Behind the Book: When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

Editor’s Note: When the Men Were Gone is a debut historical novel centered on the truly inspiring story of a high school teacher who surprises everyone when she breaks with tradition to become the first female high school football coach in Texas. Set during WWII, Tylene Wilson faces extreme opposition but shows what courage really means. This inspiring story has won hearts everywhere and was chosen as our Book Club selection for October and November. We had the opportunity to discuss the book with Marjorie Herrera Lewis, which you can read about below.

This is your debut novel- what did you learn about the process of crafting a book?
The biggest lesson I learned about the process of crafting a book is that it’s hard; it’s really hard. It takes discipline, passion, skill and a willingness to learn something new almost every day.

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What first interested you in Tylene Wilson’s story?
The story resonated with me the instant I was told what Tylene had done. I am a career sports journalist, and to discover that a woman had coached football in the 1940s took my breath away. I also felt connected to her in a way because I was the first woman assigned to the Dallas Cowboys beat in the 1980s. I knew firsthand what it was like to work in a male-dominated field. I was drawn to what I imagined she had endured. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

The Girl They Left Behind is a breathtaking novel set in war-torn Bucharest that follows the life of Natalia, a child abandoned by her parents who had hopes that her abandonment would mean she would have a better life. It is a tale of unrelenting love and sacrifice, of what defines a family and how to come to terms with one’s past. We recently talked to Veletzos about her incredible debut.

Congratulations on your debut novel! Have you always wanted to be a writer or is this a new development in your life?
Thank you so much! Writing has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I think I fell in love with it when I was about seven or eight, and my first story was entered in a children’s writing competition in my native Bucharest. Ever since I’ve written and read constantly, and in the early years of my family’s move to California, it brought me such solace. Eventually this led to a degree in journalism and work as a copywriter and editor—but it wasn’t until 2010, after bracing some health challenges with my youngest son and my father’s unexpected passing, that my dream of crafting a novel began to take shape. One night during that challenging period, I came across on my hard drive something I’d written three, maybe four years earlier, and it was as if someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. It turns out that those pages became the opening chapter of The Girl They Left Behind, which I then went on to complete in less than two years.

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What initially drew you to write a story set in Bucharest during World War II?
I have to say, several factors. Most importantly, my family’s story of survival during the war and the years of Soviet occupation was nothing short of fascinating and harrowing, giving me rich material to work with. Secondly, Romania’s history in that time has so seldomly been covered in modern literature, and I wanted to bring some of it to light through the eyes and experiences of my characters. Thirdly, I suppose it was simply nostalgia for my native city—and a desire to reconnect to it on some level. In fact, many of the piazzas and streets that I describe in my novel come directly from my recollections as a child. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell’s The Last Magician is a time-traveling romp of epic proportions. Fans everywhere found themselves panicking over the cliff-hanger and will soon be snatching up copies of the sequel, The Devil’s Thief. In this book, the cast carries on trying to save magic by trying to find four elemental stones scattered across the continent. This spellbinding sequel is sure to delight fans, and we’re delighted that Lisa answered our questions in this Behind the Book post!

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What inspired you to write a series about saving magic in a world that has almost lost it completely?
Strangely enough, when I first pitched the idea of a magical thief to a former editor, the book wasn’t necessarily about saving magic. But the editor was nervous about the idea because she said, “America isn’t really a magical place.” Which got me to thinking… She was kind of right. America doesn’t have the same cohesive and deeply magical mythologies that somewhere like Great Britain has. There are a lot of reasons for why that’s the case, and I decided that I wanted the series to play with that history and create a backstory to explain some of those reasons…and maybe dream of a different future. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

Editor’s Note: The incomparable Rena Rossner brings to life a richly detailed story of Jewish identity and sisterhood in The Sisters of the Winter Wood. The fairy tale is both captivating and imaginative, wrapping around two sisters who have distinctly different personalities. Rossner weaves their lives in and out of one another and creates a story that is deeply connected to identity, faith, sisterhood and the magic of stories. Rena recently revealed to us the inspiration behind behind her latest novel.

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The Goldene Medina – Of Fairy Tales and Dreams

When I first got the idea for The Sisters of the Winter Wood, I had no intention of writing a Jewish fantasy novel. In fact, I was trying to distance myself from that part of my identity. The previous books I’d worked on had been so Jewish that I started wondering if my work was too Jewish. So I decided to work on a fairy tale retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” poem. I loved that it was a tale of sisterly love and that both sisters end up saving each other. I decided to set my book in a forest in France near an (invented) town called “Blest.” But when I finished a draft of the book and re-read it, everything felt wrong. I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and said: “my book doesn’t have a soul” – to which he responded: “Rena, go back to sleep.”

But I realized that I needed to set this re-telling somewhere that meant something to me. So I borrowed some of my parents’ genealogy binders – the results of hours of research by family members containing pages of testimony, family history and long lists of names. The interesting bits were the stories about the different towns researched—Bender, Riga, Kupel, and Dubossary – that my family came from before they made their way to America. I started to look for a town by a river with a forest or an orchard, a place with lush fruit trees. And that was when I found a poem written by a man from the town of Dubossary describing exactly what I was looking for. My heart started to race. I knew that I had found my novel’s heart, its location. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Editor’s Note: Best known for Gothic horror and dark young adult mystery novels, April Genevieve Tucholke is taking a dive into the previously unexplored with The Boneless Mercies. This novel is a gorgeously written standalone YA fantasy about a band of mercenary girls in search of glory. Throughout the novel, Tucholke portrays fierce women warriors in unapologetic friendship who refuse to quit their quest for glory. We had a chance to catch up with April recently and she was kind enough to answer some burning questions for us.

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Your previous books, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaBetween the Spark and the Burn, and Wink Poppy Midnight are very different books from The Boneless Mercies. What made you want to write a more historical piece?
Fantasy is my first love. The words “sword and sorcery” still make my heart skip a beat. Fantasy is what I read when I want to truly escape into a fictional world. Spring and summer are for Jerome K. Jerome and PG Wodehouse or mysteries like Miss Marple or Brother Cadfael—but fall and winter are for fantasy, a retreat into something darker and grander and nobler than the world I know. It was my favorite genre as a kid and is still my favorite today. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Dark Between Stars by Atticus

Editor’s Note: Atticus is the internationally bestselling author of Love Her Wild, his first collection of poetry. In The Dark Between Stars, Atticus delves into the dualities of life experiences and the connections between life’s highs and lows. In this poignant collection, he captures the need for both beauty and pain, for light-heartedness and deep revelations. This collection is a glimpse into the human soul, full of tragedy and promise. We had the opportunity to catch up with Atticus recently. Read on to discover his answers to our questions!

When did you first start writing poetry? What was your inspiration?
I began about 5 years ago. I was in Paris at the time and was moved by the way the city looked after it rained. I took out my phone and started writing. I decided to post what I had written on Instagram, but I knew that I wanted to do it anonymously so I could always remember to write what I feel and tell the truth.

Do you have any recommendations for people who are just starting to write poetry for the first time?
Bukowski said, “don’t try,” which, to me, means: don’t set out to write the best poem. Just write something, period, and the good will come. I believe that.

Do you have any rituals or anything special that you do while writing to get into the right mindset?
I have a little back-house/writing shack filled with things that inspire me: old books, typewriters, candles, photos, records, tobacco pipes, anything that gets me in the headspace to write.  Sometimes I go back there and don’t even write, I just sit and look at pictures and read. For me, half of writing is sitting, staring at a candle, watching the flame dance, and waiting for it to tell me something profound. Continue reading

Books Authors Read with Craig Johnson

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Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome author Craig Johnson to our Northwest Highway location in Dallas on Wednesday, May 17 at 7p.m. to discuss his new novella, The Highwayman. We hope to see you there! In the meantime, we asked Craig to share some of his favorite books with us as part of our Books Authors Read blog series – enjoy!

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When asked to make a list of my top-ten books, I thought Westerns, and then I thought I better thin the herd a bit and decided to limit my list to modern Westerns with 20th century environs. That cut it quite a bit, but then I thought I’d narrow things down even more by only including authors I’ve actually met. Now some of these folks I’ve only met once, while others are downright friends. So, here we go…

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry
I met Mr. McMurtry when he was given the True West Magazine life achievement award and stood aside, not wanting to bother him. After a while I noticed him standing around by himself at the buffet table and figured I might as well go over and say something nice. “I think The Last Picture Show is one of the finest novels ever written.”

He clutched my arm. “Thank you, but don’t leave.”

“Okay…”

“I just don’t want to have to talk about Lonesome Dove for a while.” Continue reading

Books Authors Read with Chelsea Mueller

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Editor’s Note: We were pleased to host Chelsea Mueller to our Dallas Flagship store on Saturday, May 13 to sign and discuss her debut novel, Borrowed Souls. We asked her to share some of her favorite reads with you as part of our Books Authors Read series – please enjoy!

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If I had written this list a couple years ago, every title would have been urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I like ‘em gritty, but I’ve found a new love in fantasy and sci-fi this last year that has rather dominated my recommendations list. Regardless of genre, I tend to favor books with a speedy plot and immersive worldbuilding and #kissingbooks are 100 percent welcome.

The Fifth SeasonThe Fifth Season (2016 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel) and The Obelisk Gate (2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Novel) by N.K. Jemisin

I’m cheating a little by including two books as a single pick here, but once you finish the first you’ll dive headlong into the second. The Fifth Season was my most recommended book in the last year.

The Obelisk GateLove fantasy? Read The Fifth Season.
Love sci-fi? Read The Fifth Season.
Love twisted plots? Read The Fifth Season.
Basically, if you like to read, pick up this book.

Then immediately devour the sequel The Obelisk Gate, which is even more unputdownable (if that’s a thing). The prose and craft in these novels is top-notch, and the plot continued to fascinate me further with each page.

GhostlandGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
I write gritty fantasy grounded in the real world. Ghostland is not fiction, at least not in the same sense of the teeming magic found in the Southwest that I write. This non-fiction title explores how ghost stories evolve over time and what those tales say about our shifting fears as a society. Ghostland doesn’t posit whether ghosts are real, but instead it focuses on what our perceptions of such phenomena say about who we are and what we believe. The ghost stories are pretty excellent, too. Continue reading

Books Authors Read with Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

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Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle to two of our locations in just a few weeks! They’ll stop by our Northwest Highway location in Dallas on Monday, May 8 at 7p.m. CST to discuss their new book, Driving Miss Norma. 90-year-old Norma Bauerschmidt was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2015. Instead of having a difficult procedure and following through with chemotherapy, she decided to hit the road with her son and daughter-in-law. Her adventures were chronicled by the pair through pictures and blog posts, and she became a Facebook phenomenon. Although she passed away in 2016, she taught us all that saying “Yes” to life is the best way to live. We hope to see you at the Dallas event! If you can’t make it to the Dallas location, Tim and Ramie will also stop by our Marietta location in the Atlanta, Georgia area on May 16 at 7 p.m. EST. In the meantime, we asked them to share some of their favorite books with us in our Books Authors Read blog series – enjoy!

Memoirs and books involving the end-of-life seem to be the recent themes of our collective reading.

Being Mortal Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
This is the book that inspired us to take “Miss Norma” on the road with us instead of leaving her behind in a nursing home. In it, Dr. Gawande addresses the realities everyone must face as they near the end of their lives. As a result, our eyes were wide open and clear when the time came to help make transformative decisions for Norma.

Dr. Gawande points out that most decisions concerning our elderly population’s living situations are aimed at ensuring their safety, at the expense of dignity and autonomy. He says this is especially true when adult children are making these decisions for them, and certainly all nursing homes are geared toward that approach.

He further argues that it is not just the “quantity of life” but the “quality of life” that must be considered at end times. Modern medicine is too concerned about prolonging life at the expense of the patient’s total well-being. Not only did his words give us the gumption to take Norma places that we would have otherwise not thought of, but he also demonstrates the beauty of hospice care in the home, giving us the confidence to have Norma with us in the motor home until the very end.

“Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.”  — Atul Gawande Continue reading

Books Authors Read with Leanne Vogel

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Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome Leanne to not one, but TWO of our Texas locations this week. She’ll stop by our Montrose location in Houston on Saturday, April 15 at 2 p.m. and our North Lamar location in Austin on Monday, April 17 at 7 p.m. to discuss her new book, The Keto Diet (April 11). Hope to see you there! In the meantime, we asked Leanne to share some of her favorite books with us in our Books Authors Read blog series – enjoy!

Surprisingly, I’m not much for books about food. You’d think with my line of work that I’d be into all of the hot nutrition topics, but it’s the exact opposite – when I have time to carve out of my day, the last thing I want to do is read about more food. I’m a sucker for an inspirational biography, self-help books,and short business boosting books that are guaranteed to light a fire in my entrepreneurial belly. Also, I have a soft place for apocalyptic and war novels.

The Universe Has Your Back by Garbrielle Bernstein_Half Price BooksThe Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein
I found Gabby’s work shortly after I quit my full-time gig and moved across the country with my husband (then boyfriend). I was eager for inspiration and a healthy dose of positivity when a colleague recommended Gabby’s book, Spirit Junkie. After reading, it set me on a path of looking at the world in a very different way, leading me to write my first self-published book, travel to New York to study photography and boost my confidence. I’ve read all of Gabby’s books and The Universe Has Your Back is by far my favorite. It was there for me as I finished my paperback, reminding me to stay present, positive, hopeful and grounded. I couldn’t have finished the last round of edits without her solid advice and guidance leading me through. Continue reading