Tag Archives: Jenna Blum

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.

Candles, Cake, and Links

Birthday Cake
Today I turn one year older.
But luckily, as my daughter told me, I don’t look any bigger.

Not for a lack of trying, mind you. I spent last night at a wedding reception filling my belly with desserts and this morning nibbling on a cinnamon bun baked for royalty. “Looking bigger” is only a matter of time.

After the sugar highs, I’m laying low, soaking up some beautiful weather, cashing in a gift certificate on new clothes, and getting ready to jump back into my day job tomorrow. My birthday is always bittersweet, as it marks the end of my summer and the beginning of a new school year.

So, while I kick up my feet and demand more cake, here are some links I’d like to pass your way.

  1. 10 Things to do with an Old Sweater (from Savvy Housekeeping.com). I know it’s still August and plenty hot these days, but when Fall does round the corner, here are some great ideas for how to deal with those sweaters that don’t fit anymore. You know, the ones that got all stretched out last winter? Or put in the dryer with that load of kids’ clothes? There’s nothing like slipping on a sweater to find the arms two inches too short.
  2. Return to Writing in Six Steps (from hownottowrite.com). Did your summer fly by like mine? And, there on my desk sits that novel in progress, still…in progress. Waiting and whispering, Rewrite. Rewrite. oooOOOOoo0! So, get to it.
  3. Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Tracy Seeley. A great Writerhead interview on Kristin Bair O’Keefe’s blog with Tracy Seeley. Tracy has a new memoir out, My Ruby Slippers, that sounds amazing. And, in her interview she mentions one trick that keeps her writing: not checking email before she gets out of bed. Not that I do that….

And, PS. Don’t forget this Wednesday Jenna Blum stops by for an interview about her bestselling novel, The Stormchasers.

Happy Day, folks!

Do a little dance, and mark your calendars.

There’s been a slight, but critical correction to this post, an update on that Second place win. Read it here.

Sunset Party Dancing Girl Silhouette

The weather is hot (just how I like it), the sun is out full force (yay for freckles!), and yesterday I found out I placed Second in the Pen Parentis 2011 Writing Fellowship for New Parents.

Second!

When you’re fighting self-doubt with both fists lately, second place feels really great. I was alone, in a quiet house, when I read the announcement, but I didn’t stay quiet for long.

And, there’s more good news — for you. In the month of August, I’ll be hosting three authors here: two for interviews and one for a guest post. Plus, all three events include book giveaways.

Sean Keefer will talk to us about his award-winning novel,
The Trust, on August 10th.

The lovely Jenna Blum stops by on August 24th
to discuss her bestselling novel, The Stormchasers.

And, Caitlin Kelly will be guest posting on August 31st and giving away a copy of her memoir, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.

Watch for these posts and enter the giveaways. It’ll be easy: all you’ll have to do is leave your name in the comment section. Leave a pseudonym if you want, but don’t miss your chance to enter.

What good news do you have to share? I bet you’ve got something. Big or small, let’s celebrate together.

* photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr

Book Review: Here, Home, Hope

“I believe the saying that people come into your life for a reason. And things happen, like cancer scares, to keep us moving forward. Trying new things.” ~from Here, Home, Hope
~

There comes a point in our lives, sometimes more than once, when we reach a crossroads or a dead end, complacency or crisis, and we realize that change is inevitable, even necessary. Some of us pack up and move, others get married or have a baby, a brave few branch out into new careers or hobbies.

In Kaira Rouda’s debut novel, Here, Home, Hope, we are introduced to Kelly Johnson — a mother of two, a domestic engineer, and a woman in flux. Coming off of a recent breast cancer scare, and beginning to understand (and accept) that her sons no longer need every minute of her attention, Kelly Johnson sets out to find a new purpose for herself.

As it says in “About the Book” on Kaira Rouda’s website, “Kelly takes charge of her life, devising a midlife makeover plan.”

In her quest, Kelly discovers a passion and a hidden talent for a new career, as well as an appreciation for old friends, young teenagers, her life and her home.

Here’s a sneak peek at the book:

Kaira Rouda, herself, is a woman redefined, moving from Author of women’s business books to Novelist. She aims to translate her real life goals, of enlightening and empowering women, into the fictional tale of Kelly Johnson. There’s much to appreciate in Here, Home, Hope (and some to envy), like the value of risk-taking, the importance of genuine friendships, and of the support of a loving husband — who’s devotion goes unnoticed by Kelly at first. However, as a reader, I would have liked to see the story spend a little more time on some of the bigger issues broached in this novel, like eating disorders and depression.

On the other hand, many readers prefer books that don’t perseverate on the darker side of life, and, as Jenna Blum says in her book blurb, Kaira Rouda’s novel is definitely “upbeat” and “hopeful,” a light read. So, if you’re looking for a story with a taste of real life and a feel-good ending, you’ll enjoy Here, Home, Hope.

And, tomorrow just might be your lucky day. I’ll be hosting Kaira Rouda here for an interview, where she’ll talk about the move from writing nonfiction to novels and the one thing that so many of us strive for in life: balance. Stop by tomorrow’s post as well, get to know a little more about Kaira and her novel from her perspective, and enter the giveaway: one free copy of Here, Home, Hope.

Navigating Space in Writing

Trapped in a tiny box

via sundaykofax on flickr.com/creativecommons

I have space issues. I’m a confessed claustrophobic, yet I sometimes dream of living in a tiny home, having everything within reach. I like the minimalist philosophy and the idea of using space efficiently. I’m a sucker for pockets upon pockets in a bag, secret drawers in a closet, or hidden compartments in jewelry boxes. There’s so much one can fit into small quarters with the right organization and planning.

That would explain my affinity for flash fiction. I love stories in a compact space, short shorts that insist I take my word limit seriously. There isn’t room for unnecessary details or dialogue. And, in a good flash fiction, more is revealed if you read beyond character gestures and listen to pauses in speech.

Thoughts on my preference for small spaces also helps me understand why writing a novel continues to baffle me. Moving from flash fiction to a novel parallels my experience when we upgraded from a one bedroom apartment to our first home, an overwhelming three bedroom house.

Rooms sat empty for a while.
The sound of footsteps bounced off plastered ceilings and wood floors.
Everything echoed, until we filled the rooms.
With furniture.
A rug.
Curtains.

Filling out a novel with 80,000 words is killing me. And, I’m not alone. Jenna Blum, in her post on Grub Street Daily (“Can’t I Just Write 15 Stories About the Same People: Turning Short Stories Into a Novel”), responds to another writer’s same question: how the heck do you move from short form to long?

If you can write a short story, you can write a novel–because both of them have beginning, middle and end…The short story contains its own arc.  The novel imposes its arc on a series of chapters–or stories.

Blum says, sure, you can write a series of stories on the same person, but there’s more to the novel that comes out in the narrative arc and plot. She says, ” If a short story is…a kiss from a stranger, a novel is a long love affair.”

So, I don’t want to sell my story short (there must be a pun in there somewhere), but I still cringe at the 80,000 word mark. What I want is to merge the idea of a novel being a long series of flash fiction pieces, while keeping in mind Blum’s caution not to lose the novel’s theme throughout.

What about you? How do you move from short form to long, or vice versa? Or, maybe you want to talk about itty bitty living quarters?….