books

Guest Blog: What it Was Like to Record My Own Audiobook (and a giveaway!)

April 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm , by

In her twelve best-selling novels (Promises to Keep, To Have and to Hold, The Beach House), British-born writer Jane Green has consistently mined the very issues that LHJ readers hold most dear—marriage, motherhood, friendship, home. Green’s latest, Another Piece of My Heart, takes on the subject of blended families. Using alternating points-of-view, Green tells the story of how Andi’s marriage is threatened by the hostility and rebelliousness of her husband’s teenage daughter, Emily. Like Green’s other books, Another Piece of My Heart immediately shot to the top of the bestseller lists and has been released in an audio version. (We at LHJ are big fans of audiobooks! Can you say “multi-tasking”?) But this time, instead of having the book read by a professional actress, Green’s publisher agreed to let the author narrate the audiobook herself. Here’s Green’s account of the experience—and click here to listen to a sample of the result.

Jane Green in the recording studio, reading her latest novel, Another Piece of My Heart, for its release as an audiobook.

Despite my love of performing, I would have made a horrible actress. The last time I thought about acting was at University, where I followed my gang of friends—all actors—to their auditions, and somehow found myself on stage during a student production of Cabaret, doing a rather dismal and painfully self-conscious Sally Bowles.

I laid my acting dreams to rest, but have always indulged my secret desire by throwing myself fully into character when reading my books aloud at events, dreaming of the day I might be allowed to read my own audiobook.

The publishing people in charge smiled indulgently. Every author thinks they can read their own book, they said. Few of them are any good, they said. Eventually, skepticism written all over their faces, they agreed to let me audition, and I gave it my all as I became first Andi, then Emily, switching back to the narrator.

I passed the test, despite having a very British accent, for my very American book, and blocked several days out of my diary to sit in a small cubicle in New York to read the novel I had worked so hard on.

I loved every minute of the recording, but it was an eye-opener. Reading the book out loud threw up every mistake, every repetition, every flat sentence that could have been better. I made changes where I could—I still had two weeks to get final edits in—and vowed to read my books aloud in future before handing them in, if only to catch all those mistakes. Finding unique voices for each character was also hard for me, as a non-actress. Minor characters would appear whom I had completely forgotten about, leaving me with no idea what they were supposed to sound like in order to differentiate them from the others.

The response has been mixed, the biggest criticism being the issue of having an English voice read American characters, which I understand. I’d love to try again, although I recognize now how hard it is—and, perhaps, why novels should be read by actors. They bring a unique dimension to the task. Having said that, let me remind everything that it was my first time. And were I to be invited to read the next book, I would make two changes:

First, I would ensure I have a different voice for each and every character.

And second, at least one of those characters will be English!

Want to listen to Green read her fabulous book? You’re in luck! We’re giving away 10 copies of the Another Piece of My Heart audiobook! Just post a comment below and you’ll automatically be entered to win.

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Book News: Playdate … for Adults Only

March 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm , by

Entertainment journalist Thelma Adams’s novel Playdate, just out in paperback, explores the minefields of modern marriage with humor and sass. But Playdate is no empty romp. In addition to parenting precocious pre-teens, the protagonists—couples Lance and Darlene and Alec and Wren—are dealing with complex issues. Lance, an unemployed weatherman, is married to Darlene, a restaurateur, who maintains an inappropriate flirtation with her restaurant’s financier, Alec, who is married to Wren, a yogi, who is having an affair with Lance. Got that? If that love quadrangle weren’t dizzying enough, a fierce forest fire is menacing their comfortable upper-middle-class California enclave. We asked Adams to talk about the game plan behind Playdate.

You’ve been a film critic and entertainment writer for almost 30 years. How did that experience inform your first novel, which is about marriage and relationships?

I am a married film critic and entertainment writer with relationships. Some of which, I confess, are a little convoluted. This novel began as an idea for a screenplay: What if we melded Warren Beatty’s handsome rootless philanderer in Shampoo with Michael Keaton’s overwhelmed dad in Mr. Mom? It seemed like a funny concept. However, as it turned out, I’m a prose girl. The movie idea morphed into a novel.

With his sensitive nature and commitment to parenting, Lance is the heart and soul of the book. But he’s also having an affair. Was it hard to construct a sympathetic cheater?

Making Lance sympathetic without demonizing his wife Darlene was one of the great challenges of the book. Personally, I am the daughter of a relatively sympathetic cheater. My dad was no saint, but he was no demon either. I was a daddy’s little girl who adored her father, and growing up we had this kind of very easy, affectionate, unconditional love. And then, when I was in my early twenties, I discovered that I’d lived in a house where a pattern of infidelity on my father’s side gutted my mother. Being daddy’s little girl was suddenly a difficult position to have within the family politics. And, on top of that, when I found out about my father, I was still crying over a post-college live-in relationship with a serial cheater with whom I was crazy in love. That’s a long time ago, but fidelity, and understanding how infidelity molds a family, and a relationship, has been central to a lot of my writing. In the end, I came to understand my father, which is not exactly the same as forgiving, through my love for Lance and [his daughter] Belle. Read more


Guest Blog: How a Stay-At-Home Dad Penned His First Novel (And Win a Copy of His Book!)

March 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm , by

The Expats, a first novel by former book editor Chris Pavone, is an international espionage thriller that’s invited comparisons to Graham Greene, John Le Carré and Robert Ludlum. The protagonist, Kate Moore, is (as was Pavone for a time) an expat and stay-at-home parent living a typical expat life in Luxembourg. But she’s also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret—one that slowly begins to unravel her neat routines. As she begins to uncover secrets about the people around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage and her life. This expertly crafted story will keep you guessing until the very last page.

In this guest blog, Pavone explains how a mysterious woman on a park bench inspired him to write the book. Plus, find out how to win your own copy of The Expats at the end of the post!

I’d spent nearly two decades sitting behind desks in New York City publishing houses when suddenly I found myself in Luxembourg, sitting on benches in playgrounds in the cold damp, making small talk with vague acquaintances about the things we used to do, the people we used to be, before we became people who did this, here. We were expat stay-at-home parents—in my case, to an energetic pair of then-four-year-old twin boys.

First-time novelist Chris Pavone, back in New York City, armed with the tools of his new trade: a cup of coffee and a manuscript ready for marking up. Pavone wrote most of The Expats in European cafés. Photo credit: Nina Subin

We stay-at-home parents had all arrived via roughly the same path: our spouses got interesting/exciting/lucrative job offers abroad, and we thought it sounded fun (or at least different). So we packed up everything we could bring, and left behind everything we couldn’t. For many of us, the latter included the jobs, the careers, the selves that we’d spent our adult lives defining. Now we had to become other people.

For all the fun of constantly traveling around Europe, and for all the newness of this adventure, it was hard for me to embrace the routine. Taking the kids to their international school, attending class-parents meetings, going to the gym or French lessons or the supermarket. Driving around a city I didn’t really know, ignoring traffic laws I didn’t entirely understand, in a language I didn’t properly speak. Looking for the things that my family needed, or wanted: underwear and raincoats, DVDs and sticker books, a vacuum cleaner and a toaster, a cordless drill and a metric measuring tape. Food that I could pack for the kids’ lunch that they wouldn’t reject.

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Can This (Good) Marriage Be Saved?

February 21, 2012 at 11:48 am , by

No Cheating, No Dying is journalist Elizabeth Weil’s account of the year she devotes to making her self-described good marriage even better. Weil and her husband, Dan Duane—both writers and overachievers—submitted to couples counseling, sex therapy, group workshops and more, applying themselves to their marriage as they would to a new writing assignment, hobby or exercise regimen. But being married with two children is no two-mile swim (which the couple did from Alcatraz to San Francisco). It’s complicated. For every issue unearthed, resolved and shelved during Weil’s marital spring-cleaning, another seemed to pop up to take its place. Weil shared some insights with us about her sometimes tumultuous journey to rehab her “good enough” marriage.

Q. After nearly a decade of a marriage that was not broken, what made you decide to fix it?
A. I noticed that I was being lazy-brained about my marriage in a way that I was not about the rest of my life. I had stacks of book on how to be a good mother. I kept up with the latest research on how to stay healthy. I put a lot of effort into my friendships, my work life and staying fit. But I had an attitude about my marriage that it was either star-crossed or it wasn’t. And once I noticed that attitude, it seemed silly. So I decided to change it.

Q. How did your husband, Dan, react to your proposal?
A. With horror! I’m sort of kidding. But his first reaction, when I brought it up, was “I can’t think of anything worse.”

Q. Where did the name of the book No Cheating, No Dying come from?
A. Those were our secret vows. Of course we stood up at the altar in front of our friends and family and promised to love and care for each other for richer and for poorer, in sickness and health and all that. But privately we said to each other: no cheating, no dying. We figured our marriage could survive anything else.

Q. You refer to a lot of marriage psychology publications and self-help books. Which ones did you find particularly helpful to you as a couple? Why?
A. Stephen Mitchell’s Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time really had a huge impact on me. Mitchell argues that romance doesn’t die in marriage due to neglect. Romance dies because we kill it, on purpose, as it becomes increasingly dangerous. We are so dependent on our spouses. These days husbands and wives aren’t just lovers or financial partners. We’re also co-parents, emotional supports, best friends. We can’t bear to think of our spouses as anything less than entirely predictable. And as a result we can start to think they’re boring and unromantic. But really, we’ve just put our spouses in that box. We need to take them out again.

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Late Bloomers, Listen Up: She’s Publishing Her First Novel at 60

February 16, 2012 at 10:00 am , by

Meredith Maran (at right) has been a working writer for more than 40 years, turning out ten nonfiction books and scores of magazine articles (including a fair share for Ladies’ Home Journal). But this week marks a brand-new milestone for the brand-new grandmother: the publication of her first novel, A Theory of Small Earthquakes. Set in the countercultures of Oberlin College in the 1980s and Berkeley, California in the late ‘90s and onward, this “deliciously messy love story” (to quote from one of the blurbs on the book’s cover) is about a protagonist, Alison, caught in a love triangle with her former (female) lover and her husband—and about the son all three of them come together to raise.

Here, Maran chats about the book with her friend and fellow novelist, Caroline Leavitt (at left), author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller Pictures of You, as well as eight previous novels.

Caroline Leavitt: What sparked the idea for A Theory of Small Earthquakes

Meredith Maran: A decade ago, a friend told me a true story about such an untraditional family, whose existence required so much daily forgiveness on the part of all involved, I thought, “If only I were a novelist, that would make a great plot.”

As I watched the story unfold in real time in my friend’s real life, the itch to write it finally overcame my fear of attempting a novel. After a lifetime of writing only nonfiction, that fear was epic—and, as it turned out, well founded. The novel took two years to write, five years to rewrite, and many gnawed fingernails to sell to a publisher. And it’s been the most thrilling writing experience of my life.

CL: I love the title [a theory of small earthquakes refers to the idea that the occurrence of many earthquakes of lesser intensity offsets the possibility of a single catastrophic one]. Can you talk about it? 

MM: Over the eons it took to bring this book from concept to publication, the novel had at least five working titles, starting with The Surrogate and ending with Boy Girl Boy Girl, which came in a close second. Early on, the phrase “A Theory of Small Earthquakes” came to me in a flash, and I loved it. But there were so many factors to consider, and such a big job the title had to do.

My dad was a true Mad Man—a Madison Avenue ad executive. I grew up naming products at the dinner table, so considering the impact of the title on marketing the book came naturally.

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Lessons from a Romance Expert

February 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm , by

Who better to know how to heat up your Valentine’s Day than a woman whose business is romance? Romance novelist Robyn Carr (robyncarr.com) has been honored with multiple RITA awards from the Romance Writers of America and her Virgin River series (the newest installment is Redwood Bend, coming out next month) landed her on the New York Times bestseller list. Here’s Carr’s advice on how to apply the lessons of romance novels to your own love life.


1) Set the scene. If you’ve ever read a romance, you know that the sex can be pretty steamy. But rarely do the characters just start going at it and rarely do I give them a chance to get away to a quiet lodge. That’s just not how life is. But I do like to set the scene—let them flirt a little to heat things up. So how can you do that in real life? Traditional things like candles and good lighting are nice, but go the extra step and get rid of distractions. Turn off the phone. Turn off the TV. Send the kids to your mom’s house. Turn on some music so you can’t hear the garbage truck doing its weekly pick-up. (And try a faster-paced mix of tunes for a change!) Make the two of you the focus so the “scene” can happen without any interruptions. My characters are at their hottest when they’re concentrating on each other and nothing else.

2) Write your own romance story. Sometimes words are all you need. Take it from someone who spends her whole life creating romantic scenes from words alone. Take advantage of their power by sending a letter detailing your plans for Valentine’s Day (and night) to your partner. You can stick it in the mail a week before Valentine’s Day so he has a few days to imagine what’s coming. For some last minute “story-telling,” a sexy text message will work too. Just be sure no one at his office will get to his phone before he does!

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Book News: In Defense of Introverts

February 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm , by

A few weeks ago, I came across this cartoon and laughed out loud. See that second box? The one with the person excited about an evening at home, anything but barhopping or book club? That person is so me. And, like many introverts, I’ve felt bad about it more than once in my life. Like I was weird for retreating to the bathroom at parties when I just needed a break from all that merriment or too low-profile to be class president or newspaper editor because I wasn’t a “leader.” Author Susan Cain often felt like that, too, but she always suspected that it was the rest of the world—not her—that was getting it wrong. Now, her New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking shines a light on introverts (whether we like it or not) and makes the case that we, too, have an important role in a world that reveres extroverts.

Recently, I chatted with Cain about the untapped power she champions in Quiet.

You think of yourself as an introvert. What has that meant in your life?

When I started practicing law, I thought my nature was going to be a disadvantage for me. But eventually, I realized I have a whole constellation of other qualities serving me well—like listening skills and preparing carefully. I wasn’t one to take over a meeting, but I was good at creating one-on-one alliances with people behind the scenes. And these skills can be very powerful. Also, at first I assumed that my personality was a function of gender—that the things I did were things a woman would do. But, then I started to look around and saw that plenty of women had different styles from me, just as plenty of men were more like me.

Are women often assumed to be introverted?

In some ways, yes, traditionally women have been expected to be quieter and more passive. So for these reasons, historically it’s been easier for a woman to be an introvert than a man. I think that’s changing now. I consider myself a strong feminist, but I do think that feminism can make things harder for female introverts, because of this model that says that you should be very bold and take the world by the horns. An introverted form of power has a very different style to it.

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