Books & Reading, Writing & Life
I found out today that one of my very first writing friends, and at one time my closest, is gone.
Sandra West Prowell and I started writing in the ’80s and both lived in Billings, Montana. We shared a lot of firsts together. We met at a writers group in town and our friendship grew like a western wildfire. The two of us co-founded a statewide writers group, Montana Authors Coalition, in 1989, well before either of us had sold a book. (Kinda ballsy, eh? That was Sandra.) We ended up getting published at the same house, Walker & Company, and shared an editor there. She published her first mystery, By Evil Means, to great critical acclaim in 1993. The New York Times called her “an assured storyteller with a fascinating subject,” about The Killing of Monday Brown. She was a warm, supportive, outgoing friend who offered ‘you-can-do-it’ cheerleading to me during those early years when neither of us knew whether we’d ever be published.
I learned confidence from Sandra. One of her favorite phrases, as she urged me to get on AOL or buy a fax machine, was “Fake it til you make it!” She showed me there was power in positive thinking, gave me passionate advice, made me get out and meet writers. She took me and a small posse of other Billings writers to my first Bouchercon (the world mystery conference) in Omaha. We roamed through that conference, awed by writers we’d only heard about, bought silly bumper stickers and had buttons made that read, “Michael S* is harassing me!” Michael, our editor, had already bought my first book by then (The Bluejay Shaman).
Sandra’s books were nominated for many awards, the Dilys, a booksellers award, the Shamus, a private eye novel award, and the Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. Three books were published in the Phoebe Siegel series from Walker. Her voice was strong, funny, and unique. A fourth book, to be called ‘An Accepted Sorrow,’ was due out in 2000 or 2001 but wasn’t released. In an online interview in 2000 with CNN Book Chat she also discussed her stand-alone thriller, ‘Lap of God.’ We, her Montana writing friends, heard so much about this project. She was so excited about it, describing it as “about the rise of the Neo Nazis and the far right in Montana.” We all were excited. Like many of her projects it had come to her of apiece, in a flash of inspiration. We all looked forward to it.
Neither of these books became published reality. Something happened– I don’t know what. Sandra started retreating from her writer friends. In conversation with her daughter today I found we apparently weren’t alone. At one time I talked to Sandra every day. Then, as ‘Lap of God’ didn’t go well (I am only guessing here) she cut us all out of her life. She had been so full of life and warmth and sharing, our den mother, our mother hen, until suddenly she wasn’t. Her daughter said we weren’t alone; writing was a taboo topic there too. Many manuscripts were discovered by the family in the home though, so there is always a possibility we will get to read another Sandra West Prowell novel one day. Wouldn’t that be grand?
The news I heard today from Sandra’s daughter made me very sad. Sandra has been gone since August 2015, over a year. She passed away just weeks after her husband Bruce. She left no will and her affairs are in disarray. Her daughter and I agreed that we need to get our own affairs in order. Let’s do it. Our heirs will thank us for it.
I’m sorry I haven’t kept up with Sandra these past years, although not for lack of trying. Every so often someone would send me a ‘Where Is She Now?’ email or letter and I would pass it on to the only contact number I had. For a long time after we no longer talked I bitterly missed her throaty laugh, her friendly voice, her inclusive love. Then, as we must, I accepted it. I knew it wasn’t personal. She was dealing with something she couldn’t share with us. It must have been very difficult emotionally, whatever it was. That too tears me up. Being a writer is fraught with stress: insecurity, loneliness, rejection, bankruptcy both emotionally and financially, depression, the black, blank page. We all suffer but knowing that she suffered so much she apparently gave up writing and never spoke of it even to those she loved most is rough news. The last time I saw her was in 2001 at a funeral of a fellow Billings writer, Terry Johnston.
Sandra West Prowell was born in Helena, Montana. While her bio is not available online, and no obituary was published, she told me once that she lived in Bakersfield for a few years as a teen. A wild teen, she implied with a mischievous smile. (I lived in Bakersfield once myself and wondered who thought it was an improvement.) At any rate she returned to her state, a fourth-generation Montanan who lived and breathed the Big Sky state and its people. She had many Native American friends and helped connect me with some when I was writing my first mystery. She loved astrology and did charts for many people. She loved animals of all kinds, adopting abused and neglected birds including a half-bald toucan and a red-headed parrot named Phoebe Siegel. She once had a pet raccoon, she told me, until he started biting people. Her daughter told me she still had many birds when she passed away, as well as five dogs. And she loved writing, for awhile.
Sandra died August 29, 2015. She was 71. Good rest, my friend.
What a great selection of free mysteries! Something for everyone on the softer end of the boil: cozy, suspense, amateur sleuth and more. My own Blackbird Fly is in there, totally free. Get acquainted with the five Bennett Sisters and take a virtual trip to France! Check out all the free books HERE – Hurry. A limited time offer.
Back to the Books $250 Cash Giveaway
August 17th to September 7th
An Awesome Group of Authors & Bloggers have joined with me to bring you 1 fabulous prize!!
We’re giving away $250 in Paypal Cash! Or alternately you can choose a $250 Amazon.com Gift Code!
I Am A Reader
Here We Go Again…Ready?
Hall Ways Blog
Kindle and Me
Kimber Leigh Wheaton
Bound 4 Escape
Every Free Chance Books
Laurie Here – Cont Fiction and More
Krysten Lindsay Hager author
Heather Boyd, Historical Romance Author
The Page Unbound
Author Mary Ting/M. Clarke
Rockin’ Book Reviews
Lori’s Reading Corner
Rice & Rocks, by Sandra L. Richards
Author Dorothy Dreyer
Diana’s Book Reviews
Books & Benches
Heather @ Townsend House
Glistering Bs Blog
Paisley Piranha YA Book Blog
Cool Cat Mysteries
Bella Street Time Travel Romance
Bonnie Blythe Faith Based Romance
The Candid Cover
Lise McClendon – Author
Laurie Here – Cont Fiction and More
$250 in Paypal Cash (alternately the winner can choose a $250 Amazon.com Gift Code)
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use money sent via Paypal. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the authors, bloggers and publishers on the sponsor list. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.
The New Book is here!
Just two years in the making… whew. Since the second book in the Bennett Sisters series in 2014, The Girl in the Empty Dress, there has been a novella featuring them, Give Him the Ooh-la-la, plus last year’s whacky dark comedy, BEAT SLAY LOVE. But now, at last, the third full-length book.
Like the first book in the series featuring five sisters — named Bennett after the famous Austen characters, the new book has a title from a Beatles song from the 60s, THE THINGS WE SAID TODAY. It is a slow, sweet song – here is Paul singing it – that you may not remember as well as Blackbird. But it fits this tale of a two lovers who may or may not decide to get married in the Scottish Highlands. The whole clan gathers at the hunting lodge of the groom for a week-long celebration. But the happiness is disrupted by torrential rains (so uncommon in Scotland! ?) annoying relatives, and the cold feet of one bride.
Will Annie and Callum overcome the obstacles? Will Merle and Pascal make their own plans for togetherness? Will Francie drink herself silly– or stupid? Will Elise pull “a Lydia” and run off with the wrong sort of man like the youngest Bennet sister in Pride and Prejudice?
Hie thee to the Highlands, reader! All will be revealed.
Coming soon: Nook KOBO and iTunes
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Like many of you I fell in love with the book, The Little Paris Bookshop, about a floating bookstore moored on the Seine that goes wild and floats through France. It’s a delightful book, sad and funny and quirky, a bit of a fairy tale of the best type. If you can’t get to France this summer (or want to go back in your mind!) check it out.
It turns out there is a real bookshop on a houseboat in Paris. It is in no way small however:
One of France’s gigantic canal boats – fitting the lock standardized by the Freycinet Act (1879) of a parallel-piped shape 40 metres long and 5.2 metres wide, and today moored alongside Quai de L’Oise just off the Bassin de la Villette – has been given a new life as a bookstore and cultural centre where creation takes the form of workshops, theatre groups, readings and art gallery space.” READ MORE
You can read about those lucky Parisians who live on houseboats too. I’ve often wondered about them. They are called péniches.
Want more reading about Paris? Who doesn’t? Grab Cara Black’s newest mystery set in Paris, featuring private detective Aimée Leduc, Murder on the Quai. It’sa prequel and the 16th in the series (!) so if you haven’t read Cara yet you’re in for a long, lovely Parisian ride.
Have you heard the news about the new book? The third full-length Bennett Sisters novel, The Things We Said Today, arrives everywhere on August 15! To pre-order a Kindle copy, CLICK HERE. As a blog reader you can get an early paperback copy HERE. If you subscribe to the newsletter you know I’m giving away ebook copies of Blackbird Fly, the first in the series, to subscribers. Other freebies are often in the newsletter. Hope to see you there.
The new Bennett Sisters Novel is on its way
Check out the cover and other plot-ish details over at Buried Under Books.
Thanks to Lelia for hosting me there. You can comment on the post to win a free early copy of the book titled The Things We Said Today. (Using another Beatles title like Blackbird Fly!)
The new novel is set in Scotland, land of sheep, heather, whisky, rain, and a wee bit of Celtic melancholy. I wanted to share this lovely video from the Johnnie Walker Whisky folks that mirrors that feeling of the Highlands. And yes, there is both happiness and sadness in this novel, as, well, such is life. But also with a lot of laughter, I hope. And possibly a wedding?! Check out the book on August 15, or comment over at Buried Under Books to win an early look.
I’ve moved my website and given it a fresh new look. Glad you found me here… if you did. It’s still a work in progress so please be patient. If you want to keep in touch through the newsletter– and I am currently giving away a free e-book of Blackbird Fly to new subscribers– please do!
Hey gang. As part of the Smashwords-Wattpad promotion I am offering up my first mystery, The Bluejay Shaman, for free! Seven chapters are already up so you can dig in this weekend. More chapters coming every day too. There are tons of great stories on Wattpad, check it out! Mystery/thriller fans click here for more: Wattpad ☀️ Happy weekend!
Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, is sure to be a big hit. How can it not? It is based on one the most loved novels in the English language. This retelling, Eligible, is part of a series of modern takes on Austen that started with Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. I read that novel when it came out in 2013 and was, well, underwhelmed. Taking on Austen is not a task for the faint-hearted. She has a special charm that is not easily duplicated. I’ve passed (so far) on Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma and Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, even though I am huge fans of both of them. (Tell me I’m wrong!)
When a friend asked me if I had gotten Eligible I dithered. But the pull of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite Austen novel, re-read many times, was too powerful. I dove in, willingly.
Is P&P Sittenfeld’s favorite novel? It’s hard to say but she certainly knows it well. Maybe the fact that she was able to re-title her book (after a fictional ‘Bachelor’-type show) made it more personal to her. She’s transplanted the Bennett Sisters to America in the 21st Century, to Cincinnati, her own hometown. Not much else is changed. There are still five sisters named Jane, Lizzy, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. A couple hot bachelors named Darcy and Bingley. A ditzy mother and a laissez-faire father. I did appreciate some of the changes, the way she updated the story, making Bingley a reality TV star and giving Lydia a boyfriend who is not a Witham but has his own peculiarities. (No spoilers!)
But getting into the novel was a little strange. First off, let me just say, there are 181 chapters! Some are no more than a paragraph or less than half a page. Luckily I read mine on my Kindle so many trees were saved. I’ve never read Sittenfeld before– is this one of her signature styles? Yes, we live in a Twitter society with tiny chunks of communication, but is that your point in slicing the story into so many parts? Is this a statement or just laziness or some deep strategy that went over my head?
My second issue is a little weird but must have occurred to other fangirls. It’s this: how can educated young women in contemporary America have NO KNOWLEDGE of Pride and Prejudice? I know, it’s a story, suspend your disbelief. But so many times in the first half I wondered: don’t they read novels? Haven’t they watched Colin Firth dive into the lake? They are five single girls in America! At least Helen Fielding had the good sense to reference the zeitgeist of Austen in her pastiche of Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary.
I know. It’s silly. But it floated to the surface while reading. Possibly because the first third to half of the book, while enjoyable, is also awkward. This is the problem with “re-telling.” Either you go so far from the original that many readers don’t even get it (see Bridget Jones) or so close that it makes a Janeite’s teeth ache. So many events in Eligible are so similar to the original that your mind does a little WTF. Once you reach the halfway point and you feel like you’re in more capable authorly hands, things definitely improve. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, some contemporary twists that are genuine and true. I just wish they’d started a bit earlier.
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Have you read any Austen Project novels? What do you look for in these modern retellings? Curious minds want to know.
My own Bennett Sisters (no relation to the originals: Annie, Stasia, Merle, Francie, and Elise) take off on a new adventure, coming in August. Want to hear about it first, get an early peek, find out about giveaways?
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It’s almost the weekend… and while we’ll be jamming to our favorite Prince tunes, hoisting an ale for the death 400 years gone of the Bard, and thinking the Queen is looking pretty damn good for 90, reading time will come. Reading is comforting, entertaining, mesmerizing. A great novel is a friend and a lifeline.
The thing about writing a novel is that many of us have little time, or mental space, to read for fun. This really kicks it because the reason most of us started writing is that we love fiction, love novels, love to read everything from the back of the cereal box to the latest graphic novel. When I first started writing I was warned to not read fiction while writing, as it would affect my “voice.” And yes, this isn’t terrible advice for the beginning writer. Stick to your plan, dive deep into your story and your characters, and don’t let some other author’s style get in your head.
At this point in my career, and my life, I can’t do that. I MUST READ. That doesn’t mean I don’t have must-see television of course… Game of Thrones is coming! Who will die?!
A few weeks ago I mentioned my interrupted writing schedule and being behind on my next Bennett Sisters novel. Well, I can tell you that I finished the first draft this week. It is far from done but I am letting it percolate awhile to get some gardening, and other writing, done.
But I couldn’t resist having a wee moment of squee. The life of a writer allows few moments of celebration as grand as when you sell a book, or your very own creation arrives on your doorstep. Finishing a first draft isn’t that big a deal, but it’s something. So I squee.
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Congrats as well to Aaron and Diana who were winners in the Amazon giveaway of The Girl in the Empty Dress. I want everyone to be up to date on the Sisters! I still have one more e-book to give away, so stay tuned for that. Please sign up for the newsletter to keep up to date on all the giveaways. CLICK HERE
So… whatcha reading? I love to hear about good books. Here are a few I recently read:
It checks all the boxes: France, historical, art, intrigue. Well-done debut by British author Imogen Robertson, The Paris Winter is about a penniless art student in 1910 Paris who gets in with some nasty folks in an attempt to stave off cold and starvation while painting madly.
This one also ticks the France and history boxes, but it’s non-fiction, about the story behind the writer, Alexandre Dumas. The author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo was the grandson of a French nobleman and his black Caribbean wife. Their son was brought back to France and raised as a Frenchman. The Count’s swashbuckling life was the stuff of fiction, and there is no doubt Dumas learned these stories at his father’s knee. Pulitzer winner for Biography. Fascinating.
For the new book I’m writing I wanted to rediscover a love of gothic novels. I read, and re-read a few gothics, those semi-scary romantic thrillers usually set in a creepy old house and featuring an orphan on her own in the world. (I believe the orphan trope is wish-fulfillment for readers who both crave and fear independence/dislocation from their parents. Probably why gothics appeal to certain age groups of young female readers.) I picked something newish and read Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd. Set in Victorian England (as good gothics usually are) a young woman returns from India to reclaim her inheritance only to find she has been declared dead and a distant relative has taken over the country house. Well done, not terribly scary at all, faithful to the genre. I enjoyed it very much.
Yes, there is a creepy old house in the new book…. ?
Stay tuned for a cover reveal, coming soon!