Stephanie Carroll has given us a truly amazing gift and I can't wait to see this one as a movie. A brilliant debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her writing. Thank you for a beautifully crafted tale. - Amazon UK Review

A White Room Won!

Shelf Unbound Magazine Notable Page Turners & Favorite Cover! Pg 36 & 40
“The best historical fiction makes you forget it’s fiction and forget it’s historical. Reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper, this book shows with alarming clarity what life was like for women before the modern age freed us of so many restraints … absolutely mesmerizing.”—Eileen Walsh, Ph.D. U.S. Women’s History, University of San Diego

USA Book News Best Book Award Cross Genre Category
A novel of grit, independence, and determination ... Despite the consequences, Emeline defies society’s expectations in her endeavor to help others, risking not only her marriage, but her reputation—and ultimately, her freedom. An intelligent story, well told.” 
—Renée Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine

Appearance on Authors & Artists

A White Room Made No. 1!!!

I totally loved this book. It's been described as being similar to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, ... Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Though I concur that all that is true, I go further by being reminded of why the Gothic writing work and home remind me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables ... and some of the works of V.C. Andrews, such as Flowers in the Attic. She gives us a gothic feel reminiscent of Daphne de Maurier's works. - Amazon US Review

Post Your Review Today!
If you enjoyed A White Room or Legacy, show your support and help me find new readers by posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads today! 

(On Amazon just click the "customer reviews" link next to the star rating and it will take you to the reviews where you can click "write a review.")

Thank You!!! 
Your time and support means so much to me!

. . . if you want some realistic historical fiction that deals with difficult issues, that doesn't allow a love story to overcome the plot, and that has you really feeling for the characters involved, go and read this right now. - Goodreads Review

Q&A on Central Valley Talk

Fans of The Yellow Wallpaper will love this debut from Stephanie Carroll because it's about a woman feeling her house is alive and that other people are living in it. I, for one, couldn't put the book down but was also reading with the covers up to my chin and all of the lights on. It's not because the book is scary but because I could absolutely understand why Emeline was losing it. I could have sworn that my own walls were watching me ... - Barnes and Noble Review

Check out the Fire Section!
In addition to being an author, I am also a fire dancer! Betcha didn't expect that, did you?

Book Review: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

Official Book Description
It's 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc is the kind of young woman who devours purloined crime novels—but must disguise them behind covers of more lady-like books. She could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals. 

Determined to break free of the era's rigid social roles, Anna buys off the chaperone assigned by her domineering father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate. Seizing her one chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself. 

If the police find out, she'll get fired; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he'll cancel the wedding. Midway into her investigation, the police chief's son, Joe Singer, learns her true identity. And shortly thereafter she learns about blackmail.

Anna must choose—either hunt the villain and risk losing her father, fiancé, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose.

My Thoughts
I really, really enjoyed The Secret Life of Anna Blanc. It was a fun and an adorable romp into America’s Gilded Age Los Angeles. Author Jennifer Kincheloe kept me constantly guessing, smiling, and laughing out loud – for real not just lol style. 

First thing, as a Gilded Age historical novelist myself, I was blown away by the unique history that went into this book, which is based on a real police matron. Kincheloe did a fantastic job of incorporating interesting historical details from turn of the century LA, to the world of crime, to the inner workings of police matrons, to the world of prostitution, to upper class fashion. It all ties back to setting, and I really enjoyed that as most Gilded Age and Victorian novels take place in New York or England - especially for crime and mystery novels. It's rare to get this kind of look at the West Coast without it being a western. 

Kincheloe is also very talented at characterization. The main character Anna Blanc is like a Scarlett O’hara type but even more lovable. I don’t know how, but Kincheloe managed to make naivety, self-absorption, and stubbornness into hilarious and again lovable traits! Anna Blanc is also caring, tenacious, and especially daring. Building a character like this really shows the skill of the author. Supporting characters were also great fun, especially Joe who makes a perfect side-kick and romance. He’s gritty and just a little bit bad. I loved him!

The overall story is exciting and interesting too, not to mention really good at keeping you guessing. I don’t usually go for mysteries or crime novels as I fear they will be predictable, but that was not the case here. In fact this book is making me completely reevaluate my opinions of these types of books because this was so good! I was sure I knew who the bad guy was, or that I had guessed who it was, at least once in my many attempts, but in the end I was still surprised, not only by who but by how it perfectly rounded out the plot. I was also intrigued in the side-plots, from the criminal rapists (not the main murder mystery) to the question of Anna Blanc’s engagement.

But what really made this story shine for me were the little things. The use of language both historical and just in different character’s voices was awesome. I loved that her side-kick, Joe, had this thing for singing and that Anna shouted things like: “Oh biscuits!” and “worse than a rattlesnake cupcake.” Then there was this ongoing thing that Anna would say about “doing what any sensible woman would do in that situation” which would be followed by something utterly hilarious!

I should also mention that I listened to the audio version and the narrator Moira Quirk was quite talented. She did all kinds of voices and accents that brought the story to life.

All in all, I was really impressed with this book and how much fun it was to read/listen to. Jennifer Kincheloe is a master of comedy, character, plot, Gilded Age history, and especially writing. I cannot wait to read the second installment in her Anna Blanc series! 

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is available on AmazonAudible, and wherever books are sold. Visit Kincheloe's website and join her email list to receive all kinds of unique historical books and goodies.  

About the Author

Jennifer is a research scientist turned writer of historical fiction. Her novels take place in 1900s Los Angeles among the police matrons of the LAPD and combine, mystery, history, humor, and romance. Her debut novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC was a finalist in the Lefty Awards for Best Historical Mystery, The Colorado Author's League Award for Best Genre Fiction, the Macavity Sue Feder Award for Historical Mystery, and is the WINNER of the Colorado Gold for Best Mystery.

Jennifer grew up in Southern California, but has traveled to such places as Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. She's been a block layer, a nurse's aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. Jennifer currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two teenagers, two dogs, and a cat.

Visit Jennifer at

The First Female Presidential Candidate was Actually in 1872!

Did you know that Hilary Clinton is not the first female presidential candidate??? Author Nicole Evelina did, so she wrote a book about it and she re-enacted it, so I couldn't pass up the chance to interview her just in time for the elections!

Interview with historical novelist Nicole Evelina author of Madame Presidentess

Nicole Evelina is a multi-award-winning historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her most recent novel, Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, was the first place winner in the Women’s US History category of the 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction. She is also the author of romantic comedy Been Searching for You and award-winning historical fiction Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view.

Victoria Woodhull is relatively unknown. What inspired you to write about her? How did you find out about her?

I learned about her by seeing a picture of her with an alluring caption on Pinterest, of all places. The caption said, “Known by her detractors as ‘Mrs. Satan,’ Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman's suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.” I immediately had to know more and began my research. I mean, any woman called “Mrs. Satan” is someone I have to get to know!

Why did you choose to write about her in particular?
Not only is Victoria fascinating, but the fact that she’s been nearly forgotten motivated me. As a historical fiction author, I’m attracted to the stories of people, especially women, who are in danger of being lost to the pages of history. Bringing those stories to light and making sure their heroines are remembered by future generations is my personal mission. I wanted to help get Victoria’s name back in the history books where it belongs. I also wanted to help people envision her as a living, breathing person in a way you can’t typically do in a historical text. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she called my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, home for a while as well – in fact, it is where she met her second husband.

If Victoria were alive today, what do you think she would think of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
I think she would view Hillary as a political daughter of sorts and get along very well with her. Both women are intelligent, ambitious and tenacious. They have both been through extremely personal attacks in the media (the newspapers of Victoria’s day were as vicious as our news media is today), been caught up in family scandal and underestimated because of their sex. I don’t think Hillary’s email scandal would have bothered Victoria in the least because she was accused of blackmail several times throughout her life. (We can’t know if it was ever true of her, but we do know her mother and her sister Polly were serial offenders.)

Having no political background, but a strong reputation in business and a lot of money, I think Victoria could probably relate to Donald Trump more than you might think on first glance. However, she was not one to suffer a fool, so she would not put up with his anti-female, anti-name-the-group rhetoric. She was a suffragist and a Communist (in the sense of being for worker’s rights) so she would tell him where to step off very quickly. She was also surprisingly learned for a woman without much formal education, so she’d be quick to rebuff his emotional attacks with logic and facts. Plus, she was a great speaker and I have no doubt could hold her own in a debate with him.

Tell us How You Got Involved with a Re-Enactment of the 1872 Election?
Nicole Evelina (left) with a Victoria Woodhull reenactor.

The reeenactment was an out of the blue thing for me. I had a booth back in July at a Women’s Expo where I was selling books and I overheard someone mention President Grant, which isn’t something you hear in everyday conversation. So I politely inserted myself into the conversation by mentioning I just learned a lot about him in researching my book about Victoria. It turns out that the woman who make the remark works at Ulysses S. Grant Park here in St. Louis. That was when she told me they were going to hold a re-enactment of the election of 1872, something I later learned was four years in the planning.

Because that’s the election Victoria ran in, I immediately asked if there was anything I could do to help. While their rules prevented me from selling books in the gift shop or on-site, I was asked if I’d like to “campaign” for Victoria – period costume and all. It was so much fun!  They allowed me to give out post cards and talk about my book. And as it turns out, Rebecca Rou, who is filming a documentary about Victoria, saw my tweet about the event, hopped a plane and came out to the event to capture footage.

Read Nicole's blog post on the reenactment for more.

What is the most unusual thing you learned about Victoria in your research?
There are a lot of unusual things about her, from her upbringing to her family’s antics (things you couldn’t make up) and her unconventional attitudes toward sex, marriage and the role of women. But what most fascinated me is that she was a Spiritualist and believed she had clairvoyant and healing powers. Victoria’s mother encouraged her and her sister Tennie in this belief and her father used these gifts to make money even when the girls were very young. Victoria maintained her whole life that she was guided by the spirits, especially that of the Greek orator Demosthenes, whom she identified as her spirit guide. She claims he predicted her success in New York as well as her candidacy. She said she consulted the spirits regularly and was even President of the national Spiritualist’s association at one point.

What’s one interesting thing you learned while researching this novel?
That the suffrage movement wasn’t all roses and sisterhood like I expected. That was the picture Hollywood and my high school textbooks painted. But the suffrage movement was actually broken into two competing factions in the mid-1800s, the American Womans Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone, that endorsed suffrage state by state and were more conservative, and the more radical National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which advocated for federal women’s suffrage. Victoria was a member of the later for several years. In addition to being split ideologically, the women often disagreed and fought with one another more than you would think, penning unflattering articles and messages about one another and speaking out publically against each other. The rift between the two major groups wasn’t mended until 1890, when they joined as the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

How long did it take you to write Madame Presidentess?
I did about six months worth of research before writing. The writing itself took about nine months and I edited for another several months. So in total, about a year and a half.

Victoria Woodhull

How closely does your novel mirror history?
It’s as close as I could make it without this being creative non-fiction. I’d say it’s about 70% accurate. I made up some secondary characters and one of Victoria’s affairs is fictional (but it was inspired by a rumored affair). Of course, as with all historical fiction, most of the dialog and details are made up, but all of her speeches, courtroom testimony, articles and even a few lines of dialog are taken from historical evidence. We even have descriptions of her home in Murray Hill and her brokerage office. Thanks to the biographers, we also have records of actual words from Cornelius Vanderbilt, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Catharine Beecher and Susan B. Anthony, all of which were used in the novel where possible. The authors notes at the end of the book go into great detail on what is accurate and what is not and why.

What kind of research did you do to make this book come to life?
My main references were newspaper articles from the time and biographies of Victoria, starting with the fanciful one she commissioned from Theodore Tilton during her lifetime and Emanie Sachs’ scathing account published just after Victoria’s death, through more recent works such as Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by the recently deceased biographer Barbara Goldsmith, Notorious Victoria by Mary Gabriel and The Woman Who Ran for President by Lois Beachey Underhill. I also read quite a few books on women’s lives in mid-to-late-19th century America, as well as the on suffrage movement and electoral politics at the time (voting was very different and not nearly as anonymous then as it is now). For those who are interested in my sources, I have a complete reference list on my website here:

Who was your favorite character after Victoria?
I had a ton of fun writing Victoria’s larger-than-life parents, but my favorite has to be Victoria’s sister, Tennie. As Mr. Vanderbilt would say she “has spunk.” She was so authentic and didn’t care what anyone thought. If you told her a woman couldn’t do something (like smoke cigars or curse, both of which Tennie did), she’d go and do it in style a) because she wanted to and b) to prove you wrong – and she’d do it in public. The one thing that irritated me about her was her co-dependence on her parents, especially her mother, and how she could be so incredibly loyal to them after all they put her through. I’m guessing it has to do with how she was raised and probably kind of brainwashed by them. But there’s not a lot of historical evidence about her mindset, so that’s one of the places where I had to make a writer’s leap.

Victoria Woodhull
Do you have another project in the works? If so, what is it?
Once Madame Presidentess is out and the election is over, I am going to concentrate on writing Mistress of Legend, the third and final book in my Guinevere trilogy. This book will cover the end of Guinevere’s life, including the fall of Camelot and what happens after. In my version, she certainly doesn’t live out her days in a convent! I will also begin research for a WWII-era historical novel about a Catholic nun who helped hide Jews and aided the resistance in France. She was a victim of the concentration camps and should be on the path to sainthood, but few people outside of her native country know her name. As far as I can tell, there is only one book written about her in the world.

What is your focus in historical fiction?
To rescue little-known women from being lost in the pages of history.

Pen Name:
Nicole Evelina

Why I picked it:
Nicole is my real first name and Evelina is a variation of my mom’s name. It’s Celtic name meaning “bright.”

Why a pen name:
My real last name is impossible to spell, remember or pronounce.

Favorite books:
I’m a firm believer that to be a great writer, you first have to be an avid reader. I estimate that I’ve probably read several thousand books in my 30+ years on this planet. A few of my favorites are:

Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Juliet by Anne Fortier
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

More About Nicole

Nicole’s debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews, took the Grand Prize in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romance, won a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and was short-listed for the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. Been Searching for You, her contemporary romantic comedy, won the 2015 Romance

Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests.
Nicole’s writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Independent Journal, Curve Magazine and numerous historical publications. She is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness.

Her website/blog is and she can be found on Twitter as well as on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. Her email address is nicole [dot] evelina [at] att [dot] net.

The Agent Waiting Game

By Corie Howell via Flickr cc.

I'm in the middle of a lot of waiting games right now. My husband is waiting to hear back about out-of-state jobs, we're waiting to get buyers for our house, and I'm waiting to hear back from literary agents as I’ve been shopping The Binding of Saint Barbara around. It’s been an interesting process when I compare it to how it went with my first novel A White Room.

With that one I wrote dozens of queries and sent them out to hundreds of agents and all I ever got back were rejections. Each time when I got nothing back, I’d return to my novel and ask myself if it was really ready yet and if there was a way to make it better. Then I’d do another round of editing, and I did this for two years, from 2010 to 2012.

By the end of that two years, I felt like I had queried every single possible agent there was who represented my type of book. Finally, I had a lucky break when a top agent from a top house gave me actual feedback about the book—the first agent to ever give feedback—but at the same time he also rejected me. This told me that it was good enough to get his attention, so I took his suggestions and made the changes. Then another lucky break! I was attending my very first writer’s conference, the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, and it just so happened he was one of the agents that was participating in the pitch sessions.
This was during the conference.
Can you believe my hair? I was trying to look responsible. ;)

So I went to the conference and pitched him, a very nerve-racking two minutes. They had speed dating style pitch sessions where authors get to pitch a bunch of agents with only two minutes and thirty seconds to do so; however, you have even less time than that because you are supposed to leave time to let them ask questions.

The particular agent who I was interested in did things differently. He just asked to read your first couple of pages. It turns out sitting there silently while an agent reads your first page is more uncomfortable and frightening than trying to sell them your book in one sentence. Then he looked up and said, “I’ve read this before.” To which I responded gleefully, “Yes.” Then with a suspicious tone, he asked “What, did you think I wouldn’t remember?” My eyes bulged. “No. No, I hoped you would remember. I hoped you would think it got better.” Heart thudding, nails digging into palms. “All right,” he said. “Send me the manuscript.”

A job interview by Pulpolux !!! via Flickr cc.

I wasn’t as confident after that suspicious look he gave me, but still more confident about him than the others I’d met. I sent the book to him and he responded with interest, explaining that he and his assistant read the manuscript and liked it but wanted to see a few changes. He made sure it was clear that even if changes were made, it wouldn’t guarantee that he’d take me on as a client. I knew he had to say that just to be safe, but with all the attention and time he gave my book, of course he would take me on ... right? He sent me a word document with a list of requested changes, a list that was three pages long! So I made the changes in about two months and sent it back. This was it. After two long years of hunting agents and after four years of writing and editing my novel, I was going to have representation.


He passed. Just like that. It was pretty devastating, but I also saw the positive. This told me that the novel had potential, and I had just gotten free content editing from a big New York City agent.

At that time, the indie publishing revolution was gaining momentum, and I had done some research on it before the conference. After that final rejection, I decided it was time to move forward on my own. It turned out to be the best decision I could have made because after trying to acquire an agent for so long, I was just desperate, and I was willing to give up just about anything to see my book in print. If I had gotten an agent and a publishing contract at that time, I would have agreed to terrible terms and terrible royalties and rights. I would have regretted it.

My very first signed book.
This time around, I’m approaching the process in very much the same manner as before, doing my research, writing the best query I can, but this time I don’t have that desperation. I feel confident that if I don’t interest an agent or publisher, I can always just do it myself. I feel confident that I’m familiar with the industry, the process of getting agents and publishers, and the important parts of negotiating contracts. I actually have a negotiating advantage because of that confidence.

As of right now, I’ve had three requests to see the manuscript, and all within either a day or a week of sending a query. Still, if I get an agent but can’t stand the publishing contract terms I have to choose from, I can still walk away and do it myself.

A couple of disclaimers ...

If you have a first book and are getting nothing but rejections, this is not a thumbs up to just self-publishing. I spent years editing my book, I put it through beta readers on multiple occasions, got the agent feedback, and I hired an editor to give me feedback on the concept and general writing, and that was all before I got into copy editors and whatnot.

A lot of industry types suggest that if you are getting nothing but rejections to move on and write your next book. This is still fantastic advise. By the time you get that second book done, you will have a higher quality of product to sell, and you will know a lot more about the industry just from general research. Then whether you go indie or traditional, having multiple books to start with means a higher chance of making better profits.

Why even bother with the agent process when I had such a positive experience with self-publishing? Well, even though I wouldn’t give up my indie experience, I would prefer a situation where I didn’t have to do as much of the production work so that I could focus on the writing work. This is something that has become especially clear to me recently. I’m really good at doing things myself and making sure they are done right, but I have to put myself into it almost 100 percent, and I have found it difficult to do that and give as much time to writing as I would like.

So where am I on writing books? Check out my Working on a New Series post on that very topic!

Working on a New Series!

Typing Content by Search Engine People Blog via Flickr cc.
It's October 2016, and it's author update time, so where am I on writing books? After coming to a stopping-point with The Binding of Saint Barbara (I can’t say it’s finished until it’s published and right now I'm waiting to hear back from agents), I took a little writing break because I was really burnt—to a crisp black! When I cooled off, I considered the couple of rough drafts I had hanging around, and I kept finding myself drawn back to the original idea that inspired me to write a novella around this time a year or so ago. You may remember, I wrote a post about it.

The original idea was to write about a Victorian heroine struggling with chronic pain and illness (inspired by my own struggle with chronic pain) on the English moors, incorporating elements of both Gothic and magical realism, but without paranormal themes. Then I saw this photo of a prominent Victorian spine specialist, Dr. Lewis Albert Sayre, observing a half nude woman suspended in his contraption, and well, you know how it goes with me and my images of inspiration.

Dr. Lewis Albert Sayre and his treatment for scoliosis.

Ultimately, the novella I wrote sucked! At the time I was trying to learn to write fast, and also overcome my fear of clichés, so I ended up writing a sloppy tale of Gothic tropes. Boo! But now, having grown past those hang-ups, I have some new plans for this premise.

I can’t divulge everything, but basically I employed a visual plotting system to help me come up with some ideas that I really like. Not only am I planning to turn the novella into a novel, but I’m also considering making it a three or even five-part series. This just goes to show that I don't do short very well - lol!

The series would focus on several stages of life for the heroine, Lorena. Right now I’ve plotted three books, the first focuses on Lorena’s attempts to overcome her chronic illness as a young girl after her father sends her to a sanatorium/asylum, the second book focuses on her debut in upper class Gilded Age society and her marriage to her second choice because invalids aren't easily married off, and the third book would focus on her adoption of an orphaned child because invalids couldn't have children very easily.

I’m not dedicated to the specifics yet because a lot of that will come out in the research stage, which is what I’m working on next. Even though at this point, I am extremely familiar with the Victorian world, I still have to conduct research because I need details from the specific Victorian world I’m interested in. Plus, for me at least, the research stage is where a lot of my story development occurs. While researching one aspect of my story, I’ll learn historical points of interest and those will inspire ideas for scenes and characters.

Keep in mind that last year, I had completely different plans for this story and next year it might look completely different than I’m expecting it to look right now. This is the nature of creation, for me at least, which is actually funny because I am the ultimate planner, but I can’t plan or know where my art is going to go.

So to keep up, check out my Pinterest Board where I’m keeping track of all my research resources.

And read my post on The Agent Waiting Game to find out what's going on with The Binding of Saint Barbara.

The Particular Sweet Sadness of Aimee Bender’s Magical Realism

I recently discovered the fantastic magical realist/surrealist author Aimee Bender, and I just loved her anthology The Color Master and just devoured her fantastic novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

Other posts on this topic:

I don't usually do book reviews, but I really have to recommend these two and probably anything else Aimee Bender has up her sleeve.

The Color Master is full of unique and fun short stories. Not every single one is magical or surrealist, but they are all great! Also, I really love that these stories are varied in length, some only being like two pages. They are also easy to read, which is a major plus as literary fiction goes. Plus, it's almost as if each one contains an important lessons about the art of writing or about a particular fiction technique. I don't think she intended that, and it might just be me noticing because I'm a writer. Last thing I got to mention is how awesome the cover is! The title words are actually sewn in different color thread, which corresponds to the short stories "Tiger Mending" and "The Color Master."

Close up of the unique cover design of The Color Master.
I was planning on reading maybe one or two of the stories, to just get an idea for her writing style and use of magical realism, but after reading the very first story, I was so hooked!

This was "Appleless." First off it's short, which is really smart to start out with in an anthology is you ask me. Secondly, it immediately draws you in with all the unique descriptive language related to apples, and then with the strange way the story about apple obsession and addiction turns into something much darker that is portrayed in such an intriguing way, that you almost don't realize the horror of it at first. What's really interesting is how I wanted to devour the story itself, because of it's scrumptious word-choices and intriguing voice, and that feeling kind of paralleled the obsession of these apple addicted characters.

After that, how could I not want to read everything in this book!

"Tiger Mending" was sweet and strange and fantastic. The story is told from an outsider perspective (fiction technique) whose sister is a master at sewing and is recruited to venture to another country (I want to say India, forgive me if I'm wrong) to do some extremely important but secret work. She insists on taking her sister (the narrator) who in comparison to her is just going nowhere with her life. She works at a fast food joint and doesn't seem to care about self-improvement. Whenever a story is told from an outsider perspective, the story might seem like it's about the character of focus, but really it's about what's happening to the narrator, and it's really interesting to learn about the narrator through her telling of this surreal tiger mending adventure.

Fun side note. It just so happens that around this time, I heard this song called "Tiger" by a band called MyPet, which is fun because MyPet Tiger, get it? Anyway, the song reminded me of this story, so I Tweeted the song and how it reminded me of the story to Aimee Bender, and she responded "Love that!" It's not that the video or lyrics match up to the story. It's more of the unique sound and tiger element. I don't know, it just connected for me.

Aimee Bender
"Faces" was really strange and one of those stories that just kind of makes you think. The ending was what made me feel like there was some sort of important lesson to be learned regarding fiction writing because at the end there wasn't really any resolution or major change for the character.

I did some reading and discovered that when it comes to short stories, there is this idea that it's not your job as the writer to solve the characters problems or fix things for them but to just to tell their experience and struggle with the problem. The point is that sometimes as writers we force solutions or change upon our stories and characters because we feel we have to, but some writers say we don't. Aimee Bender shows that it can be done with this one, in my opinion.

"The Fake Nazi" was another one that made me wonder about fiction technique and endings. It was a strange one, but really had a lot to say. It was particularly interesting to get a feeling for what it must have been like for the country of Germany after WWII. As Americans, we don't think about it, but the people of Germany had to keep on living life and had to deal on a mental and emotional level, and many must have struggled with a level of guilt for events they were never involved in or even knew about.

"The Color Master" for which the anthology is named, was a beautiful piece that flooded the mind with fantastic hues and imagery. There was definitely magical realism in this one and a strong use of the distant perspective, another one of those fiction writing techniques I mentioned. It made me want to play with the distant perspective more in my own work. Unlike some of the previous stories, this one was dealing with darker things but in a lighter way, and the ending was just right, bittersweet and satisfying.

Speaking of bittersweet and satisfying, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was an award winner and best seller, and it's become one of those few books that spoke to me on a personal level, but first let's talk story, characters, and magical realism.

The story is told from the perspective of Rose Edelstein who on her ninth birthday discovers that she can taste people's emotions in the food they cook. She doesn't just taste surface emotions, but the deeper and darker layer of struggle that a person has in their lives at that moment. She first discovers this in her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake, when she tastes her mother's sadness and dissatisfaction with her life in general. Quite a lot to swallow for a nine-year-old!

Although this magical realist gift is the catalyst for the story, it's only one part of the plot line. Really the story is about Rose's relationship with her family and with the world. What I really love about this book is that it maintains a key facet of magical realism, and that's the realism part. A lot of times the realistic side of magical realism gets lost in all the magic, but in this novel, Aimee Bender mastered the realism of the internal and often secret struggles of a "normal" nuclear family, the type that looks like what society says is great on the outside, but really there is struggle, secrets, and heartache deep within the layers.

This is why the story really spoke to me personally. The family's struggles were quite similar to struggles I experienced growing up in a nuclear family. Much of what Rose went through on a psychological and emotional level felt so familiar to me. As a child, it's difficult to understand how or why, but you can sense things from family members, like dissatisfaction with life or a pulling away from the world. It was like Bender had magically reached inside of me and pulled out feelings from my own life to instill in this book, almost as if instilling emotions into a lemon chocolate cake.

The other thing I have to say about this book is that the last line was one of my favorites in recent reads, one of those absolutely perfect, satisfying, and yet so bittersweet. Don't read it first because it might give something away. Read the book right, leaving the best for last!

The next one on my list to read is Aimee Bender's The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, so I'll make sure to Tweet or Facebook post what I think. =)

About Stephanie Carroll
Stephanie Carroll is the author of A White Room and "Forget Me Not" featured in Legacy: An Anthology. She blogs about magical realism, her research into the Victorian Era and Gilded Age, writing, and life in general at and at The Unhinged Historian. She also founded Unhinged and Empowered, a blog for Navy wives and girlfriends.

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Why My Life Felt Pointless Even When I Was Succeeding at It

After I published my first novel, I thought finally I had reached my goal, my defining moment of success, that legitimate status, and from then on I could soak up the glory of a life with purpose and meaning. . . . but that’s not what happened.
In fact, the hole I had felt my entire life felt bigger. Why? WHY! I told myself it was because I didn’t have enough success, didn’t make enough money, or hadn’t accomplished enough yet. So I drove myself like a mule in an effort to get more, but then I would get burnt out really fast and whenever I felt crisp and black, I’d find myself looking up from the bottom of that pit wondering, is anything I’m doing really important and if it isn’t then why am I doing it? I’d find myself without an answer, and suddenly everything felt meaningless. I didn’t know what to do with that, so I just pushed the thought away, forced myself back up, and kept pushing.

I’ve always struggled with the need for meaning. Growing up, I thought that need would be satiated by discovering what it was I was talented at. When I got into high school, I thought the same thing about what I’d be when I grew up, in college it was about choosing a major, and after graduation it was about building a career. When I discovered my passion for writing fiction, I thought, "Finally, this is it!" And I pursued publishing with gusto certain that when I held my first book in my hands, everything would change . . . but it didn’t.

It wasn’t until two years after achieving all my goals and after a psychologist diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder that I finally got the slap in the face I needed. I stumbled onto an article that said generalized anxiety is essentially a lack of trust and especially a lack of trust in the Almighty – in God. When I read that, I was appalled because it’s not that simple for people who have a disorder, but then I honestly considered whether or not it was true for me. Did I trust in prayer anymore? Or the Bible? Or even in God? It was like I had the wind knocked out of me! Somewhere along the way, I had lost my faith.

More Good Foundation via Flickr cc.
With that realization, I fell to my knees and wept, begging God for forgiveness and for guidance. When I finally got back up, he did guide me. He guided me to take it slow and make a list of things I needed to do to regain my spirituality. That was the summer of 2015. Today, things look very different than they did one year ago. I’m not cured of my anxiety nor am I without problems, but I’m not struggling with perpetual meaninglessness anymore either.

My experience has been quite transformative, and I’d like to share some of the realizations I had along the way:

Realizations of Purpose & Meaning From My Year Climbing Out of the Pit 

No Longer Living For Myself

I’m not a god: I was not created to achieve my goals or pursue my dreams or gain the glory of my accomplishments. Before, I believed in God, but I didn’t rely on God, and I didn’t concern myself with his will, only my own. I was trying to live for myself and rely only on myself. I was trying to be my own god, which  is, you know, the reason satan fell from grace!

By Jacopo Romei via Flickr cc.
We were designed to live for God: I've come to realize that we were designed to love and focus on God, to serve and let him lead our lives, and when we don’t, we are miserable. Living for God is actually one of our purposes as human beings. It’s how we were made. I learned a lot about what we were designed for from a fantastic book and video collection called What on Earth Am I Hear For?

Living for God does not mean being super religious: Being a servant of God means that no matter what I’m doing, work or otherwise, I’m doing it for God. This doesn’t mean that everything I do is “religious.” I’m not going to start writing Christian fiction just because I'm living for God. If God called me to do that, that would be different, but it's not a given.

Living for God is about dedication: What is dedication? Even people who go to church and who are good people aren’t always fully dedicated. I know because I was once one of them. For me, living for God has been about dedicating myself and everything I do to God and Jesus, giving him authority over my life, and letting him fuel my efforts. When I finally submitted everything I was to God and gave myself to him in the literal sense of a servant, I realized how much purpose and meaning my life actually has.   

What dedication looked like for me: If you were wondering about that list of spiritual to-dos I mentioned earlier, the ones I wrote after my slap in the face, here they are in a nutshell: Start talking to God again. Stat reading the Bible daily. Attend church regularly. Join a Bible study group. Volunteer within the church. Volunteer in the community. Start being open about your faith and talk to people about God.

Each step was small at the time and taken over the course of a year, each time waiting until God actually called me to the next thing. 

What does dedication look like to you?

We were designed to love each other: We were made to live for others and not for ourselves. When we focus on ourselves and no one else, we cannot find things like meaning or purpose. When showing others love is a priority, the simplest of acts can have great significance.

It’s not about giving up who you are: When I first asked myself if I was willing to sacrifice my hopes and dreams for whatever it was that God wanted of me, I was scared. I was afraid He would take me away from writing, but the truth is God gave us our talents and our passions for a reason. He wanted us to pursue them.

Excelling for God: Doing a good job at something God gave me the ability to do brings Him joy because He made me. Just like parents are joyed to see their children excel, even if it’s just at toiletry.

God may use me in unexpected ways: It’s impossible to know how, but anything I do might directly or indirectly be used by God for a purpose. By living with a dedicated mindset my daily choices are going to be made keeping God in mind, giving me purpose from the smallest of moments.

Fulfilling God’s will on God’s time: When I realized I was on God’s time, I could feel confident that when I didn’t reach a specific goal or achievement by a certain time, that was okay. It will happen when God knows it should happen.

I can rely on God’s strength: I don’t have to figure everything out. If I don’t achieve all of my goals or become the best of the best, that doesn’t matter. It’s not that I failed or couldn’t do it. It means that what I did accomplish was exactly what God needed me to accomplish.

The pressure is off: When I stopped living for myself, all of that pressure to gain more success, more money, more accomplishment in an effort to find meaning was no longer there.

The Meaning of Life
By Martinak15 via Flickr cc.
Everything is more meaningful with God: As soon as I realized that I was willing to sacrifice my wants for God’s, my day-to-day work and life became that much more meaningful because I was a useful person for the Almighty. I am confident I'm part of his plan and that he will use me for his work, which is kind of a big deal.

God uses me in meaningful ways: The things that God has directed me toward in the past year have been things of great meaning. I volunteered to help with the children on Easter Sunday and that day a little girl asked me to help her accept Jesus into her heart. I will never forget that and from that it was clear God wanted me to work with the children's ministry. Then as I tried to live a life of love, I felt myself constantly conflicted about the homeless, so I called up the local shelter, thinking there was no way they could utilize me, but it turned out they needed someone to write their newsletter! 

Lasting meaning: When I’m gone from this earth someday, whatever worldly achievements I made will fade away, but the achievements I made for God will continue to ripple through the generations.

My life finally makes sense: When I stopped trying to achieve glory for myself and started winning it for God, I finally understood the answer to that classic question, why am I here? I am here to bring Glory to God in everything I do and for the first time, things finally make sense.

About Stephanie Carroll
Stephanie Carroll is the author of A White Room and "Forget Me Not" featured in Legacy: An Anthology. She blogs about magical realism, her research into the Victorian Era and Gilded Age, writing, and life in general at and at The Unhinged Historian. She also founded Unhinged and Empowered, a blog for Navy wives and girlfriends.

Join her journey with her quarterly newsletter (only four emails a year) for VIP Readers!

Join My Journey!