I’ve written for WOW Women on Writing’s blog, The Muffin, for awhile now, and periodically I like to do a round-up of my recent posts, which all revolve around the writing life. Here are a few from the past few months–hope you find something useful!
Going “There” with Your Writing
Because it’s National Novel Writing Month (no, not participating this year!) I’ve noticed all the writing trade magazines and websites are chock full of inspirational articles on how to write a great plot twist and craft a page-turning dilemma. One such piece of advice centered on writing what scares you—you know, dig into those deep, dark fears a la Stephen King It style. Read more . . .
How Mysteries Inspire Our Writing
I’ve always been a fan of mysteries. I read them as a child and then ventured out into reading authors like Mary Higgins Clark in my teens. Nowadays, I prefer more of the true-life mysteries. When revamping my writing blog a few months back, I decided to dedicate one day a week to writing about missing persons or homicide cases and offering my own theories about what might have happened. Read more . . .
The Stories Behind the Authors
This seems like a busy time of year for authors! I follow a lot of them on social media, and have seen more posts about book release tours than usual. Sioux also wrote about one a few days ago. I got to attend a special event with one of my literary heroes, young adult novelist, John Green, last week. Read more . . .
When the Flood Gates Open
If you’ve read any of my posts over the last year, you know that I’ve been somewhat blocked in my creative writing. I have a few different manuscripts that I’ve been tinkering with, but those often get put aside due to my paying freelance gigs. But in my last post, I put down in writing that I was revamping my personal blog so that I could get back into a regular writing schedule. Read more . . .
I love the show People Magazine Investigates on the Investigation Discovery channel, and the case that aired this week is a difficult one because a 2-year-old child was involved. There are so many unanswered questions about the case and finger pointing that it makes coming up with theories difficult, especially because you want to be sensitive to the parents who are still looking for answers. On the other hand, there are far too many cases like Susan Smith and Casey Anthony (even though she was acquitted of charges) that prove a parent can indeed know something happened to their child and then lie to investigators about it.
Here is what we know. On July 10, 2015, Jessica Mitchell and Vernal DeOrr Kunz took their 2-year-old son DeOrr on a camping trip with Mitchell’s grandfather Robert Walton and a friend of the grandfather, Isaac Reinwand. Then the story gets a little murky. The parents (who were high school sweethearts who had married other people and then divorced and reconnected to have baby DeOrr) said they walked up a trail only a few feet from the campsite. They left DeOrr in the care of the grandfather when they did this. Then Vernal said he saw some minnows in a stream that he thought his son would like to see, and he and Jessica returned to the campsite to get him. The grandfather (who is in poor health and tethered to an oxygen tank) claimed he thought the toddler was with them. From one report I read, the parents were probably gone 20 minutes or so. But that’s more than “a few feet away from the campsite.” There are also discrepancies on how long they waited before they called 911. I think on the episode Jessica said he had been missing for an hour but I can’t be positive on that.
There was a reservoir nearby that was searched but the dive team didn’t find anything. Jessica told police they had been at a nearby gas station that morning and she noticed a man looking at DeOrr in a way that made her uncomfortable. Investigators tracked down the man and determined he had nothing to do with the disappearance. The four people at the campsite couldn’t seem to get their stories straight, either, they all had different recollections of who had cooked breakfast that morning, how long DeOrr had been missing before they called for help, etc. The parents both ended up failing polygraph tests which didn’t help their case. The friend that was with the grandfather had a criminal background (theft, I believe).
I think at first their local community rallied around them, but now that investigators have said none of the four people on the trip can be cleared in the case that support has wavered. Jessica and Vernal are no longer together, and have taken to saying they don’t know if the other had anything to do with DeOrr’s disappearance. Jessica stated that she feels DeOrr was kidnapped by someone that was in the area on that day. It also came out on the “People Magazine Investigates” episode that Jessica had two other children from a previous marriage but had given up custody of them before she had DeOrr. And the fact remains that no trace of him has ever been found and only four people truly know what happened that day.
It is heartbreaking to see the photos of this adorable little boy and know that something tragic likely happened to him, whether it was an accident or not. If it was an accident, I hope that whoever is responsible does the right thing and comes forward so that the extended family can finally get some answers.
(This article originally ran in the September 2017 issue of Lake Norman CURRENTS.)
When Sherrill’s Ford resident Jenna Patrick first got the idea for her debut novel, “The Rules of Half,” she was juggling the demands of a career in engineering and the schedules of her two daughters, who are both competitive gymnasts. She says it took her about a year to finish the first draft of the book, which centers around a family dealing with mental illness set in small-town America. While Patrick’s path to publication was different than she first imagined it, she couldn’t be happier with the reception of her novel.
She says she first got the idea for the story after reading a newspaper article about an accidental death in a family, and wondering if she would be able to live with herself personally if something similar happened to her. She has also struggled with depression in the past and has had family members also deal with mental illness. After finishing the novel, hiring an independent editor sending out queries to agents and publishing houses, she learned about SparkPress, an independent publishing company (and imprint of Ingram Publisher Services) that specializes in merging the traditional publishing model with new and innovative strategies.
Redbook has listed “The Rules of Half” as one of “10 Books You Have to Read this Summer” and she has also received reviews from Kirkus, Buzzfeed, “Working Mother,” Popsugar and SheKnows. In addition, while promoting the novel, she published essays with “Harper’s Bazaar” and “First For Women.”
Patrick says she always loved writing but wasn’t sure she would be able to sustain a good career taking the English major route.
“As time went on I missed it so much,” she says. “For me, it’s a great release. If I’m stressed, I write. It soothes me. A page became a chapter, and a chapter became a book. It helps me. It’s complex and there are a lot of different things going on at once and my engineering background helps.” She likes to work on outlining and plotting using the software program Scrivener and Excel spreadsheets.
Patrick is working on her next novel, while continuing to work as an engineer three days a week and drive her daughters to their practices and competitions, many of which are out of town. She always credits her husband for making sure she has time to write when she needs it.
To learn more about Jenna Patrick, visit jennapatricknovels.com.
Will was his Bipolar Disorder.
But it was easier not to argue over a technicality, so instead Will thought of happier times. He thought of swimming in Half Moon Creek and picnics afterword at the dam. He thought of his mother’s homemade, blueberry pie and his father’s old transistor radio crackling in the background. He thought of a time when he was just little Will Fletcher–future wide receiver for the Half Moon Howlers. Not crazy Will Fletcher–the example parents cite to their children when explaining the meaning of stranger danger.
I was working on this assignment when my family took our annual beach vacation this year, and was fortunate to have an advance copy of the novel with me. I was hooked in no time. The cast of characters in the fictional town of Half Moon Hollow are written with depth, and Patrick expertly peels away the layers to prove to the readers that things aren’t always what they seem. Fifteen-year-old Regan Whitmer is escaping the controlling eye of her step-father, mourning the loss of her mother, and seeking out the biological father she has never known. Unbeknownst to her, that father, Will Fletcher, has lost his way and fights a daily battle with bipolar disorder, made worse after a tragedy in his family. He is not exactly in proper frame of mind to meet the daughter he never knew existed, especially one who is requesting to live with him and Janey, the sister determined to keep him healthy.
As the story unfolds, you learn more about Regan’s relationship with her mother, the guilt she is harboring, the secret Janey is keeping, and the past that Will isn’t sure he remembers clearly. Patrick does a great job pacing the story, and making the reader feel both frustrated and exhilarated while trying to unlock the mystery that remains at the core of the story. I was very impressed by the quality of this novel, as well as the uniqueness of the story and give kudos to the author and her decision to work with SparkPress. I look forward to checking out more of their titles in the future.
A few years ago I took my daughter to a literary festival called EpicFest in uptown Charlotte. This was yet another one of those events where I used my sweet, accommodating daughter as an excuse to go and hear one of my favorite children’s authors speak.
Lauren Oliver has written many books I’ve enjoyed, as well as one adult novel that confused me a little bit so I’ll probably need to read it again. I’m mostly drawn to her young-adult novels such as Panic, Vanishing Girls, Replica, Before I Fall (which was adapted into a film this past year), but I picked up a copy of her middle-grade novel, Liesl and Po, for my daughter to get autographed at the festival. I was intrigued by the premise of the novel after hearing Oliver answer a Q&A at EpicFest. She said she was inspired to write the story after the death of one of her best friends. In fact, she said she wrote it mostly as a way to process her own feelings of loss—she wasn’t actually sure the novel would be published. In the back of the book, she writes:
The idea for the book came from a fantasy I entertained during those months: I dreamed about unearthing my friend’s ashes from the decorative wall in which they’d been interred and scattering them over the water, the only place he’d ever felt truly at peace.
Below is the synopsis of the novel:
Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost named Po appears from the darkness.
That same evening, an alchemist’s apprentice named Will makes an innocent mistake that has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.
One of the things that always impresses me about children’s novels is how deep and profound they can be. Children are resilient beings, and I think sometimes we forget that. Liesl and Po tackles some tough subjects in the way that’s reminisent of Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling. After the death of her father (which readers soon learn was a murder) Liesl is trapped in a small attic room with only the barest scraps of food and drink (think items one might be served in a concentration camp) with only an androgynous ghost named Po to keep her company. She questions Po about what live is like “on the other side” and finally becomes motivated to escape her circumstances and take her father’s ashes to the only place where he was happiest.
Will, the alchemist’s apprentice, also lives a hardscrabble life, as he is an orphan who is verbally (and sometimes physically) abused by the alchemist. He is also forced to skulk around in the dead of night to fetch unimaginable items such as chicken’s heads or a dead man’s beard from a local mortuary. He’s carrying a large box full of magic that is supposed to be delivered to a local wealthy woman, The Lady Premiere, who lives in a castle. When the box of magic gets mixed up with the ashes of Liesl’s fathers, well, you can imagine that the two children get caught in quite a pickle.
The setting of this book is stark, and grey, much like the author viewed the world after the death of her friend. But slowly, through a tale of adventure and lovable characters such as Po, a ghost-animal named Bundle that could be a dog or cat, and a sweet but not-so-bright security guard named Mo (short for Molasses), the color gradually creeps back onto the pages, both literally and metaphorically. It also takes place in a setting and time period that could be anywhere and at anytime.
The back of the book says appropriate for ages 8-12, but I would probably recommend it more for ages 10 and older, because there is so much talk of death, “the other side” and description of a crematorium and the pretty scary character of the stepmother.
When most people think of Orlando, Fla., they envision theme park resorts, Mickey Mouse, water parks, and a place where people go to seek thrills and adventure. For 24-year-old Jennifer Kesse, Orlando provided a place for her to start off a career as a financial analyst. That’s where she was headed on Jan. 24, 2006, when she disappeared. When she didn’t show up for work, her employer called her family because it was so unlike her normal behavior. When police and family members searched her condo, they could tell she had showered and gotten ready for work per usual, but there was no sign of her car.
Two days later the car was found in a nearby condominium complex. Video surveillance captured the grainy image of a person exiting her car and walking away on foot shortly after parking (the car was left in the lot on the day Jennifer disappeared). Unfortunately, most of the footage of this person was obscured by a tall, black, wrought-iron fence.
At the time of her disappearance, Jennifer’s condominium complex was undergoing a massive renovation, and from what it sounds like, many of the workers on the project were illegal immigrants who didn’t speak a lot of English when questioned. Some theorize the person captured on the surveillance image could have been a painter or other contractor based on the white, non-descript clothing. Jennifer had told friends and family members that she felt uncomfortable having so many workers in the complex where she lived alone, especially when they made comments as she walked by.
In subsequent interviews, Jennifer’s father Drew shared that he feared she had been kidnapped and kept in one of the unoccupied condo units while community members searched for her. No one interviewed remembered seeing her in the parking lot that morning, leaving her family to think something happened to Jennifer before she even made it out of the breezeway outside her condo.
Elementary-school teacher and Tampa-area resident Shaun Gurd has helped the case receive a resurgence of interest the past year with the podcast, “Unconcluded.” Gurd produces episodes of the podcast along with is friend Scott Jamison. (It seems pretty popular with at least 300,000 downloads so far!) I haven’t listened to any episodes yet but hope to in the next week to see if I can learn any other details.
Have you listened to the “Unconcluded” podcast? If not, what are your theories on what happened to Jennifer Kesse?
People always talk like there’s a bright line between imagination and memory, but there isn’t, at least not for me. I remember what I’ve imagined and imagine what I remember.
I imagine this book had to have been one of the hardest to write for author John Green, because much like the main character, 16-year-old Aza, he has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Prior to reading this book, much of what I knew about OCD centered around behaviors I’ve seen on TV and in movies (think Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets” or the clean-freak Monica in “Friends”). Turtles All the Way Down gives you a first-hand look into the mind of a person with OCD, and how those instrusive thoughts can paralyze us in our everyday lives.
Thoughts are just a different type of bacteria, colonizing you. I thought about the gut-brain information axis. Maybe you’re already gone. The prisoners run the jail now. Not a person so much as a swarm. Not a bee, but the hive.
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
This book is a much quicker read than The Fault in Our Stars but I’m not sure it’s any less painful. The characters are well drawn, except I still don’t know what Aza looked like–she never described herself nor did anyone else around her. Daisy is a wonderful comedic sidekick–tough when it’s warranted, zany in her world of Star Wars fan fiction, and forever loyal, even as frustrated as she gets with Aza. Daisy and Aza provide much of the light-hearted banter I remember from Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars. I couldn’t help but think of how much this story is the opposite of what most YA books represent. While other books have characters fussing about their parents and wanting distance, Aza and Davis both have voids in their lives in the parental department, and these voids deeply impact them.
Green also nails how isolating having a mental illness can be. When you’re in the throes of it, you don’t want to see or talk to anyone else lest you feel the pressure to appear “normal,” but there can also be a deep crushing sadness that hits you when you feel like your “weirdness” and idiosyncrasies keep others away.
There are many beautiful and complicated relationships in this book–Davis and his younger brother, Noah; their relationship with the missing enigmatic Russell Pickett, Daisy and Aza, Aza and Davis, Aza and her mother, etc. But, as Green writes:
You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in the world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.
I missed posting for True Crime Wednesday this week due to an ear infection that has slowed me down, but I’ll be sure to report on a new case for that next week. Today I want to talk about a blog I started following this past spring that has helped me revamp my image somewhat, as I was in dire need of a mom makeover.
Over the years I’ve struggled with a style identity. In college, I worked at Express, so I looked a lot like the gals on the show “Friends” minus the Rachel hair. Then I went through a bit of a grunge phase (think denim overalls, flannel shirts, combat boots and magenta hair.) I mean, I did go to a liberal arts college. When I first started working professionally I didn’t have a ton of money to my name, so I relied on the sale racks at most of the mall stores like The Gap and New York and Company.
A few years later I ventured into Loft and Old Navy territory. After I became a mom and started freelancing from home more, I didn’t know what to wear. I still wanted to look stylish but it was hard to do when you spend your whole day trying to entice your toddlers to eat something besides yogurt and mac and cheese and hoping to hit the gym every once and a while. I went through a phase where I wore nothing but those velour jogging suits, which I finally retired this past year. I actually got excited whenever I had the chance to work on site in an office because it gave me a chance to dress more professionally.
Stuck in a rut, I gave Stitch Fix a try for a few months, but I felt like a lot of the clothes I liked were overpriced for the quality, especially blouses, so I stopped after three or four fixes. For example, I loved the blouse below but it shrunk like crazy after one wash and the buttons don’t always stay closed so I have to wear a shirt underneath it so I don’t flash anyone by accident.
I was lamenting to a friend and she asked me if I had checked out the Living in Yellow blog. I hadn’t, so I visited the page on Facebook. Blogger Erin Schrader started LIY several years ago while she had a full-time job, but when I started following her she had just decided to take the plunge and leave that position to focus solely on building up LIY. Erin and her team follow sales that happen at many stores I already shop at, such as Loft, Old Navy and Macy’s. The blazer and dress below? Both from Old Navy, courtesy of a LIY suggestion. Cute and affordable!
Erin also has a fondness for Nordstrom, and I’ve purchased several pairs of shoes from there in the past few months based on the LIY recommendations. I feel like I’ve stepped up my style game somewhat, and when I got a new job recently, I headed straight to LIY to figure out what kinds of pieces to invest in. I’ve become more schooled in accessories such as jewelry, handbags, shoes and layering pieces like jackets and cardigans, and there are price points suggested for all budgets.
They also mix things up with lifestyle blog posts with tips on home décor, recipes, products for pets, and other fun topics. One of my favorites that also resonated with a lot of LIY followers was this post on Outfits for Fall Family Photos. Yes, please!
Erin and team, I love what you’re doing over at Living in Yellow. Now I’m rocking Converses and fun vests and scarves and hopefully not looking as old as I really am. Thanks to your blog I’m finding fashion fun again and even get some great ideas for my 14-year-old daughter, who would live in athletic wear if she had a choice. Erin should be an inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere (she also has a very talented sister who creates gorgeous farmhouse-style signs at Joyfully Said Signs). So between the two sisters, I’m gonna be broke soon.
I can’t wait to spend more time with Erin and Co. this weekend, credit card in hand.
Halloween is fast approaching, and along with it is the anniversary of the death of an icon I adored in my teen years, River Phoenix. “Stand By Me” continues to be one of my favorite movies of all time. I knew vaguely of Phoenix’s background–that his parents had been “hippies” and he and his siblings lived in a commune for a while, and he didn’t eat meat. Beyond that, I guess you could say I knew what he and his management allowed the public to know. I do know I was devastated (and shocked) when I learned of his death by drug overdose during my senior year of high school.
There was a lot we had no idea about. Times were different in the late 1980s/early 1990s. There weren’t blogs to around to share the dirty little secrets of celebrities, and paparazzi didn’t seem quite as aggressive as they do now. A few months ago I came across a show on the Reelz channel called “Autopsy: The Last Hours of River Phoenix.” I was drawn in immediately. I think what struck me the most was that River didn’t have to die in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, 1993 at the Viper Room in Hollywood. By all accounts he had been clean during the filming of his last movie, “Dark Blood,” and decided to let loose that night. He had marijuana, valium, cocaine, and pseudoephedrine in his system (he was nursing a bad cold). He went to the Viper Room in the hopes of jamming on stage with Johnny Depp and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The stage was too crowded and they couldn’t let him perform.
Even though he wasn’t consuming alcohol that night, at some point he ingested a speedball (mixture of cocaine and heroine) in a liquid form. It was too much for his body to handle. Even though the nearest hospital was only a mile away, the group he was with didn’t want anyone to know he was on drugs, so they sat with him as he more violently ill. No one called 911 until he started seizing, and by the time the paramedics reached the club it was too late.
One of the people interview for the Reelz program was Gavin Edwards, author of Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind. I immediately sought out the book. Edwards is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and has also written for Details, Spin, and the New York Times Magazine. The book follows the life of Phoenix (born River Jude Bottom), from his humble early beginnings living with the questionable Children of God cult (which encouraged free love, even among young children) to his family’s decision to have their children seek fame and fortune in Hollywood.
I love how the book is structured–it reads like one long magazine article, featuring interviews from actors/directors Phoenix worked and pulling from previous media interviews. I learned so much reading this book, and it was heartbreaking. Phoenix never had a proper education, and he had trouble relating to kids his own age because he had not spent a lot of time with them in normal social settings. He most likely had dyslexia. His first love was music. He desperately wanted to be a musician, but acting did a better job of paying the bills. His work supported his entire family–he was the breadwinner. Although he talked about being “anti-drugs” in media interviews (he was also a devout vegan), he was first exposed to drug and alcohol use in his preteens on various movie sets.
The other thing I found interesting about Last Night at the Viper Roomwas how the author also wove in a timeline of other up and coming young actors in Hollywood (Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, etc.) and what was happening in their careers as Phoenix’s career progressed. For a pop culture junkie such as myself, this was just a bonus.
If he had been given medical attention earlier in the evening of Oct. 30, Phoenix might not have died that night. But with the downward spiral he was on, we can’t really say if he would have lived any longer. Reading this book helped me understand how such a talented young actor could have become overwhelmed and led down the path he ended up on. I couldn’t put this book down until I finished it, and then my heart hurt for a very long time afterward.
This is a case that drives home the fact that you can be vulnerable anywhere, even in the early hours of the morning when you’re doing something as innocent as trying to get to work. This case has always bothered me, because when 27-year-old news anchor Jodi Huisentruit disappeared, she wasn’t out partying or returning home from a late night with friends. She had overslept and was in a rush to get to her job at news station KIMT in Mason City, Iowa, where she hosted the early morning show. Jodi was an ambitious reporter who was focused and working hard on advancing her career. Her friends and co-workers described her as vivacious, friendly, motivated and energetic.
On the morning of June 27, 1995, Jodi didn’t show up for her 4 a.m. call, and a co-worker phoned her from the station to check on her. According to the co-worker, Jodi was awakened by the phone and said she would “be right there.” She only lived a few minutes from that station. But based on the evidence that was found a few hours later by police when Jodi didn’t show up for work, she never made it out of the parking lot. Jodi’s car was still there with they key bent in the lock on the driver’s side door. Tools she needed for work (a blow dryer, jewelry, shoes, etc.) were found scattered the ground. Drag marks near the car suggested a struggle, and that Jodi was most likely ambushed while she tried to get in her car. Neighbors later reported they heard screams in the early hours of the morning but no one called the police at that time. Someone else claimed to have seen a white van in the parking lot with its lights on around that same time.
The “Disappeared” episode on this case provided a lot of interesting information. The really eerie thing? Jodi’s employer, KIMT, had to report on their missing anchor, so it hit her co-workers hard. Watching news footage during that time, you can see how shell-shocked they are. Female anchors were also nervous because they were afraid there was a stalker out there who had known what time Jodi left for work each day and would strike again. There was another person of interest brought up during that episode. Jodi had a friend, an older gentleman who had wanted a relationship with her, but she had gently told him she wasn’t interested. He had lavished her with attention and gifts and even threw her a birthday party. After her disappearance, he went to the police and told them he was “the last person to see Jodi alive,” which was kind of bizarre, because no one knew if Jodi was deceased.
In 2011, a female police officer fired from the Mason City Police Department claimed that three members of the department had been personally involved in Jodi’s disappearance and had covered it up. This officer also filed a sexual harassment suit against the department and claimed to have been discriminated against based on her religion. Because she had a contentious relationship with the department, it’s hard to know if there is any truth to her claims, but you do have to wonder if she was fired for knowing too much.
There has never been any closure in this case, and Jodi was declared legally dead in 2001.
Ben knows my story, Ben knows my soul. I want him to write for that, to that, to me. Because when he taps into me, and I braid myself to him, we are a galaxy unto and of ourselves.
Sometimes she’s like a firework, explosive but still mesmerizing, and it’s not like I don’t want to sit back and watch the show.
I like author Allison Winn Scotch for a number of reasons—her books are always fun and fast-paced escapes, often with a touch of the mystical (The One That I Want, Time of My Life) and tackle the popular topics of “What if?” I enjoyed her last novel, In Twenty Years, where a group of college friends reunite after twenty years (think “The Big Chill” in a modern-day setting). She’s also a funny presence on social media, having first started out as a freelance journalist for big-name magazines like InStyle, Redbook, Shape, etc. (my dream job!) before becoming a best-selling author. When I heard about her latest book, Between Me and You, and how its plot centers on an actress and a screenwriter and their complicated relationship, I knew it was for me, the gal who has piles of celebrity gossip magazines around her house at any given moment. (In Touch and UsWeekly are my favorites.) I was lucky enough to get an advance digital copy of Between Me and You to read and review and I dove right in.
When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling screenwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…
A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right.
The book starts out in the present day, when Ben and Tatum are in their early 40s and have been separated for some time. Ben is waiting for Tatum on the beach, reliving their history together in his mind, but then someone else shows up instead. From there the book alternates chapters telling both Tatum and Ben’s stories. Tatum’s chapters propel the narrative forward (1999 to present) while Ben’s work backward (2016 back down to 1999). We learn how they met by chance in a bar in 1999, when Tatum was a theater student and part-time bartender and Ben working on an MFA. He was also in the process of breaking up with his long-term girlfriend when he meets Tatum.
Through the years, we watch as both of their stars rise after their move from New York to Los Angeles, like the quintessential Hollywood couple. The relationship of Brad Pitt and Angelina came to mind (Tatum goes from struggling actress to Oscar winner to influential director throughout the course of the book, much like Angelina) as well as Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck (this one because of the infidelity that invades the marriage and because Tatum is from a small town much like Garner). I did read an article not long ago that said she interviewed several different celebrity couples while researching this book to help provide authenticity, and she thanked Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer in the acknowledgements section.
Throughout the book, Ben and Tatum face their share of challenges, from the death of Tatum’s mother, to her alcoholic father, to a loved one lost in 9/11 and a family member with a heartbreaking drug addiction. They also have a son and struggle with the balance of parenthood while Tatum is often away filming or directing and Ben gets frustrated with his job of writing for TV when he really wants to be writing the screenplay that will put him on the map. The chapters kept me guessing, as each one dropped crumbs of the story along the way. I found myself rooting for Tatum and Ben and also cursing them for the foolish decisions they made and refused to communicate with one another. I was on the edge of my seat by the time I got to the end.
I will say that if you are going to read this book, don’t read it on a Kindle like I did. Because of the way the chapters alternate time periods, I found myself wanting to quickly flip back and forth to double-check information, and that’s not easy to do on a digital device. So read this in the print version and you will feel much less frustrated.
Thank you to NetGalley and Scotch’s publicity team for allowing me the opportunity to read this book in advance, I enjoyed it and will read it again now that I have a better handle on the way the timeline worked, I’m sure I can pick up on even more tidbits the second time around!