Tag Archives: Guest Post

Welcome Rebecca Rasmussen, Author of The Bird Sisters

“Milly placed her hand on the girl’s curls. Their softness and the scattering of freckles at the girl’s neckline, the sudden camaraderie she felt with the mother, opened up something inside her that hadn’t been opened in a long time.”
~ from The Bird Sisters

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We all experience those moments in life, when a simple gesture, or a glimpse of something familiar, stirs up memories, emotions, and reminders of a time when we sat at the crossroads, when choices made and actions taken determined who we became.

The Bird Sisters, Rebecca Rasmussen’s newly released debut novel, is a story about such a time for two sisters, Milly and Twiss. Set in Spring Green, Wisconsin, The Bird Sisters opens with a visit from a stranger and unfolds into a recollection of the summer of 1947, when Milly and Twiss discovered truths about their priest, their parents, and their cousin Bett. In her novel, Rebecca transports readers back and forth in time with ease, closing each chapter with an image that leaves the reader thinking and wanting more.

The Bird Sisters is a beautiful story that will connect with readers on so many levels. I’m honored to host Rebecca here, where she shares about the inspiration for her novel and talks about writing. At the end of the interview, leave a comment and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of her novel (complete with an autographed book plate!). I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday, April 19th. Also, read more of Rebecca’s writing here and here. She’s an author to follow!

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CC: Under “Behind the Story” on your website, you mention details from your family history that served as inspiration for The Bird Sisters. How much of that history informed your novel, and at what point in your writing process did your main characters, Twiss and Milly, take over?

Rebecca Rasmussen

RR: For several years after my grandmother passed away, I kept trying to figure out how to create a story that honored her based on the journals she kept over a forty-year period. There was a lot of unhappiness in her journals—to be frank—and a lot of wishing her childhood had been different. Both of her parents passed away within a year of each other when she was a teenager and she was constantly torn between making martyrs out of them and seeing them as real people capable of the very grave mistakes that each of them made. Once I took the pressure off of myself and let Milly and Twiss take their own breaths (mostly by putting away my grandmother’s journals), the story came to me very quickly, and I fell in love with the sisters; Twiss for her adventurous spirit, and Milly for her family-bound one.

The two sisters in the novel are different from my grandmother and her sister in that they cling to each other when the going gets rough, whereas my grandmother and sister invested in their new families and children. They invested in moving on. If there is a reckoning in the novel, it’s that while familial love can harm you, it can also save you. The older I get, the more I am tuned in to the sacrifices—large and small—that people make daily for the good of their husbands and wives, their children and grandchildren, and even the animals they love. I am drawn to the idea of sacrifice because it often goes against our instincts, and because it can be one of the most beautiful things in the world, and yet its consequences can be devastating to have to survive. The sacrifices Milly and Twiss make in the novel are part of why they have my love and always will.

CC: You are one of those authors who create a wonderful sense of place in a novel, sometimes shown in brief but powerful descriptions. Set in the real town of Spring Green, Wisconsin, I imagine many of the specifics in the story are real. So, I wonder, does the “enchanted purple meadow” truly exist? If it does, I want to go there and bask in the sun.

RR: I am deeply attached to Spring Green, Wisconsin, which is where my father has lived since I was a girl. My brother and I would go back and forth between his house and my mother’s, which was located in a small suburb of Chicago. For us, Wisconsin was magical. There we were able to swim in the river, cover ourselves in mud, and tromp through the woods. There we played with barn cats and snakes, lightning bugs and katydids. I’ve always preferred rural landscapes to urban ones. Wild over tame. It’s like the old bumper stickers from the 80s used to say: “Escape to Wisconsin.” As for the enchanted purple meadow, it exists in my imagination—it’s a place of love and magic, where life can change after opening one’s self up to those internal possibilities we alternately hope for and are afraid of throughout our lives. For me, without places like that purple meadow, story simply doesn’t exist.

CC: In your novel, which section was your favorite to write?

RR: I really loved writing about the priest who renounces his priesthood early on in the novel: Father Rice. Although his story isn’t rooted in fact, there is a little country chapel in the hills outside of Spring Green that I went to a few times as a girl. Instead of the incendiary language used by priests in other churches I had been to, this priest talked about fishing the river and farming the land in order to convey messages from the Bible. I remember one day he ended mass early because it was still cool and the fish were biting. He was the first priest I ever met whom I wasn’t afraid of and whom I understood had hopes and dreams like the rest of us. I loved writing about faith in an untraditional way, through a priest who questions his faith and almost loses everything. Almost.

CC: What are you reading these days?

RR: I have been reading wonderful books lately. The first one I want to mention is Susan Henderson’s novel, Up From the Blue, which is a wonderful synthesis of what’s it’s like to be child in a highly dysfunctional family. It’s sad and beautiful and wonderfully written. I’ve also been reading Alan Heathcock’s story collection Volt, which does indeed electrify me somehow. Alan and I navigate on different ends of the spectrum: his stories are tough, gritty, and very Cormac McCarthy-esque. I love this collection because it breathes life into my imagination, and I only hope it gets the attention it deserves. Other wonderful books I’m reading are Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men Are Gone, Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, Kate Ledger’s Remedies, and Therese Fowler’s forthcoming novel Exposure. All are major nightly treats for me.

CC: Do you have any advice for writers on the rise?

RR: Have faith in yourself and your work. If you don’t have it, no one else will. Also, be kind to yourself. When you face rejection, treat yourself to something small that you love. Send yourself flowers or chocolates or go find a little trinket. (My husband bought me a sweet little bird charm necklace.) Pick yourself up. Keep writing.

Rebecca Rasmussen is the author of the novel The Bird Sisters, released from Crown Publishers on April 12th, 2011. She lives in St. Louis with her husband and daughter and loves to bake pies. Visit Rebecca at http://www.thebirdsisters.com for more information.

You can also find Rebecca on Twitter (@thebirdsisters) and Facebook.

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway!

The Catalyst and Writing

Every story has a catalyst, some event that induces a permanent change in the protagonist, and every writer has their catalyst. I bet each of us can name that “one thing” that kick-started us into writing. Mine was a big, fat dose of jealousy.

A woman I knew was given a wonderful opportunity that any writer, especially a Mother Writer, would have given her third arm for: unadulterated time to write. When I heard the news, a hard ball of contempt formed in my gut. It loosened when I muttered “How come she gets to!” and festered as I pouted, “That’s not fair!” Then, a wise friend turned to me and said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” Just start writing.

Oh.
I suppose.
And, so I did.

I wrote during those in between times and late at night and let that jealousy drive me until I forgot all about my obsession for uninterrupted time. I was writing, and that was all that mattered.

Today, Eric Kobb Miller reveals his catalyst in his story entitled “Flashing.” You can read it below.

Then, think about the “one thing” that urged you to take the leap and start writing (or that keeps you writing).

*****

FLASHING
By Eric Kobb Miller

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to write “the great American novel” and to be inducted into the pantheon of American writers alongside Melville, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Salinger. An invitation to the literary pantheon not forthcoming, I battled with the demons of low self-esteem. My wife, Rinnce, my dental assistant Saliva Godiva, and my dental hygienist Bidday O’Shea all suggested that I try my hand at “flashing.” I recoiled in revulsion at the thought of running stark naked through life, in very public places, flashing very private parts. They assured me that the flashing to which they referred was writing very short, short stories which could be entered in writing contests. Doing this would get me focused, disciplined, tournament tough, and hopefully published someday.

Alas, the acceptance letters never came, although the rejection slips inundated my mailbox. It disappointed me, to be sure, but the comments about my punctuation just outright enraged me. Editors constantly criticized how I used my colon, as if that were any of their concern. Moreover, they claimed that my semicolons were acting like squatters in places they didn’t belong. As for my commas, they described them as looking like insects randomly stuck between the teeth of a motorcyclist without a face shield — even going so far as to label me a “comma splicer.”

One especially unhappy editor, who thought she was Portia in The Merchant of Venice, told me that my quotation marks “droppeth not as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath, but as sleet wrapped irritatingly around the wrong words.” My penchant for not italicizing the French words I liked to sprinkle about in my text really drove some editors crazy, especially because I italicized my poems which were in English. But more than anything, the endless discussions about hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes felt like acupuncture with dull needles. To this day, I still try to crawl into the spaces which are not supposed to be surrounding my em dashes.

However, I kept tap, tap, tapping away at my keyboard to get even in my own personal and special way. Each time my middle finger, that ubiquitous devil, was to hit a key, I did it with just a tad more emphasis: a flourish which never failed to give me the faintest hint of a smile, even though it inserted more colons: semicolons; commas, and “quotation marks” in all the wrong places, as well as the wrong sized dashes — with inappropriate spaces — between the wrong words.

*****

Eric Kobb Miller

Eric Kobb Miller is a retired dentist who has laid down his drill for a quill. His stories and poems number more than several mouths full of teeth and have appeared in a score of publications.

You can read more of Eric Kobb Miller’s work on his website, Spit Toon’s Saloon, or in his book, Spit Toon’s Saloon: Rinnce and Spit Toon, Proprietors. Sad Songs and Funny Tales on Tap. You can also follow him on Twitter.

This just in….

I’m breaking from routine. For those of you who know me well, breaking from routine can send me into a tizzy — there’d better be a darn good reason to deviate.

Today, I have two great reasons:

1. Beth Hoffman, author of the New York Times Bestseller Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (a beautiful novel that was released in paperback October 26th) has highlighted me on her website. I hope you’ll take a peek at my guest post. I’m thrilled to be a writer mentioned in her Brava & Bravo category. I’m also thrilled I’ll get a chance to meet Beth in person this week as she stops in Wisconsin during her book tour.

Also, this week I’ll post an interview with debut author, Jody Hedlund. Her novel, The Preacher’s Bride, was released in early October and is another book I didn’t want to put down. She’s an author to watch. Stop by on Wednesday, read about her novel and her writing process, and drop your name in the comment section (if you do, you’ll be entered into a contest to win an autographed copy of her novel).

See there? That little shake-up was well worth it.

And, to the Winners….

Last Friday, I posted an interview with New York Times Bestselling Author, Beth Hoffman. As promised, I have chosen two people from the list of comments who will receive a copy of her amazing novel.

To Lydia: an autographed copy of the book from Beth Hoffman to you.

To Joy of Dawn: a set of audio CD’s, so you can press play, relax, and fall into CeeCee’s story.

You both should receive an email from me by the end of the day.

And, to Beth Hoffman, many thanks for your willingness to share about your work and experience and for your generosity in giving away a book and CD’s.

Happy Monday, everyone!