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An Interview with Sarah Jio

This is an interview with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah Jio, whose new book was released on November 26. Joseph Arellano

Sarah Jio

Q: There are actors who are called method actors. They like to put themselves inside the skin of the characters they play. For example, if a method actor is hired to portray a boxer, he or she will take boxing lessons and box with professionals. I tend to think of you as a method writer, one who inhabits a world before she writes about it. With this in mind, could you tell us about how you prepared to write the novel Morning Glory, which is set on a houseboat in Seattle?

A: Renting a houseboat for four months while writing this novel was the single greatest thing I could have done to put me in the right headspace to capture the essence of the floating home community. I got to soak up little details that I would have never known had I not experienced them – like how a houseboat sways ever so gently on a windy day or how a pair of Mallard ducks waddle up to the doorstep on Saturday morning and gaze in to the French doors. I will forever treasure that time on Seattle’s Lake Union writing this book.

Morning Glory 2

Q: Would you briefly summarize the plot of Morning Glory, your latest release?

A: Here is what is written on the book jacket: “New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio imagines life on Boat Street, a floating community on Seattle’s Lake Union – home to people of artistic spirit who for decades protect the dark secret of one startling night in 1959.

“Fleeting an East Coast life marred by tragedy, Ada Santorini takes up residence on houseboat number seven on Boat Street. She discovers a trunk left behind by Penny Wentworth, a young newlywed who lived on the boat half a century earlier. Ada longs to know her predecessor’s fate, but little suspects that Penny’s mysterious past and her own clouded future are destined to converge.”

Q: In your novels, women who lived at different times (and who never met) are brought together by unique circumstances. Generally the woman who lives in current times is called upon to resolve a mystery involving a woman who lived 50, 70 or 80 years before her time. It has struck me that in this way each character gets to live twice; it’s a form of time travel. Is there an experience in your life or in your family that prompted you to write about this type of situation? Did you personally solve a mystery involving someone who preceded you?

A: I just smiled reading this question, because, yes – I love the concept of time travel, and I find it so heartbreaking that it isn’t really possible (someday?). I suppose the reason I tend to like to write books in this way is it gives me a chance to look back to the past. I feel incredibly romantic about my grandparent’s generation, and I’ve often thought that I should have been born in 1920, so I could have been a young woman in the 1940s.

Q: In Morning Glory a character states, “I know I may always ache for the past… but I want to be a bird now. I want to flap my wings through the rainstorms. I want to start my day with the earnestness of the morning glory….” Do you find yourself being both past and present oriented?

A: Absolutely, and I remember writing that passage. While I write fiction, yes, there is a lot of my heart and my own personal journey in all of my stories. It is impossible to separate the author from her characters. While they are not always me, I get to create them, and I get to choose favorites. And I often turn to my protagonists as I think about the important elements of life, or big things I’m working through.

Q: One thing I found in common among The Violets of March, Blackberry Winter and Morning Glory is that while your story conclusions are logical, they are unpredictable. Is this something that you strive for – to keep the reader guessing until the last page, or is this simply how the stories play out in the writing process?

A: Yes, I love to be sneaky like that – surprising readers with a conclusion that they didn’t see coming, or some surprising reveal at the end. Because isn’t that true of life? Often it is unpredictable and unchartered. Even the best laid plans have hiccups or surprise endings. And I love carrying this through in my books.

Q: Did anyone in our family or background use the phrase, “True love lives on….” (used by Esther Wilson in The Violets of March)?

A: No, I have never had that uttered to me by a loved one, but I believe it, and I cling to it.

Q: There are characters in your novels that are less than nice and honorable; but in general your stories tend to restore our faith in the best of human nature. Does this reflect a view on your part that while life can be mean and nasty, the better angels of our nature win out? In other words, do we see Sarah Jio’s basic optimism play out in your work?

A: Yes, we are flawed creatures – and that comes out in my books, for sure. At the end of the day, I am an optimist. We get one life, and only so many trips around the sun, and I believe in love and happy endings and beautiful sunsets that make you smile.

Q: Will most of your stories be set in the Seattle area?

A: Not all, but most. My heart is here and will always be. I naturally gravitate to setting my stories in the Northwest, but I’m interested in other locations too, so perhaps I’ll be switching things up in the next few books.

Q: I consider it as a positive that when I read Blackberry Winter, I was reminded of Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet since the two novels share a similar stage – Seattle past and present – and a journey of personal discovery. I loved both books. Have you met Ford and would you agree that the two novels are bookend-like in scope and theme?

A: I own Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (it is on my nightstand!). I have not met Jamie Ford, but enjoy following him on Facebook and Twitter and I think we’d have a lot to talk about over coffee (and anyone who is not following him on Twitter should – he’s hilarious). Readers have mentioned a similar connection in our books, and it’s a huge compliment to me, for sure.

Note: Before becoming a full-time author, Sarah Jio was the Health and Fitness writer-blogger for Glamour magazine.

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/an-interview-with-sarah-jio-author-of-morning-glory/

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Win The Stormchasers

On April 13, 2011, we posted a review of The Stormchasers: A Novel by Jenna Blum and concluded that it is Highly recommended.   It is also a 4.5 star-rated book at Amazon, and this rating has been earned after the submission of 55 customer ratings!   So we’re pleased to announce that, thanks to Kathleen, we can offer our readers three (3) copies of the trade paperback version of The Stormchasers, the version that is being released tomorrow.   Each book has a value of $15.00.

As always, we want to keep the rules simple for this book giveaway.   In order to enter this contest, just post a comment below – with your name and e-mail address – telling us why you’d like to win a copy of this particular book.   (In other words, what is it about the story that you find to be intriguing?)   If you prefer, you can send an e-mail message with your name and e-mail address to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This is open book, so feel free to refer to our earlier review or any reviews or information about the novel that you may find online.

As you may remember, the protagonist in The Stormchasers is a young woman whose strongest relationship in life is with her twin brother.   For a second entry, tell us who has been the most important person in your life and why?   Post your response below or in an e-mail message to us.

In order to be eligible to win a copy of The Stormchasers, you must live in the continental United States and be able to supply a residential (street) mailing address if and when you are contacted.   Books will not be shipped to P. O. boxes or to business-related addresses.   The three winners will be picked at random and you have until 12:00 Midnight PST on Friday, May 27, 2011 to submit your entry or entries.

So much for the complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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What Is Life

The Stormchasers: A Novel by Jenna Blum (Plume; $15.00; 369 pages)

“…while they are crossing the grass their movement startles a flock of birds in the vacant lot next to the motel, and she stops to watch them rise as one and circle the sky.   It seems an omen of something.   Karena just doesn’t know what.”

With The Stormchasers, Jenna Blum has delivered a stunning and magical story about the price of family.   Karena Jorge is a twin whose brother Charles suffers from bipolar disorder.   The condition causes Charles to act out in ways, both verbal and physical, that are harmful to both himself and those around him.   It seems that medications don’t work to alleviate his symptoms, they simply replace his anxieties with new physical maladies.   The only thing that appears to help the erratic, high-IQ Charles calm down is to move around the center of the U.S. chasing active storms.

“Charles is, after all, a genius…  But trying to make sense of what he’s saying now is like hearing a piece of music with one wrong note played over and over…”

We join the Jorges in 1988, as Karena is about to depart for college and experience a respite from being her brother’s keeper.   But then Charles disappears and Karena is aware that at some point she will need to do her best to find him.   It takes her 20 years, 1 month and 6 days to do so, and only when she has assumed the identity of a reporter writing a story on stormchasers.   This is not, however, the point at which the story ends, it is, rather, where it actually begins…

The Charles of 2008 is a very troubled character – in fact, he’s mentally disturbed, if not fully insane.   Karena believes, to her dismay, that she loves her brother more than she will ever love anyone who will enter her life.   This means that she will either destroy her own life as his caretaker, or let Charles – who is jealous of anyone receiving Karena’s attentions – do it for her.   There seems to be no way out until, incredibly, the recklessness of the Jorges places them in trouble with the law.   It’s then that both Karena and Charles must locate their moral centers and the path to a better life.

“…sometimes when you throw yourself upon the world, it will hold you up.”

Jenna Blum does a masterful job of instructing the reader on the beauty of storms created by nature:  “She never would have known about this wild and violent beauty, (had she) not experienced it firsthand.   She stands in the road, watching, for a long, long time.”   By analogy, she teaches us that the storms in our lives must sometimes be approached directly – literally finding the eye of the storm – rather than avoided.   For, once an active storm breaks, we’re gifted with a new ability to appreciate the quiet serenity of life.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.


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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Stormchasers: A Novel by Jenna Blum.

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Making the Time to Read

“Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”   David Bowie

A female book blogger mentioned recently that whenever people learn that she writes book reviews, they ask a common question, “Where do you find the time to read so many books?”   It’s a good question, and one that I’ve been tempted to ask film reviewers.   “How do you get the time to watch so many movies?”   So, the question being on the table, let’s see if I can provide one set of answers to the question as it relates to reading.

First, it helps to be a speed reader.   I enrolled in the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics Program when it was all the rage (John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter being two of its graduates); and once you paid the initial enrollment fee, you were free to re-take the entire program again and I did.   There were and are many misconceptions about speed reading in terms of what was offered by the Wood Program.   No reading “tricks” were taught.   The Wood Program was actually a memory course applied to the skill of reading.   One started without much confidence in one’s own ability to remember long passages but through constant reading and test taking (similar to mock SATs), Wood students learned that the brain locks in content quite quickly.   The Wood Program also illustrated the value of instinct as in learning to accept the rule that one’s first answer to a question is, generally and statistically, the right one.

The simple matter of gaining confidence in one’s reading retention abilities meant that a Wood graduate felt he or she could (and did) read faster, not worrying that it would soon be forgotten.   (There’s a parallel to learning a new language.   If you’re learning Korean, you will initially speak slowly and perhaps loudly.   With confidence, you’re speaking the language faster and in a more normal tone of voice.)

Second, taking public transportation to work and back home builds in periods where reading is relaxing.   My light rail trips mean that I have almost three-quarters of an hour each work day in which to concentrate on a new book.   In fact, if I don’t read while commuting, the trip seems longer, something that most airline passengers have learned.   (There are a lot of books sold at airports these days!)

Third, is to learn to combine a walk and a reading break into each work day.   The walk is good exercise and spending a few minutes reading is a nice reward before trekking back to the salt mines.

Fourth, if you skip watching the local and national news in the evening, you will gain another half hour to 90 minutes of reading time without the depression and angst which result from hearing – and seeing – bad news.   Life is simply more relaxing when valuable time is spent reading instead of tensely watching the tube.   And, of course, there’s more time gained by treating newspapers as an optional, sometime, non-essential activity.   As one of my former supervisors told me, if something truly important happens you’ll know because someone will walk up to you and say, “Did you hear about…?”   That’s when they supply you with the news you’ve missed.   It’s the way of the world.

Then there’s the certified trick of book reviewers everywhere, audio books.   If you drive yourself to work all that formerly wasted commute time now becomes valuable audio book listening time, and the same holds true for out-of-town trips for work or family matters.   This is why I will occasionally plead with a publisher for an audio book.   And there’s a related audio trick…  I used to listen to music on headphones virtually every night, but now that time is and can be reserved for audio books instead of listening to old Doors albums.

So, just like that I’ve covered six ways in which reader-reviewers like me create time (we don’t actually find it) in which to read.   Are there other tricks of the trade?   Of course, but as our wise old cat Munchy says, “Yeow!”   Translated into English this means, “There are secrets that go with the territory!”

Joseph Arellano

One article in a continuing series.   Pictured:  How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson, to be released by Plume in trade paperback form on July 27, 2010.

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