Interview with Judy M. Miller on Parenting Your Adoptive Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond

February 24, 2010

Judy M. Miller is an adoptive parent and adoption advocate living in the Midwest with her husband and four children. She has mentored prospective adoptive and adoptive parents for over a decade about adoption—its joys and issues. She is a member of Adoption Voices (moderating a group for parents of tween and teen adoptees), AdoptionParenting, AdoptionParentingTweens, Families with Children from China, and Our Chinese Daughters Foundation.

Judy is a columnist for the adoption network, Grown in My Heart. Her essays and articles appear in adoption and parenting magazines. Judy’s stories are featured in A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families (Adams Media), Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to Be? (EMK Press), and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom (Chicken Soup for the Soul). She recently presented on “Finding Our Stories Online” at Story Circle Network’s Stories of the Heart. Judy facilitates classes for adoptive parents of tweens and teens at Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens and Beyond.

I became acquainted with Judy last fall when she hosted me on The International Mom’s Blog. I’m happy to feature more information about her and the work she’s doing for parents of adopted children. Here she talks about a new class she’s created to help parents with their adopted tweens and teens.

What prompted you to create a class on parenting adopted children?

I was moved to create Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond for several reasons, but the main reason was that many parenting classes target waiting parents or parents who have recently adopted infants and young children.  There are few classes for adoptive parents of kids entering tweens and teens.

I created Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond because I observed the hunger adoptive parents have to connect and share with other adoptive parents. I know from personal experience that this hunger to connect with other adoptive parents never goes away and is especially needed when parenting is most challenging—before and during adolescence.

I also found that as I became a more experienced adoptive parent, I had countless requests for my “expertise” for over a decade and fell into a mentoring role for other adoptive parents and parents beginning the adoption process. I believe we glean the most from our own tribe, from collective experiences as adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents. Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond was created in this spirit.

Why teens and tweens? Why not parenting young adopted children or school-age adopted children?

Issues inherent in adoption typically begin to surface when the child realizes they are becoming independent from their parents. Questions many parents assumed had been addressed when their child was younger often resurface. Most adoptive parents aren’t aware of this or prepared for it. Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond is a class that helps the adoptive parent navigate these parental challenges, which are compounded by the complexities of adoption. I often say that parenting is not adoptive parenting. Parenting adopted children is adoptive parenting—more is required of the adoptive parent in parenting the adopted child.

Who would be helped by your class the most?

Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond is for parents who have children between the ages 6 and 18. During these years kids begin to understand what they have gained and lost by being adopted. Parents find themselves challenged with a lot of questions as in “Why did my birth mother give me up?” “What did I do to be given up?” and “Why did you adopt me?”

I even have one parent who is considering taking the class now even though both of her children are under the age of five. This parent wants to be proactive, prepared as much as she can be. She sees this class as the next step in parenting her adopted children. I think it’s always a good idea to be as informed and prepared as you can be as an adoptive parent.

Aren’t there already ample resources available on this topic?

Wonderful books, articles and resources are on parenting adopted teens are available, but reading takes time and digesting the facts takes even more. Many adoptive parents don’t have the benefit of having the “conversations” with other adoptive parents, who best understand what they and their child are experiencing. There are a few online classes for adoptive parents of adolescents, with little, if any, interaction with the other adoptive parents in the group. And, of course, there are online forums, but discussions there tend to go off on tangents and are not private.

Although I have a library of resources to draw from, my preference has always been to connect with others in the adoption community—adoptive parents, well-seasoned adoptive parents, and older adoptees for insight and perspective. So, I’ve created an e-mail class that offers the benefits of all the resources, my experiences parenting four kids, and the wisdom of the group.

If someone has never taken an e-class before, can you explain what they can expect in terms of their time commitment to the class?

I send course material out weekly via Microsoft Word Document. The workbooks cover different topics related to parenting the adopted tween/teen. The beauty of the class is that participants meet each other virtually through the class introduction and sharing of weekly class work. Participating parents do weekly assignment at their convenience, when it fits into their busy life. The weekly time commitment is only a couple of hours per week but, of course, the parents can reflect on what they are learning and discussing as much as they like. The class lasts six weeks and the class materials can be referred back to as needed in the future.

The next Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond begins April 7th. Class is limited to 12 participants. Parents can find out more and register here.

Judy Miller with her family

Interview with Author Loretta Ellsworth and Book Giveaway

February 12, 2010

Years ago, author Loretta Ellsworth gave up her job as a middle school Spanish teacher to write books for young adults. Her newest to be released is called In a Heartbeat, a story about a young organ donor, the girl who receives her heart, and how one small everyday action can have ripple effects. I reviewed In a Heartbeat yesterday, and announced that I’m giving away a copy of this book to one reader who comments on my post. Now here’s an interview with Loretta that will help you learn more about the author and her books.

How did you become a writer?

LE: I always loved to write but never considered it seriously until I worked part-time at a local library—being surrounded by books can do that to you. I started out slowly, writing articles for magazines and taking classes in fiction writing. My first article was published when I was 30. It took more than 10 years after that to sell my first book.

Tell us a little about how you spend your time writing.

LE: I try to write every day, but I’m very flexible about when I write. With my first two books I had four teenage children and a teaching job, so I had to write whenever and wherever I could; at soccer practice, doctor offices, etc. I usually start with an idea or character and go from there—I never know where the story is going; that’s part of the fun of writing, to discover the story as I go. It also means quite a bit of revision, though.

Has your life been affected by an organ transplant, either through a donor or recipient?

LE: I started this book shortly after my mother died of congestive heart failure and my nephew was killed in a motorcycle accident. We were surprised to find out that he had signed up to be an organ donor on his license— he’d never told his parents about his decision to do that. Although they couldn’t save his heart for transplantation, many of his other organs were donated. These two events happened within a few weeks of each other, and for a while I couldn’t write. When I did start writing, I felt compelled to write about an organ transplant and I wanted to include the donor’s voice. I think it started out as therapy for me; a way to write through my grief.

What kind of research did you conduct to write In a Heartbeat?

LE: I read books and hospital websites, and did a lot of research on organ transplants, talking with doctors, nurses, transplant coordinators, and recipients. I also conducted research on skating, since none of my children were skaters. I spoke with coaches, moms, and competitive skaters, and spent time at the rink.

Did you consult with organ recipients? Did you talk to families of donors? What about doctors or other experts?

LE: I spoke with two different recipients, who were both kind enough to share their experiences and feelings. I also spoke with doctors, nurses, and transplant coordinators.

What do you feel is the most important message of In a Heartbeat?

LE: I don’t write with a message in mind—message-driven books are often heavy-handed, and teens don’t want more lecturing. In this book I just wanted to explore character and relationships while creating a compelling story.

This book is as much about the relationships between mothers and daughters as it is about organ donation. What were you trying to convey through Eagan’s mom and Amelia’s mom, who both seem to have very different approaches to mothering?

LE: Someone I know lost her mother when she was young, during her turbulent teenage years, and they didn’t always get along. After going through those years with my own mother, and now with my daughter, I realize that if her mother had died when she was older, after they’d gotten through those difficult years, it would have been so different for her— this was how I approached Eagan’s mom. Having a child with disabilities and medical problems, I’ve often felt that I had to be strong enough for both of us, to keep my child going when he’s down. I think this was how I approached Amelia’s mom. Both mothers have their strengths and frailties– it just comes out differently.

What other books have you written?

LE: My first book was The Shrouding Woman, a story set in the 1870’s in Caledonia, Minnesota. It’s about a girl whose aunt is a shrouding woman—someone who prepared bodies for burial. It’s a time-honored tradition that dates back thousands of years. My second book was In Search of Mockingbird, a story of a girl who travels by bus to Monroeville, Alabama, with the hope of meeting of her favorite author.

Are you working on anything now?

LE: I’m working on two stories right now— one is about a boy with a perfect memory, and the other story, set in the 1960’s, is about a girl looking to make her mark on the world.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to members of mother-daughter book clubs?

LE: What a great way to connect and communicate! I wish I had belonged to one when my daughter was young—now that she’s in her twenties we share books back and forth and she has become one of my first readers. And I also have two daughters-in-law who are both avid readers, so we all read the same books and discuss them—we’re currently reading The Hunger Games series (by Suzanne Collins).

(Note: Book giveaway is closed. See the previous post for winner info.) Don’t forget to comment about Loretta or her book on yesterday’s blog post for a chance to win a copy of In a Heartbeat. The contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, and I’ll choose a winner from entries posted before midnight (Pacific Standard Time) on Friday, February 12.

You may also be interested in checking out other blogs where Loretta has appeared this month as part of the blog tour for the release of her book. Here’s where you can find her:


Elizabeth Dulemba:

April Hamrick:

Library Lounge Lizard:

Butterfly Book Reviews:

Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf:

Books by Their Cover:

Shelf Elf:

Read This Book (coming February 13):

Book Giveaway and Interview with Author Annette Laing

February 1, 2010

Last week I reviewed Annette’s book of time-traveling kids, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When. Tomorrow I’ll review the sequel, A Different Day, A Different Destiny. Today, I’m happy to have Annette visiting to share a few words with Mother Daughter Book Club about her background, why she’s writing a series on kids who travel through time and more.

I’m also giving away a copy of each of Annette’s books to one winner. Just comment here by midnight (PST) Tuesday, February 2 about a place and time you would like to travel through time to visit. I’ll choose a winner to receive the two books randomly from those comments. The give away is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. (Note: We have a winner! The books are on their ways to Bridget from Henderson, Tennessee.) Now here’s the interview with Annette.

Author Annette Laing in Scotland

Tell us a little bit about your background.

AL: I’m from Scotland originally, but my family moved to Stevenage, a small city north of London, when I was quite small. So I grew up as a Scot in England, which was a pretty odd experience. In the early eighties, I had what was at the time an incredibly amazing opportunity, when I was accepted as an exchange student to Northern California. I had a blast in high school: I felt like I was living in the movie Grease. I quickly returned to California to attend college, which, again, was very unusual for a Brit in those days. Then, having wanted to become a newspaper reporter since I was seven years old, I abruptly changed my mind, and decided to become a history professor instead, because dead people, unlike live interviewees, don’t challenge a reporter’s version of events. After finishing my PhD in early American and British history, I moved to Georgia to take up a university post. I quit my job two years ago, but, as I like to point out, I’m still a professional historian, and I still love to chat with historian friends about background material for my novels.

What do you like most about writing?

AL: It’s pure escapism. It’s a luxurious time spent daydreaming instead of worrying about everyday matters. The best part is when I stop consciously putting words into characters’ mouths, and start transcribing what they say, as they take on a life of their own. It’s a very weird feeling, and at first I worried that I was going a bit demented, so it was a huge relief to discover that this is a normal experience among authors!

How did you decide to write about time travel?

AL: It was kind of a no-brainer for a historian to turn to writing about the past, but of course, I could always have turned my hand to historical fiction. I wasn’t drawn to the sci-fi aspects of time travel at all—I don’t understand the physics, and don’t pretend to. What strikes me as a cultural historian was that so few kids’ novels which are set in the past, whether time travel or historical novels, captured the sense of how differently people thought in the past. So I set out to take three very modern kids, living in a town that’s a bit of an eccentric time warp but is nonetheless part of the twenty-first century, and drop them off in places that I know very well, both personally and as a historian, so that their confusion about how to act becomes fun to read about, while showing that the past is indeed a foreign country. It’s great fun to write, too.

Why did you choose World War II England as a place for your characters to travel to?

AL: Like many Brits of my generation, I have an obsessive interest in The War (we always called it that, with implied capital letters.) We feel like we missed out somehow, although why we would want to suffer through bombing and food rationing is beyond me…. A few years ago, I started creating time travel workshops for kids, where we spent days making believe we were in the past. I decided to treat myself and “send” us first to wartime England. I had no idea if the kids would be remotely interested, so it was kind of selfish, but they were absolutely fascinated. It was pretty surreal for me to watch all these kids from rural Georgia pretending to be British kids in 1940, so I can only imagine what it felt like for the guest speakers who visited us who had actually lived through the Blitz. The kids’ programs are what kickstarted my idea for The Snipesville Chronicles, so it was probably inevitable that I would set the first book in World War II England. The whole series will be set in British and American history, for reasons that I hope will become clear…

Why did you insert a double time travel and send one of your characters back even further to World War I?

AL: I wanted to show how quickly people and places can change. Britain in 1914, the year the First World War began, and Britain in 1945, the year World War II ended, were very different places, and yet only thirty years had passed, less than most people’s lifetimes. People too often assume that the present is the only thing that counts, that the past is quaint and irrelevant, but this isn’t so. The past never entirely disappears. I hope Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When spurs readers to think about how quickly and profoundly the way we think changes over time, and yet how much we have in common with people throughout history.

Why did you decide to make one of your characters a black boy? How did that limit and/or enhance your story line?

AL: Brandon arrived in my head as who he is. Having lived and taught in a small town in the South for many years now, I couldn’t imagine why I would make all my main characters white: Sure, I’m not black, but neither am I an American by birth, or a teenager, or a boy, so all my main characters took a leap of imagination on my part.

Early in the story development, Brandon began to run into all kinds of attitudes toward race in early twentieth-century Britain, and I did briefly wonder whether it would be a problem that his blackness would always be an issue in the stories. Then it struck me that this is how it has always been for black people in Britain and the United States, and that I should be no less honest about “race” in my fiction than in my history. What’s most important is how Brandon reacts. He is taken aback at first by his reception in a pre-multicultural England, but he’s no wuss, and he refuses to be defined by the color of his skin. Like many young people I’ve known in Georgia, he is comfortable with who he is, as an individual and as a member of a middle-class black family.  He’s not perfect, and he’s a little eccentric, which makes him an ordinary but interesting and likeable kid. All in all, I am very pleased with Brandon. Recently, there has been much blog discussion about the lack of black characters in kids’ novels, other than slaves and members of the civil rights movement, and I hope that Brandon is a modest contribution toward addressing that absence.

Tell us a little bit about your second book in the Snipesville Chronicles.

AL: A Different Day, A Different Destiny, true to its title, is quite a different book from Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When. I want to surprise my readers with every new entry in the series. This book is much more of an odyssey than the first one, with all three kids taking long separate journeys in the year 1851. This is a time when kids are providing an exploited labor force in both Britain’s industrial revolution and America’s cotton boom, and the kids get caught up in both. At the same time as they are trying to make their way in Victorian times, they have been told to find a modern pocket calculator to get home to the present day, which is even harder than it sounds…

How many books do you plan for this series?

AL: Five, but I am leaving open the possibility of a sixth.

Anything else you’d like to say to readers at Mother Daughter Book Club?

AL: If you read Don’t Know Where together, I would love to hear about your group’s reactions to the character of Hannah, who would always rather go shopping than read a book, and who has found out that you can act out your issues in the past as well as in the present. Readers respond very strongly to her, but girls are afraid to admit out loud that they identify with her, so they claim that they have more in common with Alex or Brandon instead. Like I believe them. Yeah, right.

Mommy on a Shoestring Radio Show

January 14, 2010

In just a little while I’ll be talking with Beth Engelman and Jenna Riggs, hosts of Mommy on a Shoestring Radio Show. I’d love to have you listen in as I talk about creating your mother-daughter book club, books you may want to choose with your group and more. Just click on the show’s website and listen to the live feed beginning at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (12 p.m. MST, 1 p.m. CST, 2 p.m. EST). If you can’t make it, a link to the show’s podcast will be up on the site soon after the show is over.

While you’re visiting the site, you may also be interested in listening to some of their past shows talking about family fitness, cheap family fun, gift giving, and crafts. Beth also has a bi-monthly video and column at with lots of ideas for family activities.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, Author of Thirsty, Talks About Reading with Her Daughter

December 2, 2009

Kristin Bair O’Keeffee, whose debut novel Thirsty was recently released, has written a wonderful essay about reading to her young daughter. Thirsty is a gritty story about tenacious women and their struggle to find what makes life bearable in the face of domestic abuse, hardship, and death in a Pennsylvania mill town during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The story transports you to its time and place so well you can almost feel the grit from the steel mill as it settles on your own skin. More information about Kristin and Thirsty follows her essay.

Mother/Daughter Reading…Before the Book Club

“In the great green ______,” I read and pause, waiting for Tully, my 22-month-old daughter, to fill in the word.

“Room,” she says.

“There is a ______,” I say.

“Telephone,” she fills in.

And then without waiting for me to read the next sentence, she blurts out, “Red balloon.”

Of course, Tully’s 22-month-old pronunciations aren’t always spot-on. Room sometimes sounds a little like whoom; balloon comes out ba-oon. But every day her tongue finds the right place against her teeth or the roof of her mouth a little more often and words become clearer.

When we get to the “three little bears sitting on chairs,” Tully picks up my index finger and taps it lightly to each of the three bears, in the same way I’ve tapped her finger to the bears for the past year or so since we started reading Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon “One, two, three,” she says.

We continue on like this, filling in words and pointing out favorite objects (the mouse, the bunny, the cow jumping over the moon, and lately, the fireplace). As Tully acquires more vocabulary (at a crazily rapid pace), our nighttime readings grow longer and become more like conversations.

“What’s this?” I ask.

Tully looks at where my finger is pointing. “Hand,” she says.

“Close,” I say. “It’s a mitten.” And then I explain about mittens and hands and winter and cold weather.

Tully—with her steel-trap toddler brain fired up, even as she relaxes against me—listens intently. “Mitten,” she repeats, emphasizing the t sound. “Mitten, mitten, mitten.” And I know that she will remember this word forever. In fact, the next day she will insist that her beloved friends Baby, McGillicutty, and Dora all need mittens. “Cold,” she will tell me as she feels their hands.

I love these long, drawn-out minutes of our day with Tully snug in her pajamas, curled on my lap. The curtains are pulled. Tully has had her bath and bottle. Her teeth are brushed, and she’s given her dad a goodnight kiss. The only thing left is our nightly reading ritual. Sometimes she chooses Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Sometimes Mem Fox’s Time for Bed. But more often than not, Goodnight Moon.

As we read, I think about all the fabulous books Tully and I have to look forward to: Fox in Sox, The Snowy Day, Amelia Bedelia, Ramona the Brave, Little House on the Prairie, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and loads of newly published books that I don’t even know about yet.

“Goodnight comb,” I say. “Goodnight _____.”

“Brush,” Tully says, and she uses a pretend brush to brush her hair.

I also think about the day when we’ll be ready to start a book club with other moms and daughters, and as I do, more titles flood my head:

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

The Secret Garden

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Someday. But right now….

“Goodnight noises everywhere,” I say.

“The end,” Tully whispers, sleepy and still in my arms.

“The end,” I repeat and I close the book.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of Thirsty and an American who lives in Shanghai, China. She is also a happy mom, a voracious reader, an engaging teacher who believes in “telling the best story you can…believing in your writing…and working your arse off,” a fierce advocate for the end of domestic violence, and a writer who spends as much time as possible in writerhead. To find out more, visit or Kristin’s blog at

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.

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.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Last Will of Moira Leahy, Interview with Author Therese Walsh

November 4, 2009

Today I’m excited to feature Therese Walsh and her new book The Last Will of Moira Leahy. This was such an interesting book to read, and I’m eager to share more about it with you. First up is my review, followed by an interview with Therese. Then look for details so you can win a copy of her book.

Review: The Last Will of Moira Leahy

Moira Leahy

Twenty-five-year-old Maeve Leahy likes her life orderly with limited surprises. But she’s feeling restless one November night as she thinks about her twin, Moira, whom she lost to a night in November nine years before. As a distraction, she attends an antiques auction where she places the winning bid on a special dagger, a Javanese keris, very much like one she accidentally dropped into a bay years ago while playing a pirate queen with Moira.

Soon mysterious things begin to happen. A book on weaponry is nailed to the door of her office at the small college in New York State where she teaches. She feels she’s being watched. Then she receives a note asking her to travel to Rome where she can learn more about her knife from a man who uses an age-old tradition to make blades just like it.

In Rome she’s joined by Noel, the only man Maeve has let into her inner world while still keeping him at a distance. Noel has been in Europe searching for answers from his own past and escaping from the uncertainties of his relationship with Maeve. Together they start to unravel their feelings for each other, the mystery of the keris, the man behind the blade, and the voices in Maeve’s mind that refuse to go away. Maeve also finally confronts her own feelings for her twin and the shocking event that separated them as teenagers.

The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh is a richly conceived tale that weaves mystery, romance, adventure and self-discovery into one beautiful package. Moira’s story from years before appears tucked in between Maeve’s narrative in the present. The twins’ inseparable bond is both a comfort and a burden to them as they learn to find their own talents. Topics to discuss include the special bond that exists between twins, learning to be true to your own personality without taking away from family members, honesty in relationships, deciding to have sex with a boyfriend, learning to deal with family tragedy and more. The Last Will of Moira Leahy is billed as women’s fiction, but it is appropriate for book clubs with girls aged 15 and over. Highly recommended.

Interview: Author Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh

Most people recognize the special bond that exists between twins. What prompted you to write about twins?

TW: Believe it or not, I didn’t intend to write about twins. When I first began writing, I meant to create a simple love story between Maeve Leahy and her friend, Noel. Moira kind of appeared on the page one day and changed the dynamic of the book. I rewrote the story to center it around the relationship between the twins when I realized the emotional power of their story.

The book is mostly told in Maeve’s voice, with small glimpses of Moira’s point of view. What do you want the reader to learn about Moira when we hear her voice?

TW: I wanted readers to get to know Moira and realize she wasn’t a bad person, and I felt that hearing only from Maeve’s point of view might have meant people didn’t give Moira the benefit of the doubt. I think that both girls were good people, and I wanted them each to be understood.

Maeve and Moira’s mother plays a crucial role in their lives through her decisions on how to direct their talents. But she also seems insignificant in some ways. Do you think the twins didn’t need her as much because they had each other?

TW: That was definitely Abby’s perception—that they didn’t need her. The truth was that the twins needed her in ways that felt unsatisfying to Abby, because they were drawing so much emotional support from one another and they understood one another exceedingly well. But Abby was their mother, and so they did need her in a million little ways. There’s a hole in Maeve’s life after she loses her twin but there’s another beside that one because she’s lost her mother in a sense, too. That hole wouldn’t be there if Abby was truly insignificant to her.

How did you become aware of and interested in the keris?

TW: I found the keris almost by fluke. As I said, I’d first planned to write a simple love story. Well, Noel was an antiques dealer, and I spent many happy hours going through eBay listings, looking for antiques that I planned later to describe in his shop. One of the items I found was an antique Javanese keris—a dagger with a wavy blade. It looked interesting, so I made a record of it. I wanted my first scene to take place in an auction house and wasn’t sure which item should draw my characters’ attention. I chose the keris from my list without much thought.

I gave my scene to a friend, who read it with interest and then asked if the keris would be important to the rest of the book. It sounded like a good idea. I dug in, did some research, and realized the keris was so much more than a pretty blade. Maeve Leahy, the main character, realizes the same throughout the course of the novel.

What kind of research did your conduct for your book and how long did you spend on research?

TW: I traveled to Castine, Maine; I read books (on twins, on Rome, on strange phenomena), I spoke with people (about Castine and Rome and the Javanese keris); and I did more online research than I can name (on twins and post traumatic stress disorder and antiques and airlines and sailing and pirates and more!).

I love research, and I spend far more time on it than I’ll admit in a public forum that may be visited by my editor. But seriously, I do love it and I let it divert me and inform the direction of the story if it’s juicy enough.

Your book takes place in Maine, New York and Rome. Are any of these places special to you in some way?

TW: When I first began writing this story, I chose to center the book in upstate because it was what I knew; I live in upstate New York. I ventured out of “safe” territory shortly thereafter by sending my characters to Rome, Italy. When I rewrote the book to focus on the twin sisters, I decided to add scenes from Castine, Maine, as well. I don’t have a special connection to Rome or Castine, but I did visit Castine and learned much about the town on that trip.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be a novelist.

TW: I was hired as a features researcher for Prevention Magazine out of graduate school. I’d long loved to write, though I hadn’t considered it as a career until my stint with Prevention. Opportunities were born, and I took them. And when my daughter was born, I left my in-house job to become a freelance health researcher and writer.

Fiction became a part of the everyday at that point—reading to my daughter, then my son. And because I liked to write, one thing led to another; I started writing children’s stories. None were published, but that didn’t matter; Pandora’s Box had been opened. One thing I learned while writing children’s stories was that I loved a good juicy sentence, so I thought I should try my hand at adult fiction. And I did.

Can you tell us about your next book and when we can expect to see it in print?

TW: Yes, I’m writing about a blind woman who travels across West Virginia in search of her dead mother’s unfinished story and along the way teaches others how to see the world. It’s another novel with cross-genre elements—some mystery and psychological suspense, a little romance, and some mythical realism. But this book also has a whole lot of Quirk, and I love that. My deadline for the book is 12/10, so it should be on the shelves sometime in 2011. That may seem like a long time, but I’ll use every minute wisely.

Anything else you’d like to say to members of mother-daughter book clubs?

TW: Just that I’m flattered to be featured here, and I hope that The Last Will of Moira Leahy inspires some interesting conversations between mothers and daughters. Please send me a note when you’ve finished the book to let me know your thoughts. I welcome the feedback. Happy reading!

About the Author

Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online.

She has a master’s degree in psychology.

Aside from writing, Therese’s favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their bouncy Jack Russell.

Win:  One Copy of The Last Will of Moira Leahy to be Given Away

If you’re intrigued by this review, interview and Therese’s background, you’ll definitely want to read her book. You can win a copy right here by commenting on this post. Tell us which element of Therese’s story intrigues you the most, or make a comment on one of her interview answers. One winner will be chosen from all who comment before midnight, Pacific Daylight Time on Thursday, November 5.

Mother-Daughter Book Club Week Continues at Booking Mama

October 27, 2009

Booking Mama continues the mother-daughter book club week fun today with an interview of Heather Vogel Frederick, author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Much Ado About Anne and Dear Pen Pal. Find out how Heather started on her mother-daughter book club series, and learn a little more about the fourth book in the series she just finished writing. And there’s a surprise too! Click here to read the interview on Booking Mama. And for more info on Heather, read my interview with her at Mother Daughter Book

Don’t forget to enter Booking Mama’s giveaway this week. Two lucky winners will get 1 copy of my book plus 5 copies of Heather’s three books mentioned above. It’s a perfect way to start a new mother-daughter book club or add to one that’s already in existence. The chance to enter the giveaway ends Monday, November 2 at 11:59 p.m. EST, so don’t wait to get your name in.


Interview with Alexandria LaFaye, Author of Water Steps

October 22, 2009

Alexandria & Adia

Author Alexandria LaFaye and her daughter Adia.

Alexandria LaFaye is the author of Water Steps (read review), a story about a girl learning to overcome her fears and believe that life can be magic. LaFaye has also penned several other novels for young readers, including The Year of the Sawdust Man and Worth. Recently, LaFaye was able to talk through email about her newest book and more. Here’s the interview:

In Water Steps, Kyna has to overcome her fears one step at a time. Have you ever conquered a phobia that way?

AL: When I was five, I nearly drowned at a beach near my grandmother’s house.  My mom rescued me just in time, so there is a hint of autobiography in the book.  I was afraid to go underwater for quite some time. I took a similar approach to overcoming it—getting in the water and willing myself to go underwater and stay under a little longer every time. Facing my fears and praying to have God at my side has always been my approach to dealing with things I’m afraid of.

Irish folklore and mythical beings such as leprechauns, faeries and silkies are woven into the tales Kyna’s parents tell her. Are those stories you grew up with as well, or did you learn about those things after you grew up?

AL: My mom read stories out of books—everything from the Bible to Justin Morgan Had a Horse. My dad made up his own whimsical tales about when he was in the Civil War and so on.  He drew a lot of inspiration from his favorites on TV, such as Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, and Tommy Smothers. I teach children’s literature and often include mythology, so that’s where I came across many of these stories.

Kyna is adopted, and I see you’ve recently adopted a baby girl as well. Did you write about adoptive parents before you were one? How has your experience with adoption colored your view of adopting a child from both the parent’s and the child’s perspective?

AL: Actually, both Water Steps and Worth, which is also about adoption, were written well before I adopted my daughter, Adia. Adoption has always been part of my parenthood plan. I’ve always wanted a family that celebrates multiculturalism and shows that love is about choice and unconditional acceptance. I don’t believe that my view of adoption has changed much, except that now I am more eager than ever to adopt a second child in a few years. I’m also even more grateful to God for bringing little Miss Adia into my life.

Water Steps is described a a fantasy novel, but I would also say it is also contemporary fiction. Do you often blend genres in the things you write?

AL: I love genre blends and I refer to this novel as a reality based fantasy. My next novel, The Keening, due out with Milkweed Editions in the spring of 2010, is a supernatural-historical tale, so it’s also a blended genre novel. I look forward to doing more of those in the future. It’s a fun way to give a novel even more depth and unique twists and turns.

Out of all the places you have lived, do you have a favorite you’d like to go back to? What do you like best about Arkansas, where you live now?

AL: I get to return to Virginia every summer to teach in the Hollins University program in Children’s Literature. I go back to Wisconsin to visit family every time I return to Minnesota to teach in the low residency MFA in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University. The one place I’d love to return to is Pullman, Washington. They have a fabulous university and a quaint downtown lined with pear trees. I love the passion for books among the folks I know in Arkansas. I have also made one of the most life changing and supportive friendships of my life in Arkansas and I’m grateful to Yvonne Furniss for her friendship—she’s a book lover too!

On your website you say you’re an avid hat-wearer. Do you have a story to tell about discovering you loved to wear hats?

AL: You know, I’ve always loved them—I’m even wearing hats in my baby pictures. I guess, you could say I just never stopped wearing them when I grew up as many people do. Hats are a great way to top off a good outfit. I just never thought they’d attract so much attention. People aren’t used to women who wear hats outside of church. Too bad I couldn’t start a trend in hat wearing!

Is there anything you’d like to say to moms and daughters in book clubs?

AL: Never stop reading together and talking about what you read with each other, it’s a fabulous way to keep in touch, share your thoughts. And I recommend trading off on choices—let mom pick one, then daughter. And don’t be afraid to draw dad and brother in on the action. I’d also want to invite anyone who reads Water Steps or any of my other books to feel free to visit my website and ask me a question. And I love to visit book clubs, schools, and libraries to talk about reading, writing, and following your dreams.