Archive for August, 2010


KSL Book Festival

   Posted by: G.G.    in Uncategorized

For a fun afternoon with or without kids (if you live in the Salt Lake or Happy Valley area) come to the KSL Book Festival this Saturday, August 28!  See for details.

I am one of the few “for adults” authors and will be signing (alas not Pieces of Paris as they claim) but all of my other books at 4:00 pm.  You can meet my charming mother-in-law in town from Iowa and get some great candy plus pick up a gorgeous bookmark that we’ll use for the upcoming Pieces of Paris launch.


Pieces of Paris

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in contest, Fiction, Future Plans, My books

A great part of my writing past is about to see the light of day on October 1.  For twenty-five years, I have been layering and reconstructing the novel now known as Pieces of Paris (which my long-time editor claims is my best work so far).  My original title, back in the eighties, was Paddle on the Right, named after a humorous canoeing incident in some river in Missouri where my husband and I capsized.  That scene has long been axed, and the novel has evolved to such an extent that it has gone through at least ten titles.  However, one thing remains.  The question: “What do you do when you find out you are married to a stranger?”

I am not talking about a dangerous stranger, a criminal, or any kind of person with a “shady” past.  I’m talking about a fairly familiar phenomenon.  We never know who the person we marry is in a complete, eternal sense.  As my heroine’s father says, “Why shouldn’t a good marriage be an endless process of exploration and discovery?”

I didn’t know that this book was emotionally biographical.  I was just confused about a lot of issues in my life that had never been resolved.  Alone with my three children most of the day and many nights while my husband worked, or was away, I began having flashbacks to these issues and experiencing long suppressed anger and feelings that had been been put to rest.    In my efforts to deal with these, I entered a sort of twilight life where I existed in the present, but my mind was caught up in the past.

Annalisse Childs, my heroine, has a very dramatic, passionate past, just as I did.  However, hers is full of different and far more interesting issues.  Once a European concert pianist, she is endeavoring to partner her idealistic husband of four years in his “Walden” experience on a farm in Southwest Missouri.  To his credit, Dennis knows nothing of her past except that she grew up on a farm in Wisconsin.  Because of tragic memories Annalisse has no intention of revisiting, she has cut music out of her life.  But, bit by bit, the pieces she once performed in Paris, accompanied by their ecstatic and terrible memories are the thin edge of the wedge.  Once she goes back to the piano, she cannot help the flashbacks from recurring.

As her husband witnesses the transformation of his stoical, practical wife into someone who makes public scenes, cries in closets and basements, and yet clings with superhuman tenacity to his heroic version of reality, he feels as if the ground beneath him has crumbled.  What should he do?  Does he have anything in common with this woman?  Why does she suddenly hate farm life and express a desire to sit up all night in Paris discussing the Opera?  Where is their marriage headed?

As nearly everyone who has read this manuscript has noted, Dennis is a thinly veiled version of my husband David.  Both are truly one-in-a-million amazing men.  And hopefully, reading the account of the hairpin turn in the fictional story will cause you to think deeply about your own relationships, and be filled with the kind of deep-seated well-being that accompanies the truest kind of love.

A MOMENTO: Pieces of Paris is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  Anyone who pre-orders and e-mails me (through my website a copy of their confirmation and snail mail address will receive a sterling silver charm of the Eiffel Tower! Deadline is the end of August.

EXAMINER CONTEST: The winner of the three copies of The Last Waltz are: Wendy Pop, Mary Deborde, and Kristine Armstrong!


Review of Hometown Girl, by Michele Ashman Bell

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

by G.G. Vandagriff

As a writer struggling to write her own "ensemble series," featuring only four characters, I can definitely tell you that Michele Ashman Bell is a gifted writer! In her Butterfly Box series (Hometown Girl is #2), Bell deals with a crowd of five women, best friends since High School. In her opening chapters, we are introduced to each of these characters effortlessly, until we not only know them apart, but know all the angst that they let their friends see, and a lot that we can guess at. This is a great achievement.

When the book narrows down to one member of the ensemble, Jocelyn, who has decided to move from St. George to a tiny town in Washington state, she seems to regress in the maturity and capability she demonstrated when she was home with the "girls." However! Do not be fooled! Though Jocelyn seems to struggle overmuch with problems that seem small compared to conquering world hunger, balancing the budget, and redeeming the world, there is a good reason for her seeming lack of perspective.

Jocelyn is dealing with problems in her past that occurred in this very locality—her grandmother’s house–years before. And, though it seems absurd that a beautiful girl of 31 would be so inexperienced with the male sex, take it from me, there is a very good reason for that as well.

Once the horrible tale is told, we are introduced to another of Bell’s brilliant strengths. She can write romance like nobody’s business. She avoids all known clichés and draws you in to her character’s heart in such a way that you feel loved down to your toes. This is a wonderful strength, surprisingly unusual in today’s world of literature. Since this is another weak spot for me, I appreciate her skill immensely.


As Promised . . .

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Authors, Writing

In my last post on why I read what I do, I promised to share a few of my favorite beginnings of my favorite books.  I have been derailed by way too much work, but that is another story…

My favorite beginning, hands down, of any book I’ve ever read is the beginning paragraph of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles.  The bad news is that I gave my copy to my daughter as part of her “classics collection” and don’t have access to it at the moment.  However, the image created by that paragraph was of a woman seated on the quay somewhere in England, looking off in one direction with a gaze that captivated the male protagonist to such an extent that it provided the springboard for an entire novel.  I loved the novel, but my favorite part of it was that image, which I still see in my mind, it was so evocative.

My favorite current mystery writer is Earlene Fowler.  Her books are clean, her characters so addictive that you’ll read her books again and again, just to be in her world accompanied by them.  This is the first paragraph from my favorite of her books, Steps to the Altar (Berkley,2002)

Late at night when the dreams woke him, he would lie in the dark and try to forget the faces of the people he’d watched die.  Memories of them exploded in his brain, popping and flaring like star shells launched from cannons.  With a sick compulsion, he counted off their lives like a human rosary.

End of same chapter, same book:

He never expected Aaron to die.  He never expected to fall in love.  He never expected to find grace.


My favorite modern epic storyteller is Herman Wouk.  He begins his unmatched saga of World War II,The Winds of War (Pocketbooks, 1971), thusly:

Commander Victor Henry rode a taxicab home from the Navy Building on Constitution Avenue, in a gusty gray March Rainstorm that matched his mood.  In his War Plans cubbyhole that afternoon, he had received an unexpected word from on high which, to his seasoned appraisal, had probably blown a well-planned career to rags.  Now he had to consult his wife about an urgent decision; yet he did not altogether trust her opinions.

One of my very favorite modern literary writers is Anne Tyler.  In my second favorite book of hers (I can’t find Accidental Tourist), The Ladder of Years, she begins her strange tale with an unforgettable character sketch:

This all started on a Saturday morning in May, one of those warm spring days that smell like clean linen.  Delia had gone to the supermarket to shop for the week’s meals.  She was standing in the produce section, languidly choosing a bunch of celery.  Grocery stores always made her reflective.   Why was it, she was wondering, that celery was not called “courduroy plant”?  That would be much more colorful.  And garlic bulbs should be “moneybags,” because their shape reminded her of the sack of gold coins in folktales.

Can’t you just see Delia and the produce department?

Now for the CLASSICS:

Favorite Modern Classic opening paragraph:

When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow.  So at least he thought, and there was a certain amount of evidence to back him up.  He had once been an actor–no, not quite, an extra–and he knew what acting should be.  Also, he was smoking a cigar, and when a man is smoking a cigar, wearing a hat, he has an advantage; it is harder to find out how he feels . . .

(Seize The Day, Saul Bellow, Fawcett 1956)

Favorite Nineteenth Century Classic opening paragraph:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.  We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.

I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped finger and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie , the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

(I cheated–two paras in this one!  You guessed it: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)

And to round things out, how about a visit to “the wine dark sea”–yes, the opening paragraph of Homer’s Odyssey:

This is the story of a man, one who was never at a loss.  He had travelled far in the world, after the sack of Troy, the virgin fortress; he saw many cities of men, and learnt their mind; he endured many troubles and hardships in the struggle to save his own life and to bring back his men safe to their homes.  He did his best, but he could not save his companions, and ate the cattle of Hyperion the Sun-god, and the god took care that they should never see home again.

(Now we know why the Odyssey is a classic!)

I am apologetic about the Fowles, and feel guilty for not including any Russians, but then, I don’t think Tolstoy of Dostoyevsky were ever really known for their first paragraphs.