Tag Archives: Rebecca Rasmussen

Welcome Jenna Blum, Bestselling Author of The Stormchasers

Go get him, Karena, he said. You’re the only one who can.

And Karena knew this to be true, from the nights she was the only one who could sing Charles to sleep, the only one who could coax him off the roof, keep him from climbing the water tower, make him stop chanting that song, stop bouncing that ball, stop kicking that door. She ran out into the lot, tasting the dirt in the air, positioning herself…where Charles would either have to stop or run her down….
~ from The Stormchasers

More than once, I’ve fallen victim to the belief that I could save someone: a friend in despair, a parent on the brink, a loved one chasing a false god down a dark road. I’ve set my voice on an uncomfortable high note in hopes that enthusiasm was contagious, played counselor during marathon phone calls,  stood in the way of the inevitable and gotten pinched in the middle. Painful lessons are never pretty.

But in Jenna Blum’s amazing novel, The Stormchasers, we find a story that mixes the agony of mental illness with the beauty of landscape, the power of devotion, and the miracle of unexpected healing. A novel as much about mental illness as it is about storms, The Stormchasers gives readers vivid images of how both phenomena mirror each other in the way danger brews and crescendos, then crashes and leaves a path of destruction.

The main character, Karena Jorge, is driven in her work as a journalist and in her search to save her twin brother, Charles, from himself. She sets out on a stormchasing expedition, one that puts her in danger at times and brings her closer to a different discovery: Charles is not the only one who needs saving.

The Stormchasers, touching and poignant, is a story that I will read again. I’m so honored to host Jenna Blum today for an interview about her novel, about writing, and about karma. At the end of the interview, leave a quick comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy of The Stormchasers. Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, August 30th, at high noon.

**UPDATE: Because of Irene’s visit to the East Coast, and subsequent power outages over the weekend, I’m going to postpone the drawing for a copy of Jenna Blum’s novel until Thursday, Sept. 1st.**

CC: In a recent and compelling essay on the website, Style Substance Soul, you talk about a childhood fascination with tornadoes and reasons why you chase storms (even after the novel has been published). Did the idea for THE STORMCHASERS stem from your personal experience on the road with Tempest Tours, or was it your research with them that took root and sealed your strong connection with the chasing community?

JB: That’s a great question! I had the idea for THE STORMCHASERS–a novel about a bipolar young man who chases tornadoes when he’s manic and his twin sister, who basically chases him–long before I started chasing storms with Tempest. In fact, I wrote an abbreviated draft of the novel in my graduate MA program at Boston University, back in 1996.  I didn’t have a stormchasing community before I started chasing with Tempest to research subsequent drafts of the novel, and what I didn’t expect were the lifelong friends I would make chasing.  I chase with the same people every year, my esteemed mentors and friends like me who are still learning, and they are my storm family. THE STORMCHASERS continues to introduce me to new folks in the chasing community, for which I’m profoundly grateful.

CC: All of the characters in your novel are written in such a way – authentic and relatable – that readers will think of them long after they close the cover of your book. Do you have a special technique you use, early on in your writing, for developing characters?

JB: Thank you for the generous comment about my characters!  I suppose they come off as real because to me, they are real.  They just happen to exist in a dimension halfway between the ether and the paper, hovering somewhere above my head.  My first job as a writer is to get them out where others can come to know and love them the same way I do.  I’ve been told that my characters are lovable despite their flaws–or sometimes hateful because of them or sometimes just plain flawed–and I take that as proof I’ve succeeded in getting them down as real people.  Because who among us isn’t flawed?

When I’m first getting to know the characters, I start by writing down everything I know about them, which ranges from macro big-picture stuff–basic family history–to the fact that Charles Hallingdahl, for instance, the brother in THE STORMCHASERS, ate only green food as a child. Not all the details make it into the novels.  But because they’re part of the character, I write them down.  More details reveal themselves as I go along, and the biggest struggle is to remain true to the characters’ characters, to not graft behaviors onto them because it suits the plot or it’s something I myself would do.

CC: In your career, you’ve traveled all over and seen a variety of landscape. Do you have a favorite place that you’d love to call home or visit time and again?

JB: Again, a great question, and one that strikes a poignant chord with me these days, because although I’m proud to say I have a home in Boston and a house in rural Minnesota where my mom and grandmother were born, I’ve been on the road at least 300 of 365 days in the past year.  One night, when I was checking into a hotel in Florida, the desk clerk looked at my MA license and said, “Wow, you’re far from home.” I thought: Yes, I sure am, both literally and metaphorically. I’ve traveled and divided my geography so much that I’m not sure where my central home is.  But I love my writing community and friends in Boston.  And geographically, my heart belongs to the heartland.  The landscape of the Midwest and the High Plains makes sense to me and allows me to breathe freely–all that space and big sky.

CC: What are you reading these days?

JB: Galleys!  I have the privilege of reading books before they’re published to supply authors with quotes for their book jackets (you’re like Ah-ha, *that’s* where those come from). It’s a great kind of sneak preview.  I read Rebecca Rasmussen’s incredible debut THE BIRD SISTERS and Kaira Rouda’s inspiring novel HERE, HOME, HOPE.  Three novels I highly, highly recommend for 2012:  Anna Solomon’s THE LITTLE BRIDE, about a Jewish mail-order bride who ends up in the Dakotas.  Nichole Bernier’s THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D., about a woman discovering her best friend’s secret life after that friend’s death.  And Jami Attenberg’s THE MIDDLESTEINS, which is about food, family, love, life, and loss–all the important stuff–and will tell you why it’s vitally important to include cinnamon in pastry.

CC: What advice do you have for writers on the rise?

JB: Usually I would cite Winston Churchill here:  “Never give in, never give in, never give in.” And that’s still true. But in today’s swiftly changing publishing landscape, it’s also important to be open to new ways of doing things. There’s no room for a lazy writer these days (if there ever was!).  Expect to do your own legwork, your own homework, your own promotion.  Use social media. Reach out to and support as many other writers as you can.  It’s good karma, and that must always come back to help you in the end.

Thanks, Jenna. And, for all you readers out there, don’t forget to drop your name in the comment section for a chance to win a copy of The Stormchasers.

JENNA BLUM is the New York Times and # 1 international bestselling author of THOSE WHO SAVE US and THE STORMCHASERS.  She is also one of Oprah’s Top Thirty Women Writers. For more information about Jenna Blum and her bestselling novels, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or Like her page on Facebook.

In the Age of Sustainability, Less is More

Ann Patchett surprised (and thrilled) many when she announced that she planned to open up an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee. In an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm, Patchett explains her reason for the new venture:

[Nashville has] used bookstores, but the closest Barnes and Noble is 20 miles outside of town. And, …I can’t live in a city that doesn’t have a bookstore. . . . The bookstores that closed in Nashville…were both over 30,000 square feet…it’s kind of this model for what’s gone on in our country in so many different ways. We just super-sized. We got bigger and bigger and bigger. . . . We can’t sustain a 30,000 foot bookstore, but we really can sustain a 3,000 square foot store. *

This post isn’t meant to dig on Amazon or Barnes and Noble; there is value in those stores as well. But, independent bookstores provide a different kind of environment that I treasure, a smaller more intimate venue, where readers and writers come together.

It was at Next Chapter Book Shop, an independent store in my area, where I saw two of my favorite authors, Beth Hoffman and Rebecca Rasmussen. I’d read both their books before I attended their readings. And, I’d already seen Rebecca at an independent store in Illinois the week before I saw her at Next Chapter (I worried a bit that Rebecca might think I was stalking her when I showed up at yet another of her readings). But, I wouldn’t have missed either author’s event.

Rebecca read from one of my favorite chapters in her novel and illustrated the main reason I love these kinds of events at smaller stores: I heard the author herself read the words of The Bird Sisters out loud, sans mic, just a few feet in front of me, which added another dimension to – and a deeper experience of – her novel. It was the same when I heard Beth Hoffman read the first chapter of hers, Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt. Plus, meeting both Beth and Rebecca at smaller reading events allowed me to talk with them a little longer afterward.

It’s possible I could have had the same experience at a national chain. But, in a recent newsletter from Next Chapter Book Shop, the owner, Lanora Haradon Hurley, lists more reasons to support your independent store (a list that originated from Indiebound.org). Here are just a few:

When you buy local…

…You nurture community. We know you, and you know us. Studies have shown that local businesses donate to community causes at more than twice the rate of chains.

…You create more choice. We pick the items we sell based on what we know you like and want. Local businesses carry a wider array of unique products because we buy for our own individual market.

…You make us a destination. The more interesting and unique we are as a community, the more we will attract new neighbors, visitors, and guests. This benefits everyone!

These reasons, along with the old adage that less is more, make it clear why, even if we have an account with Amazon or shop at Barnes and Noble, we should still stop in at the independent bookstores in our neighborhoods. In doing so, we invest in our own communities and support those authors who take the time to stop at these stores during book tours, even when the audiences may be small in numbers.

What’s the name of your favorite independent bookstore? And, is that where you met your favorite author?

~

In the Milwaukee Metropolitan area, we’re lucky to have more than one independent. Visit them all:

Also, check out this short but compelling video from Lanora (found on Next Chapter’s website) about buying local.

* The above quote was taken from an article in The Nashville Scene, which quotes the NPR interview as well.

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

***

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!

~

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!

A Baker’s Dozen of Links for Writers

It’s the season of sweets, gift giving, and toasting to a new year.

So, from me to you…

…A Baker’s Dozen of links to articles, interviews, and posts from this last year that have inspired me to write, reaffirmed my commitment to write, or changed my perspective when I write.

1-5. Stocking Stuffer posts by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (at The Bookshelf Muse) on:

Each post offers five simple tips that will help you tighten up your writing and/or strengthen your story.

6. Lynn Capehart’s article in The Writer on inclusionary writing. I won’t ever look at character descriptions the same again.

7. Lydia Sharp’s post on the Difference between inciting incident and catalyst. This post, along with a great first chapter critique I won over at Becky Levine’s blog, helped me reshape the first chapter of my novel and set my story on track again.

8-11. Author interviews I’ve had the honor to conduct, in which authors share the story behind the story, offer insights into the challenges of historical fiction and research, or talk about the passion behind their characters:

I’m looking forward to several more author interviews this year from Cathryn Grant (whose debut novel, The Demise of the Soccer Moms, will be published as an e-book in January), from Danielle Evans (Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, a wonderful collection of short stories), and from Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters, due to be released April 12, 2011).

12. Kristen Lamb’s post on the Writer Reality Check. “Takes guts to be a writer,” Kristen says, and she lists some realistic expectations for those of us who want to make writing more than just a fun little hobby.

13. A call to action from Writer Unboxed for all Writers to Pay It Forward. “Paying it forward is something we can all do because no matter where we are in our writing careers, there’s always someone just one step behind, hungry to learn.” Much of the time, I’m the one a few steps behind. I could not grow without the encouragement, support, and wisdom from writers who are further along than me, and I can’t fully embrace those lessons until I pass them on to someone else.

There you are! Happy New Year, my friends!

May your days be full of writing and your muse be close at hand.