Beguiled follows young Miriam as she struggles to follow her dreams through a turbulent time in history. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Initially, I had the idea to write a story of the kind of life my mother, born in 1910, might have had, if she’d had the gumption. Which she did not, so the story of Miriam Levine, 1st generation Russian-Jewish girl, is entirely fictional. There are a few biographical markers, e.g., Miriam’s Pop was active in the leftist-unionist organization called the Workmen’s Circle. My maternal grandfather was as well. Similarly, he was a cultured fellow, albeit not formally educated, and introduced my mother to cultural events from a young age. The character Miriam developed her aspirations to go on stage from the experiences her Pop exposed her to from a young age.
The story transformed itself immediately from anything biographical to an exciting adventure of Miriam and her girlfriends as they make their way through a difficult time in history punctuated by WWI, the “Spanish” flu, women’s getting the vote, the Roaring 20s, the relationship between young people and their immigrant parents, and the status of women.
Miriam is a well developed character that I grew attached to. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a young woman in the 1900’s?
Research, research, and more research helped me to describe a girl of the early 1900s. I read many books about the times, including novels of women of that period.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been a psychotherapist and life coach all my adult life, so am accustomed to hearing people’s stories and helping them to make sense of their lives. So, the emotions of a woman of this period seemed little different to me from my clients’ stories. Yes, women have approached the glass ceiling and many are in marriages that are fundamentally equal or mutually enhancing, but with the outing of many in the MeToo movement, it’s clear that women’s place has not appreciably changed vis a vis powerful men.
I liked how the politics and drama of the time was not front and center, but served as a backdrop to Miriam’s story. Did you do any research for this story to keep things accurate?
As stated above, I pored over many historical books of this period, as well as historical novels about the early 1900s. Having been in graduate school for a PhD back in the 1980s, I learned how to do research and to enjoy it. I was not, however, a big history buff, so my becoming absorbed in this research was a surprise to me. One funny thing: in one of my last drafts, I realized that NO character ever was described as smoking. So, I had to go back and add smoking Lucky Strikes, Camels, pipes, and cigars to many scenes.
WWI was certainly in the background only in Beguiled. Miriam and her friends barely seemed to register that there was a world war going on in Europe, until Miriam arrives home and discovers that her father’s Workmen’s Circle is having an important emergency meeting to discuss US entry into the War. Then a young German boy barges in to say that his family was beaten bloody right in their neighborhood, an unthinkable thing in their multi-ethnic close community.
Many people have suggested I write a sequel to Beguiled, but that would take me into the Depression of the 1930s and I don’t know if I want to go there, particularly since our country seems liable to get there itself.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Beguiled was just released on May 1st 2018, so I’m devoting some time to publicizing it before embarking on my next story. But, I’ve had the idea of locating an appealing news story of a woman who lived in another era. I enjoy researching historical fiction and being an archaeologist in searching out details of a bygone period. In order to find this appealing person, I’ll need to immerse myself in the Boston Public Library’s newspapers from the last century or even before. There are also archives of women’s letters housed at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, where I’ve done research before. I look forward to being able to do this, once my initial marketing campaign is over.
Beguiled is about every person who ever had dreams that were interrupted by cultural mores, by discrimination, or by their own shortcomings. Miriam Levine, born in 1900, dreamed of going on stage, until an almost fatal mis-step forced her to postpone her “real life.” A serendipitous offer compelled her to confront her inner demons and society’s expectations. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, she recites at age 16: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
The story is inspirational for young people and their parents who dearly wish to access the American dream. The historical context of the decades before the Great Depression, the role of immigrants and women’s suffrage parallels tough political dilemmas that the US faces today.
Will Miriam have the gumption to follow her dreams? Will those dreams yield her the happiness she seeks? Or will she find that her childhood fantasies “beguile” her to seek ‘fool’s gold?’
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A gut-wrenching journey through life is portrayed in the pages of Shame, Guilt, and Surviving Martin Bryant by Karen Collyer. It’s a short read, but the raw emotions within the page are heavy, terrifying and intense. This book follows Karen through her life as a very young girl towards where she is today and spares no detail. Karen’s life has not been kind to her, and the novella is not afraid to tell readers exactly what horrors she has gone through. This is not a book for those who are emotionally fragile or have troubles reading about assault and rape. These horrific events are laid out in painstaking detail as well as the trauma Karen faced when she was stalked by the man who committed the massacre in Port Arthur.
The book takes great pains to let readers know what they are getting into before it even begins. Readers should pay careful attention to the trigger warning at the beginning, as it accurately describes the type of events that take place in the book. The book, however, is a powerful tool that demonstrates the ways in which deep rooted emotional scars can shape our lives.
Karen tells the story from the perspective of the ‘wide-eyed girl’. This serves to disconnect the author from the story in a sense that readers may forget they are reading a memoir of sorts. This also allows readers to avoid projecting the feelings of the protagonist on themselves, as can often happen when stories are told from the first person perspective. This makes the story powerful and allows readers to relate on a deeper level. Those with empathy may feel drained after reading the emotional journey Karen had to go through.
This book states that it is a journey from terror to joy. Upon reading the book and now writing this review, it is hard to see where joy comes into play. There are several times that the protagonist Karen embarks on ventures that light her up and cause her to feel elated and wonderful, however by the end of the story there is no confirmation that she was able to obtain the happiness she is long overdue. Yes, she barely survived being a victim of Martin Bryant, but where is the confirmation of her happiness? Where is the consolation for the readers that the wide-eyed girl made it and was able to attain joy? It’s not explicitly stated, just implied. It leaves one wondering, in a good way, where one finds this confirmation in life.
For those who are looking for a short but meaningful book that will take them on a roller-coaster of emotions, Shame, Guilt, and Surviving Martin Bryant by Karen Collyer is a must read. It’s gripping, tears at the heartstrings and exposes the ugliness of the ‘don’t tell’ culture that is still alive and well today.
Pages: 174 | ASIN: B07B8Y47XR
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Phoenix, written by Arti Chugpai, tells the story of Sonam Aggarwal and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. Sonam is a complex character with beautiful soul, intelligence and integrity. Her presence demands authority, and as the Director of Publishing for a branch in India, she has certainly earned respect and accolades. However, there is a part of her that is broken by a moment in her life that she explicitly calls “The Betrayal”. Her family and friends judge her by her relationship failings rather than her career successes, leaving Sonam feeling lost and alone. Will Sonam be able to rise above the stereotypes and convictions of her family and friends to find true happiness?
Phoenix is a novel based on love, life and conforming to gender stereotypes. It’s the year 1998, and there’s a budding romance growing between a middle-aged business tycoon by the name of Kunal Vats and the main leading lady, Sonam Aggarwals. Set in India, Phoenix explores Sonan Aggarwal’s life through her ever-changing family, relationships, career aspirations and friendships.
The story then flits between two different eras of Sonam Aggarwal’s life, one part telling her life as it is in 2017 and the other turning back the clock to the year 1998. It’s here we learn about her life and the changing family dynamics and reoccurring expectations that seem to haunt Sonam, no matter how old her or her family members are.
It was refreshing to read a novel based on someone who is aged between their 40’s-60’s. Most modern love stories center around young adults in their twenties and Phoenix was a gentle reminder that age is no barrier when it comes to pursuing love and happiness. I enjoyed the sense of realism as the characters experienced a love that did not always result in happy endings. Instead, Phoenix dove deep into a raw and personal kind of love, where abuse, betrayal and forgiveness are all prominent players in the relationship game.
Phoenix also explores the events of Sonam’s life so thoroughly that at times you feel as though you are almost reading a biography of a real person. The novel also went into depth to showcase some of India’s culture, including foods, family life and working conditions. Arti Chugpai’s style of writing is confident and expressive, using strong descriptive words and phrases to demonstrate their points within the plot line. Fitting, considering the main character Sonam is a publisher herself.
Phoenix also brings to light the society changes and gender differences in India, and how things change over a period of time. It shows the difference in expectations between men and women, especially when it comes to love and relationships. Women are considered to be successful if they maintain a healthy, happy family, with their career aspirations and achievements often shadowed by the relationship, falls they have had in their life.
I would recommend this for anyone looking for a novel about budding romance, rising above the gender stereotypes and Indian culture.
Pages: 232 | ISBN: 1543701043
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Like Peaches and Pickles follows Georgia as she fights to maintain her position in a work place that is quickly changing. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Throughout my long career in journalism and communication, I never worked anywhere that did not have politics. I never understood politics or learned to play the game. I was always horrified to see workers caught up in politics and crushed alive. I always thought that if I did the best job I could do, if I always tried to exceed my boss’s expectations, and if I stayed as far away from office politics as I could, then I would be fine. However, I soon learned that was not true. I wrote this book for all women who have ever been caught up in office politics, but especially for those women whose lives were forever scarred by despicable, ruthless bosses.
What I liked about Georgia’s character was that she continued to develop throughout the story. What was your inspiration for her character?
I was inspired by the strong women I met over the years whose lives became ensnared in office politics. Women who fought back against wage discrimination and sexual harassment. Women who were vilified for trying to bring about positive changes in the work place.
I really liked how I could relate to the office politics in the story. What experiences from your own life did you bring into the story?
Like all authors, I draw from my own experiences. It was my naivety when it came to back-stabbing office politics that often got me into trouble. I worked 10 years at a major Southern research university, so I definitely had experiences of my own to weave into LIKE PEACHES AND PICKLES, like political hires, wage discrimination, sexual harassment, fraternity hazing, arrested athletes, and campus scandals. I mixed my personal experiences with stories I heard from faculty and staff members at universities and colleges across the United States and Canada.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am currently working on the third book in my “fruity” series–tentatively titled ROTTEN BANANAS. It is about a recently retired university professor who moves to a retirement complex for a safe, no-stress life full of Bridge games, yoga, water aerobics, music concerts, art classes, afternoon tea, and shopping trips to the Mall and Walmart. But one morning as she looks at her Bridge partner and counts up 40 points in her hand, she decides she wants more than that. So she signs up for a Caribbean cruise on the Emerald Dream, where she meets a stowaway, tangles with drug smugglers, gets kidnapped, and becomes involved with a “hottie” secret agent. What could be better than this?
The university’s selection committee nominates Georgia Davis to become their first woman vice president — a job she’s coveted for more than a quarter century. But the university’s new president, Paul Van Horne, sours her plans by ignoring the committee and hiring Carl Overstreet, his old college buddy instead. In spite of her outrage and better judgment, Georgia begins having romantic feelings for the despicable scoundrel who is now her boss — at least until he fires her. But Van Horne and Overstreet soon learn that a Southern peach like Georgia does not go quietly into the compost bin. And Georgia discovers that revenge can taste as sweet as romance. Like Peaches and Pickles — a deliciously wicked story — will make you laugh, love and cheer for one Southern peach with a pit of steel.
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Choose: Snakes or Ladders follows Mitty who comes up against sexism and classism and must challenge others’ prejudices while fighting her inner demons. What was your inspiration for this provocative novel?
I didn’t have any articulated inspiration for the novel. It started as a short piece and grew seemingly by itself. I thought it was about an innocent young girl in the 50’s. I actually didn’t know that I felt so strongly about class issues and sexism. Nor about sexual safety of young people. My main conscious focus was on her struggle to find a way through the internal and external restrictions. As a former therapist, it has always saddened me that many women, particularly in the 50’s, were denied natural pleasures because of a culture of ignorance and shame around female sexual activity. As well of course, of career advancement.
What I really enjoyed about Mitty’s character is how well developed she was but continued to transform throughout the novel. What were some obstacles you felt were important for Mitty’s character development?
Her main obstacle was the extreme shaming and ignorance of the fictional sect in the novel. Another strong obstacle was Mitty’s lack of anyone who could help her come to some knowledge and understanding. I loved Violet’s attempts to inform her. The struggle is linked to the development, through ups and downs, of her self-worth – another essential ingredient in a life of achievement, pleasure and love.
I think you did a great job of illustrating that female beauty and sexuality can often be a poisoned chalice. Why do you think this is an important, especially with today’s #metoo movement?
I was amused by Mitty’s character as a woman who was beautiful and sexually arousing without her knowing it. And heartened by her innate sensuality. Perhaps if young women were educated properly and allowed to have awareness and acceptance of these factors, they would be less vulnerable in the face of male assertion of power in all ways. A lot of work needs to be done to educate men, particularly in self-awareness.
In the sequel all these themes continue to build strong plot threads, together with some surprising twists in Mitty’s life path.
What life experiences of your own did you put into the novel, if any?
That’s a tricky question. A life experience of teacher and counselor helps to build a wide understanding. Personally, none of the events as depicted happened to me, although fragments of similar occurrences have been combined to build a different fictional history. For example, my much loved grandmother had overcome a restrictive religious background, while still quoting many homilies to me, with a wry smile. Otherwise, sometimes just a few words overheard will trigger a scene. So there is a basic truth in it all.
This is “a well-plotted tale of human growth, sexuality, and self-discovery which will be enjoyed by readers of women’s fiction and literary fiction alike.”
Mitty is a young girl brought up in a punitive sect who escapes to a typist job in the city – a step to fulfilling her dreams of being a lady. She is hampered by deep fears of hell and punishment, and utter ignorance of the facts of life.
The 1950’s – sex, drugs and rock and roll, but not in the small towns of Australia. There were lots of jobs, clothes and wealth in the cities but this threatened the values of the past – a culture where men desire and decide, while women love and serve.
Miss Mitty Bedford knew the outside world through Hollywood movies at the local Pictures, only to find in real life that there can be nasties behind smiling, beautiful faces.
A stalker’s attack clashes with her newfound joy in sensual self-discovery inspired by a crush on her boss, and her love for decent, loving, traditional Col. She writhes between shame, repentance and joy.
Mitty wants a career and respect, but what path must she choose? She needs love, but does she want freedom more?
This emotional and dramatic journey to win trust, love and independence, will keep readers turning the pages, as well as provoking questions that still apply today.
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Mitty Bedford is a young woman who has spent her life under the rule of a god-fearing sect, including the indomitable and vindictive Aunt Charity. Escaping to the city to become a typist, she meets the kind and loving Col. But she is conflicted; her sexuality has been repressed and she is laden with feelings of shame and fear. As she sets out on her journey to self-discovery and independence in 1950’s Australia, she comes up against the sexism and classism of the day. To truly be free, she must challenge others’ prejudices and fight her own inner demons.
Choose Snakes or Ladders by Sally Forest is a book of many themes; love and loss, religion, shame, trauma, memory, gender, sexuality and the questionable nature of truth. Forest deals with these complex and universal topics with sensitivity and skill. Through her writing, she asks us to question our own biases and consider how relevant these issues are today.
Forest excels at writing place and her prose conjures up the setting of New South Wales incredibly well. Her descriptions of the seasons are particularly beautiful; the dirt, pollution and heat of summer mirror Mitty’s feelings of oppression and add to an atmosphere of heaviness, whilst the freshness of autumn coincides with Mitty’s new found confidence. Forest also invokes the time period expertly, and I enjoyed the references to old films and magazines which gave some historical context and showed how influential the invention of advertising and the media was on thoughts and behaviour at the time.
Mitty is an utterly believable and well-realised character. Much of the book consists of her internal dialogue, which gives us insight into her feelings of guilt and shame and makes her very relatable. She wants to be attractive to men and enjoys their gaze but she is also afraid of it and fears repercussions. Forest illustrates that female beauty and sexuality can be a poisoned chalice in a society where only women are castigated for the outcome of these things (this clearly has modern resonance too). The prejudice and ignorance of certain characters are well-drawn and had me seething with anger!
The dialogue is predominately realistic and natural. Forest uses dialect for some of her characters- possibly to infuse more authenticity into the narrative- but I would have liked a little less of this as it came off as contrived at times and distracted me from the flow of the narrative. Although there is quite a steady pace to the book, I occasionally felt that Mitty’s day to day life was rather repetitive and that the plot could have done with a little more substance. There was definitely enough suspense to keep me intrigued though, and I think that any plot issues were reconciled by Forest’s use of prose and by her complex and likeable characters.
Ultimately, this is a book about redemption. It is a moving and beautifully written story, which although full of challenging themes, eventually filled me with hope.
Pages: 213 | ASIN: B075PXBHTZ
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