying I need to watch the kids even though they no longer need a babysitter and that it’s better for their stability if one parent is with them. But I know the truth.
What did he expect would happen to my body after two children and endless moves? What did he expect would happen after losing my career, identity and self-esteem? It’s so ironic, because I’m not angry at him or my life. I’m just…
“Why don’t you just put all of that in the notes on your phone?”
“Or just ask the refrigerator to remember?”
“Yeah, Mom,” my kids say at the same time.
I look over at them. They have my beauty and David’s drive. Ash and Ty lift their eyes from their phones just long enough to roll their eyes at me, in that way that teens do, the way teens always have, in that there-couldn’t-be-a-more-lame-uncool-human-in-the-world-than-you-Mom way. And it’s always followed by “the sigh.”
“I like to do it this way,” I say.
“NO ONE writes anything anymore,” Ashley says.
“NO ONE, Mom!” Tyler echoes.
“Cursive is dead, Mom,” Ashley says. “Get with the times.”
I stare at my children. They are often the sweetest kids in the world, but every so often their evil twins emerge, the ones with forked tongues and acerbic words.
Did they get that from me? Or their father? Or is it just the way kids are today?
The sun shifts, and the reflection of water from the pool dances on the white walls, making it look as if we are living in an aquarium. I glance down the long hallway where the pool is reflecting, the place David has allowed me to have my only “clutter”: a corridor of old photos, a room of heirlooms.
My life flashes before me: our family in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York at the holidays, eating colorful French macarons at a café in Paris, lying out on Barcelona’s beaches, and fishing with my parents at their summer cottage on Lake Michigan. And then, in the ultimate juxtaposition, there is an old photo of me, teenage me, in a bikini at Lake Birchwood hanging directly next to an old Sports Illustrated cover of me. In it, I am posing by the ocean where I met David. I am crouched on the beach like a tiger ready to pounce. That was my signature pose, you know, the one I invented that all the other models stole, the Tiger Pose.
I was one of the one-name girls back then: Madonna, Iman, Cher, V. All I needed was a single letter to identify myself. Now V has Vanished. I have one name.
My eyes wander back to our pool. I would be mortified to wear a bikini today. I am not what most people would deem overweight. But I have a paunch, my thighs are jellied and my chin is starting to have a best friend. It was that photo in all of the gossip magazines a year or so ago that did it to me. Paparazzi shot me downing an ice cream cone while putting gas in my car. I had shuttled the kids around all day in 110-degree heat, and I was wearing a billowy caftan. I looked bigger than my SUV. And the headlines:
V has Vanished Inside This Woman!
If you saw me in person, you’d likely say I’m a narcissist or being way too hard on myself, but it’s as hard to hide fifteen pounds in LA as it is to hide an extra throw pillow in this house. I get Botox and fillers and do all the things I can to maintain my looks, but I am terrified to go to the gym here. I am mortified to look for a dress in a city where a size two is considered obese. The gossip rags are just waiting for me to move.
My eyes wander back to the photos.
I no longer have an identity.
I no longer have friends.
“Earth to Mom? Can you make me some lunch?” Tyler looks at me. “Then I need to go to Justin’s.”
“And you have to drive me to Lily’s at four, remember?”
I shudder. A two-mile drive in LA takes two hours.
Ashley looks at me.
There is a way that your children and husband look at you—or rather don’t look at you at a certain point in your life—not to mention kids in the street, young women shopping, men in restaurants, David’s colleagues, happy families in the grocery.
They look through you. Like you’re a window.
It’s as if women over forty were never young, smart, fashionable, cool…were never like them, never had hopes, dreams and acres of life ahead of them.
What is with American society today?
Why, when women reach a “certain age,” do we become ghosts? Strike that. That’s not an accurate analogy: that would imply that we actually invoke a mood, a scare, a feeling of some sort. That we have a personality. I could once hold up a bag of potato chips, eat one, lick my fingers and sell a million bags of junk food for a company. Now I’m not even memorable enough to be a ghost. This model has become a prop. A piece of furniture. Not like the stylish one my kids are stretched out on, but the reliable, sturdy, ever-present, department store kind, devoid of any depth or substance, one without feeling, attractiveness or sexuality. I am just here. Like the air. Necessary to survive, but something no one sees or notices.
I used to be noticed. I used to be seen. Desired. Admired. Wanted.
I was the ringleader of friends, the one who called the shots. Now, I am Uber driver, Shipt delivery, human Roomba and in-home Grubhub, products I once would have sold rather than used.
I take a deep breath and note a few more grocery items on my antiquated written list and stand to make my kids lunch.
They are teen health nuts, already obsessed with every bite they consume. Does it have GMOs? What is the protein-to-carb differential?
Did I do this to them? I don’t think so.
Even as a model, I ate pizza, but that’s back in the day when a curve was sexy and a bikini needed to be filled out. I pull out some spicy tuna sushi rolls I picked up at Gelson’s and arrange them on a platter. I wash and chop some berries and place them in a bowl. I watch my kids fill their plates. Ashley is a cheerleader and wannabe actress, and Tyler is a skateboarding, creative techy applying to UCLA to study film and directing. Ashley wants to go to Northwestern to major in drama. They will both be going to specialty camps later this summer, Ashley for cheerleading and acting, Tyler for filmmaking and to boost his SAT scores. My eyes drift back to my photo wall, and I smile. They will not, however, spend their days simply having fun, singing camp songs, engaging in color wars, shooting archery, splashing in a cold lake, roasting marshmallows and making friends. A kid’s life today, especially here in LA, is a competition, and the competition starts early.
There is a rustling noise outside, and Ashley tosses her plate onto the sofa and rushes to the door. In LA, even the postal workers are hot, literally and figuratively, and our mailman looks like Zac Efron. She returns a few seconds later, fanning herself dramatically with the mail.
“You’re going to be a great actress,” I say with a laugh. Ashley starts to toss the mail onto the counter, but I stop her. “Leave the mail in the organizer for your dad.”
Yes, even the mail has its own home in our home.
“Hey, you got a letter,” she says.
“Who writes letters anymore?” Tyler asks.
“Old people,” Ashley says. The two laugh.
I take a seat at the original Saarinen tulip table and study the envelope. There is no return address. I feel the envelope. It’s bulky. I open it and begin to read a handwritten letter:
How are you? I’m sorry it’s been a while since we’ve talked. You’ve been busy, I’ve been busy. Remember when we were just a bunk away? We could lean our heads over the side and share our darkest secrets. Those were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? When we were innocent. When we were as tight as the clover that grew together in the patch that wound to the lake.
How long has it been since you talked to Rach and Liz? Over 30 years? I guess that first four-leaf clover I found wasn’t so lucky after all, was it? Oh, you and Rach have had such success, but are you happy, V? Deep down? Achingly happy? I don’t believe in my heart that you are. I don’t think Rach and Liz are either. How do I know? Friend’s intuition.
I used to hate myself for telling everyone what happened our last summer together. It was like dominoes falling after that, one secret after the next revealed, the facade of our friendship ripped apart, just like tearing the fourth leaf off that clover I still have pressed in my scrapbook. But I hate secrets. They only tear us apart. Keep us from becoming who we need to become. The dark keeps things from growing. The light is what creates the clover.
Out the cabin door went all of our luck, and then—leaf by leaf—our faith in each other, followed by any hope we might have had in our friendship and, finally, any love that remained was replaced by hatred, then a dull ache, and then nothing at all. That’s the worst thing, isn’t it, V? To feel nothing at all?
Much of my life has been filled with regret, and that’s just an awful way to live. I’m trying to make amends for that before it’s too late. I’m trying to be the friend I should have been. I was once the glue that held us all together. Then I was scissors that tore us all apart. Aren’t friends supposed to be there for one another, no matter what? You weren’t just beautiful, V, you were confident, so funny and full of life. More than anything, you radiated light, like the lake at sunset. And that’s how I will always remember you.
I’ve sent similar letters to Rach and Liz. I stayed in touch with Liz…and Rach…well, you know Rach. For some reason, you all forgave me, but not each other. I guess because I was just an innocent bystander to all the hurt. My only remaining hope is that you will all forgive one another at some point, because you changed my life and you changed each other’s lives. And I know that you all need one another now more than ever. We found each other for a reason. We need to find each other again.
Let me get to the point, dear V. Just picture me leaning my head over the bunk and telling you my deepest secret.
By the time you receive this, I’ll be dead…
My hand begins to shake, which releases the contents still remaining in the envelope. A pressed four-leaf clover and a few old Polaroid pictures scatter onto the tabletop. Without warning, I groan.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Tyler asks without looking back.
“Who’s that from?” Ashley asks, still staring at her phone.
“A friend,” I manage to mumble.
“Cool,” Ashley says. “You need friends. You don’t have any except for that one girl from camp.” She stops. “Emily, right?”
The photos lying on the marble tabletop are of the four of us at camp, laughing, singing, holding hands. We are so, so young, and I wonder what happened to the girls we used to be. I stare at a photo of Em and me lying under a camp blanket in the same bunk. That’s when I realize the photo is sitting on top of something. I move the picture and smile.
A friendship pin stares at me, E-V-E-R shining in a sea of green beads.
I look up, and water is reflecting through the clerestory windows of our home, and suddenly every one of those little openings is like a scrapbook to my life, and I can see it flash—at camp and after—in front of me in bursts of light.
Why did I betray my friends?
Why did I give up my identity so easily?
Why am I richer than I ever dreamed and yet feel so empty and lost?
I blink, my eyes blur, and that’s when I realize it’s not the pool reflecting in the windows, it’s my own tears. I’m crying. And I cannot stop.
Suddenly, I stand, throw open the patio doors and jump into the pool, screaming as I sink. I look up, and my children are yelling.
“Mom! Are you okay?”
I wave at them, and their bodies relax.
“I’m fine,” I lie when I come to the surface. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
They look at each other and shrug, before heading back inside.
At least, I think, they finally see me.
I take a deep breath and go down once more. Underwater, I can hear my heart drum loudly in my ears. It’s drumming in such perfect rhythm that I know immediately the tune my soul is playing. I can hear it as if it were just yesterday.
I’m not sure who said it, but there’s an adage that goes something like: A first book is the one the author needed to write. This statement is true for me, though not for all the themes found in my first book, Anything That Happens. Hm. That may not be accurate. Let me begin again.
I came to writing through a side door. At the end of my senior year in high school, my English teacher pulled me aside, a stack of my creative assignments in his hand, and urged me to keep writing. “If you enjoy doing this, keep doing it,” Mr. Langford said, making me look up and into his eyes so I could see his serious face. He knew I was an adrift teenager about to be released into the world. I imagine him crossing his fingers as he gave me the “life raft” that is poetry.
My poetry has always been personal, tied to the exploration of emotion. I believe it’s a response to the practical, non-communicative environment where I grew up. The stack of papers Mr. Langford held were poems about friendship and trust, my mom making a new home with her husband-to-be, my father’s absence, and me coming to terms with … my future?
Since I had little direction, and I enjoyed writing, I took Mr. Langford’s advice. But, I didn’t know how to live like a writer. And I believed “experience” would make me a writer. (Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention in class when we talked about Emily Dickenson’s life.)
So, when I moved from California to North Carolina at nineteen years old, I was embarking on “life.” I uprooted, hoping for new, enlightening experiences. Nine months later, the event—a car crash—I would eventually need to write happened.
The irony is that after the crash, I couldn’t write. Then, I wouldn’t write, not seriously. Not for years. I believed it was wrong to make a good thing from my bad act. And since I wanted to become a poet, I kept myself from it, accepting my due punishment.
The thing about needs is they don’t disappear. Whether I wanted to believe it or not, I was a poet, and a poet needs to write poetry. There’s no escaping it. (Oh, thank goodness.)
I first gave myself permission to write about the crash in a fiction class. I had returned to college at twenty-seven years old and majored in creative writing. Fiction provided me the distance I needed to write the details of the night, from my friend’s phone call to being handcuffed and put into a police car. In the “story,” the crash was happening to someone else.
That first step was monumental: I was in the writer’s chair.
Two years later, during my last poetry workshop before graduation, I wrote my first poem about the crash, the original version of the “Slipped” series that’s in the book. It was the story I wrote in fiction, but this time, I was once again in the driver’s seat. Placing myself there gave me a better vantage point to tell the story, and not only the drinking too much and car wrapped around a pole story. The pieces of the story only I knew: the emotional and psychological impact.
The crash was the story I needed to tell. “Emotional and psychological impact” is the inherent slice of all the stories I tell, like when I tried to understand my father’s choices compared to my mother’s back in high school.
The main narrative of Anything That Happens is the car crash and its aftermath. But there is also the death of my mother, the birth of my first son, struggles of parenthood, and underneath it all, ever-present shame. There’s no doubt the car crash heightened my interest in how one action can affect someone else. When I wrote about the relationship with my parents and how I felt about becoming a mother, I did so through the lens of cause and effect—the impact of choosing what not to do weighing as heavily as choosing what to do.
The impact of writing the story I needed to write is just coming to fruition. The book is only two months old. My desire to write hasn’t lessened. Now, I get to work on what I want to write. I don’t know what that looks like yet. Sure, I have ideas and dreams. Okay, I even have projects I kept putting to the side while I finished the needed-to-be-told story. But that’s the “work” of being a writer, and I’ll get to it. For now, I’m still living the piece I’m most interested in, the emotional and psychological impact of having told the story I needed to tell.
About the Author
Cheryl Wilder is the author of Anything That Happens, a Tom Lombardo Poetry Selection (Press 53, 2021), a collection that examines how to reconcile a past grave mistake and a future that stretches into one long second chance. Her chapbook, What Binds Us (Finishing Line Press, 2017), explores the frailty and necessity of human connection.
A founder and editor of Waterwheel Review, Cheryl earned her BFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Author Michele Sammons takes readers on a journey through small yet powerful ideas on spirituality and philosophy in the book “The Little Book of Big Knowing”.
The Little Book of Big Knowing is filled with tiny bursts of insight to nourish your heart, warm your Soul, and help you to remember your true self.
If you find yourself asking big, deep life questions like, “What’s my purpose?” and “Why am I here?” then you’ll want to curl up with The Little Book of Big Knowing.
Inside you’ll be reminded
-Why you are here.
-Who you are at your core.
-Why your dreams matter to more than just you.
Can you feel the gentle tug on your heart to know more? It’s time. Take a breath, and lean in.
This was such a unique read. The author does a great job of presenting this collection of really cool and inspiring ideas that can resonate with a large collection of different readers. The way the author presents these ideas too is inspired, as some readers may see the book and wonder why the author didn’t necessarily divide the book into chapters or specific sections. However, this felt like a much more intimate and personal conversation the author was having with the reader one-on-one, making these inspired bits of knowledge feel much grander in scale.
There were a lot of different ideas presented throughout this book, and the brilliant thing about it was how the author acknowledged not everything would resonate with every single reader, making the things that did feel more pronounced and important. The writing was clear and concise, as in the section that dealt with the appearance of spirituality, which really spoke to me. As a spiritual yet not religious person, it was interesting to read the idea that spirituality will not always look the same to others, whether that’s doing yoga or going to church, or just walking in nature or being at peace in your own sanctuary.
A heartfelt, thoughtful, and quick-yet engaging read, author Michele Sammons’s book “The Little Book of Big Knowing” is a must-read spirituality and philosophical book. The author is memorable for writing that speaks to readers on a personal scale and presents some amazing ideas that engage readers on both a spiritual and intellectual level. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this amazing book today!
Michele makes her home in Memphis, Tennessee, with husband Scott and chocolate Labrador, Dewey. The Little Book of Big Knowing is Michele’s first book, but probably not her last. You can discover more about Michele’s work on her website:
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Join us on the WOW blog today and celebrate the launch of Michele Sammons’ book Little Book of Big Knowing. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book too.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
The history of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel is shown through a new lens as her sister Antoinette takes center stage in author Judithe Little’s “The Chanel Sisters”.
A novel of survival, love, loss, triumph—and the sisters who changed fashion forever
Antoinette and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel know they’re destined for something better. Abandoned by their family years before, they’ve grown up under the guidance of pious nuns preparing them for simple lives as the wives of tradesmen or shopkeepers. At night, their secret stash of romantic novels and magazine cutouts beneath the floorboards are all they have to keep their dreams of the future alive.
The walls of the convent can’t shield them forever, and when they’re finally of age, the Chanel sisters set out together with a fierce determination to prove themselves worthy to a society that has never accepted them. Their journey propels them out of poverty and to the stylish cafés of Moulins, the dazzling performance halls of Vichy—and to a small hat shop on the rue Cambon in Paris, where a business takes hold and expands to the glamorous French resort towns. But when World War I breaks out, their lives are irrevocably changed, and the sisters must gather the courage to fashion their own places in the world, even if apart from each other.
A truly fascinating look into the life and challenges of Coco Chanel, the author brilliantly places the less well-known sister of Coco, Antoinette, into the shoes of the protagonist, giving readers a perspective of the iconic French fashion designer that few probably had. The blending of known facts from the icon’s life with fiction helps to fill in some of the mysterious gaps in Coco’s life. From an early life spent at a convent as a child, where she learned to sew and began her steps into the world of fashion, to the rise of her stardom and even the early beginnings of her infamous scent, the author shows the icon and her sisters as dreamers who sought “chic” to contrast the mundane, everyday life they were forced to lead as orphans at this convent.
As a fan of history, it was fascinating to see Coco’s life through Antoinette’s eyes. It has been said that the designer herself was known to embellish or change the story of her past as her fame grew, so to see the history through her own sister’s eyes was an inspired choice creatively. Antoinette herself managed to become the emotional core of this story, despite her sister’s rising fame, and how events like WWI impacted both the business side of things and their lives personally was definitely an emotional driving force in the book’s closing chapters.
A mesmerizing historical fiction like no other, author Judithe Little’s “The Chanel Sisters” is a must-read. Impactful imagery used early on in the book to showcase the harsh reality of the girl’s lives after losing their mother and being abandoned by their father made for an early emotional start, and the shocking and heartfelt finale to this tale will leave readers breathless. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this amazing read today!
About the Author
JUDITHE LITTLE is the award-winning author of Wickwythe Hall. She earned a BA in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She grew up in Virginia and now lives with her husband, three teenagers, and three dogs in Houston, Texas. Find her on Instagram, @judithelittle, and on Facebook, facebook.com/judithelittle.
Q: I didn’t know Coco had a sister. How did you come up with the idea for your novel?
A: When I read in a biography of Coco that she had a sister, I knew right away I wanted to write about her. A lot of books have been written about Coco, but none have been written from the point of view of Antoinette. I thought that the sister of Coco Chanel might have an interesting story to tell, and it turns out that she did.
Q: Explain the staying power and interest in (anything) Chanel?
A: I think that Chanel is the symbol for reinvention and the idea that you can be whoever you want to be and that has a universal appeal.
Q: Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?
A: They are planned in the sense that they’re based on historical events so there’s already a timeline in place and I know generally what happens. The characters themselves develop as I write.
Q: Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?
A: I’ve had minor characters take over small parts of a story such as the baron at Royallieu (I attribute the kite dance idea to him). Arturo also seemed to take over the scenes he was in and tell me what he was going to do instead of vice-versa.
Q: Which one of The Chanel Sisters’s characters was the hardest to write and why?
A: Julia-Berthe was the hardest to write because of the three sisters, she’s the one about whom the least is known.
Q: What does a day in the life of Judithe Little look like?
A: Busy! I’m a lawyer so during the day I take care of my law firm work and in the evenings I typically write or do other book-related activities. Mixed in is typical stuff like grocery shopping, errands, and driving my youngest who is a high school sophomore here and there.
Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
A: This may sound strange but I rearrange furniture or shelves or redecorate in some way. Maybe it’s the new perspective but changing my surroundings seems to get the juices flowing again.
Q: Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?
A: I usually have one or two waiting in the wings.
Q: What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?
A: I think it’s important to have critique partners or a critique group. Mine has been invaluable to me. Persistence and thick skin help too.
Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: Bryn Turnball’s The Woman Before Wallis which I loved.
Q: Book you’ve bought just for the cover?
A: Susan Meissner’s Secrets of a Charmed Life because I loved the color of the green dress and the way the figure of the woman was interposed with the river and London. More recently, Jane Smiley’s Perestroika because it has a horse and the Eiffel Tower on the cover–two of my favorite things.
Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.
A: I’m working on a new novel that takes place in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s and is told from the perspective once again of someone close to Coco Chanel but who was famous in her own right.
Excerpt From “The Chanel Sisters”
IN LATER YEARS, I WOULD THINK BACK TO THAT COLD MARCH day in 1897 at the convent orphanage in Aubazine.
We orphelines sat in a circle practicing our stitches, the hush of the workroom interrupted only by my occasional mindless chatter to the girls nearby. When I felt Sister Xavier’s gaze, I quieted, looking down at my work as if in deep concentration. I expected her to scold me as she usually did: Custody of the tongue, Mademoiselle Chanel. Instead, she drew closer to my place near the stove, moving, as all the nuns did, as if she were floating. The smell of incense and the ages fluttered out from the folds of her black wool skirt. Her starched headdress planed unnaturally toward heaven as if she might be lifted up at any moment. I prayed that she would be, a ray of light breaking through the pitched roof and raising her to the clouds in a shining beam of holy salvation.
But such miracles only happened in paintings of angels and saints. She stopped at my shoulder, dark and looming like a storm cloud over the sloping forests of the Massif Central outside the window. She cleared her throat and, as if she were the Holy Roman Emperor himself, made her grim pronouncement.
“You, Antoinette Chanel, talk too much. Your sewing is slovenly. You are always daydreaming. If you don’t take heed, I fear you will turn out to be just like your mother.”
My stomach twisted like a knot. I had to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from arguing back. I looked over at my sister Gabrielle sitting on the other side of the room with the older girls and rolled my eyes.
“Don’t listen to the nuns, Ninette,” Gabrielle said once we’d been dismissed to the courtyard for recreation.
We sat on a bench, surrounded by bare-limbed trees that appeared as frozen as we felt. Why did they lose their leaves in the season they needed them most? Beside us, our oldest sister, Julia-Berthe, tossed bread crumbs from her pockets to a flock of crows that squawked and fought for position.
I pulled my hands into my sleeves, trying to warm them. “I’m not going to be like our mother. I’m not going to be anything the nuns say I’m going to be. I’m not even going to be what they say I can’t be.”
We laughed at this, a bitter laugh. As the temporary keepers of our souls, the nuns thought constantly about the day we would be ready to go out and live in the world. What would become of us? What was to be our place?
We’d been at the convent for two years and by now were used to the nuns’ declarations in the middle of choir practice or as we worked on our handwriting or recited the kings of France.
You, Ondine, with your penmanship, will never be the wife of a tradesman.
You, Pierrette, with your clumsy hands, will never find work with a farm woman.
You, Hélène, with your weak stomach, will never be the wife of a butcher.
You, Gabrielle, must hope to make an adequate living as a seamstress.
You, Julia-Berthe, must pray for a calling. Girls with figures like yours should keep to a nunnery.
I was told that if I was lucky, I could convince a plowman to marry me.
I pushed my hands back out of my sleeves and blew on them. “I’m not going to marry a plowman,” I said.
“I’m not going to be a seamstress,” Gabrielle said. “I hate sewing.”
“Then what will you be?” Julia-Berthe gazed at us with wide, questioning eyes. She was considered slow, “touched,” people said. To her everything was simple, black and white like the tunics and veils of the nuns’ habits. If the nuns said it, we would be it.
“Something better,” I said.
“What’s something better?” Julia-Berthe said.
“It’s…” Gabrielle started but didn’t finish.
She didn’t know what Something Better was any more than I did, but I knew she felt it just the same, a tingling in her bones. Restlessness was in our blood.
The nuns said we should be content with our station in life, that it was God-pleasing. But we could never be content where we were, with what we had. We came from a long line of peddlers, of dreamers traveling down winding roads, sure that Something Better was just ahead.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A breathtaking and creative look into one of America’s first self-made female millionaires during a time of great and violent racial tension comes to life throughout beautiful poetry in author Roje Augustin’s “Out of No Way”.
Author, producer, and emerging poet Roj Augustin has written a groundbreaking debut collection of dramatic poems about hair care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker and her daughter, A’Lelia. Roj’s singular and accomplished work is presented through the intimate lens of the mother-daughter relationship via different poetic forms – from lyric to haiku, blackout to narrative. (One poem takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.) Written in tribute to Walker, Out of No Way deftly and beautifully explores themes of race, motherhood, sacrifice, beauty, and the meaning of success in Jim Crow America.
The author brilliantly captures the lives of mother and daughter and those in their lives with this work of art. The poetry is moving and inspiring, pulling forth everything from everyday discussion between a mother and daughter to the pain of witnessing the loss of life during such a violent and turbulent era of racial injustice and the strain it all has on these two women’s relationships.
The stand-out to me as a reader in this book was not just the story the author told using poetry, but the poetry itself. The author does a marvelous job of effortlessly integrating various forms of poetry, from haiku and sonnets to nursery rhymes and villanelle, giving each chapter of the women’s lives a different type of poetry to embody that moment. It felt natural and as raw as the emotions these moments invoked, making this book truly shine.
Breathtaking, often heartbreaking and yet a fast-paced and eloquent read, author Roje Augustin’s “Out of No Way” is a majestic book of poetry and biographical fiction read that is not to be missed. Readers will be enthralled with the author’s unique voice within this poetry while the characters and people involved will keep the reader invested entirely. If you haven’t be sure to grab your copy today!
Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. Rojé continues to work as a producer while also writing in her spare time. She currently lives in Sydney with her husband and two daughters.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A young woman born with a unique gift to commune with the dead finds herself in the middle of a dastardly plot involving grave robberies and murder in author Hester Fox’s “The Orphan of Cemetery Hill”.
The dead won’t bother you if you don’t give them permission.
Tabby has a peculiar gift: she can communicate with the recently departed. It makes her special, but it also makes her dangerous.
As an orphaned child, she fled with her sister, Alice, from their charlatan aunt Bellefonte, who wanted only to exploit Tabby’s gift so she could profit from the recent craze for seances.
Now a young woman and tragically separated from Alice, Tabby works with her adopted father, Eli, the kind caretaker of a large Boston cemetery. When a series of macabre grave robberies begins to plague the city, Tabby is ensnared in a deadly plot by the perpetrators, known only as the “Resurrection Men.”
In the end, Tabby’s gift will either save both her and the cemetery—or bring about her own destruction.
What a beautiful written Gothic-Horror novel. The author wonderfully captures the early to mid-19th century era of Boston and brings readers into the narrative with ease. Tabby is a sympathetic and strong protagonist and the vivid imagery used to showcase to readers what her ability is like makes this a truly astounding read.
The narrative is served best by the amazing character development and the setting of this story. The reader is instantly transported into this gothic world and the eerie atmosphere and storyline felt like an homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in a lot of ways, capturing the obsession of man’s understanding of science and conquering nature.
The perfect way to start off the beginning of the scary/horror season, author Hester Fox’s “The Orphan of Cemetery Hill” is a must-read gothic horror like no other. The amazing characters and the many twists and turns they take as the mystery of these “Resurrection Men” deepens will keep readers on the edge of their seat. With a fantastic ending and an evenly-paced narrative, be sure to grab your copy of this phenomenal novel today!
About the Author
Hester Fox is a full-time writer and mother, with a background in museum work and historical archaeology. Most weekends you can find Hester exploring one of the many historic cemeteries in the area, browsing bookshops, or enjoying a seasonal latte while writing at a café. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and their son.
Tabby’s legs ached and the wind had long since snatched her flimsy bonnet away, but she kept running through the night, her thin leather shoes pounding the cobbled Boston streets. She didn’t know where she was going, only that she had to get somewhere safe, somewhere away from the bustling theaters and crowds of the city. Every time someone shouted at her to watch where she was going, or ask if she was lost, she was sure that they were one of her aunt and uncle’s friends. Would they drag her kicking and screaming back to Amherst? Tabby shuddered. She wouldn’t go back. She couldn’t.
Her weary feet carried her up a hill lined with narrow houses, and gradually she left behind the streets choked with theatergoers and artificially brightened with gas lamps. After cresting the hill, she paused just long enough to catch her breath and survey her unfamiliar surroundings.
It was quieter here, the only sounds the groaning of ships in the harbor and the distant call of a fruit hawker trying to sell off the last of the day’s soft apples. Going back down into the heart of the city wasn’t an option, yet a wrought-iron gate blocked her way any farther, forbidding pikes piercing the night sky. Pale headstones glowed faintly in the moonlight beyond the gate. A cemetery.
Tabby stood teetering, her heart still pounding. Dry weeds rustled in the thin night breeze, whispering what might have been a welcome, or a warning. Behind her was the land of the living with house windows glowing smugly yellow, the promise of families tucked safe inside. In front of her lay the land of the dead. One of those worlds was as familiar to her as the back of her hand, the other was only a distant fairy tale. Taking a deep breath, she shimmied through the gap in the gate.
She waded through the overgrown grass and weeds, thorny branches snagging at her thin dimity dress and scratching her. Panic gripped her as she heard the hem tear clean away; what would Aunt Bellefonte say if she found that Tabby had ruined her only frock? Would she smack her across her cheek? Would Uncle lock her in the little cupboard in the eaves? Aunt Bellefonte isn’t here. You’re safe, she reminded herself. As she pulled away to free herself, her foot caught in a tangle of roots in a sunken grave bed and she went sprawling into the dirt. Her lip wobbled and tears threatened to overflow. She was almost twelve years old, yet she felt as small and adrift as the day she’d learned that her parents had perished in a carriage accident and would never step through the front door again.
This wasn’t how her first day of freedom was supposed to be. Her sister, Alice, had planned their escape from Amherst last week, promising Tabby that they would get a little room in a boarding house in the city. Alice would get a job at a laundry and Tabby would take in mending to contribute to their room and board. They would be their own little family, and they would put behind them the trauma that their aunt and uncle had wrought, making a new life for themselves. That had been the plan, anyway.
When she and Alice had arrived in the city earlier that day, her older sister had sat her down on the steps of a church and told her to wait while she went and inquired about lodgings. Tabby had dutifully waited for what had felt like hours, but Alice never returned. The September evening had turned dark and cold, and Tabby had resolved to simply wrap her shawl tighter and wait. But then a man with red-rimmed eyes and a foul-smelling old coat had stumbled up the steps, heading right toward her. Tabby had taken one look at him and bolted, sure that he had dark designs on her. She had soon become lost and, in a city jumbled with old churches, hadn’t been able to find the right one again.
Another thorn snagged her, pricking her finger and drawing blood. She should have taken shelter in the church; at least then she would have a roof over her head. At least then Alice would know where to find her when she came back. If she came back.
Tabby stopped short. Toward the back of the cemetery, amongst the crooked graves of Revolutionary heroes, stood a row of crypts built into the earth. Most of them were sealed up with iron doors and bolts, but one had a gate that stood just enough ajar for a small, malnourished girl to wriggle through.
Holding her breath against the damp musk, Tabby plunged inside. Without any sort of light, she had to painstakingly feel her way down the crude stone steps. Lower into the earth she descended until she reached the burial chamber.
Don’t invite them in. As she groped around in the dark for a resting place, Tabby tried to remember what her mother had always told her. Memories of her mother were few and far between, but her words concerning Tabby’s ability remained as sharp in her mind as words etched with a diamond upon glass. The dead won’t bother you if you don’t give them permission, if you don’t make yourself a willing receptacle for their messages. At least, that was how it was supposed to work.
The only other thing she had learned regarding her gift was that she should never, ever tell anyone of it, and the lesson had been a hard one. She couldn’t have been more than six, because her parents had still been alive and had sent her out to the orchard to collect the fallen apples for cider. Their neighbor, little Beth Bunn, had been there, picking wild asters, but she hadn’t been alone; there was a little boy Tabby had never seen before, watching the girls with serious eyes from a branch in an apple tree. Tabby had asked Beth who he was, but Beth insisted she didn’t know what Tabby was talking about. Certain that Beth was playing some sort of trick on her, Tabby grew upset and nearly started crying as she described the little boy with blond hair and big green eyes. “Oh,” Beth said, looking at her askance. “Do you mean to say you see Ollie Pickett? He used to live here, but he’s been dead for three years.” That was how Tabby learned that not everyone saw the people she saw around her. A week later she had been playing in the churchyard and noticed that all the other children were clustered at the far end, whispering and pointing at her. “Curious Tabby,” they had called her. And that was how Tabby learned that she could never tell a soul about her strange and frightening ability.
But even in a place so filled with death, the dead did not bother Tabby that night. With a dirt floor for her bed and the skittering of insects for her lullaby, Tabby pulled her knees up to her chest and allowed the tears she’d held in all day to finally pour out. She was lost, scared, and without her sister, utterly alone in the world.