The Weeping Willow Sings: A Fine Debut Novel

Weeping WillowI’m excited to feature Billie Grable and her debut novel, The Weeping Willow Sings. She and I were classmates in the University of Washington Commercial Fiction certification course in the early 2000s. It’s great to see the final product that came from that beginning.

Welcome, Billie. Where did the inspiration for your novel come from?

I have to say that the book evolved over a very long time. When I first started writing, I was doing a memoir. I wrote madly for days – pouring my life and soul onto paper. Then one night I heard a famous person being interviewed on TV about a memoir she’d published. The interviewer asked her “Is there anything you wish you could take out of your book?” Her immediate answer was something like Chapter 4 and 15 – I clearly remember her answering without hesitation and I thought, do I really want to put my life in print – and never be able to withdraw those private moments? Would I live to regret it? I now call that piece of work my ‘past purging’ and I must say it was not only liberating, but it rekindled my love for writing!

From that point, I tried to ‘convert’ my life to fiction. I remember one of the exercises we did in the Commercial Fiction class where we had one of our characters write us a letter. Becca (the main character that had been shaped from my life) ‘wrote’ to me. She told me in no uncertain terms that I’d already made all of those mistakes and that she wanted to make her own mistakes. The letter ended with her telling me if I couldn’t honor her request, to leave her out of the book. Imagine how surprised I was when I finished writing the letter – and how real those voices in my head became! J I took Becca’s advice and she became a secondary character.

John, Maggie’s father developed over time. I knew that he was going to die from the very beginning. What I didn’t realize was how attached to him I’d become and how his death haunted me. That is when I realized that he would remain a central character and his life after death experience one of the main themes.

Mental illness has had a huge stigma attached, but we are all becoming more aware and accepting. Was this a difficult subject to write about?

Not at all. And now I shall air some of my own family secrets. J My great aunt spent her later years at what used to be called the Oregon State Insane Asylum. I remember going there as a little girl (about five years old) and sitting with her. What I loved about her was her laughter. She’d start giggling and I would too. Then she’d break out into uncontrollable laughter and I’d join in. I never really knew why she was laughing but I just loved that she did. I didn’t find out until I had kids of my own that she was schizophrenic.

Remembering my great aunt and how, as a child, I had no point of reference to make me afraid of her, made me realize that there are types of mental illness that are feared. The sad part is she ended up in a mental hospital that used shock treatments as part of the therapy (and back then they did serious damage!). I like to think that her life would have ended up much differently had she been able to take advantage of today’s methods of treatment. Having said that, there are so many people who have mental illness and are too ashamed to come forward and seek treatment. That’s where John’s mental illness came into the story. I wanted him to be able to confront where he came from and what he’d done, so he could heal – and also provide healing to those he left behind.

Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?

The single most important message to me is that love never dies. The other message is for people who have lost a loved one to suicide – being able to give them an opportunity to somehow make peace with such a tragic ending.

Have you always wanted to write?

Billie_photoYes! Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve made up stories in my head. And now, I have the ability to listen to those characters and give them a chance to tell their story. The part I love most is letting go of my need to control and allowing them to give me the shape of their life (and yes, I am a control freak J).

Are there any books or authors that inspired you?

I’ve read a ton of self-help books – my favorite authors are Wayne Dyer, Iyanla Vanzant, and Cheryl Richarson and Geneen Roth. Their messages have always spoken to me.

I loved What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson and of course The Lovey Bones. Stephen King creeps me out (in a really good way) and I loved Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Loved The Help (movie not so much) and Water for Elephants.

What helps you with the creative process?

When I first begin a story, I process a lot of it in my head. And then I start writing on notepads that are lying around my house. I prefer to write with pen and paper at first. There’s something about connecting the pen to paper that allows the creative process a direct connection. Just feels like the words flow from the pen.

Why do you write, what is it that makes you do it? (What do you like and dislike about writing?)

I write fiction because of the characters. I love allowing them to ‘speak’ to me. It’s such an adventure. The hard part is having a big enough chunk of time to really let it flow. I work full time and while it pays the bills, it takes a chunk out of my creative process.

What was the major thing you learned from our UW writing course?

The biggest lesson was the importance of character development. You can have a plot, but without really strong characters to carry it out, you really don’t have a compelling book to read.

What made you decide to self-publish?

My Mom. She’s 86 years old and has dementia. The one thing she hasn’t forgotten is that I wrote a novel. When I gave her a copy of The Weeping Willow Sings she cried! It was an incredible moment. She is declining fast and having given her that gift was a memory I will always cherish!

What are you doing to market your book?

I have business cards that I give to just about everyone I meet. I have a Facebook author page and also a personal page. I’ve done several book signings and had a write up in my hometown newspaper. It’s really, really hard work! But I absolutely love it.

What advice would you have for other beginning authors?

Take classes. Get into a critique group. Keep your butt in your chair and find the time to write!

Are you working on another project?

I have a second novel that’s about half done. And I have an idea for a series brewing as well.

Where can readers buy your novel?

You can buy it on line at any bookstore – but go to Amazon please! Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Weeping-Willow-Sings-Billie-Grable/dp/1482622866/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Your website, blog, Facebook, etc.

My Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/BillieGrable?ref=hl

I’ve had so much interested generated that Facebook created a page for The Weeping Willow Sings! Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Weeping-Willow-Sings/585690891468723?directed_target_id=0

Thanks so much for having me Heidi! It’s so much fun to reconnect. And I love Cowgirl Dreams!

Thank you, Billie. I’m looking forward to your next book.

This Reader’s Choice

I know the summer reading season is over, but I want to share some of the good books I’ve read recently. I’m always delighted to find new authors as well as new books from favorites.

I was honored to read an advance copy (ARC) of The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft, which will be out in January 2014. A great Art of Fallling Coverread! Penelope Sparrow, a 28-year-old dancer, has spent her entire life focusing on the perfection of her body. But when she wakes up in a Philadelphia hospital unable to move after a near-fatal accident, she can’t remember the events leading up to her crushing 14-story fall. Now, with a second chance at life, Penny must find a way to reconnect with her past and come to terms with the limitations of her body. This is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to understand her own past and begin again, beautifully expressing the language of dance and broken dreams.

A Wilder RoseAnother ARC I enjoyed is A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert, out in October. Fascinating history about our classic favorites, the “Little House” series. In 1928, Rose Wilder Lane—world traveler, journalist, highly-paid magazine writer—returned from an Albanian sojourn to her parents’ Ozark farm. Almanzo Wilder was 71 and Laura 61, and Rose felt obligated to stay and help. Then came the Crash. Rose’s investments vanished and the magazine market dried up. That’s when Laura wrote “Pioneer Girl,” her story of growing up in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and by the shores of Silver Lake. The rest is literary history. But it isn’t the history we thought we knew. Based on the unpublished diaries of Rose Wilder Lane and other documentary evidence, A Wilder Rose tells the surprising true story of the often strained collaboration that produced the Little House books—a collaboration that Rose and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, concealed from their agent, editors, reviewers, and readers.

Forgiving Effie Beck by Karen Casey-Fitzjerrel, award-winning author of The Dividing Season.  Another excellent story. MikeForgiving Effie Beck LeMay, a Federal Writers’ Project interviewer arrives in a small Texas town days before the town eccentric, Effie Beck, is reported missing. While conducting his interviews, Mike learns that the enigmatic, elderly Miss Effie has moved through the lives of the town’s populace “like brown smoke” after having suffered a harsh childhood under the discipline of a cruel father. Paralleling Effie’s mysterious disappearance is the baffling relationship Mike observes between barefoot, bird-boned Jodean Travis, the young woman from whom he rents a room, and the rest of the community. By the time the WPA bridge collapses in a horrible storm, Mike knows what happened to the baby shoe matching the one found in Effie’s house, why Jodean is ostracized by the town, the real reason the sheriff’s wife sent her kids out of town for the summer, and how hurtful it is to live where all the good people look the other way.

Weeping WillowThe Weeping Willow Sings by Billie Grable. This debut novel sings! John O’Brien’s suicide by drowning throws him into an afterlife he never expected. His fifteen-year-old daughter, Maggie, almost dies trying to save him, and her distorted memory of the traumatic event leaves Maggie believing that John is still alive. Maggie sets off on a journey to find her father and the mythical weeping willow he often told her about – a journey that takes her to the world between – and beyond. When Maggie’s path meets imminent danger, John must find a way to cross the threshold between life and death to save his daughter one last time. A blend of fantasy and fiction, The Weeping Willow Sings provides a glimpse into the theory of life after death and the possibility for the dead to make amends with those still living. A moving depiction about the secrets families keep, the tragic side of mental illness and the bond between a father and daughter, The Weeping Willow Sings reminds us all that love never dies.

Others worth checking out:

Nobody’s Child by Janet Dawson. A decomposing body buried in an empty lot isdug up by a construction company, and Jeri Howard’s demanding, imperious client thinks the victim could be her daughter.

My Next Husband will be Normal by Rae Ellen Lee. A humorous, bitter-sweet memoir. Soon after unpacking their flip-flops on the paradise of St. John Island, the husband—a former Republican state legislator with a silver crew-cut and solid traditional values—realizes he is really a she.

One Foot on the Edge by C.K. Crigger. In 1896, there aren’t many career choices for a young lady. China Bohannon has fled one bad situation, and is looking to start her life over as a strong, independent woman in the wild and woolly town of Spokane, Washington.

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse by Morgan Mandel. What could possibly happen when a 55 year old widow takes a pill to be 24 forever?

The Driftwood Diaries by Ava Wilson. Three women are revealed in their diaries found by a book store owner.

Happy Reading! What are some of your favorites from this summer?

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