Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

February 22, 2013

The Literary Cat

“What greater gift than the love of a cat?” — Charles Dickens

There are literary cats and then there are Literary Cats.

Charles Dickens had a very famous Literary Cat named Wilhelmina. In his London house, you can see the desk where he and Wilhelmina worked and, if you get close enough, you can see the imprint of cat claws etched into the wood.

Whenever Wilhelmina needed attention or thought Dickens had been at it too long, she would raise a paw and scratch the desk. If this didn’t get the desired results, she would snuff out the candle.

I have three literary kitties and, while I love them equally, I am particularly bonded with Lulu. She, like Wilhelmina, is a Literary Cat of the highest order. Let’s just say she has more… exuberance… for working with me than any other cat I’ve known. (For more on that, you can read about a typical day with her in a blog I wrote for Penguin.)

As I spend upwards of 14 hours a day at my desk seven days a week, working feverishly toward a May 1 deadline (which feels as if it’s five minutes from now in terms of HOW LITTLE TIME THERE IS TO DO ALL I NEED TO DO), Lulu has rarely left my side. Sometimes this is good, sometimes… challenging (depending on what she’s occupying herself with), but when you’re deep in the writing cave, it’s wonderful to have the company.

And she makes me laugh.

Here is Lulu at work. I’ve tried to put them in sequence.

(Note: When she isn’t taking apart the printer or running away with post-its pulled from research books, she does a good bit of gazing at me. Sometimes lovingly, sometimes impatiently.)


(No, I didn’t tuck her in. She did that herself.)

February 20, 2013

100th anniversary of the Karluk expedition

In The Ice Master, I recounted the true story of what was supposed to be the greatest and most elaborate Arctic expedition in history, and what instead turned out to be one of the most harrowing polar survival stories of all time.

In June 1913, the H.M.C.S. Karluk set sail from the Esquimalt Naval Yard in Victoria, British Columbia. Six weeks later, the Arctic winter had begun, the ship was imprisoned in ice, and those on board had been abandoned by their leader.

For five months, the Karluk remained frozen in a massive block of ice, drifting farther and farther off course, until the ice tore a hole in the vessel’s hull, and Captain Robert Bartlett, the ice master of the title and the man hired to command the Karluk, gave orders to abandon ship (to the strains of Chopin’s “Funeral March,” playing on the Victrola).

Which was how Captain Bartlett, twenty-one men, an Inuit woman and her two small daughters, twenty-nine dogs, and one pet cat found themselves shipwrecked in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles from land…

Over the years, many tributes have been paid to Captain Bartlett (one of my biggest heroes) and his comrades, but this year is particularly special– it is the 100th anniversary of the Karluk expedition.

In honor of these 100 years, articles are being written and documentaries are being filmed. The Canadian Mint has released two commemorative collector’s items– a fine silver dollar and a 14 K gold coin. I’ve also been invited to return to the Arctic and Wrangel Island in August 2014 as part of the 100th anniversary of the rescue.

Each week, I’ll post something here relating to that expedition– a rare photograph, a letter or diary excerpt written by one of the scientists or crewmen who sailed aboard the Karluk, a clip of the rescue footage, a behind-the-scenes story about writing the book.

Though called a hero in his lifetime, Captain Bartlett would most likely be surprised by such tributes all these years later. As he once observed, “The truth was I could not stop myself in pursuit of adventure. I was committed to the Arctic. I’d got the poison in my veins.”

February 7, 2013

The creative hunch

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” — Frank Capra

Right now I am at my desk many, many hours every day (that includes weekends). The current project: American Blonde, the fourth novel in the Velva Jean series. Technically, I’m supposed to be editing the novel right now, based on my editor’s first round of notes. But what I’m actually doing is re-envisioning and re-outlining and, for the most part, rewriting the entire book from about page 15 on, which means I am throwing out around 600 pages of material.

While my editor did have lots of notes, rewriting the book wasn’t one of them. That’s all me.

I have until May 1st to do this, and it’s going to be– let me think of the polite word– challenging. The easier thing would be to implement her notes and some of my own, cut and rewrite here and there, work on one of the characters who needs working on, and maybe move some scenes around or re-envision small sections. But that would be cheating Velva Jean and American Blonde and, ultimately, myself.

Because I know, deep in my creative bones, the story I want to tell in this book. The story I should tell. The story that is more organic to Velva Jean and her journey and the setting she finds herself in. It’s the story I almost wrote last year when I was working on the book for the first time, but ended up putting aside for one reason or another, mostly time constraints– I just didn’t feel I had enough time to do that original story justice in the short period I had to write it.

The lesson: Always, always listen to your first instinct. This is something I’ve learned time and again. Usually I listen. This time I didn’t. Now I have less time than before to come up with, essentially, a brand new book. But it has to be done.

If I didn’t rewrite it, maybe no one would know. Maybe they would even enjoy the story as I wrote it last summer. But I would know. And every time I picked up that book, I would think of what it could have, should have been.

So the next time you have a creative instinct, listen to it, try it out, sit with it for a while, let it simmer, see if it flourishes. Honor it. That particular idea may not be something you need to follow all the way to the end. But then again, it may be exactly where your story wants to go.

It’s funny how stories let you know the way they want to be told.

February 4, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Our Town!

My mom’s brilliant biography of Thornton Wilder debuted in October of last year, and today marks the 75th anniversary of his most enduring work, Our Town. Here’s a little something Mom wrote up for the Wall Street Journal in honor of the play, the day, and the man himself.

Why Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ is 75 Years Young
By Penelope Niven

When Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” opened on Broadway February 4, 1938 – 75 years ago today — no one was more surprised by its success than Wilder himself. He did not foresee that the play would win the Pulitzer Prize, or that well into the 21st century, “Our Town” would survive and thrive on and off-Broadway, and in theaters across the United States and around the world. As the play went into previews, Wilder was afraid it would be a failure. In January 1938 he wrote, “OUR TOWN, opening in Boston, had such bad reviews that a second week was canceled, and the manager engaged a New York theater which was free for only a week and a half.”

But 75 years later, people are still watching the play. Ford’s Theatre in Washington is hosting the national celebration of this anniversary with an “Our Town” production that runs through February 24. There are 75th anniversary stagings around the country and abroad. “Our Town” was borne out of the American experience, yet other countries import it as their own. The play still speaks across cultures, across time zones, across languages. By some accounts it is the most produced American play ever.

I discovered “Our Town” as a teenager in Waxhaw, North Carolina, population nearly a thousand. I was positive the play was written about Waxhaw. This was 1957 in my town, not May 7, 1901 in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Thornton Wilder’s mythical town. In a 1938 preface Wilder wrote that his play “sprang from a deep admiration for those little white towns in the hills and from a deep devotion to the future. These are but the belated gropings to reconstruct what may have taken place when the play first presented itself — the life of a village against the life of the stars.”

He went on to clarify the “unremitting preoccupation which is the central theme of the play: What is the relation between the countless ‘unimportant’ details of our daily life, on the one hand, and the great perspectives of time, social history, and current religious ideas, on the other?

“What is trivial and what is significant about any one person’s making a breakfast, engaging in a domestic quarrel, in a ‘love scene,’ in dying?”

Wilder the dramatist was writing, he said, for and about everybody, for and about each one of us. “Since my play is about Everybody, everybody is in my play,” he reflected in later years.

He had been writing plays and acting in them since boyhood. In the fall of 1938, he briefly played the Stage Manager in “Our Town,” filling in while actor Frank Craven took time off from the very successful Broadway run that would ultimately total 366 performances in ten-and-a-half months. Wilder was nervous about memorizing the lines he had written. He “wasn’t very good,” he wrote to his sister Isabel after one performance. He got better, however. “I went through my paces without a single fluff, ‘tho’ I perhaps didn’t put quite enough umph into the prelude to Act III,” he wrote. He took the criticism in stride when reviewers assessed his performance: “I see in the paper. . . that I was no ball of fire.”

But he got mostly stellar reviews as a playwright, including a recent tribute from Edward Albee: “If I were asked to name what I consider to be the finest serious American play, I would immediately say Our Town– not for its giant Americanness but because it is a superbly written, gloriously observed, tough, and breathtaking statement of what it is to be alive, the wonder and hopeless loss of the space between birth and the grave.”

Albee’s words go to the heart of Wilder’s intentions for the play. Wilder wrote, “In the last act of ‘Our Town’ the author places upon the stage a character who – like the members of the audience – partakes of ‘the smallest events of daily life’ and is also a spectator of them.

“She [Emily] learns that each life – though it appears to be a repetition among millions – can be felt to be inestimably precious, though the realization of it is present to us seldom, briefly, and incommunicably. At that moment there are no walls, no chairs, no tables = all is inward. Our true life is in the imagination and in the memory.”

Seventy-five years ago, having poured his imagination, his memory and his heart into his play, Wilder grew more confident about the future of “Our Town.” He wrote to a friend, “At all events I do not mind from critics the charge of immaturity, confusion, and even pretentiousness.” The play was “a first sally into deep waters.” He hoped “to do many more – and better – and even more pretentious. I write as I choose; and I learn as I go; and I’m very happy when the public pays the bills.”

January 29, 2013

True Confessions of an inspiring lady

Last April, I received an email from a woman named Gretchen E. Ganas, who thanked me for writing Velva Jean Learns to Drive, and who told me about her own book, which she wondered if I would read and, hopefully, endorse. I have so little reading time that normally I have to say no to requests like this, but I couldn’t resist Gretchen or her book, True Confessions of a Dying Lady: How to Lie and Bribe Your Way Into Heaven.

In 1983, Gretchen was diagnosed with cervical cancer. In 2001, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which resulted in having part of her lung removed. Early last year, she was diagnosed with Stage IV mantle cell lymphoma. This time, she was given six months to a year to live.

Due to allergies, she cannot take chemotherapy or radiation (though she isn’t sure she would have done so anyway). Instead, she has done what she calls “literary therapy”– writing down her life and adventures in one rowdy and rollicking memoir, and sharing her particular brand of well-earned wisdom (as well as her own delightful illustrations).

I lost my father to cancer in 2002, and because of that, I typically avoid books and movies about cancer or any terminal illness– they’re just too upsetting and sad. But Gretchen– who is brave and bold and bright– has made me laugh and cry (the good kind of cry) and focus on the fact that, as she points out, this dying stuff is all just a part of life. This is a woman who truly makes the most of every moment. She is inspiring.

As I wrote in my blurb for True Confessions of a Dying Lady, “I recommend this book to anyone who has: experienced aging, gone to the hospital, struggled with another’s illness (particularly cancer) or been ill themselves, loved, lost, or lived. In short, True Confessions of a Dying Lady is for everyone. You’ll be moved, entertained, enlightened, comforted, and, most of all, you will laugh out loud. It’s wickedly funny. It’s also an absolute joy. Be warned though—don’t begin True Confessions if you’ve only got a few minutes because you will want to read the entire book, start to finish, in one sitting. And then you’ll want to read all your favorite parts to friends, family, neighbors, and random people on the street. Ganas may be a ‘dying lady,’ but she embraces life as much as anyone I know.”

So please read, enjoy, and spread the word. And then read the sequel: More True Confessions of a Dying Lady: Where Did I Go Wrong.

For more on Gretchen, listen to her interview with Growing Bolder and follow her on Twitter.

January 23, 2013

The Guilty Pleasure

I once read that Charlize Theron, while filming the movie Monster, cleared her mind after long and grueling days on the set from the intensity of playing a serial killer by watching The Bachelorette.

When I was working on my first book, my mother was working on her third, the first comprehensive biography of photographer Edward Steichen. It was then that she introduced me to the necessity of having at least one guilty pleasure, but preferably more, to sustain me throughout the long, grueling, solitary process of bringing a book to life. Her big guilty pleasure at the time: Baywatch.

I have certain guilty pleasure staples which have helped me through the writing of several books— Supernatural, 90210, The Bachelor, Revenge, and, most recently, Ghost Adventures. Currently, I’m working on more than one project, but the largest and most time-consuming and brain-draining is the rewrite and extensive edit of the fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde.

Ghost Adventures is a kind of “reality” Hardy Boys, featuring three paranormal investigators from Las Vegas, Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin. (Zak’s the muscly, ghost-taunting leader, Nick the poker-faced one, and Aaron– my favorite– is the bald, bearded one who gets easily spooked.) The show first aired in 2008 and, in its eighth season, remains the Travel Channel’s highest rated series.

Using night vision cameras and various ghost-hunting equipment, the trio is famously locked down from dusk till dawn in such spooky locations as the Lizzie Borden House, the Edinburgh Vaults, the Winchester Mystery House, the Eastern State Penitentiary, England’s Hell Fire Caves, and various asylums, hotels, nightclubs, lighthouses, and frontier towns with dark and twisted pasts. They’ve even visited Loretta Lynn in her haunted Kentucky home, and talked to the ghost of Johnny Cash while visiting his Jamaican plantation. Each episode is comfortably similar– Zak taunts and bosses both the ghosts and his crew (and sometimes gets possessed), Nick doesn’t smile and invites the spirits to “use my energy,” and the ever-affable Aaron is used as bait.

It’s wonderful. While I’m watching, I don’t have to do a thing. No research, no outlining, no coming up with ideas and storylines out of thin air, no writing, no editing. For that precious hour (or two, depending on how many episodes I go through), I just turn my brain off and let the guys entertain me.

Next to the sometimes chill-inducing shadow images and EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) they often capture, the very best thing about each episode is the sordidly fascinating in-depth history they relate about each place– the only ghost investigation show to do this– and Aaron’s wide-eyed reactions.

So thank you, Ghost Adventures, for seeing me through this stressful time. You’re a much appreciated healing balm for an overextended mind– a kind of brief spa break for the girl who doesn’t have time to go to the spa.

Have any guilty pleasures? Please share them! And enjoy this little clip from the show:

January 17, 2013

Move over, James Bond — seven decades later, lady spies receive their due

This week, an article I wrote in tribute to some courageous female spies appeared in the HuffPost, and I wanted to rerun it here. These are just a few of the remarkable women who inspired Velva Jean’s own spy journey in Becoming Clementine. I’ll be highlighting others soon…

Nancy Wake died in 2011 at the age of 98. The Germans once described this former World War II spy as “the white mouse” because of her ability to evade capture. She killed a Nazi officer with her bare hands. She ordered the execution of a fellow female spy, because she believed the woman was working for the Germans. Before her death, the United States awarded Wake the Medal of Freedom, Great Britain presented her with the George Medal and France gave her its highest military prize — the Legion d’Honneur. As the New York Times reported, “Ms. Wake received so many medals for her wartime service… that she lived out her old age on the proceeds from their sale.”

If only this were true of the other daring women who spied in World War II — some 3,000 in Britain’s SOE (Special Operations Executive), and an estimated 4,500 in America’s OSS, or Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA. Last October, the head of Israel’s national Intelligence agency stated, “Women have a distinct advantage in secret warfare.”

Before the war, a good number of these women had been stay-at-home wives and mothers. But wartime found them going to work in Washington, D.C. or in England as code breakers and intelligence analysts, or dropped into France or Africa as couriers and spies. They worked with the French Resistance and the Allies to recover missing or captured agents or prisoners of war. They gathered invaluable, critical information. They helped downed pilots and Jews escape over the Spanish border. They hid precious works of art from the Germans. Before the war’s end, many would be captured and executed by the enemy.

Yet most will never be recognized and too many of them are already forgotten. However, recently the spotlight has been cast on a few of these brave heroines.

On November 8, 2012, seven decades after the death of an Indian princess, a statue was unveiled in London. The statue bears tribute to the courageous and beautiful Princess Noor Inayat Khan — Britain’s only female Muslim war heroine — who was the first woman radio operator dropped into France by the SOE.

She was the descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore. Her father was Indian, her mother American. Noor Inayat Khan grew up in luxury and comfort, playing the harp and writing stories. She later studied child psychology at the Sorbonne. At the end of 1940, the family fled France (escaping to England by boat) before the government surrendered to Germany. Khan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a wireless operator, and was recruited by the SOE in 1942. She was sent back to Paris a year later. There, under the codename Madeleine, she sent vital messages to London while trying to evade the Germans. In October 1943, she was arrested and tortured, but she refused to talk. In September 1944, at Dachau, she was executed by the SS. She was 30.

England’s Princess Royal dedicated the statue at Gordons Square not far from the house where Noor was living when she left on her last mission. Sir David Richards, the Chief of Defence Staff, said at the November 8 ceremony, “We owe our freedom to women like Noor Inayat Khan.” A film of her life is now in the works.

In October of 2012, George Clooney announced his latest project — a movie titled The Monuments Men (based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel), starring Daniel Craig, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett as Rose Valland, an art historian and member of the French resistance.

Ms. Valland was an employee at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris. The Germans took over the museum in October 1940 and used it to store paintings and other works of art stolen from private French — mostly Jewish — collections. Valland was the only museum worker allowed to stay on. In the eyes of the Germans, she was nothing to worry about. She was quiet and plain, a dowdy spinster who followed instructions. But, unbeknownst to the Nazis, Valland spoke German, and because of this she was able to track the shipments of stolen artwork from Paris to locations throughout the Reich. On August 1, 1944, days before the Liberation of Paris, she notified the French Resistance that the Germans were planning to smuggle out five boxcars filled with art. The Resistance stopped the train from leaving Paris. Thanks to her efforts and her meticulous, covert record-keeping, hundreds — if not thousands — of pieces of artwork were located and returned to France.

Elizabeth Peet McIntosh grew up in Honolulu, where she learned Japanese and yearned to travel and have adventures overseas. Her father worked for the Washington Herald as a sports editor, and Betty, as she was called, soon followed him into reporting. She was working as a correspondent for Scripps Howard near Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. She soon left Hawaii for the Scripps Howard bureau in Washington, D.C. In 1943, she was covering an exhibit of sleeping bags stuffed with chicken feathers at the Department of Agriculture (not exactly the grand adventure she’d dreamed of as a girl), when she was approached by an official from the OSS. He said, “Are you interested in a secret overseas assignment?” She didn’t hesitate: “Yes.”

At the OSS training facility in Bethesda, Maryland, she learned to shoot a .32-caliber pistol. She swore an oath never, under any cost, to reveal OSS secrets. And then she was sent to India. Her mission: to create deadly propaganda by concocting “fake but authentic-sounding rumors, news stories and radio reports to make the enemy citizenry think their troops were losing and that they should give up.” From there, she was sent to China (with fellow spy Julia Child), where she unknowingly participated in a plot to kill Japanese soldiers, delivering a bomb disguised as coal to a Chinese secret agent. She was one of the few women assigned to the OSS division of Morale Operations.

After the war, she went to work for the CIA, authored a memoir and the book Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS. In March of 2012, the 97-year-old was honored as one of the 2012 Virginia Women in History by the Library of Virginia.

In an era when most women were expected to stay at home and tend to the house and the children, these were women ahead of their time. When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, there were 460,000 women in the military and over 6.5 million in civilian war work. In Nazi Germany, Hitler forbade women to work in German weapons factories because he felt that a woman’s place was at home. Seventy years later, we continue to honor the courageous spying women who — thankfully — did not agree with that.

At the recent ceremony for Noor Inayat Khan, Princess Anne said she hoped the new statue will “remind people to ask: Who was she? Why is she here? And what can we achieve in her memory?”

January 14, 2013

Dear reader (aka Yes, the WAC did serve in WWII Paris)

One of the best things about being an author is hearing from readers of my books. I love receiving emails and notes and comments and questions and feedback. But every now and then, you hear from someone who takes offense at something you’ve written and has a giant bone to pick.

One man wrote me recently to tell me he found one particular portion of Becoming Clementine “insulting to anyone with the minimum of knowledge of contemporary history! And Gossie in a WAC uniform, no less!” (The exclamation marks are his.)

The apparently offensive passage dealt with one of my characters– the aforementioned Gossie– who works as a member of the 3341st Signal Battalion in German-occupied Paris during World War II. I had no idea, when writing the book, that the details of Gossie’s work, and the wearing of that uniform, would cause such an uproar. (Other readers have also written to question the plausibility of such a thing, and to take me to task for having Gossie wear her WAC uniform in public.)

So I submit the evidence here.

Not only were these women of the 3341st Signal Battalion very much in German-occupied Paris during World War II, they did courageous and daring work. (Work too extensive for me to detail here, but those who are interested can follow the links at the end of this post to learn more.) I based Gossie’s experiences on their first-hand accounts.

One of the members of that battalion, Ida E. Simpson, vividly remembered the training her WAC unit received in England, the deployment to France, the landing on war-ravaged Normandy Beach, and the arrival in Paris in the fall of 1944, where she spent a year operating field switchboards. As she recalled, “When we got to Paris, they assigned us to the 3341st Signal Battalion. We sent messages back and forth across the English Channel and all over the European Theater.”

The women put through hundreds of telephone calls every day. During each call they had to say, “Will you guard your conversation, please? The enemy may be listening.”

The women stayed in Paris until after Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day. “Before we left France, the French people wanted to show their appreciation for women who served there during the war,” Simpson said. “So they had a big parade for us that went all the way from the Arc de Triomphe to the end of the Champs-Elysees.”

You can read more about the work and life of the WAC in occupied Paris here, read an obituary of a WAC who served in Paris here, and read a portion of Ms. Simpson’s interview on the U.S. Department of Defense website.

In my reply to this man, I told him that while I certainly welcome and appreciate comments re. my work, I do expect them to be well substantiated and well informed, particularly when I am being scolded.

To deny these women their history and their selfless contribution is insulting to them and the brave and dangerous work that they did!

(The exclamation mark is mine.)

January 4, 2013

“Dream good” and “read lots good books”

Each new year is like a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to make goals and follow through on them. It’s a time to refocus and reorganize, like a kind of life spring cleaning.

This week I’m thinking about 2013 and all that lies ahead and making my own mental list, even if I’m not writing things down– mostly to do with writing projects, career focus, spending time with my mom and family, being healthy, and possibly learning another language (something that typically appears on my list each year) like Swedish or French. Or both!

As I come up with my own resolutions, I’m enjoying reading ones written by others, from Benjamin Franklin to Mark Twain to Jonathan Swift to Marilyn Monroe.

My very favorite comes from legendary American folk musician and singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, who wrote this funny, warm, and wise list in 1942 when he was thirty.

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed clothes often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

Here’s to staying glad, loving everybody, keeping that hoping machine running, and reading lots good books!

December 27, 2012

HOME for the Holidays

One of my dearest friends, Angelo Surmelis, is a brilliant designer. I’ll be featuring him in a post to come, but here’s what you need to know for now: he’s a genius. He’s talented beyond measure. And he’s an amazing person. Angelo and I “knew each other When,” as we say– years before he was designing full time and I was writing for a living, back when we were paying our dues and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming of things to come.

Now his Angelo: HOME line is sold in some 100 stores nationwide, everywhere from amazon.com to Overstock.com to QVC, but a little over two months ago, he opened his very first HOME store, right here in downtown Los Angeles inside the historic Eastern Building. I couldn’t be prouder.

In addition to his gorgeous (and affordable!) line of furniture, bedding, and pillows, Angelo also sells books from the Jennifer and Penelope Niven library. Last week, Angelo: HOME hosted Mom and me for a special mother-daughter author holiday event. We discussed how we got our starts and how we came to write the books we’ve written. We also talked about our latest books, Thornton Wilder: A Life and Becoming Clementine.

Briana Harley was our musical guest, and for those who don’t know her, she is brilliant and talented beyond measure herself. Briana first read Velva Jean Learns to Drive when she was fifteen years old, and found in Velva Jean a kindred spirit– Briana, like Velva Jean, is from North Carolina. Also like Velva Jean, she is a guitar player and singer who’s been playing music since she was a little girl. I first met Briana when she wrote a song inspired by Velva Jean– “Live Out There,” the song that now appears at the very end of Becoming Clementine.

In honor of the recent holiday, Briana wrote a lovely, poignant, cozy-round-the-fire tune called “A Fair Mountain Christmas,” which captures the spirit of Velva Jean and her beloved mountain home.

Listen to it here!

And why not browse and shop Angelo’s designs while you’re at it? He has some wonderful sofas and chairs, perfect to read a book in…

In the meantime, here are some pictures from the event. Happy Holidays!

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