Guest Post with Author Kirby Larson—Authors and Book Clubs Partnership

November 30, 2009

Author Kirby Larson recently featured an essay I wrote for her on her blog about authors and book clubs connecting. Kirby is one of the first authors I heard of who met with a mother-daughter book club near her home some years back. Read what I have to say on Kirby’s blog about this winning combination.

Guest Post with Author Kristin Bair O’Keeffe—How Book Clubs Change Lives

November 30, 2009

It’s not an exaggeration to say that being in a mother-daughter book club can change your life. Today, I’m talking about that in a guest post on author Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s blog. Kristin’s debut novel, Thirsty, was released around the same time as my guidebook, Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. We work on the e-zine, Writers on the Rise together, and we’re cheering each other on through this process of first book publication. On Wednesday, I’ll be featuring an essay from Kristin about mother/daughter reading time. Be sure to check back then to see what she’s got to say.

Interview with Tammar Stein—Author of Light Years and High Dive

November 24, 2009

When my book club with my daughter Madeleine read Light Years by Tammar Stein, the timing was great. The girls had been in high school for a year and were looking ahead to college. This story of a young woman who leaves her native Israel to attend college in the U.S. introduced them to the possibilities of what their lives would be like when they left home to go away to a university. The main character, Maya, is fleeing memories of her boyfriend killed by a suicide bomber and the guilt she feels that she may have been the one to push the bomber to his action. As the story takes place in Maya’s present and her past, we all learned a lot about life in Israel as well as on a college campus. We had a great discussion about cultural differences between our countries, the concept of spending two years in service to your country after high school, and finding a way to continue on with your life in the aftermath of personal tragedy.

I have not read Tammar’s other book High Dive, yet. But reading the publisher’s description made me add it to our possible choices for Catherine’s book club. Either way, I can’t wait to read it myself.

“Arden has a plane ticket to Sardinia to say goodbye to her family’s beloved vacation home after her father’s sudden death and her mother’s deployment to Iraq as an army nurse. Lonely for her father and petrified for her mother’s safety, Arden dreads her trip to the house in Sardinia—the only place that has truly felt like home to her. So when she meets a group of fun, carefree, and careless friends on their summer break, she decides to put off her trip and join them to sample the sights and culinary delights of Europe. Soon they are climbing the Eiffel Tower, taking in the French countryside on a train chugging toward the Alps, and gazing at Michelangelo’s David in Florence, all the while eating gelato and sipping cappuccino. Arden tries to forget about the danger her mom faces every day, to pretend she’s just like the rest of the girls, flirting with cute European guys and worried only about where to party next.
But the house in Sardinia beckons and she has to make a choice. Is Arden ready to jump off the high dive?”

Tammar graciously answered my questions by email from her home in Florida. Here’s my interview with her:

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you decided to become a writer?

TS: Basically, I love to read. I will read anything, anytime, anywhere. When I was in high school and trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I figured that I couldn’t be a reader and be paid for it. Being a novelist seemed like the next best thing.

I know you’ve lived in several countries and different states as well. Do you have one place you long to go back to and live there again?

TS: When I lived in Europe, after a couple of years I was very homesick. I missed the US and a lot of the cultural difference that I found cute when I arrived, I suddenly found very irritating. That’s when I knew it was time to come home. But now that I’ve been back in the States for seven years, I’m ready for a new international adventure.

What do you like about living in Florida, and do you think you’ll be on the move again anytime soon?

TS: I love Florida, especially now in November. The high is 82 today! From late October through late April is just amazing here. The orange trees are heavy with fruit and in February their blossoms fill the air the most amazing scent.

In Light Years, Maya leaves her native Israel after her boyfriend is killed by a suicide bomber to attend college in the U.S. How easy or difficult was it for you to write about two very different cultures?

TS: It was fun! People from different cultures will notice things that long time residents just take for granted. It’s very illuminated to talk with a foreigner, their different point of view and reference points can make you question the status quo. As a novelist, bringing in a stranger can help showcase things that otherwise would be awkward to bring up.

What do you see are some of the biggest cultural differences between life in the two countries?

TS: Well in some ways they’re very similar—progressive and Western. Israelis are more likely to speak their mind, there’s less polite lip-service. There’s a very strong culture of hospitality there, as well. If you’re ever invited to an Israeli’s home, you can count on a huge spread—more food that you can possibly eat and a lot of fussing over you.

In Israel, two years of service to the state after high school is mandatory. Do you think that idea would ever work here in the U.S.? What do you see as the biggest advantages and disadvantages of mandatory service?

TS: We all cherish the things we worked hardest for. Being forced to take care of your country, to give up your time and energy and really dedicate yourself to making your country a better, safer place will make people love their country more in the end. I also think that putting off college for 2 years is a good thing. A lot of people just aren’t ready for serious study and a break from high school is just the thing they need for perspective and maturity. The military teaches you discipline and leadership, both are needed qualities for success.

That said, I like the European model for mandatory service better. You can choose between going into the military or civil service: teaching in schools, working in hospitals, or national parks. The military really isn’t for everyone, this would give everyone a chance to go where they can really shine.

Maya is a strong, independent character in many ways. Do you see a lot of yourself in her?

TS: I don’t know. I think there’s something of me in every character—they came from my brain after all. Maybe the best way to think of it is that Maya is who I could have been if I had made different choices in my life. But so is Arden (from High Dive) and the two of them are very different.

What kind of research did you conduct for Light Years?

TS: I interviewed IDF members, particularly women. I visited Israel several times. And I read what I could get my hands on regarding Israeli/Palestinian relations, suicide bombers, and grief counseling.

Your second book, High Dive, also features a main character who doesn’t want to face tragic events in her life. What do you hope to convey to readers about moving beyond tragedy to create a life after an event?

TS: It’s a hard thing to do. That’s what I find so fascinating about it. Julia Glass once said that all great novels deal with the same thing: the heart in conflict with itself. I completely agree with that. How do you get over something traumatic? How do you forgive yourself? How do you trust in the future? Maya and Arden both stumble, making their way through those minefields. I think everyone has to find their own way, but friendship and love always help.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to MotherDaughter Book readers?

TS: Read! There’s nothing as wonderful as a good book, except a good book you can discuss with your loved ones.

Visit Tammar Stein’s website for more information about her and her books.

Guest Posting on Ingrid Law’s Blog

November 23, 2009

I’m a big fan of Ingrid Law, author of Savvy (read my review). So I was thrilled when she agreed to feature a guest post I wrote for her blog about some of the major benefits of being in a mother-daughter book club. I read Savvy with my daughter Catherine when she was 14, and we both liked it a lot.

Savvy has been named a Newbery Honor book, and it was chosen as the October read for Al Roker’s Book Club on the Today Show. It’s a wonderful coming of age story about  a girl discovering her special talent. I highly recommend it for readers aged 9 to 13.

Check out my post on Ingrid’s blog, and visit her website too, where you can find more information about Ingrid, Savvy, and her new book due out next year, Scumble. I can’t wait to read it.

Photos from Book by Book Talk at Barnes and Noble

November 19, 2009

Didn’t Barnes and Noble put together a nice poster for my talk at their Clackamas Town Center store Tuesday night? I have to admit, it took me aback for a second when I walked in and saw my photo and book cover so prominently displayed at the door. What a thrill! It was so kind of the Fantasy Firsts Book Group, which meets at the store regularly, to invite me to speak at one of their monthly meetings. They also opened the door for anyone else who wanted to sit in and hear my talk about mother-daughter book clubs.

And the chairs were so nice and comfy I could have settled in for the night. Especially with so many books just steps from my itching fingertips. It was difficult to practice self control. Here’s a shot of our comfortable gathering:

The Fantasy Firsts group has been together for almost a year, and while not officially a mother-daughter book club, there are several moms in the group along with their high school daughters. Charlene Williams at Barnes and Noble leads the group, and her daughter is a member, too. Charlene promises to email me the club’s reading list for the last year, which has some great titles for lovers of fantasy.

While I was at the store I took the opportunity to pick up a copy of WordPress for Dummies. For the last two months I’ve been working up to an overhaul of this blog and my website, combining the two for more efficient browsing. WordPress for Dummies is not exactly great bed-time reading, but with any luck, I’ll be able to figure a few things out and get the redesign in the works. Wish me luck!

Kindle versus Printed Book?

November 18, 2009

Monday I attended a panel discussion sponsored by the University of Oregon’s Journalism program on the future of publishing in a digital world. The line-up of speakers was great: Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love, Vailey Oehlke, head of the Multnomah County Library system (one of the largest in circulation in the country), and Dennis Stovall, who coordinates the publishing program at Portland State University, Oooligan Press.

While passions in the room were definitely pro-printed book, there was general recognition from everyone around that digital readers are here to stay. The question then becomes how will they evolve to find a place in libraries and other places where they may not require much investment to readers. Author Sherman Alexie has called Kindles elitist, as they can only be owned by people who have discretionary money to spend on reading as a pastime. I buy books, but they tend to be books I have already checked out of the library and read, so I know I’m interested in owning a copy for re-reading in the future. Sometimes I buy used books, other times I buy new, hardcover editions as gifts. As it stands, none of that is currently possible with digital readers.

Here are some of the points worth considering brought up by the speakers.

Katherine Dunn

  • Books have many advantages over electronic readers, but despite that, they are not worth worshiping
  • While new technology tends to take over old technology, it also has a way of evolving and coming back to create similar usage. The example Dunn used was the telephone replacing widespread letter writing. She said email has brought it full circle so people communicate widely through written words again.
  • If books evolve to be produced digitally only, will there be a hard copy somewhere just in case digital copies disappear?
  • How will digital production affect an author’s copyright and his ability to be paid for his creation?
  • Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader…all the available readers now are probably just a “rough draft” of what they will become.

Vailey Oehlke

  • Let’s not forget that many people don’t even know what a Kindle is. Oehlke cited a recent example where she asked a checkout clerk what she thought of the Kindle, and the clerk had never heard of it. We’re still in the early stages of this technology and change will happen slowly.
  • Content can be liberated by being digitized. Audio, video and other applications can be added to the written word.
  • Libraries will continue to provide services for people who either don’t have the resources to buy books and digital readers, or who choose to spend their resources differently. Libraries are constantly watching new technology with an eye toward evolving along with it.

Dennis Stovall

  • Digital publishing has opened up new opportunities for edgy literature that may find it difficult to attract the attention of traditional publishing houses.
  • Future devices will need to be standardized in their reading capabilities if they want to find widespread public acceptance. Digital books will need to be portable across operating systems.
  • Youth often change societies, and youth today has grown up reading screens. They are comfortable with it.

The application that seems to have the most pressing need to digital readers currently is textbooks. College textbooks are incredibly expensive and unwieldly, and current editions are changed frequently. Dunn referred to it as a case of long-standing extortion and fraud. I have a daughter who is a freshman in college, and I was shocked at what she paid for books in one term. She wasn’t always able to buy used, and she won’t get much for reselling when the term is over. Plus she has a desk full of bulky, heavy books that are difficult to carry to class.

Don’t even get me started on high school textbooks. Both of my daughters are small people. My high school sophomore carries about 25 lbs. of books in her backpack every day. Medical advice says not to carry so much weight on a small frame, but when rolling backpacks are not an option, there’s not much choice. In my opinion, textbooks should be available digitally now.

To sum up, the panelists all seemed to say, “change is coming, but there’s no need to panic because it’s not coming fast. Technology will evolve, and there are many good reasons for it to do so. In the meantime, it should be an interesting process to be a part of.”

What do you think?

Author Kaycee Jane Offers Advice to Girls About Boyfriends

November 17, 2009

When I started to date in high school I didn’t know anything about what to expect from a boyfriend, which meant that determining what was good and not so good in a relationship wasn’t all that easy. Thank heavens I’ve learned a lot since then, and I’ve spent time talking with my daughters about healthy relationships. Even so, I think it’s too easy for them to tune their mom out sometimes. That’s why I was happy to learn about this blog post by Kaycee Jane, author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends. In her post “Healthy Relationship?—how to tell,” Kaycee discusses signs of a healthy relationship using the frog and prince analogy. It’s worth reading and sending the link to your teenage daughter. A gentle nudge with another voice may just help her see relationships for what they are—good or bad.

Laura Whitcomb’s Blog

November 16, 2009

Laura Whitcomb

Today Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is featured on author Laura Whitcomb’s blog. I’m fortunate to live in the same area as Laura, and she was the first author my mother-daughter book club connected with. We invited her to our meeting where we would discuss her book, A Certain Slant of Light, and she accepted the invitation. It just blew us all away that an author was actually going to be at our meeting. Then we got nervous. Would she think we didn’t know what we were talking about when we said what we thought of her book? What if we didn’t like it? Would there be awkward silence as we thought of questions to ask her?

There was no need to worry at all. Laura joined us for dinner before the discussion, and by the time we settled down to discuss the book we had gotten over our pre-meeting jitters.We did like A Certain Slant of Light, and Laura was able to answer several questions the moms and girls had about what we had read. We also talked to her about the process of writing a book and getting it published. It was a memorable evening that we wish we could have repeated more often. Here’s an interview with Laura I scheduled after we met:

I recently learned that Laura has written a sequel to A Certain Slant of Light, which I can’t wait to read as soon as it’s in print. You may also be interested in checking out another book she’s published called The Fetch, which I’ve previously reviewed here.

She Writes Day of Action—Favorite Books Written by Women in 2009

November 13, 2009

Today I’m participating in the She Writes Day of Action. She Writes is a community that gives female authors a place to showcase their work, voice concerns, further their writing skills and more. This Day of Action was conceived as a response to a list that Publisher’s Weekly posted of what it considers to be the best books of 2009. Not one woman, and only one person of color, is included in the top 10. Although the list expands out to 100, and books by women obviously make that list, it seems incredible that not one book written by a woman was considered good enough for the best of the best.

I’ve had no such difficulty finding excellent books written by women this year that are great for mother-daughter book clubs. In fact, most of the books I have reviewed and recommended this year are written by women. Here’s my Top 10:

Al Capone Shines Shoes

Al Capone Shines My Shoes—Gennifer Choldenko


Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different—Kristin Tubb

Dear Big V

Dear Big V—Ellen Leroe

Dear Pen Pal

Dear Pen Pal—Heather Vogel Frederick

Flash Burnout

Flash Burnout—L. K. Madigan

Moira Leahy

The Last Will of Moira Leahy—Therese Walsh


North of Beautiful—Justina Chen Headley

Operation Redwood

Operation Redwood—S. Terrell French


Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning—Danette Haworth

Water Steps

Water Steps—A. LaFaye

This doesn’t mean that men are not writing books that appeal to mothers and daughters, because they do. And in fact, my list of favorite authors for mother-daughter book clubs includes a healthy mix of both genders. I’ve always stressed to my daughters that gender shouldn’t be a consideration for competence, and that they should form opinions of others by their actions.

Even so, some days prompt a sense of solidarity with certain groups and today is the day for women writers. I’m headed to Powell’s this afternoon to drop off a few brochures about mother-daughter book clubs. I’ll just have to pick up a book written by a woman while I’m there. The difficulty will be in limiting myself to just one.

If you’d like to find out about books written by members of She Writes, click on over and peruse the images on the banner. My book, Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is there, along with many other excellent selections.

Author Kirby Larson Talks About Mother-Daughter Book Clubs

November 12, 2009

Kirby Larson


Just over a year ago I met author Kirby Larson while we were attending a Kidlit Blogging Conference here in Portland. I had interviewed Kirby about her writing life and her book, Hattie Big Sky, by email before that, but we hadn’t met in person until then. We got to know each other a bit over lunch, then finished out the conference.

Fast forward a few months to when I was writing Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. I was searching for a book club mom of a group that had met with an author. I remembered a story Kirby told about meeting with a mother-daughter book club near her home in person. She put me in touch with Sheila, who not only shared a great story about meeting with Kirby, but who also talked about a service project her club had performed. I featured Sheila’s group and their projects in a few places in Book by Book as examples of clubs who were doing out-of-the-ordinary activities.

Connecting with authors like Kirby and moms like Sheila is one of the reasons I had a lot of fun writing Book by Book. Their stories are so interesting that I knew other moms would be able to take away great ideas for their own clubs after reading about them.

Hattie Big Sky gets my highest recommendation as a mother-daughter book club selection for groups with girls aged 11 and older. Kirby posted a blog post about mother-daughter book clubs and my book today. I look forward to visiting her blog with a guest post at the end of the month. She also has a great website with information about her books, Hattie Big Sky, and Two Bobbies, A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival. Her latest book, Nubs, is sure to be up there soon. Until then, Kirby is posting information about Nubs on her blog.