A novel of psychologically driven fiction, GG Vandagriff’s, Pieces of Paris, takes readers on a emotional ride that winds through the darkest recesses of painful memories, plunges into unexpected realities, then climbs to breathtaking vistas of understanding, forgiveness and love.
In Pieces of Paris we see the unraveling of Annalisse, a woman who seems to have everything until dark memories she’s kept deeply buried for years claw their way to the surface, threatening to destroy everything she holds dear.
The story opens with Annalisse, a woman in her twenties, living a quiet, normal life on a farm in the Ozarks. She is expecting her second child and is mom to three and a half year old son, Jordan. But after four and a half years of bliss she suddenly finds herself being haunted by the past. Her predictable but seemingly happy life with husband Dennis, an attorney, begins to crumble.
The first paragraph of the book reads:
It was the simple things that undid her, Annalisse had discovered. Something as ordinary as the scent of lilacs when the air was heavy, a brief measure of Tchaikovsky, or a dream. A dream like the one she’d awakened from last night – so real she could smell the Paris Metro in it. Any of these things could revive in a moment the memories she’d spent the last six years burying. They crept under the leaden shield around her heart and found the small, secret place where she still had feeling.
So begins Annalisse’s journey of facing a past she’d blocked from her reality until piece by piece, the fragments began to fit together, forcing her to face the pain she’d thought she’d covered . . . until now.
Leaving another life behind, Annaliese finds refuge and safety in the arms of her beloved, idealistic, husband, Dennis. He is her anchor, her strength, and she puts her past behind her to be with him, and that includes moving to his idea of the Garden of Eden . . . the Ozarks.
When he meets Annalisse, Dennis knows she is someone unique and special. Dealing with pain from his own past and a broken heart, he focuses on this beautiful woman, vastly different from his past relationship, Annalisse immediately appears to be the perfect person to heal his disillusionment and he knows they are meant to be together.
When the flashbacks begin, Annalisse keeps them to herself—certain that telling Dennis will destroy their relationship. At the same time Dennis is battling with a controversial legal case, fighting against an industrial firm that is trying to cover up a toxic waste dump, a case that has put his family in danger.
As each challenge grows and pushes them apart, Dennis and Annalisse both begin to wonder if their marriage is what they really wanted or expected and if the person they are with now is anything like the person they thought they married.
Vandagriff has a true gift of words and paints glorious scenes and intense emotion in this well-paced, gripping drama. This powerful story of second chances, the gift of forgiveness, and the depth of truth will resonate with readers of all ages and stations in life.
And in the final pages we find the true meaning of the story.
“The day I met you, all I could see anywhere I looked was pain and no possibility of making a difference. You were the only bright thing, and you came just in time.”
“I couldn’t have looked very bright. Oh, Dennis.” She buried her head in his shoulder and held on to him. “You were my only bright thing, too. How have we gotten this far with all these ridiculous expectations of each other?”
Remembering the Twenty-third Psalm he was silent, stroking her hair.
“There’s only one Savior,” Dennis told her.
One of the best ways to truly understand this story is to understand the author, GG Vandagriff. I was able to interview her and ask her about her experiences that lead up to writing this book.
M. Bell: Where did you get the idea for the book?
GG Vandagriff: It was a combination of 3 very disparate things: 1.) A funny incident when we went canoeing in the Ozarks and David was sitting in the back and I was in the front. He kept yelling “paddle on the right” “paddle on the left”. I looked back and he wasn’t paddling at all! I started laughing at him, because he was so earnest and worried we were going to capsize. We did! We swam in that muddy, cow dung infested creek and he lost his wallet. I have rarely laughed so hard, but even at this distance, he still doesn’t think it was funny. In my writer’s mind, I thought of what a wonderful parody this was of our marriage. Paddle on the Right was the name of the story for years, until I found out what the book was really about, and had to remove the scene. 2.) The Tchaikovsky violin concerto, which I am listening to as I write this. To me, it is the most sublime piece of music written, and is so evocative of every human motion. I was so in love with it, that it veritably created Jules and his whole life and character as he appears in the book. Everything about Jules is in that concerto, except that the concerto ends triumphantly. I hope some day to meet Tchaikovsky (and Tolstoy). 3.) An incident in my doctor’s office that started me thinking: he was the same age and had been a Vietnam War protestor. So had David. I had lost my fiancé in the war. How had it affected our later lives? How did the three of us end up in the Ozarks? Did our past anger and helplessness at the government’s actions have anything to do with our “searching for Eden”? In my doctor’s case, he had graduated at the top of his class and chose to work in a small rural town where he could really help people. Ditto for David, only he was a lawyer. I just wanted to raise my children to be safe. When you read the book, you will definitely recognize all of us: Dr. Gregory, Dennis, and Annalisse. Because the Vietnam War is so far in the past, that eventually went out of the book, as it aged.
M. Bell: What was the research process for this story like? How long did you spend gathering information?
GG Vandagriff: The research was all internal. I had to go through PTSD and then discover what was wrong with me and how to put it behind me. I was actually having PTSD over my fiancé that was killed in the war. It was very painful. But, as I said the war is not in the book. The PTSD is, however, and I have read a lot about it. The places in the book: I lived in a town that is the model for Blue Creek for sixteen years, I studied near Vienna for six months, and I have visited Paris on many occasions, starting when I was sixteen.
M. Bell: Given that this book is so personal, what was the writing process like for you?
GG Vandagriff: This book taught me everything I know about writing classic fiction. I worked closely with a free-lance editor who operated like a gem cutter. She saw the brilliance in the story, and cut away all the dross, inspiring me to write more cleanly. She even recognized things that I hadn’t realized about the story and its development and so it switched into an entirely different mode. It went from being semi-humorous (I always hide my true feelings in humor) into a book about the “hard questions” of life and marriage, and the triumph of truth over the evil that would separate husbands and wives.
M. Bell: What is the theme of the story and why did you write about it?
GG Vandagriff: The theme of the story is the difference between narcissistic love (the feeling we have when we think, “ah this person was created just for ME) and real love, when you would sacrifice almost anything in Christlike love for your spouse. That is a big jump, and takes a complex story crafted with much difficulty to tell. It also takes a lifetime of experience.
M. Bell: What do you want readers to get from this story?
GG Vandagriff: I am hoping that they will give more thought to their own marriages, deconstructing them to the basics, and then, with the help of the Savior, reconstructing them into Celestial marriages.
Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
This statement quoted by President Packer in a fireside on February 1, 1976, and later printed in the Ensign, was made by Orson F. Whitney in the early days of the Church. President Packer was voicing his disappointment in the artists, writers, and musicians of that day (1976) who were clearly not using their talents to aspire to this goal. I have kept that statement close to me as I have written all my books, hoping someday someone would stand on my shoulders and reach this exalted position.
As I read H.B. Moore’s latest book, Ammon, I suddenly realized that that day has arrived. Before you take issue with me on this weighty matter, remember two things. What was the greatest criticism of Shakespeare? That he never wrote anything original. All his plots were derived from legend, history, or myths. What Shakespeare did that earned him the title of “the bard for the ages,” was that he likened these stories to human experience. He drew out of them insights and conflicts that were very accessible to the human mind, not only in his day, but in all the days until the present time. Shakespeare put you in the story and made you face its conflicts. In so doing, he gave these stories a kind of immortality. He gave us heroes and villains with faces, bodies, parts, and passions.
And what of Milton? Didn’t he take his work directly from the Gospel as he knew and understood it? Didn’t he make us participators in his perception of eternal progression? Like Shakespeare, he likened his writings unto us, his readers, so that we could participate as fully as possible in the choices involved in the human drama that is mortality.
Moore does exactly the same thing with Ammon, that great, towering hero of the Book of Mormon. She has written many other books about the heroes of this scripture, but never with the flesh and blood immediacy of Ammon. The way she has accomplished this is by taking what is written, and just as Shakespeare did, studying the brief information to envision unwritten personal reactions, consequences, complications, tests of faith, and all manner of things that might have resulted from the miracles and testimony which Ammon bore to his deadly enemies.
For instance, what do you imagine was the fate of those who were scattering King Lamoni’s flocks? How did they react to the deaths of their comrades? Who exactly were they? Do you imagine they would have been converted by Ammon’s preaching?
What about all the priests and priestesses of the existing temples built to idols? The priests lived off the people. Do you imagine they would have been easily converted?
What would have been the position of King Lamoni himself in regards to his people? Wouldn’t have he had to give up his reign as a virtual dictator in order to allow freedom of religion? What would he and Ammon have done if they were opposed by armed and dangerous rebels who refused to be converted by a Nephite? How would the common man have reacted to accusations that Ammon was only there to create political unrest, so that they might be weakened in the eventuality of a Nephite attack?
Would Ammon have fallen in love? How would this have complicated his missionary labors?
I can almost guarantee that if one puts ones mind to the seemingly simple, heroic story given in the scriptures, one will find many, many consequences and possible story lines to follow. One of the looming, almost insurmountable differences between most of us and H.B. Moore is that we don’t know what she knows about life at that time. With Moore’s capabilities as an historian and a storyteller, the world of the Book of Mormon opens up like a 3-D movie. The smallest detail of life in that age is portrayed with a mastery that makes it seem unremarkable. Her details don’t shout “look what I know,” but rather slip into the story naturally and almost unnoticed. This is a phenomenal achievement.
As for the storytelling, Shakespeare couldn’t have done better! The suspense that builds through the story between Ammon and the unbelievers and that culminates in their capture of his beloved is stellar. Here is a story you know, and yet Moore endows it with natural consequences and elements that seem absolutely real. You all know the ending, and yet, I promise you, this masterful work will keep you up past your bedtime. After reading this book, you will realize that Ammon had to have been a much greater hero than the “superman” who lopped off the arms of the rebels at the waters of Sebus!
In terms of President Packer’s plea for this kind of literature, I hope we LDS writers will all take a lesson from Moore in writing to the greatest measure of our talent and using that talent to help people liken heroes, even everyday heroes, to themselves. There is great comfort and a blessed peace in knowing the things we know because of the Gospel. Even though it is more politically correct to write about the ills of society, let us celebrate the triumph of the Spirit!
And what of those of us who are not writers? What lesson can we take from this fulfillment of Elder Whitney’s prophesy? I truly believe it is what the Lord has demonstrated again and again. I know H.B. Moore. I hope she will not be uncomfortable with my revelation of the fact that she is first and foremost a wife and a mother. In fact, she has quite a handful of very active children. She never misses a game (and they are an athletic crew). Her husband and children are always her first concern. Not an ivory tower writer with a powerful literary agenda, she lives, outwardly at least, a normal life. However, she has a date with the Spirit every morning at five a.m., when she sits down to write. Those few hours that she has to create her stories are magnified. The Lord is there to give her what she needs to do this particular mission in the limited time she has.
H.B. Moore is a mother and a wife. In the time she wrests from hours when others are sleeping, she is also a masterful writer. Once again, the Lord has taken a seemingly ordinary being and helped her to accomplish great things.
A novel of psychologically driven fiction, GG Vandagriff’s, Pieces of Paris, takes readers on a emotional ride that winds through the darkest recesses of painful memories, plunges into unexpected realities, then climbs to breathtaking vistas of understanding, forgiveness and love.
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.
By GG Vandagriff
I simply cannot praise this book enough. H.B. Moore has done the nearly impossible: she has created a protagonist who is also the antagonist, and made us love and care about him. She has demonstrated with consummate skill how a man, raised in righteousness, can be drawn into wickedness by the belief that he knows a better way of doing things than his leaders. In my mind, this book is what the Victorians called “An Awful Warning” to anyone who thinks they have a better way of doing things than the way that is ordained of God.
Heather shows the “domino effect” of how one seemingly small sin can bring about our ruin. In the scriptures, this method of destruction by Satan is called “the flaxen cord” that becomes the chain that leads us down to hell.
This is the method described by Wormwood in the Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, told with one of the most well-known characters in the Book of Mormon.
I must confess that Alma the Younger has always been my favorite character. I identified with him when reading the Book of Mormon the first time, for I rejoiced that God could take such a sinner and make a mighty prophet of him. When my 60’s lifestyle boyfriend, David Vandagriff was investigating the church, I had him start reading the Book of Mormon with the dramatic appearance of an angel to Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. When another member of our family was casting about in darkness, this scripture passage was recreated in his own life, causing an experience that changed his life.
I expected this book to deal mostly with Alma’s years as a judge and preacher, however it doesn’t. It faces squarely the problem of Alma’s fall from grace. Heather explained to me how fast she was able to write it, and I have a theory that her hero was sitting on her shoulder whispering his story into her ear. It is that good and that believable.
The characters are real and richly developed. I can’t do better than to say this book is an exquisite read.
Alma The Younger
ISBN 978 1 60861 020 4
By G.G. Vandagriff
Tristi Pinkston, Author of Secret Sisters always reminds me of the stories about the Pinkerton Agency—the first independent detective agency in America. Perhaps she is aware of this, for she writes delightful mysteries, and her specialty is quirky characters.
Imagine Miss Marple as a Relief Society President, aided by a beloved eccentric nephew and her sometimes less than able-bodied and occasionally astringent counselors. Okay. Now, they have taken up spying on one of the R.S. sisters by way of her nephews secret devices: a video cam disguised as a refrigerator magnet, a listening bug designed as a . . . bug, and a camera hanging from the trees surrounding the unfortunate sister’s house.
Why is Miss Marple/Ada Lou Babbitt spying? Because, of all the dastardly things, the sister has no food in the house and Ada Lou doesn’t want to offend by bringing in food where it isn’t wanted. She ascertains, through her devious means, that the husband comes into money unexpectedly and there is food, but being Ada Lou Babbitt, she doesn’t stop there. She wants to know where the husband got the money, who belongs to the suspicious Jaguar that turns up every two weeks in this sister’s driveway, and, of all things, who dropped the burger king wrapper in the garage?
One thing leads to another, and before she knows what she’s doing, a murder occurs. Of course, she must solve it! And where is the Bishop while all this is happening? Nursing his high blood pressure. You can see why.
Pinkston’s ever ready sense of humor sparkles through this book, and you can almost hear her reading it. Secret Sisters is a fun read for anyone who loves humor, Agatha Christie, cozy mysteries, and, of course, Tristi Pinkston.
GG: Most readers know that you are a very popular romance novelist. Is Summer in Paris the first YA novel that you have written?
MB: It is my first honest-to-goodness YA. Some of my other novels have a youthful tone to them, but are not genuine YA category. Summer in Paris is targeted directly to a YA audience, although I think adults are going to enjoy it also.
GG: Do your writing plans include future YA novels?
MB: I hope so! I love writing for this age group. I feel drawn to youth and want to provide reading material that will do more than just entertain them. I want to give them something to think about and maybe even inspire and uplift them.
GG: It seems to me that the dialogue and thought processes of teenagers would be a particular stretch. It appeared to me that you got both spot on! What is the most difficult challenge you face writing for Y.A.?
MB: I have teenagers at home so I am very keyed into issues and concerns kids are facing today. I also see the influences around them that are pulling these kids so many directions. I biggest challenge/goal is to write stories that will resonate with them and connect with them emotionally. Teens are a tough audience but fiercely loyal.
GG: Which genre of fiction do you most enjoy writing and why?
MB: My writing reflects my mood and what’s going on in my life. I wrote a children’s series which I absolutely loved and had so much fun with, but on the other hand I really like getting into issues for women and digging deep for emotion. Romantic suspense is my favorite genre, but seriously I feel like I reinvent myself with each book.
GG: Do you have any other books coming out in the near future?
MB: I’m so excited that the second book in my Butterfly Box series is finally coming out in July. It has been a long wait and I’m working hard on the third and final book in that series. After that I will launch in the sequel to Summer in Paris.
GG: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
MB: Typing “THE END.” J Seriously, I enjoy pretty much everything. I love research. I can get carried away doing research so I have to be careful. I really love it when I’m writing and I find myself in a completely different spot than I thought I was going. That’s when I know the characters have become real and have taken ownership of the story.
GG: Would you call your novels character driven or plot driven?
MB: Mostly character driven, but most of the time both. Stories usually happen as a result of some type of inspiration or trigger from an idea I get about a character, or from a specific setting I happen to find fascinating or fall in love with. But it’s the characters that really give me the passion for my stories.
GG Did you know the end from the beginning of Summer In Paris?
MB: I did, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there. I had to revamp my outline quite a few times, but I ultimately knew where I wanted things to end up. I work better that way. It’s like going on a road trip and having a destination in mind. Without a destination who knows where you’re going to end up!
GG: What is your favorite character that you have ever written? Why?
MB: In my book Without a Flaw I wrote about a woman named Isabelle who was in an abusive marriage finally found the courage to leave her situation and get her life back. I cared so much about her and loved the growth she went through in the novel. I wanted to see her succeed and find joy and happiness. She was awesome!
GG: Do your ideas come to you in the night? In the shower? While chauffeuring your children? What is your most important “composting time?”
MB: That’s a fascinating but very descriptive way to describe the process of mulling over an idea. I have paper and pencil in every nook and cranny of my life because I have to write ideas down when they come or I’ll forget them. Because, ideas come at every possible moment, usually when I’m doing some brainless activity and my mind wanders. I’ve always been a daydreamer and that seems to still be my most creative time.
GG: I know you have tremendously talented children and are extremely involved in their lives. Have you thought about that future (which comes all too fast!) when you are an empty nester? Are your writing goals different for that time of your life?
MB: I still have seven years until my youngest graduates from high school, so I haven’t really even looked that far down the road (probably denial). When I am in that phase of life though, I hope to be with you, GG, traipsing around Europe and doing research. That would be amazing!
GG: Most writers are very hard on themselves about their writing ability. You have achieved great success in your career. But, knowing you as I do, I know that, like most writers, are dissatisfied with some aspect of your work. How would you most like to develop yourself as a writer? Do you have any plans to make this happen.?
MB: I am ashamed to admit that I am terrible with grammar. I could kick myself a million times over for not paying better attention in English classes in high school (although I got great grades – go figure). I know my editor would appreciate me submitting cleaner manuscripts but right now I don’t have plans to take classes to improve this. I’m too busy writing, to learn how to write. Makes no sense to me either.
GG: We have a challenge as LDS writers to “bring people to the light.” How do you feel we can do this most effectively?
MB: I feel this obligation very strongly. Very strongly! I don’t take this lightly either. No matter which market I publish for, no matter which genre, I will always, always, make sure that my stories are consistent with the gospel and appropriate for anyone to read, especially my children and grandchildren. I don’t believe I was given this opportunity to have a voice in the LDS community, the inspirational market, by chance. Our stories can inspire without being preachy. There has to be fundamental truths involved in our characters lives and the plots. It’s the fiber of who I am and what I write, the two are intertwined.
GG: Most people don’t realize that writers serve an “apprenticeship” where they are practicing and learning to write, just like musicians and dancers learn their crafts by practicing and learning specific skills.. How long was your apprenticeship before you were published? How did you go about the task of learning to write?
MB: It took me forever. I wrote for ten years before getting published. I took advantage of community education creative writing classes, went to workshops and writer’s conferences, and joined a multitude of critique groups (I have the scars to prove it). For a while I was an evaluator for Covenant Communications and really got a feel for the LDS market. Learning to write was a long process and it was only because of persistence that I got published. I am not the most gifted and talented writer, but I am very hardworking! I don’t regret any of that time because I learned so much on that journey to getting published.
GG: What advice do you have for aspiring writers who are now serving their apprenticeship (and doubtless experiencing rejections)?
MB: I kept every rejection letter I ever received and I think I have around sixty-seven of them. I believed that one day I would look back and see all the effort I put into my goal of getting published and knew I would feel a great sense of accomplishment. It was so worth it! My advice would be to believe in yourself and never give up. If you want it badly enough it will happen, but you have to keep working and improving your craft and putting your work out there.
My favorite thing about G.G. Vandagriff’s ‘The Hidden Branch’ is that it doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. The character of Briggie is as fun as her name sounds. She’s a senior lady who lands in jail more than once, yet none of her friends seem nonplussed by the news. And even though the story is whimsical at times, there is some serious action and intrigue. There are plenty of characters, which means plenty of suspects and plenty of reasons to keep turning pages. If you read my review of ‘Last Waltz’ you know that I think Vandagriff is one of the best authors around. ‘The Hidden Branch’ shows that she’s able to adapt to multiple genres with amazing skill.
Do you want a fun read with lots of intrigue that has sleuthing by two wonderful main characters who would rival Agatha Christie’s Poirot? Well I’ve found it in G.G. Vandagriff’s book The Hidden Branch.
This book is just plain fun! Not only does the mystery of the novel twist and turn, but so does your heart as you follow the characters and worry over them. My heart sank when Charles, Alex’s fiancé, has to leave to go to his dying mother. Though I hadn’t read the previous book in the series, which showed the struggle of these two lovebirds getting together, that didn’t stop me from rooting for them to maintain their love. (I’m going to have to read the other books in the series now. Thanks, G.G.) You’ll have to read The Hidden Branch to find out if Charles comes back, and if Alex’s love for him will survive as she works with Briggie to solve this murder mystery.
Grab a warm blanket, a cup of cocoa, and curl up on the couch for this delightful tale.
How can one book be so many contradictory things? A book about some fairly famous people by Anne Bradshaw on Family Nights. You will laugh out loud at some of the entries, find some great ideas to spice things up at your house, stop feeling guilty about your FHE "failures," and be inspired by the long-term effects of living with this commandment.
Anne is seriously connected with a lot of people, all of whom it seems have a story to share on this topic. It would make a perfect gift, especially for families with teen-agers or children who won’t stay still!
The only beef I have with the book is not Anne’s fault. I think CFI should have given her a better cover. It must have been a hard choice, but I don’t think a cartoon superhero does justice to the scope of the book. So don’t let the cover scare you away. Read a few of the entries and you will know you have to have this book!
By G.G. Vandagriff
Once again, Jennie Hansen proves herself to be the LDS mistress of the plot. Plots seem to flow from her endlessly and seamlessly. One imagines her just going into a semi-zen state and having the perfect plot, twists and all emerge from her computer. Shudder is a perfect example, with the complex relationships that reign over Boise politics detailed and tangled. This is a book for those who enjoyed a fast-paced read.
But it is also something more. Jennie has put her whole heart into this book which is also about spousal abuse. Her understanding of the abuse, its roots and its course through a relationship ring completely true. I’m sure she hopes that her book will sing a warning bell to those in potentially abusive relationships by illustrating the escalating stages. Hopefully, it will also enable those in such relationships to realize they are not alone, not to blame, and that help is available.
I would have liked to see a little more character development which could be because I favor character development over straight action. Also in a few places the dialogue sounded like a pre-recorded speech.
However, this book will be an exciting addition to the collections of her fans, of whom she has many!