Thursday, June 30, 2011
I mean, just look at this cover. A beautiful starlit sky. A beautiful couple dancing. The slight smile on the man's face, the gentleness in which he seems to hold her hand, how his palm presses against her back- keeping her close. Can't you feel rustle of their hair, the heat of their cheeks touching... I can.
And that's just the cover. Jeffrey Stepakoff's words reached out from the page and held me fast, each passage captured my heart, and left me profoundly changed. This love story, and the true story that inspired it all, will remind you that everything does happen for a reason. That who we are today is the culmination of all the paths we've embarked upon and those who journeyed along with us.
Every so often a story comes along that reminds us of what it’s like to experience love for the first time – against the odds, when you least expect it, and with such passion that it completely changes you forever.
Lily Davis Woodward was married for just days before her husband was sent abroad to fight in WWII. Now, he and the other soldiers are returning, and the small town of Toccoa, Georgia plans a big celebration. Jake Russo, a handsome Italian immigrant, also back from the war, is responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned. After a chance encounter on a starlit field, he steals Lily’s heart and soul- and fulfills her in ways her socially minded, uper class family cannot. Torn between duty to society and her husband- and the poor, passionate man who might be her only true love- Lily must choose between a love she never knew and a commitment she'd already made.
Poignant and elegant, Fireworks Over Toccoa is a mosaic of all the emotions that only love can make possible...
Jeffrey had me at World War II and a love story. Throw in fireworks and 4th of July and I was sold. See, me and the hubby's anniversary is the 4th of July so the holiday and the thought of brightly colored skies makes my heart go pitter-patter.
Emily Giffin, Bestselling Author of Love The One You’re With, even praised this heartfelt story, “A luminous love story that readers won’t soon forget, Fireworks Over Toccoa transports you to another time and place. It is at once heartbreaking and triumphant—an affirmation of love in all its forms.”
The book opens with a couple of boys playing near a resovoir. They find something in the murky waters that has not seen the light of day for decades. When the historical society displays the artifact in the local paper, the original owner cannot believe its resurfaced after all these years. It brings forth a rush of memories that cannot be contained. An elderly Lily sets off with her granddaughter Colleen, to reclaim what is rightfully hers. A granddaughter she believes is about to marry the wrong man. Along the way she can only hope to show Colleen that there is no such thing as the perfect man or perfect life. Lily hopes that by sharing her past Colleen will make the right choice for her future.
The passage below is after Lily meets Jake in the field where he is setting up the fireworks display. Lily sees a burst of color in the sky and gets out of her car to investigate. She walks, unknowingly, to where Jake is testing the fireworks. He rushes to her, pushes her to the ground and covers her from an explosion. After he helps clean a wound on her knee he realizes he doesn't want her to go.
"I'm just remembering, I've got a trunk full of ice cream and butter."
"In this heat?"
Lily realized her groceries were probably ruined. "I'm not usually like this. Really. I don't know what's wrong with me today."
Jake laughed. Incerasingly certain that he was seeing a part of this young woman that very few ever saw. A part she kept carefully hidden, maybe even from herself. And he liked it. He liked it a lot.
Jake had learned during his time at war that there are moments in one's life, critical moments, small moments, passing flutters of a second, in which decisions are made and actions taken, perhaps the slightest of offers extended, that the time on the surface seems simple and transparent but upon consideration or reflection are proven to be instants that can change the course of everything.
As she stood there in her sandals in that field, smiling comfortably at him, an evening breeze kicking up, tossing her hair, rippling her dress, the feel of the skin of her leg rooted in his mind like a lovely haunting melody, growing louder and more resolute each time he tried to forget it, on a level that he was not wholly aware of at the time, this was one of those moments. It could have ended there, Jake knew. There was nothing else between them, and the last thing he needed was a complication. He was decidedly avoiding such things in his life. That was one of the main reasons he was here after all. Say goodbye, wish her well, do the show, and move on to the next town, he told his conscious self.
But after several years living by his gut, literally surviving on what it directed him to do, he once again found himself acting on that core instinct. "Would you like to stay for dinner?" he asked. "I don't have much. But there's some risotto, and I'm not entirely bad with my little camp stove. And I suppose we could have ice cream soup for dessert."
Lily was a little taken back by the offer. But she continued standing there. "You saved my life, you bandage my knee, I can't have you feed me, too. The Ladies Auxiliary will throw me out of Toccoa for being such a poor southern hostess."
"So, we won't tell them."
"I can stay."
Later, Jake opens up to Lily about his experience over seas and in battle.
For the first time, Lily got a glimpse into what Jake Russo had been through, what hurt him so deeply and caused him to wander cross-country without home or community. More than anything she wanted to soothe that pain, kiss away the anguish, but she dare not approach that place. She dare not battle an apparition she could not see or touch or know. So she remained silent and let instinct take over once again, running her hands through his hair. He liked that. His body was so responsive to her touch, so sensual. Could you love someone you'd known for barely one day? What if you felt that you'd known that person your whole life, even though you just met him?
"You can share anything with me, Jake. Even, that," she said as gently as a person could.
Jake inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. What could he say to her? I am sharing everything with you, he thought. Every time my chest expands with breath against yours, every time my heart beats in tempo with yours, I am sharing everything. How could he make her understand? He opened his eyes. "You asked me when we had dinner in the field if I had changed," he said. "What I've come to believe is that you have to cherish...this, the present. Life and death...it's a matter of breath, a heartbeat...a single footstep." He thought about Lorena, who had stepped on a mine in her vineyard, and he held Lily even tighter thinking about the simple timing of things. He had seen so much that was arbitrary- things you couldn't make sense of, let alone try to explain with words. He held her even tighter and tried to convey these thoughts with the stroke of his hands, the pound of his pulse, tried to pass them through his touch. "This, the here and the now, Lily, this is what you count on."
Oh sigh and super duper knee jerking sigh. Want to know how it ends? You'll need to buy the book for that. I've already read Jeffrey's second novel, The Orchard, and am reviewing it over at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Another must read love story by this amazing author.
Here's a little background on this master of words. His bio had me worshipping at the altars of literature, screaming, "I'm not worthy..
Jeffrey has “written by” or “story by” credits on thirty-six television episodes, has written for fourteen different series and has worked on seven primetime staffs, producing hundreds of hours of internationally-recognized television, including the Emmy-winning THE WONDER YEARS, SISTERS, WILD CARD, HYPERION BAY, THE MAGIC SCHOOL, C16: FBI, ROBIN’S HOODS, LAND’S END, FLIPPER, SONS & DAUGHTERS, MAJOR DAD, THE YAKOV SMIRNOFF SHOW, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, HAVE FAITH, SIMON& SIMON, and DAWSON’S CREEK where he was Co-Executive Producer.
Stepakoff has also created and developed pilots for many of the major studios and networks, including 20th Century, Paramount, MTM, Fox and ABC. And he has developed and written major motion pictures, including Disney’s TARZAN and BROTHER BEAR, and EM Entertainment’s LAPITCH, THE LITTLE SHOEMAKER, Croatia’s selection for the 1998 Academy Awards.
A few years ago, Stepakoff returned to Atlanta, where he lives with his wife and three young children, and began writing fiction. FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA is his first novel. Presently, he speaks around the country, teaches dramatic writing at Kennesaw State University, and is hard at work on his second novel for St. Martin’s Press. In his spare time, he builds forts in living room with sofa cushions.
You can read excerpts of both Fireworks Over Toccoa and The Orchard at http://jeffreystepakoff.com/
Happy Birthday Jeff!
Monday, June 13, 2011
Laura Spinella's BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, haunted me as I perused the bookshelves. The cover pulled me in and I wanted to read it, no, needed to read it. But my hands were full and I couldn't spend a penny more. Sigh, I hate when that happens. The solitary man on a that road surrounded by lush greenery kept staring at me, and it kept me there for a few beats. I finally put it down and resigned to come back the following week for it. Well, I was back looking for a gift two days later. Low and behold the book was staring at me again, not in its right place, just randomly in a spot where I'd be. 'Twas a sign. I bought said book and started reading on the train ride home from work.
I COULD NOT STOP READING! I devoured this amazing story in two days. Flynn and Mia will capture your heart. You will need to know what happens, how did they get to this place and how it will all end. I sensed every move Flynn made, his persona, how he saw the world. Mia's vulnerabilities, her weaknesses, and the eventual strength she gained mirrored much of what many young women go through during those years of self exploration, years of loving only one man. The sacrifices Flynn made touched my heart and have stayed with me, coming back to my mind when I least expect it. When I finally finished it, I crushed it to my chest with a weighty SIGH, and so did not want it to end.
Here is a blurb from Laura's website:
Mia Wells is poised to finalize the deal that will make her eco-friendly career goals a reality. The moment is interrupted when an unexpected phone call ushers in a tremulous past. The man she’s always loved, the one who abandoned her years before, has mysteriously resurfaced.
Set in the Deep South amid magnolia leaves and the innocence of college life, Beautiful Disaster begins with Flynn’s arrival. He’s a man with a doubtful past, half a name, and no ties to anything earthbound, except Mia. For a year they have the kind of love affair a man like him inspires. Mia trusts him with her life. It’s a precarious leap of faith when she learns that he’s a fugitive on the run. For the next twelve years she keeps his secrets, long after Flynn vanishes, devastating her. Succumbing to the common sense she once defied, Mia eventually marries. Michael Wells is a wonderful man: patient, successful, driven. She does love him; who wouldn’t? Never anticipating Flynn’s return, Mia does her best to put the past behind her. It’s a bittersweet truth as she must admit to a love and a passion that has never died. Yet, the future is grim as a gravely injured Flynn lingers, his dark past hovering like a storm. When he finally recovers, the puzzle unfolds. Flynn’s recollections are sketchy, piecing together the years and moments leading up to his accident. A smart man for whom honor has been a nemesis, Flynn unravels the truth: one well meaning lie has altered three lives, creating futures that should have never been. As the past and present reconcile, Mia’s what ifs are endless. Filled with sweetness and suspense, Beautiful Disaster is an achingly powerful tale—the kind of love story each of us wishes was ours to tell.
They way Spinella immerses you into Mia and Flynn's world is seamless. There were moments where I could feel the stubble on Flynn's face, the sweat dripping down his back or the wind combing its fingers through Mia's hair.
This passage here, simply made the air freeze in my lungs. Mia and Flynn have just met and Mia is re-thinking her decision to ride on a motorcycle alone with a stranger back to his hotel room.
"Would you like to search it?" he asked, making contact with her stark eyes, tipping the bag in her direction.
"Yeah, are we having a language problem again?"
"Language...Oh, I...No, I don't want to search it." Yes, I do, but that would be rude. "Besides, you were a Marine, right? You can probably hurt somebody just as easily with your bare hands."
The remark was intended to ease the tension, but his face went dark and distant. With a glare of agitation, far different from the one he'd used with the desk clerk, Flynn came toward her. Mia's breath halted halfway between in and out, making it impossible to speak...or scream. His hands hit with a thud against the knotty paneling on either side of her head. Escaping through a solid wall seemed more likely than getting past him. She was trapped. It appeared the train wreck was imminent. Soft blue eyes turned steely as they met with hers, and she blinked hard at him. But the sound of his voice was quiet and sure.
"I would never ever hurt another human being like that. Know this much." His hands dropped from the wall, and he sulked across the room, picking up his drink. He stood with his back to her, finally speaking over his shoulder. "If you're ready, which I'm sure you are, I'll take you home now."
Mia peeled herself from the wall and tried to speak, but nothing would come. Instead she walked over and lightly pressed her palm to his broad back. His body grew rigid as her hand made contact and his head snapped to attention. "Flynn...I'm sorry about whatever happened to...Well, I'm sorry."
This time the shaky breath was his. As he turned, his fingers reached up and traced the outline of her cheekbone. His hands, they were the opposite of her skin, uncared for and rough. But his touch was gentle, like butterfly wings, and oddly Mia found herself at ease. What is that? In his face, his eyes, something I can see...but don't understand. Something completely removed from her average existence. Mia fought a rush of involuntary tears- relief evidently he wasn't going to kill her, compassion for what she saw in his face. He started to say something. Mia leaned in, poised to listen, but instead found herself drawn into a long, sensuous kiss, and her average existence was over.
Soul crushing sigh! Now, can you see why I had to go back and relive this moment again?
I had the distinct pleasure of having Laura Spinella answer some questions for our little blog. I hope you enjoy her reflections and I hope you rush out and pick up a copy of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER.
Author Interview with Laura Spinella:
This is your debut novel. Diane Chamberlain gives an amazing endorsement of Beautiful Disaster on the book’s cover, “Can this really be a debut novel? Laura Spinella weaves the past into the present with a sure hand as she tests the boundary between love and obsession.” I must agree, the transitions are seamless and the prose is a heart pounding, edge of your seat ride that left me with a chest crushing sigh when finished. So, it’s not really a question, just a shameless gush of praise.
Well, that was easy enough! It’s an absolute thrill to have the awesome, incredible, fabulous Diane Chamberlain’s stamp of approval on BEAUTIFUL DISASTER’S cover. It’s an honor.
Did you have any other completed novels before BD or is this not only your debut novel but your first novel ever written. (Be warned, if this is the first book you ever wrote I will Grrr with jealousy at your frawesomeness.)
No Grring necessary! Technically, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is the second of five novels I’ve written. I wrote the rough draft in six weeks, but it took six years to see it on bookstore shelves. In between revisions, it spent a lot of time in a desk drawer, contemplating the error of its pages! There was nothing easy or quick about it, and it’s far from perfect. (Though I will say that I think it’s an entertaining read!)
Yes, it is certainly entertaining, and IMO, perfect!
What was the journey like for you from first drafts, to the query stage, to the big sale, to the final edits, and to publication at last? (How long did it take you to write, how many queries did you send, how long did it take your agent to sell, yada.)
I answered a little of that in question two, so I’ll start from BD’s resurrection from desk drawer hell. I’d queried Susan Ginsburg at Writers House regarding a different manuscript. She rejected the book, but did write me a lovely letter complimenting my writing. It was enough to make me say, “Well, if you kind of liked that, maybe you’ll really like this.” That was BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. She did, but she also rejected it. I took one more chance and asked what she might change if she was representing the novel. She was very gracious and offered me a roadmap to what the ms lacked. The roadmap led to a treasure trove of ideas. A year later, I sent her a revised version. A few months after that, she sold it.
Wow, persistence, hard work, and a little patience really paid off. You're someone many aspiring authors, like myself, can look up to.
Laura, the cover of Beautiful Disaster is what drew my attention. Did you have any input on it? And what did it feel like to hold it in your hands? (I am living vicariously through you with these questions, btw.)
LOL, I hope I don’t disappoint. Sometimes I think I’m a writer b/c my characters are so much better at living life than I am! My only input was that I didn’t want stock art, the close up images of people and body parts that often depict the cover of women’s fiction novels. That didn’t seem right for BEAUTIFUL DISASTER.
Yes, it does. But this girl will be squeeing from the rooftops if her work ever sees print. But, I digress.
Did someone or something from your past spark the initial idea for this story? Was it the bad boy from your college days? A roommate’s personal experience? A local news story? Do tell. I need to know the inspiration for Flynn.
You mean, was there a Flynn? I probably get that question more than any other. It does make me feel like a job well done, that he’s had that much effect on readers. So, I guess he’s as real as he needs to be!
Funny, I see Flynn every time I see a motorcycle....
The love scenes are so sexy, loving, tender and far from cliché. Was it hard to put yourself in the mind set of a young college girl head over heels in love?
Thank you and no. My opinion about love scenes: conversation (dialogue) is a desperately overlooked component when writing one. Sure, the sex is… there in BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, but it’s the conversation, the verbalized emotion, between Mia and Flynn that draws you in. Body parts are just the mechanics.
Did you ever go for a motorcycle ride with a sexy stranger? If yes, details please.
My Uncle Billy took me for a motorcycle ride when I was eight. See, I told you I’d disappoint. Actually, my brother-in-law is a bike enthusiast and I drained his brain for insight. But I never did go for a ride. Honestly, there are days when I regret the biker aspect of the book. Flynn is so much more than that, and the motorcycle was literally meant to be a vehicle. But I get it. Flynn turning up in
A little disappointed. Uncle Billy doesn't sound as sexy as Flynn. (Sorry Uncle Billy.) And you're right. Flynn pulling up in a VW is definitely not the same!
Did you have to do much research on motorcycle accidents, ICUs, or the military for certain aspects of the book? Did you have first hand experiences with any of these topics?
Actually, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER required a lot of research. I interviewed an ICU nurse who answered all my medical questions. The day I visited, there just happened to be a patient in a coma, the result of a motorcycle accident. Observing him was powerful insight. I also interviewed an ex-special ops marine. I learned enough to piece together Flynn’s background and make it realistic. Even the fight scene at the concert was choreographed. My son’s Taekwondo instructor and his partner worked it all out for me; I sat on the floor and took notes. Some readers have commented that I must be into eco-friendly design, like Mia. That makes me chuckle. I didn’t know the first thing about holistic design. I found an expert via the internet and she provided all the necessary details. It’s been my experience that people are happy to share their area of expertise. I’m very grateful for all the people who advised me; each one is thanked on the acknowledgement page.
I can just see you on a the floor taking notes, while watching guys duke it out. Pretty cool.
As a writer, what motivated you while writing? Certain songs, a room, time of day, etc.
BEAUTIFUL DISASTER definitely has its own playlist, but I’d never listen to it while writing. I’m a dead silence writer. If the neighbor’s dog barks, it drives me nuts. I do like to write in my sunroom, which can also be problematic if it’s too sunny. I’d probably write just fine in cement walled solitary confinement. Writing for me tends to be more of a compulsion, therein lies the motivation.
Continue using the same method from when writing BD, worked wonders! LOL.
Any advice on aspiring authors like myself with the passion to tell a story?
If you have a passion to tell a story then I think you’re halfway there. But to answer your question, I think Anne Lamott said it best, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it probably won’t make you any richer.” Unless you’re incredibly successful, the rewards do not outweigh the effort and risk—at least not in my small experience. If you’re willing to accept that and do it anyway—well, that might be the other half. Also, if you happen to come across someone who knows what they’re talking about and loves your writing, politely sink your teeth in.
My critique partner, AJ, her nickname is JAWS. She'll love that last bit about sinking her teeth into someone. I'll need to remind her not to literally bite anyone, though.
Fun stuff: If you could have a superpower what would it be and what would you call yourself?
As a kid, I was a huge Bewitched fan. I loved how everything could be solved with the twitch of a nose. It seems like a streamline solution to so many things! As for the power, I’d have to say the ability to teleport one’s self. I could have breakfast in Bali, stop in
I am the Time-Stopper. Who wouldn't want to his snooze, freeze time, wake whenever they wanted, and still be punctual.
If you could be any fictional character from a novel, television show, or movie who would it be and why?
Oh my, these are getting harder! I’m such an observational reader, I don’t know that I envision myself anybody’s book—including my own! I really enjoy the sideline view. The only television show I’ve watched in recent years is Gilmore Girls. My daughters and I, we’re completely obsessed. At five o’clock everything stops, and we watch the nightly rerun on the Family Channel. (I know, it’s a far cry from Flynn and Mia’s more sultry moments) I don’t know that I’d want to be in it, but I would have loved to be on the writing staff—such snappy, witty, brilliant dialogue!
I'd be Bridget Jones. That girl has all the fun! Or, thinking, I'd be Mia to get me some Flynn. Yup, definitely Mia. ;)
What was the first book you ever read that made you say, “I want to do this, I want to be a writer”
Hmm, for that you have to go all the way back to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House series. I completely loved them as a kid. They were probably more influential than I realize. But I don’t think any one book or author gave me that, “I want to be a writer,” moment. I think it’s just who I am—like being left handed or having the ability to sing. That and if you’d seen my math SAT score, you’d understand why I had to find an alternate occupation.
I loved those books and remembered reading the first one! I took idiot Math in college. Yes, I agree, if you are a writer its in your blood.
What’s next for Laura Spinella, what tales can we expect to submerge ourselves in?
THE IT FACTOR: Aidan Royce, rock icon, has it all, money, fame, and an incredible life. The one thing he doesn’t have is Isabel Lang, the girl who left him on their wedding night in
Can I read that now, please??
Thank you Laura for taking the time to be with us. I look forward to reading THE IT FACTOR and until then, going back and hanging out with Mia and Flynn. :)
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Thursday, June 2, 2011
I used to be a James Patterson fanatic. I devoured his books. I inhaled Dan Brown, Stieg Larson, Elizabeth Kostova, and any other adrenaline rushed reads I could get my hands on. You can say I went through this Thriller/Killer phase. Then somehow I got to reading those mushy love stories and I haven't really picked up a thriller since.
A while back CK Webb chatted about her and DJ Weaver's new release, Cruelty To Innocents. We are FB buddies and you know how those cyber-author-friend relationships go. You chat about the writing life and strangers on the interwebz become comrades in arms. I believe in supporting fellow authors and I agreed to join this blog tour as soon as CK asked.
I won't lie-I was a bit nervous about it. It had been so long since a read the genre. But, who doesn't love a free read. The blurb alone gave me chills:
What if you were in your car alone with your small child and you came upon an emergency scene? Would you stop to help? What if, while you are trying to assist a victim of an accident or mugging, you left your young child alone in the car, thinking he or she would be safe. What if, instead of help, the call to 911 brought a terrifying, sinister result?
Someone’s abducting children from 911 emergency scenes in Aberdeen Maryland, while their parents call for help and lend aid to accident victims. Someone who’s also listening in, is a monster and vicious child abductor. In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the scene, that monster slips in and steals the innocent children leaving behind no trace for authorities.
Sloanne Kelly is unprepared for what awaits in her hometown as she travels back to Maryland. Her goddaughter is one of the victims and the clock is ticking. Together with her best friend and a local fireman, Shawn Tyler, Sloanne will face the most insidious of criminals and fight to recover the children before there is anymore, Cruelty to Innocents.
The opening scene will leave you breathless, jaw dropped, and turning the page in a flash. They had me at psycho! I love when thrillers open with the bad guy. This creep is taking little kids at the scenes of 911 emergencies. The horror! *Shakes fist*
As the story progresses you not only have to know who the killer is and if his victims will live, but you become invested in the characters as a whole. This is not seen in many thrillers. As a former Patterson junkie I loved this approach. For me, this was a story about the characters, their lives, and how these unspeakable crimes have affected them-brought them together. I am a character driven writer so I relished every detail about Sloanne, Shawn, Skip, Chloe, Patty, Dani, and the others. As the mother of a teenage daughter I actually teared up in places, the emotion in this story is that good.
In Thrillers/Mysteries and in real life the act of the crime itself becomes the focus, the subject, the plot.The victims are treated as secondary characters. In Cruelty To Innocents it was about the victims and their loved ones. I fell in love with them all. As an aspiring writer and a detailed critique partner I could've noted the telling and passive bits but, for me, it didn't matter in the least. The story was that good. It's a fairly quick read at 162 pages and there is a major WTF moment at the end where your heart races and head shakes at the same time. I love when that happens.
You are also left hanging, I know I was. Now, I'm awaiting the next book in the 911 Abduction Series.
I have a free copy to give away. The 9th person to email me at charli555 at comcast dot net will be the winner! Thanks for stopping by and check out CK Webb and DJ Weaver on facebook, their blog, the Cruelty To Innocent's Website, CK Webb's Book Review site, and on amazon.