Behind the Book: Union by Jordan Blashek & Christopher Haugh

Editor’s Note: In an era of deepening political divide, two friends set out on a road trip across America to discover more about the country they love, in good times and bad. In this edition of Behind the Book, Christopher Haugh and Jordan Blashek tell us about their journey, friendship and what they learned about their country during this difficult time. Read on to discover more about their book, Union, and what they hope readers will take away from it.


What made you want to write about the political divide within America?

Jordan Blashek: Before starting these trips, both of us had spent time in organizations that represented America abroad. Chris worked at the State Department, and I was in the Marine Corps. We both loved the sense of mission and purpose those institutions gave us, and we also got to see the good America does overseas. When we got to law school though, we were struck by how much division we saw around us and across the country. I think we both worried that there was something existential about it. We didn’t start our trips with that in mind, but slowly that sense of lost mission and purpose led us to this book.

Christopher Haugh: Really the road made us want to write about it. Union started as a lark of a drive from New York to California, and it only later matured into a book about travel, culture, and politics. Jordan and I were natural friends, and the politics always came second. Of course, the division became inevitable as we got to know each other better and the 2016 election loomed and crescendoed. How we navigated those choppy waters started to feel timely. And so, we started to write. Continue reading

Behind the Book: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Our May/June 2020 HPB Book Club Pick is Ask Again, Yes, by New York Times bestselling author Mary Beth Keane. Ask Again, Yes is a profoundly moving story about two neighboring families, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades and the power of forgiveness. Mary Beth Keane provides us with a closer look at the inspiration behind her latest novel below!

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What made you want to write about these two families and the far-reaching consequences of shared trauma?

I didn’t know it would be about two families, or really anything at all about the shape of the book or the themes it would bring in until I was well into a draft. I usually start with a character, usually in motion, and I saw Peter pretty fully before I started writing. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Our March/April 2020 Book Club Pick is The Island of Sea Women, by New York Times bestselling author Lisa See. Few books can be called upon to so beautifully span decades and to delicately detail the relationship between two women who are inextricably linked. Lisa See provides us wiith a glimpse into the inspiration behind her latest novel  below.

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What made you want to write about haenyeo, Korean sea divers?
In many ways I feel that the haenyeo called to me. I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room, leafing through magazines, when I came across a tiny article—just one paragraph and one small photo—about these remarkable women. I ripped it out of the magazine and took it home. I hung onto the article for eight years before I decided that now was the time to write about the haenyeo. They have a matrifocal society—a society focused on women. Historically, they were known to have the greatest ability of any human group on earth to withstand cold water. They hold their breath for two minutes and dive down sixty feet (deep enough to get the bends) to harvest seafood. They are the breadwinners in their families, while their husbands take care the children and do the cooking. In the past, women would retire at age fifty-five. Today, the youngest haenyeo is fifty-five. I was and am amazed by their bravery and persistence, as well as the camaraderie—sisterhood—that they share with each other. About five years ago, UNESCO gave the haenyeo the designation of an Intangible World Heritage Tradition and estimated the culture would be gone in about fifteen years. I felt I couldn’t wait five, ten, or fifteen years to interview women who were in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Continue reading

Behind the Book: Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West

Editor’s Note: Kathleen West’s debut tackles the confusion, delusion and, yes, catastrophes often seen in the ecosystem of grade-school education. In this edition of Behind the Book, West lets us in on just how much of the storyline was influenced by her own life as a middle school teacher and what she would like readers to glean as they pour through the pages of her wry, cleverly observed offering.

What inspired you to write Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes?

The idea for the story came to me as I waited to find out whether my then-sixth grader had been cast in his middle school musical. I taught in the school he attended, and a colleague asked me if I planned to sneak up to the drama board and check to see if he’d gotten a part. Though I admit I was tempted, we agreed this was a terrible idea. What kind of parent would storm the bulletin board, pushing kids aside to read the list?

Obviously, I loved the idea of a character who would do just that. Julia means well, but she’s completely out of line. I’ve met moms like Julia lots of times, and I feel like I’ve (mostly) resisted being a mom like Julia lots of times.

As I started writing about Liston Heights, both from Julia’s and Isobel’s perspectives, I found myself obsessed with public criticism, which plays a big role in school communities. Everyone has been in school, and so everyone thinks they know how to define excellent teaching. And usually, when parents don’t agree with something they perceive to be happening in the classroom, the last person they’ll talk to about it is the teacher. So, instead of having a productive meeting with one parent who has questions, teachers end up having cryptic conversations about how “everyone” feels things are going badly. I really enjoyed exploring the consequences of behind-the-back complaining and gossiping, and the distrust and resentment it breeds between parents and teachers.

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Behind the Book: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

For our first Book Club pick of 2020, Half Price Books has selected Finding Dorothy, the fictional retelling of the true life of Maud Baum, wife to L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz. This a perfect read for lovers of all things Oz and historical fiction. We had the wonderful opportunity ask author Elizabeth Letts some in-depth questions regarding her inspirations, discoveries and insights into this wonderful book!

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Can you tell us more about Maud Baum, the voice and inspiration behind Finding Dorothy? What made you decide to write a story inspired by her and from her point of view?
Frank Baum died in 1919, twenty years before his book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was turned into the classic MGM film. The only living link between the book and the movie was his widow, Maud, who was seventy-seven years old. Maud’s mother was one of the most radical advocates for the rights of women—she grew up with Susan B. Anthony hanging around her house. Her mother was constantly in the newspapers for organizing protests, and she got laws changed so that Maud could be one of the first young women to attend an Ivy League school. So what did she do with all that opportunity? Did she become a lawyer for the cause, as her mother had hoped? No. She dropped out of school to marry a very handsome but not too impressive young theater man named L. Frank Baum. To me, this was fascinating. Maud was clearly a powerhouse, strong enough to defy her overbearing mother. But I think it’s easy to overlook the incredible influence of women like Maud, who make their mark behind-the-scenes. We may not remember her, but every time we quote The Wizard of Oz, we are paying homage to her legacy. Continue reading

Behind the Book: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

Our Book Club selection for October and November is Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris. This heart-breaking true story centers on a young woman who endures horrific hardships and unimaginable conditions. Her story of survival is a powerful testament to the triumph of human will. Half Price Books was thrilled to be able to discuss this powerful novel with Heather Morris. Read on to discover her answers to our questions below.

Can you tell us more about Cilka Klein, the inspiration behind Cilka’s Journey? What made you decide to write a story inspired by her?

Cover.Cilkas JourneyCilka Klein was a Jewish girl from Bardejov, a small town in what is now Slovakia. She celebrated her 16th birthday in March 1942; a month later she was transported, along with her father and two sisters, to Auschwitz. A few weeks later she was transferred to Birkenau where she caught the eye of two senior SS officers and was singled out to be kept as their sex slave. Placed in a special block, No. 25, she survived until the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Red Army. Her nightmare continued when she was condemned for ‘sleeping with the enemy’ and sent to a Siberian gulag.

It was Lale Sokolov who told me about Cilka – “she was the bravest person I ever met”, he told me, “she was a tiny young girl. And she saved my life”. Among all the wonderful letters, emails and questions I get from readers, it is the question I am asked over and over again – “what happened to Cilka?”.

And after having written about Lale, I wanted to write about women’s experience of Auschwitz, and of war – including the often untold stories of sexual abuse and violence. As for Cilka herself, the more I found out about her, I realized just how extraordinary she must have been, to survive all that she did, and find life and love after her time in two of the most brutal places on Earth. Continue reading

Behind the Book: Mary Kay on People Management

Mary Kay is known for cutting-edge beauty innovations, entrepreneurship opportunities and female empowerment across the world. However, Mary Kay Ash’s pink road to success wasn’t always so rosy. When Ash founded her namesake company, Mary Kay Cosmetics, in 1963, it was in response to years of seeing the men she trained receive promotions over her. In fact, on more than one occasion, after taking a male recruit on the road with her for six months, she returned with him to Texas only to see him promoted above her at twice her salary. Frustrated and disheartened, Mary Kay Ash set out to create a company where “thinking like a woman” was an asset, not an insult. Continue reading

Behind the Book: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

We are thrilled to introduce our August/September 2019 HPB Book Club Selection, Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center. This book addresses the struggles of Cassie Hanwell, a woman born for emergencies who uproots her life to move from Texas to Boston, where she struggles to find her place as one of the only female firefighters in the state. This heartfelt, stirring novel touches on two of the most important things in life— love and the meaning of courage. In this installment of our Behind the Book blog series, Katherine Center gives us insight into her inspiration and decision to tell Cassie’s story.

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Behind the Book: Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler

Inspired by historical events and a follow-up to the bestselling Calling Me Home, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls follows the deep friendship between two women at an early 20th-century rehabilitation home for cast-out single mothers and the reclusive librarian who discovers their story a century later. Read on to discover author Julie Kibler’s recommendations, inspirations and influences as we go Behind the Book. Continue reading

Behind the Book: Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

Editor’s note: We are thrilled to feature this wonderful letter from author Chandler Baker. Her latest novel, Whisper Network, is her first adult fiction release and was just selected as Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick for July! It follows four women who speak out when their ill-reputed boss is slated to become CEO, which triggers catastrophic shifts throughout their company. This is a fantastic summer release, and Chandler Baker gives us a sneak peek into her inspiration for the novel below!

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