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Teaser Tuesday August 31: It's a Book by Lane Smith

I bought a book for my grandkids last week. Having read it at ALA 2010 in June, I knew it was a lovely and funny book starring a mouse, a jackass, and a monkey. Everyone who is a booklover will enjoy it. Here are beginning lines I with use for my TT. 

"What do you have there?

It's a book.

How do you scroll down?

I don't. I turn the page. It's a book.

Do you blog with it?

No, it's a book." 
-- It's a Book by Lane Smith

The discussion goes on from there. And, the illustrations are so cute.

Here is the great trailer for It's a Book. Love it!



Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B from Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences. Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

What have you found for Teaser Tuesday?

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Author On the Bookcase: Julia Stuart, author of The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise

Author On the Bookcase
Julia Stuart

Both my parents are from England, all my relatives live there, and I visited the Tower twice. So, I really enjoyed The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise and am so excited to welcome Julia Stuart, author of The Tower, The Zoo and The Julia StuartTortoise! Julia's novel is about the Tower of London and its inhabitants --human and animal. All the Beefeaters actually live in the Tower and this story is about one Beefeater named Balthazar Jones, his wife, Hebe, and their the 180-year old tortoise. Oh, and Julia threw in a couple of very eccentric characters who called the tower home, as well -- the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore; portly Valerie Jennings; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew; and the philandering Ravenmaster. When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interest­ing. Then Hebe runs away.

The Tower, the Zoo,  and the Tortoise is filled with humor, charm, beauty, heartache, grief, and love that calls to mind the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Where did Julia get her idea of The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise? She tells us from a "plump blue folder on which I’ve written the words 'book ideas' ." Is it that simple? 

Please continue, Julia -- just let me get a cuppa.

Authors famously don’t like to be questioned about where they get their ideas from. I suspect it’s because they’re asked it so often. Yet I still think it’s one of the most salient questions a reader can ask. You can’t write a book about a menagerie of exotic beasts housed at the Tower of London, a beefeater who collects rain samples, and a chaplain who writes erotica and expect not to have to account for it somewhere down the line.

I have a plump blue folder on which I’ve written the words “book ideas”, in the hope that it will provide me with some. It is filled with articles torn out of newspapers and magazines that have either made me laugh or tugged at my heartstrings. They are not fully formed plots (alas), just scraps of intrigue that may be useful one day, if only for a scene.

The inspiration for The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise came from an article I read in a weekend supplement. It told of the beefeaters who not only worked at the Tower but lived there, quite literally being locked in at night. I thought it was a great setting for a novel, but couldn’t come up with a plot, so I put it in the folder and got on with my first book. When that was done, I was drawn again to the Tower community. I paid a visit and bought numerous guidebooks hunting for inspiration. I then came across the tale of the Tower’s menagerie, which spanned 600 years and finally closed in the 1830s. Further research unearthed the fact that the Queen was still being sent animals in the 1970s, many of which were kept at London Zoo. I decided to bring them back to the Tower and institute a modern-day menagerie.

Choosing its inhabitants proved much easier once I’d found an animal encyclopedia in my local bookshop. As I read through it, I noticed some of them had curious characteristics. It mentioned a tiny shrew that could expire when under stress, a compulsive overeating glutton, and lizards that could run on water in emergencies. I found the monkeys that flash their private parts when they feel under attack at London Zoo (a sign offered that helpful nugget), along with the bearded pigs.

The Tower, The Zoo, and The TortoiseIn the novel a bearded pig is thought to have escaped from the zoo, and deluded members of the public send newspapers their grainy photographs of it running through their gardens. This comes despite the fact that the pig is actually locked up in the Tower. The inspiration for that was simply the British public’s love of an escaped animal story. I don’t know why we like them. We just do. Particularly in the summer when the sun has finally come out and we’re all a little startled.

Naturally, all my ideas don’t come from my blue folder. Some arrive from a dusty, foxed part of my head while I’m getting on with life, or once my hands are over the keyboard. A chaplain who writes erotica? No idea what sparked that one off. A collection of rain samples? Couldn’t tell you. A romance between two elderly people as they lie dying in the hospital? Search me.

So what potential scenarios lie in store for the future? A quick delve into my folder reveals a story about a happy, plump seal being found on a grass verge five miles from the sea; a man who fired cannons to greet historical ships being given a 12-month conditional discharge for breaching his firearms license; an invasion of Liechtenstein by Swiss soldiers that no one noticed; and the Princess Royal’s secret obsession with lighthouses. I’m not sure whether any of these curiosities will make it into my third novel, but there’s every hope for the fourth.

Thanks so much, Julia, for revealing what might be in your fourth novel. I'd go with Princess Royal’s secret obsession with lighthouses!


"A Beefeater, his wife, and their nearly 180-year-old tortoise live in the Tower of London, and if Stuart's deadly charming sophomore novel (after The Matchmaker of Périgord) is any indication, the fortress is as full of intrigue as ever…the love story is adorable." —Publisher's Weekly

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Author On the Bookcase: Kate Ledger, author of Remedies

Author On the Bookcase
Kate Ledger

Kate LedgerI'm thrilled to have Kate Ledger, author of Remedies, writing for On the Bookcase. In Remedies, Simon and Emily seem to have it all -- good jobs, nice house, a healthy thirteen year old daughter. But things are not always as they seem. There are some old scars and wounds that haven't been treated and addressed. Will the "elephant in the room" been the end of this seemingly perfect family. Kate's debut novel reveals marriage, parenthood, loss, grief, and hope. Most importantly, Remedies explores the complicated nature of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longings of the heart. To what lengths would you go to avoid feeling pain? And would you believe in a cure? What topics for book club conversation!

Kate writes about how exploring her own life -- marriage, children -- assisted her in understanding her characters. "Then came a moment in writing—I can still see the page of notes in my hand, the way my pen trembled—when I took stock of what was most important to me in the world. I had a new, fragile, tender recognition of what loss would mean, and I understood Simon’s painful world in a way I hadn’t before."

Welcome, Kate.

The initial idea for Remedies grew out of the medical magazine writing I do for a living. Over the years, I’ve met many doctors and researchers who developed amazing and helpful treatments for patients. Some of those therapies have even defied the current scientific thinking of the time. These people have fascinated me. I’m awed by their vision, not to mention their tenacity. As I pondered the core of a novel, I wondered: what about a doctor who believes he’s discovered a cure for pain?

The idea seemed beautifully complex. You can’t measure pain, like the size of a tumor, to know if a treatment is working. The success of a treatment might very well depend on the relationship between the doctor and the patient. And yet the ability to resolve pain could make such a profound difference in a patient’s life. But this was only a nugget of a story. The burning question, and what really intrigued me, was about character: what kind of person would believe that he was right and that even the textbooks were wrong? What would he be like? How would he think about the world?

I began writing about a doctor, Simon Bear—a passionate man full of ideas and ambitious, hopeful plans—who believes he’s stumbled across a pain cure. I imagined he would be confident in his views of the medical world. I also felt certain he had a devoted, earnest desire to help people. But as Simon’s character began to evolve, I realized that, despite all his confidence and professional success, he was plagued with insecurities. In fact, what came clear was that his desire to cure other people’s pain came from an inability to address his own.

I wasn’t certain for a while about the source of Simon’s emotional pain, until I took a look at my own life. I had begun writing the story when I was still dating the man who would become my husband. Over the course of a few years, as the novel was still taking shape, we had gotten married and had children. The emotional poles of my own life had widened with these new relationships and responsibilities. Then came a moment in writing—I can still see the page of notes in my hand, the way my pen trembled—when I took stock of what was most important to me in the world. I had a new, fragile, tender recognition of what loss would mean, and I understood Simon’s painful world in a way I hadn’t before. Simon Bear has suffered the loss of his first child, many years earlier. He still wonders whether, as a doctor, he was responsible for not having saved his son’s life, but he’s never dared to raise the question. Instead, he and his wife, Emily, a public relations executive, have attempted, as valiantly as they can, to move on. And in some ways, they have. They’ve become professional successes and are the parents of a daughter, who’s now thirteen. The grief, however, is still with them.

Remedies evolved into the story of a marriage, and the journey of recovering from profound loss, as individuals and as a family. Like other married couples, Simon and Emily are aware of each other’s vulnerabilities. They respectfully avoid discussing the past. But the conversation they’ve never had is still simmering under the surface of their everyday interactions. Simon can’t help doing provocative, potentially destructive, things, hoping to prompt the confrontation with Emily that he’s feared for years. Now, he’s discovered what may be a miracle cure for pain, and he’s willing to put his medical practice in jeopardy as he promotes it. Meanwhile, Emily encounters a lover from her past and begins an affair. But this chance meeting offers her a unique opportunity to connect with her past, in particular, to recall what she was like before grief entered her life. Suddenly, she finds the means to look at her marriage, and her role as a mother, entirely anew.

Thanks so much, Kate, for sharing your inspiration and understanding of your characters.


"An immediately gripping, expertly woven tale of pain and healing. Ledger is a brilliant writer; the book is dazzling, but more importantly, it is moving."—Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of Barefoot

Find more about Kate!

To what lengths would you go to avoid feeling pain? And would you believe in a cure?

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Woman's World Magazine: Book Clubs and Reading Group Choices



Book club tips, recipes, and picks! I was interviewed two months ago by Katie Alberts of Woman's World magazine about all things book club!

Woman's World put together a nice feature on starting a book club, selecting books, reading group icebreakers, recipes, and more. 

The issue is out. Look at see!

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TT and Man Booker Longlist Three: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Teaser Tuesday and Man Booker Longlist, Part Three

Today's selection:
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas plus giveaway of The Slap for review. Just comment and I'll let you know if you won.

First selection was Room by Emma Donoghue and second selection was Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

First lines of The Slap


"His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector's hand sluggishly reached across the bed. Good. Aish was up. He let out a victorious fart, burying his face deep into the pillow the escape the clammy methane stink. I don't want to sleep in a boy's locker room, Aisha would always complain on the rare, inadvertent moments when he forgot himself in front of her."

Publisher summary
The SlapIn this powerful and riveting novel, literary phenomenon Christos Tsiolkas unflinchingly exposes the inner-workings of domestic life, friendship and parenthood in the twenty-first century, and reminds us of the passions and malice that family loyalty can provoke.

When a man slaps another couple’s child at a neighborhood barbecue, the event send unforeseeable shockwaves through the lives of all who are witness to it.

Told from the points of view of eight people who were present, The Slap shows how a single action can change the way people think about how they live, what they want, and what they believe forever.

Tsiolkas is a hard-edged, powerful writer….The novel transcends both suburban Melbourne and the Australian continent, leaving us exhausted but gasping with admiration.” –Washington Post

“This astute exploration of suburban aspirations and failings . . . . vividly demonstrates the wide-ranging effects of a single moment’s rash decision. . . . Beyond simply igniting the plot, the fateful slap draws attention to generational and philosophical differences regarding family life and the complex political, social, and ethnic milieu of contemporary Australia.” —Publishers Weekly

“Radiates with vitality as it depicts the messy complications of family life.” –Booklist

Reading Group Alert -- family, culture, social issues, relationships. great conversation starters.

Christos Tsiolkas is an award-winning novelist, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter. His fiction has won numerous prizes, including the Commonwealth Writers Award, The Age Fiction Prize, and the Melbourne Best Writing Award. The Slap is his first book published in the US.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading What is your TT, today?

A comment, with or without a Teaser, will enter you in the The Slap giveaway. Giveaway closes Aug. 27. Thanks to Penguin Books for providing this copy.

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Room by Emma Donoghue Giveaway Winner

Room by Emma DonoghueThanks so much for the comments on the Room by Emma Donoghue post. Room has been selected as one of the 13 books of the Man Booker Prize longlist.

The random drawing winner for the ARC of Room is 

           Joy from Joy's Blog

Congrats, Joy!

I will contact you by email.


Thanks to Little, Brown and Company for providing the ARC.


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Man Booker Longlist Part Two: Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

This is the second installment of the  Man Booker longlist book selections.

The first was Room by Emma Donoghue.

Today's selection

Parrot and Olivier In America by Peter Carey

First lines

I had no doubt that something cruel and catastrophic had happened before I was born, yet the comte and comtesse, my parents, would not tell me what it was. As a result my organ of curiosity was made irritable and I grew into the most restless and unhealthy creature imaginable -- slight, pale, always climbing, prying into every drain and attic of the Chateau de Barfleur.

Publisher Summary Olivier—an improvisation on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville—is the traumatized child of aristocratic survivors of the French Revolution. Parrot is the motherless son of an itinerant English printer. They are born on different sides of history, but their lives will be connected by an enigmatic one-armed marquis.

When Olivier sets sail for the nascent United States—ostensibly to make a study of the penal system, but more precisely to save his neck from one more revolution—Parrot will be there, too: as spy for the marquis, and as protector, foe, and foil for Olivier.

Parrot and OlivierAs the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, between their picaresque adventures apart and together—in love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new lands—a most unlikely friendship begins to take hold.

And with their story, Peter Carey explores the experiment of American democracy with dazzling inventiveness and with all the richness and surprise of characterization, imagery, and language that we have come to expect from this superlative writer.

Written with Carey’s unmistakable narrative brilliance, Parrot and Olivier is a historical novel in the best sense of the term, in that it inhabits a historical era with utter accuracy and authenticity but in doing so holds a mirror up to our time as well.


Another feat of acrobatic ventriloquism, joining Carey’s masterpieces, Jack Maggs and True History of the Kelly Gang . . . Carey’s most marvelous invention is Tocqueville’s traveling companion, Parrot . . . It’s a brilliant alteration of history and a source of rich comedy . . . Outrageous and witty.”
 —Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Carey braids his story carefully, lovingly. It has all his telltale favorite elements—lawlessness, revolution, hope for the future, men driven by passion. At its heart, Parrot and Olivier is a western; the simplest story in history, sculpted down to a twinkle in a philosopher's eye: Man’s search for freedom.”—Los Angeles Times

Reading group alert -- history, humor, great characters, friendship, romance, adventure, intrigue. This book has it all for discussible conversation.

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Reading a Good Book Video

It's going to been a hot one again. Check out this video about reading when it is steaming hot! Thanks Regulator Books for this fun and music video.


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Author On the Bookcase: Laura Morowitz, co-author of The Miracles of Prato

Author On the Bookcase
Laura Morowitz

I'm thrilled to speak to Laura Morowitz, co-author with Laurie Lico Albanese, of The Miracles of Prato. Art in a book -- love these historical novels centered around real-live artists and their lifes! It helps me learn about past artists and the history and politics that surrounded them.

The Miracle of PratoThe Miracles of Prato brings to life glorious Italy in the era of the Medici —as it tells the story of an illicit love affair between the renowned painter Fra Filippo Lippi and his muse, a beautiful convent novitiate named Lucrezia Buti. Lippi, the chaplain for Convent Santa Margherita sees in Lucrezia's flawless face inspiration for countless Madonnas and he brings the her to his studio to serve as his model. But as painter and muse are united in an exhilarating whirl of artistic discovery, a passionate love develops, one that threatens to destroy them both even as it fuels some of Lippi's greatest work.

Fans of Tracy Chavalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Luncheon at the Boating Party will be delighted. Fact, historical color, passion, identity, art -- great for book club conversations!

Laura chats about impetus of The Miracle of Prato -- the questions, the curiosity, the images, and the characters. By their research and fictional thoughts, Laura and Laurie came to understand this illicit love affair. Laura hopes when readers picked up The Miracle of Prato "they, too, will find Fra Lippi’s paintings, and study them until they understand."

Please tell us what questions you would have asked Lippi and Lucrezia, Laura. 

If you walk deep into the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, you will find a Madonna so breathtaking that you can almost understand why a man would risk everything he had to paint her.

This is the Madonna with Two Angels, by Fra Filippo Lippi (1465), and the model is Lucrezia Buti. One look at the canvas will assure you that he thought she was the most beautiful creature on earth, and that he was willing to give up everything – everything but his art -- for her. And he almost did.

Lucrezia Buti and Fra Filippo Lippi were real people, who lived and loved and died in fifteenth century Tuscany. And while thousands of visitors see her image each year, hanging in the Uffizi and the Louvre and on posters and street banners in the city of Prato, only a few know the seemingly impossible—unfathomable, really—tale of a nineteen year old Augustinian novice and a middle-aged, celebrated painter and Carmelite monk who had a carnal relationship and whose connection to each other is evident in the images he created of her.

This was the story we decided to tell in our historical novel, The Miracles of Prato. I am an art historian, and my co-author, Laurie Lico Albanese, is a novelist. Together we gazed at the paintings Lippi made during the years of their affair, and asked ourselves the questions that led to this book.

  • What kind of woman was Lucrezia and what drew her to the painter
  • What options, if any, did she have
  • Why did he love her, and how did he love her?
  • What did they risk and sacrifice for one another?
  • How did their relationship make its way into the images Lippi created during and after the height of their love affair?

We started with what art historians and novelists always begin with: questions, curiosity, images, and characters. We scoured the art books for reproductions of Lippi’s magnificent altarpieces and frescos, learning all that we could about the arist’s idiosyncrasies, innovations and motivations.

We looked at the paintings of Lucrezia, and tried to feel the sorrow and the joy she must have experienced. And the shame, too. The confusion. The longing.

We went to the churches and the convents themselves, on our own inspired pilgrimage throughout Tuscany.

We imagined creating these works, from inception to completion, in the context in which Lippi worked: the small town of Prato, a carriage ride from Florence where the Renaissance was in full bloom and the Medici at the height of their power.

While we could learn much about Lippi, whose fame was celebrated in his own lifetime, and whose notoriety as both artistic genius and rough-under-the-edges lawbreaker was captured by the Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari in his work, Lives of the Most Emminent Painters (1550),  finding a source for Lucrezia was impossible. Like most of the women of her place and time, she left behind no record, no trace of her existence beyond her reflection in the thoughts and images of men. Even the convent of Santa Margherita, where the recorded events played themselves out, is long gone, its doors closed forever in the eighteenth century. We had no answers, only an endless river of questions. Why did the young, beautiful and well-raised Lucrezia Buti do what she did? Was she mad with love for the artist, with his ferocious temper and his sensual, life-affirming paintings? Was she desperate—like so many women of her time and place—to escape a life without color, without physical intimacy, without the tiniest of luxuries? Did the scandal they caused give her a satisfying thrill or did it terrify her? Her actions in 1459, when she renewed her vows to the convent, would seem to indicate her desire to do penance and set things aright, while her behaviour in the 1460s—fleeing the convent to once again take up residence with the painter-monk—leaves us baffled.

Two paintings are all we had to bring Lucrezia nearer to us, and to our readers. Her portrayal in an altarpiece for the convent Santa Margherita (a work that remains, proudly, within the city of Prato) and the gorgeous Uffizi Madonna, for which she posed, her translucent blue eyes, her perfect nose, her sweet, sad smile fixed forever. No diaries, no poems, no letters. No works by her hand. Just these paintings.

We gazed at them until we understood.

When readers pick up The Miracles of Prato, I hope they, too, will find Fra Lippi’s paintings, and study them until they understand. And I hope the portraits of Lippi and Lucrezia that we created through our words will live vividly in their memory, alongside the beautiful paintings he left behind.

Thanks so much, Laura, for sharing some of your journey in exploring Lippi's art and the motivations of both Lippi and Lucrezia in their love for each other.

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Author On the Bookcase: Mitchell James Kaplan, author of By Fire, By Water

Author On the Bookcase
Mitchell James Kaplan  

History and religion and politics -- oh my!

Mitchell James KaplanI'm pleased to welcome Mitchell James Kaplan, author of the debut novel, By Fire, By Water. Mitchell's book tells the heartbreaking story of Luis de Santangel, the courtier who convinced Queen Isabella to sponsor Christopher Columbus’s voyage of discovery in 1492. Combining a passionate love story with a religious mystery, By Fire, By Water closely follows historical events during a troubled time, when the medieval social order was collapsing.

Mitchell tells us about "his voyage of discovery'" when readers explore his book and find additional story lines.

Set sail, Mitchell!

When I began researching By Fire, By Water, my intent was to place Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage in context. Schoolchildren, it seemed to me, rarely learned much about the world Columbus left behind. Without understanding his world, how could anyone grasp the purpose and meaning of his voyage?

He sailed from southern Spain, where the emirate of Granada, the last Islamic political entity in Europe, had recently fallen to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. On the Santa Maria, Columbus took along a native of Granada, a Jew recently baptised with the name Luis de Torres, as official interpreter. According to Columbus’s journals, de Torres spoke Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew in addition to Spanish. Columbus apparently thought these languages would be useful where he was going.

Where, then, was he going? My research convinced me that Columbus was sailing not just to the Indias described by Marco Polo, but to Terrestrial Paradise – that is, the Garden of Eden. Beyond that lay Jerusalem. People in these places, Columbus believed, spoke the same languages as Luis de Torres – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. The idea of returning to paradise and Jerusalem held religious value for Columbus, who believed the end of the world was at hand and thought of himself as a sort of messiah figure.

By Fire, By WaterMy first draft of By Fire, By Water told the story of Luis de Torres, the Jewish witness to the fall of Islamic Granada who ended up as Christopher Columbus’s Christian interpreter in a land where no one had ever heard of Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Spanish, Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed. It also portrayed Columbus and the religious fervor with which he conceived and pursued his vision.

Columbus spent about a decade researching and trying to “sell” his project. One royal court after another refused to sponsor him, but the Genoese mariner remained fervent. His last hope was Isabella of Castille, who sent him away three times without making a commitment. At this point, another figure steps in – Luis de Santangel, chancellor of Aragon. He convinces the queen to sponsor Columbus’s voyage, offering to arrange the financing.

Why, I wondered, did the chancellor of Aragon so forcibly associate himself with Columbus’s far-fetched dream? As I explored this question, it became clear that Luis de Santangel stood at the center of the most horrific events of his time: Isabella’s usurpation of the crown of Castille, the brutal Spanish Inquisition, the war against Granada, and the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain. For the chancellor as for Columbus, the proposed voyage of discovery must have held within it a religious hope for something better.

My novel evolved into the story of how a worldly, skeptical courtier slowly bought into the fantasy of a Genoese sailor – and then, in a triumph of faith over reason, how that fantasy turned out to be true.

With my second draft, I retold the story not from Luis de Torres’ perspective but from that of Luis de Santangel. The Spanish Inquisition took on more importance, not because I had intended to write a novel about the Spanish Inquisition but because the Spanish Inquisition played such a significant role in Santangel’s life.

For me, the core of the story remained what it had always been, an exploration of the background of Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage. What a surprise, then, to learn first from my publisher and then from the reading public that others saw it as a novel not about the background of Columbus’s voyage, but about the Spanish Inquisition.

And so, my own voyage of discovery continues. The book I thought I wrote is not exactly the book others read. I have no problem with that. By Fire, By Water is more like a land I discovered than a world I created. I don’t own that land. As readers explore it, I find their reports sometimes surprising, but always intriguing.

Thank for sharing your exploration into your novel with us, Mitchell. Reading groups will discover many discussible topics in By Fire, By Water!

Read more about Mitchell and By Fire, By Water.

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