Monday, June 5, 2023

CROW MARY, by author KATHLEEN GRISSOM (debuts June 6th!)

The New York Times bestselling author of the “touching” (The Boston Globe) book club classics The Kitchen House and the “emotionally rewarding” (BooklistGlory Over Everything returns with a sweeping saga inspired by the true story of Crow Mary—an indigenous woman torn between two worlds in 19th-century North America.

In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a M├ętis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.

The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.

From an author with a “stirring and uplifting” (David R. Gillham, 
New York Times bestselling author) voice, Crow Mary sweeps across decades and the landscape of the upper West and Canada, showcasing the beauty of the natural world, while at the same time probing the intimacies of a marriage and one woman’s heart.

Reviews ~

“Grissom offers an ambitious account of bravery and initiative inspired by the true story of a Crow woman who married a white man in late-19th-century Montana…With a flashback-heavy narrative, Grissom effectively conveys how Mary’s Crow childhood stays with her over the course of her new life. This moving story of one woman’s grit, survival, and resilience will keep readers turning the pages.”—Publishers Weekly

“Kathleen Grissom is a tremendously gifted storyteller. Here she combines intensive research and her own superb novelistic skills, to unveil one of our nation’s darkest eras. In the process she brings back to life her narrator, the real Crow Mary—a native American woman who with love, wit and pure strength of character, not only survives these seemingly impossible times, but prevails against all odds. A riveting tale, beautifully told.”

Jim Fergus, author of The Vengeance of Mothers

"My favorite novels shine a light on women that history books have forgotten. Over twenty years ago, Kathleen Grissom heard about an incredible woman named Goes First, and 
Crow Mary is worth the wait. While reading Crow Mary, I couldn’t help but think of My Antonia by Willa Cather, and the debt we owe to the women who came before us."

—Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library 

Crow Mary left me breathless. Kathleen Grissom has the gift of waking up the past with fever, illuminating an aspect of American history that few know. Each page engulfed me in a world of conflict, love, and heartache. Tender, compelling, and a profoundly educational and satisfying read. The strength and sheer bravery of Crow Mary will stay with me for a long time."

—Sadeqa Johnson, international bestselling author of The Yellow Wife and The House of Eve

“Kudos to Grissom for weaving truth into masterful storytelling about Crow Mary’s epic journey. The result presents the fragile legacy of an emancipated woman determined to make her own destiny. Prepare to marvel at the strength and wisdom of Crow Mary. She is a heroine for all times.”

—Leah Weiss, bestselling author of If the Creek Don't Rise and All the Little Hopes

Author interview with Kathleen ~ 

If I had to spend a week on a deserted island, I would need… A friend, books, and all the chocolate available.

What was the original title of this book?

Of my three books, this was the only one that kept its original title.

Where do you get your ideas, or what inspired this book’s plot?

I was inspired when I went to visit Fort Walsh in Canada. There was a young docent who told us her name was Crow Mary and that she had been only 16 years old and newly married when she traveled to the Cypress Hills with her new husband. A chill went through my body and I knew I was going to write her story. (See author's notes below.)


Do you have a manuscript(s) in your drawer? If so, will it ever see the light of day?

I do have a special journal about how I began to write, but I doubt it will ever become a book.


If you have written more than one book, which story would you choose to live?

There isn’t one of my stories that I would want to participate in. The times I wrote about were rough.


Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?

I have five early readers and they each bring something to the table. I count on each person’s input.


How do you market your work?

I mostly speak to book clubs. Word of mouth is hard to beat.  


Finish this sentence: “If I could write about anything, it would be…?”

I’m very lucky in that I’ve been given inspiration and then I’ve just followed the lead. I believe that my writing is a spiritual gift and I just need to follow through and do the best job that I can.


What was some unique research you had to do for a book?

For Crow Mary, I had to do my very best to understand a foreign culture. The language, the food, the spiritual practices, and the many important nuances unique to that culture – all were a challenge. What saved me were the many wonderful Crow elders who were so generous with their help and guidance. 


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

My best advice is to just do the research and then write the book. Walk the walk.

How this story came to be (taken from the author's notes at the back of the book):

Kathleen was the perfect author to take this on, writing Crow Mary's story with extensive research and care, creating another "must-read" for historical fiction lovers!  Jill

To connect with Kathleen ~ 

Facebook: /KathleenGrissomAuthor

Instagram: @kathleengrissom

Twitter: @KGrissomAuthor


Wednesday, May 31, 2023

ALL THAT IS SACRED, by author DONNA NORMAN-CARBONE (debuts June 6th!)

When Lynn and her husband set out for a weekend retreat to repair their rocky marriage, icy roads lead to a fatal collision that ends Lynn’s life. Stranded between the physical world and the afterlife, Lynn experiences the grief of her loved ones as they process her death.

Lynn’s life-long friends are tortured by not only loss but also unspoken wounds in their friendship. With clever influences from above, Lynn coaxes them to reunite at a beachside cottage on the one-year anniversary of her death. Determined to prompt their healing so they can help her family move on, Lynn reminds them of a sacred promise, hoping it will lead to truths they can't face on their own. Will it be enough to remind them of the power of their bond?

As Lynn struggles to repair the relationships she left behind, she soon realizes the greatest challenge will be letting them go.

Reviews ~

"A heartfelt, life-affirming novel tailor-made for readers who love stories of female friendship."  Kirkus Reviews

"All That is Sacred written by Donna Norman-Carbone is a stirring, thought-provoking piece of literature that I can only describe as art. [...] a beautiful story that is packed with satisfying thoughts and feelings that will stick with you long after you've turned the last page."   Reader Views

"In All that is Scared, Donna Norman-Carbone creates a world where you continue to learn about the reality of your life in the afterlife. A novel that leaves you appreciating your friends and family in a whole new way."   Abby Fabiaschi- International Bestselling Author of I Liked My Life, Goodreads Choice Nominee

"Get ready to review your life, your friendships, your family, and possibly change the trajectory to live your life in a more thoughtful, forgiving way."   Rebecca Rosenberg-  Award-winning author of Madame Pommery and Champagne Widows

Author interview with Donna ~

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

I began writing when I was given the proverbial pink diary with a gold lock and key. I don’t remember how old I was but very young. My first story was written at age eight when I was people-watching while waiting for my parents to arrive at a train station. I dabbled in poetry throughout middle school and high school–certainly a good outlet for teen angst which hit me hard. My first writing class was an introduction to creative writing during my junior year of high school; I was hooked. Once I got to college, I minored in Creative Writing, taking every course I could fit into my schedule. I had some very good mentors, including author Richard Russo who was my college advisor, and a strong community of writers. 

After I graduated, writing became a solitary/sometimes act for me, as I had become an English teacher, then married and had children. When my three children got older, I found myself gravitating back to writing, mostly for myself. It wasn’t until a colleague said, “I know this agent. You should send him your work.” I did. It was rejected, but in the kindest of ways. That started my journey to publishing.

Is there anything major that changed in the novel from when you first plotted it out?

This novel had two major (MAJOR) overhauls. Inspired by an actual event, I started writing this novel to make sense of my grief over the loss I suffered. It was very personal and therapeutic. Then I set it aside for several years. When I revisited it, I changed it drastically and morphed it to fiction. That draft included five voices, one for each of the main characters. My critique partners kept asking me, “But whose story is this?” That’s when I decided to give it a complete revision by using the dead friend as the narrator. A lot of world building ensued.

What was the original title of this book?

My original title was Affinity, which there is a nod to in the final version of the book. I liked that word because I wanted to highlight the everlasting bond of friendships through time and place. One editor said it was too science fiction sounding. I came up with All That is Sacred from a line in the book where one character asks another not to share a secret. The character responds, “I won’t. This is all sacred sister stuff.”

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?

Of course, I enjoy reading; I do believe every writer should also be a reader. While I gravitate to women’s and historical fiction, I also enjoy rom-coms, dystopian, psychological, and certainly the classics, nonfiction and poetry. My favorite place to read is on a sunny beach; my back porch is a close second.

Travel is essential for me. I’m happiest (if not writing) planning my next trip. My happy places are Cape Cod and England. Europe is currently my favorite travel destination; there’s just so much more I need to see there. I love losing myself in a foreign cities and towns, veering off to the places where the locals go. My next trip is to Italy, Turkey and Greece for two weeks in July.

I am a history buff. In that vein, I set out on a journey in advance of a family reunion on my father’s side to track our lineage. was a huge help in allowing me to track my family back to the 1700s. Fun fact, I am related to Paul Revere, very distantly by marriage; something that was a bit of a folktale in my family for generations has been traced and proven. Right now, I’m working on my mother’s side of the family, hoping to find some relatives in Naples to visit on our upcoming trip.

Do you have a day job as well?

I’ve been a teacher for 30+ years. The early part of my career was spent as an adult educator and a university adjunct. For the last 21 years, I’ve taught junior and senior high school students. I consider myself very lucky to be able to share my passions for writing, literature and film with my students. I’ve also been lucky enough to take some groups on tour through England in conjunction with my British Literature class and to a Behind-the-scenes in Hollywood tour with my film class. I do believe the best kind of learning is experiential.

Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or your decision to write?

As a teacher of writing and classic literature, this is a hard question. I admire the fluidity of Virginia Woolf’s writing and her ability to capture her characters’ thoughts. I was first drawn to Judy Blume, first reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, as a young reader, and later reading Summer Sisters which definitely influenced All That is Sacred. I also drew from Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood; that book was a favorite of mine around the time I picked up writing again. Finally, my favorite author over decades has been Anna Quindlen. I love both her fiction and nonfiction.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?

I would have begun getting serious about publishing my writing at a younger age. I have enjoyed this journey so far. I believe this is what I was meant to do. Of course, as a younger writer, I didn’t have the confidence or life experience I have now, and I didn’t prioritize myself as much as this stage of life affords me. I am a firm believer that things come to us in life just as they are meant to and when we’re ready for them.

To connect with Donna ~

Monday, May 15, 2023

WHERE THE GRASS GROWS BLUE, by author HOPE GIBBS (new release!)

Penny Crenshaw’s divorce and her husband’s swift remarriage to a much younger woman have been hot topics around Atlanta’s social circles. After a year of enduring the cruel gossip, Penny leaps from the frying pan into the fire by heading back to Kentucky to settle her grandmother’s estate.

Reluctantly, Penny travels to her hometown of Camden, knowing she will be stirring up all the ghosts from her turbulent childhood. But not all her problems stem from a dysfunctional family. One of Penny’s greatest sources of pain lives just down the street: Bradley Hitchens, her childhood best friend, the keeper of her darkest secrets, and the boy who shattered her heart.

As Penny struggles with sorting through her grandmother’s house and her own memories, a colorful group of friends drifts back into her life, reminding her of the unique warmth, fellowship, and romance that only the Bluegrass state can provide. Now that fate has forced Penny back, she must either let go of the scars of her past or risk losing a second chance at love. Can she learn to live an unbridled life?

Reviews ~

"A sweet tale of finding love and redemption that fans of strong female leads will particularly enjoy." -Kirkus Reviews
"Readers will enjoy this fast-paced southern story about second-chances, lifelong friendships, and the healing power of forgiveness." 
Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 
"Hope Gibbs' debut, Where the Grass Grows Blue, is worthy of taking its place among true Southern fiction novels where the banter is witty and the women are true steel magnolias. It's a delightful, engaging story about following your heart."
Grace Sammon, Award-Winning Author of 
The Eves, and host of The Storytellers

Author interview with Hope ~

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

I was born and raised in Scottsville, Kentucky, but now I live in Tennessee with my husband and my persnickety Shih Tzu, Harley. I’m the mother of five grown children, and I love playing competitive tennis, singing karaoke, reading multiple books at a time, and playing board games.
I have a B.A. from Western Kentucky University, and I’m a member of the Women's Fiction Writers Association, a Bookish Road Trip Tour Guide, and a member of the Women's National Book Association.

As for how I started writing, I actually stumbled into it. A few years ago, I started re-evaluating my life. I had been a stay-at-home mother to five children for almost two decades after leaving my corporate job to raise my family. At that point, it hit me. My children would soon be leaving for college. So I started "journaling" on a laptop. That lasted about a week before I noticed I wasn’t writing about my feelings or goals—I was creating a character. A few months later, in church of all places, my minister mentioned a song title by Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue. At that very moment, I knew I had a story for this character.

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?

I love to play tennis. I’m on several teams throughout the year (this spring my number is seven). I’m usually on the court five to six times a week, playing matches or practicing. But lately, I’ve also taken up pickleball. My husband is an avid player, so it’s a great way to spend time together now that we’re empty nesters.

Do you have a particular writing routine?

Not really. I wrote my first book when I was still juggling a busy home, so I wrote when I had the chance. In the beginning, it was usually after dinner, when the kids were busy with homework, but I’ve been known to pull out my laptop at basketball, lacrosse, and soccer games when there was a break. Having a house full of active children who played multiple sports, I took every "free" opportunity I could get. I’ve even written during changeovers in tennis matches.

Is there anything major that changed in this novel from when you first plotted it out?

Looking back at my first draft, I barely recognize it in the sense of the writing. I was so new, I didn’t obey "the rules." But it’s still the same story I set out to write. One woman’s journey to either accept her turbulent past by embracing the power of forgiveness or risk losing a second chance at love in a small Kentucky town.

Finish this: "I can’t write without…"

COFFEE and my little dog Harley, only because he won’t tolerate being left alone for a second. I’m his emotional support person.

If I had to spend a week on a deserted island, I would need…

One, coffee. Two, my husband, because he makes my coffee most mornings, and three a trunk of books. There’s nothing better than reading next to the water with sand covering your toes.

What career did you think you’d have as an adult?

As a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a writer—for soap operas. Every Friday afternoon, since that was "cliffhanger" day, I created and wrote little storylines for my favorite characters. Not exactly age-appropriate entertainment, but it certainly stoked my creativity.

Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?

Now that my children are grown, I’m writing full-time. But that’s only one part of my “writing life.” I’m also a tour guide for Bookish Road Trip, an upbeat community of book lovers, authors, and bibliophiles. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and on their website. I’m in charge of the Author Take the Wheel program. It’s a week-long "takeover" by an author I’ve selected. Then, on Thursday of that week, I interview the same author for a thirty-minute Facebook Live event. We talk about their books, their writing process, and their own path to publication, as well as take questions from the BRT audience.

What was the original title of this book?

Originally, it was Tangled Up in Blue, but I had to change it after I signed my deal with Red Adept because there were several books with that same title. Plus, it’s also a Bob Dylan song. For two weeks last summer I was scrambling for a new title, but I’m so happy we changed it.

Where do you get your ideas, or what inspired this book plot?

Music has been a huge part of my creative process. It really inspires me and allows my mind to go places, creating new worlds. Also, running and exercise. Some of my best ideas happen when I work out.

Do you have a manuscript(s) in your drawer? If so, will it ever see the light of day?

I’m almost finished with my second book, Ashes to Ashes, and I’m already plotting out books three and four. So many ideas, not enough time in the day.

If I wasn’t an author, I might be…?

A chef. I love to cook. I’ve practically lived in my kitchen for most of my adult life. One of my greatest joys is preparing holiday meals for my family or whipping up a buffet for my children’s friends.

Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?

Actually, only three people read Where the Grass Grows Blue before I began querying it to publishers and agents. One, I was very protective of it since it was like my baby, and two, I really didn’t believe in myself enough as a writer to share it with others. For my next book(s), I might work with CPs (critique partners) and beta readers, but I think I will keep the group small. Too many cooks in the kitchen might overwhelm me.

Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?

Elin Hilderbrand. She’s the reason I started writing in the first place. I adore her. I even traveled to Nantucket last fall with a group of girlfriends to have the Elin "experience." It was an absolute blast, plus I met her! On my website, you can find a blog post I wrote about that trip.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published (or this book?)

To be honest with you, I had no idea what I was doing. I spent about three and a half years writing, rewriting, and editing my novel, WHERE THE GRASS GROWS BLUE completely by myself. This was the first book I had ever written, so there was a lot of trial and error there. Finally, in late July 2021, I felt it was ready to start the process. I compiled a list of agents and started submitting. I was getting requests for partials and fulls, but I was also receiving several rejections at the same time.

In August, a friend suggested I join the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. That was one of the best decisions I made. First, it connected me with hundreds of other writers, some of whom have become dear friends, and second, it was a treasure trove of publishing advice. I started consuming all of their informative posts, articles, and webinars.

One webinar episode in particular changed querying for me. It was about alternative publishing. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I thought there were only two ways to publish a book: through traditional publishing houses that required an agent, or by self-publishing. After that webinar, I discovered “Hybrid” Publishing and submitted my manuscript to four of them that day. A month later, I had three offers on the table, but I waited because I’d also discovered, because of the WFWA, small presses. I submitted my manuscript to Red Adept Publishing in early fall, and by the first week of December of 2021, I received an offer. Of course, I jumped at that deal because I knew and respected their writers and staff.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?

Before I sent out that first query letter, I wish I had set up an author website and accounts on social media sites. Also, I wish I had blogged BEFORE I signed my deal. One, it gives you a body of work, and second, it really hones your skills as a writer. Having a footprint as a writer on the internet is helpful, especially if it’s your first book.

How do you market your work?

Right now, mainly through social media and word of mouth.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing my upmarket fiction book, set in the south of course, that focuses on a tight-knit group of women whose world is rocked after the death of their dear friend, Ellen, who has died unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances. But before they can even process their grief, they stumble across a web of secrets and lies, unraveling Ellen’s perfect life—the one she tried so hard to project to the outside world. Now they must rely on each other to find out who the real Ellen Foster was, while grappling with the idea that they never really knew her at all.

What is a bestselling book you’ve been itching to read?

It’s not a bestseller yet because it comes out in a few weeks, but The Five-Star Weekend by Elin Hilderbrand. I always look forward to June when she releases a new book. I’m in awe of her commitment and speed.

Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?

Of course there are characters and scenes I’ve taken from my own experiences, but they are reimagined into something entirely different.

Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?

My epilogue is one of my favorites. It’s funny, because in the first draft it was in the second chapter. I worked with an editor who loved it but told me to cut it because I needed to get my character to Kentucky sooner, that’s the heart of the story. I was so attached to it, I rewrote it and made it my epilogue. It’s so much better as an ending than at the beginning.

Do you have a favorite character?

Of course, I’m emotionally attached to my protagonist, Penny Ray Crenshaw. I mean, she’s the reason I have a book. Then there’s her love interest, Bradley Hitchens. I think I developed a literary crush on him. But some of my favorites are the "colorful" secondary characters. Two stand out for me. One is Dakota, Penny’s salty best friend in Atlanta. She’s blunt, crass, speaks harsh truths, but has a heart of gold. She’s Penny’s biggest cheerleader and pushes her to fight for herself. The other is Miss Ada Pickert from Kentucky, an elderly spinster, Methodist-hating pot stirrer who antagonizes Penny throughout the story. She’s a hoot and was such a fun character to create.

Do you have other books you’d like to talk about here? 

My third book is called Tobacco Road. It’s set in Kentucky in the spring of 1973. Katherine “Katie Belle” Whitworth, is living on the couch of her ex-boyfriend’s Brooklyn apartment after refusing his recent surprise marriage proposal. Though in her heart, she knows it was the right decision, she’s lost without her best friend. However, before she can even begin processing the mess she’s made of her personal life, she’s been called back home to Kentucky after Katie Belle’s father abandons her family, leaving town with his mistress. Now it’s up to Katie Belle to not only console her stunned mother, but to take care of her grandmother, and ailing great-grandmother who’s living on the family’s massive tobacco farm, Windswept, which is knee-high in debt thanks to her father’s secret gambling habits. If Katie Belle fails in raising one last crop of tobacco, the bank will take over, leaving her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother homeless and in financial ruin. But the backbreaking work of tobacco isn’t the only obstacle in her way. In 1973, as a woman, Katie Belle cannot simply apply for a credit card, take out a loan, or even open a bank account without a man's signature first, making her task even harder.

But money is only half of Katie Belle’s problems. There's the deep shame of returning back home because the last time she was there, it was on the eve of her wedding. Now, she must return to her hometown, the place she’s known as the town's most famous runaway bride.

Because it’s historical, I’m doing a lot of research on the era and also making sure I write authentically about raising tobacco (even though I grew up around it). I’m having to read up on all the stages of raising and selling this particular crop.

What would your dream job be if you didn’t write books? (assuming this is your dream job!)

I think I’m living a dream right now, being able to write and actually call myself an author. I mean, that’s beyond what I ever expected to do.

Finish this sentence: "If I could write about anything, it would be…?"

Strong southern women.

What was some unique research you had to do for a book?

For Where the Grass Grows Blue, I had to do some serious digging into genetic diseases. All three of Penny’s siblings have three different ones. Also, because I wrote some chapters as flashbacks from the 1970s and 1980s, I had to make sure any pop culture references, like songs or movies, were in the right year.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Write, write, write. It’s the only way to get better. Also, I suggest joining writing groups. I’m a member of the WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association). It’s been a wealth of knowledge and has connected me to so many authors and aspiring writers, who are the most generous people on the planet with their time and advice.

Another helpful hint is signing up for author newsletters, joining Goodreads and starting to leave reviews, and subscribing to Publisher’s Marketplace. That site has all the industry news and is a great way to stay on top of trends and find agents and publishers.

Finally, I tell writers to set up social media accounts or an author website dedicated to their writing early on. I had no platforms before I signed with Red Adept, so I had a lot of catching up to do. Also, I wish I had started blogging before my deal. I resisted doing it, but I’m so thankful I finally did because it’s helped me as a writer. It’s good practice and gives you confidence by letting the world see what you can do.

What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?

Well, I’m pretty early in my writing "career," but I would say one of the hardest parts is now finding the time to actually write my second and third books. I’m so busy with the other aspects of being an author: promotion, blogging, interviewing other authors, and my work at Bookish Road Trip, that I’m creatively exhausted by the end of the day to work.

Favorite band or music?

I love all kinds of music, but my husband would say I’m into sad chick music, whatever that means. But I have a wide range of musical tastes. My iTunes playlists have everything from bluegrass to 80s pop to gospel to Joni Mitchell to Run-DMC. I listen to it all. Tyler Childers is a favorite right now.

Favorite book and/or movie?

The Age of Innocence is one of my all-time favorite books. I also adore the movie.

Place you’d like to travel?

Italy and Greece. I’ve always dreamed of going there, and this fall, I will finally visit both!

Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?

I am so appreciative of this opportunity I have right now, being able to reach an audience of enthusiastic readers and showing them a little slice of small-town Kentucky. I really put my heart into this book and I hope readers will fall in love with this special place.

To connect with Hope ~









Monday, April 17, 2023

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club, by author J. Ryan Stradal (book debuts 4/18!)

From the New York Times bestselling author J. Ryan Stradal, a story of a couple from two very different restaurant families in rustic Minnesota, and the legacy of love and tragedy, of hardship and hope, that unites and divides them.

    Mariel Prager needs a break. Her husband Ned is having an identity crisis, her spunky, beloved restaurant is bleeding money by the day, and her mother Florence is stubbornly refusing to leave the church where she’s been holed up for more than a week. The Lakeside Supper Club has been in her family for decades, and while Mariel’s grandmother embraced the business, seeing it as a saving grace, Florence never took to it. When Mariel inherited the restaurant, skipping Florence, it created a rift between mother and daughter that never quite healed.
    Ned is also an heir—to a chain of home-style diners—and while he doesn't have a head for business, he knows his family's chain could provide a better future than his wife's fading restaurant. In the aftermath of a devastating tragedy, Ned and Mariel lose almost everything they hold dear, and the hard-won victories of each family hang in the balance. With their dreams dashed, can one fractured family find a way to rebuild despite their losses, and will the Lakeside Supper Club be their salvation?
    In this colorful, vanishing world of relish trays and brandy Old Fashioneds, J. Ryan Stradal has once again given us a story full of his signature honest, lovable yet fallible Midwestern characters as they grapple with love, loss, and marriage; what we hold onto and what we leave behind; and what our legacy will be when we are gone.

Praise for Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club:

“This is a perfect book.”
Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Not That Bad

“Stradal...displays his gift for writing female characters who are fully realized, sometimes unlikeable, but always as flawed and compelling as real people. The Midwest setting is written with love and respect, and while the story is often heartbreakingly sad, there’s also real warmth and comfort in Stradal’s writing. A loving ode to supper clubs, the Midwest, and the people there who try their best to make life worth living.”
—Kirkus (starred)

“Stradal’s novels...always resonate...He explores universal themes: love, loss, regrets for one’s past mistakes, and longings for what might have been—plus, of course, the importance of family.”
—Publishers Weekly

Author interview with J. Ryan ~

(Side note: I'll have the pleasure of interviewing J. Ryan in person in June at one of his book events!)

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

I’m from Hastings, Minnesota, and my family struggled financially for most of my early childhood. My mom, already a big reader, returned to college when I was a kid to complete her English degree (which, despite the opinions of some journalists, would help our family finances substantially). She’d encouraged me to love books since I was a baby, but when she’d read her homework assignments as bedtime stories, her love of reading and writing seeped into me. I started writing stories shortly afterward, just to impress her.

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?

Books, sports, wine, beer, traveling with my family.

Do you have a particular writing routine?

Write whenever my toddler is sleeping or at preschool, that’s my routine.

Is there anything major that changed in this novel from when you first plotted it out?

Wow, quite a bit. The order of the chapters changed dramatically, but settled into its current form early in the revision process. There also used to be a lot more time spent with Ned while he was in college. All of that’s gone. There were more recipes and menus. Most were stripped out.

Finish this: “I can’t write without…”


What career did you think you’d have as an adult?

I hoped I’d have this one, but as I kid, I think I believed I’d end up in advertising, which I’ve never done.

What is something about you that would surprise people?

My first paid job was as a professional baseball statician for STATS, Inc. I applied for the job via mail and aced their application process. They had no idea how old I was until they called me to tell me I had the job.

Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?


Not since 2014, and I feel extremely fortunate to say so. Every day I wake up and I still can’t believe it. There’s been some lean years along the way, but I feel incredibly humbled and grateful. I’ll say this – the work never stops.


What was the original title of this book?


Luckily, this book never had another title. That was also the case with Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Both titles came to me early and stuck. I love it when that happens, because titles are so difficult. When I was a young writer, if I’d think of a good title, I’d come up with a story to go with it – just to not waste it.


Where do you get your ideas, or what inspired this book plot?


This one was inspired by a lot of things – becoming a father for the first time, my mother’s experiences as a waitress at Perkins, my own summer job at a supper club on high school, and unpacking the causes of inherited trauma while searching for paths to its cessation.


Do you have a manuscript(s) in your drawer? If so, will it ever see the light of day?


Yes and no! Never!


If I wasn’t an author, I might be…?


Wow, probably back working in television in some capacity, which is what I did before I sold my first book.


If you have written more than one book, which story would you choose to live?


Whoa, that’s tough. Maybe Lager Queen?


Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?


Yes, my partner of ten years, Brooke Delaney. I could not do any of this without her.


Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?


Early on, I was influenced by Ben Katchor and Denis Johnson, and I was fortunate to have met them both. Later, the short stories of Alice Munro – and her rural Canadian settings – unlocked what I could do with my Midwest settings.


What is a bestselling book you’ve been itching to read?


Quite a few. I’m finally reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver may be next, along with the newest Jennifer Egan.


Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?


Yes, I put some of the memories I had of my supper club work experience in this book, and interviewed my old boss, Mike Rowan, for some of his stories.


Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?


I like the scene where Ned orders popcorn at Metropolitan Stadium.


Do you have a favorite character?


All of them. But Julia stands out. Her chapters are my favorites of the book.


What was some unique research you had to do for a book?


I got to interview Sean Sherman (of Owamni in Minneapolis) to get the details right for the Native restaurant in my own novel. Owamni hadn’t opened yet, so there was no template for the success of such a restaurant in Minnesota, but I was optimistic.


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?


There is no single path to follow, and some of my favorite debut novels have come from authors over 50.


What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?


Sometimes it requires me to spend a lot of time away from my family, which is tough – and my son is too young to tolerate, let alone enjoy, the strenuous book tours I commit to. Also, some years are better than other financially – any year I haven’t sold a book or had a book published can be pretty lean; I had to develop a financial acumen and budget accordingly.


The best parts? Waking up in the morning and writing, again and again. Hearing from readers and meeting them. Communicating with my mom through my work and keeping her alive in my characters.


Favorite band or music? 


My favorite bands are Radiohead and R.E.M. – and I’m afraid that’s been true for about 25 years. I listen to ambient or downtempo minimalist music when I write, though – stuff like Stars of the Lid, Aphex Twin, Rachel’s, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Lucinda Chua, Max Richter, Ai Yamamoto, and Morton Feldman.


Place you’d like to travel?


Wow, so many. Top of the list might be Honshu. I’ve been to Japan, but only Okinawa.


Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?


Thank you so much – especially to those of who are teachers and librarians. I’m able to do what I do today because of you.

To connect with J. Ryan:

Twitter: @jryanstradal

Instagram: @jryanstradal