Before I say anything else, Michele Ashman Bell (no relation) is having a drawing for a $50.00 Visa gift card. You can find details at her blog here.
I recently had the chance to read Michele's new book, Hometown Girl. To tell you the truth, I didn’t quite know what to expect as I have never read anything in the genre of Women’s Fiction, LDS or otherwise. And I imagine that since I’m not the target demographic for this book, and am unacquainted with the genre, there might be things I didn’t notice or appreciate fully.
That being said, I enjoyed the book and found myself being drawn into the story and caring about the characters. In fact, I stayed up far too late one night because I had to find out what happened.
Bell is a prolific and experienced author. Her style is easy and doesn’t get in the way of the story. Her characters seemed real to me and she drew them well. I especially enjoyed her depiction of life in a small town.
Since this is my first foray into this genre, I was a little surprised at how deep and serious some of the subject matter was for the secondary plot lines—a minor character’s marriage is ruined because of pornography, for example, and another one is involved with a very controlling man.
And the protagonist has a secret that was difficult for me to read about simply because it was so sad and painful! If you are particularly sensitive, or if you have scars from marital trouble, you might wish to approach this book with care.
However, without giving too much away, I think it’s safe to say that the book has a very happy ending that is redemptive and joyful. We see the male and female principals work through their problems by trusting in the Atonement—and each other.
In spite of being busy with YW Camp and her blog tour, Michele kindly answered some questions for me.
B: One of my favorite element of the book was the description of
small-town life. What experience did you draw on when you crafted
M: I was born in Cedar City, UT and raised in St. George, UT. Both were small towns when I was there, so I'm very familiar with that atmosphere and sense of community it brings. Even on my mission in Germany, I lived in some of the small villages that were tucked away in lush, green valleys, away from the hectic cities and crowds. However, what really helped give the town personality and the true small--town feel was the town of Preston, Idaho, where my husband was raised. It is definitely one of those places where everyone knows everyone else, where you can walk around town square and feel like you've been transported back to a place and time when life was simpler, and the words "quaint" and "ideal" really describe the town and the people.
I'm a small-town girl at heart and creating the town of Milford Falls gave me a strong sense of nostalgia and longing.
B: You touch on some very difficult isses. One character's marriage
is destroyed by pornography and another is in a relationship that is
clearly unhealthy, and potentially abusive. Then, the protagonist has
a devastating secret that she has to work through. Can you tell us
more about why you chose to deal with these topics?
M: I think authors make a point of being tapped into readers and what's going on in the world around them. Issues that are pertinent and relatable is extremely important in connecting to readers. Sometime I don't choose the topics, they choose me. As these characters evolved and grew up in the first book, their lives followed different paths and led to different life challenges. I had planned on addressing the issue of pornography, since it's prevalence in families has grown to alarming proportions lately. I also wanted to hint at the possibility of an abusive relationship for one of the other characters, to possibly explore that for a future book. But some of the other issues that crept into the character's lives came from either a result of the choices the character's made, or the choices of other people in the book. It is a remarkable thing when these characters seem to take on a life of their own. A little bizarre, for sure, but really cool too.
B: Can you give us a sense of how you developed this story? Was it a
flash of insight, or careful outlining, or somewhere in between?
M: The whole idea behind the story was conceived during a booksigning at Women's Conference at BYU. As I visited with women who stopped at my table I was touched by the fact that each woman there was with other women, meaning; sisters, friends, ward members, neighbors, girlfriends from school, or other family members. I loved the realization that "women need women." We all have a support network that we rely on to help us when we need strength, cheer us on when we need encouragement, or laugh with us when we celebrate something wonderful. The women in the Butterfly Box are girls that we all can relate to, even are similar to people we know. I think that's why readers enjoy the books. As far as outlining goes, let me tell you, any author who writes by the seat of their pants is my hero. I have to have everything outlined in detail and then several times during the writing process I revamp my outline, because the characters have strayed from my original idea.
B: You had another book released earlier this summer. Can you tell
us a little about that and what it was like to get two books out
within a few months?
M: It was exhilarating to have my Young Adult book, "Summer in Paris" and my Women's Fiction book, "Hometown Girl" both get released this summer. First of all because it's been two years since I had a book come out, and second of all I've been trying to get "Summer in Paris" published for over fifteen years.
B: Do you think that there are any specific assumptions or implicit
ideas about either men or marriage that underlie this book?
M: Yikes, I hope not. I think the bigger issue is that the decision of marriage needs to be made very carefully and that you need to really know the person you are marrying. There are no guarantees, for course, but you can avoid some situations by spending time with the person you are dating, getting to know their family, and really discussing your goals and expectations to make sure you both want the same things out of marriage. And like real life, some things do not turn out the way you plan, and the real test is how we get through those tests and challenges. To me, that is the message I want reader to understand. Because there are also, some really awesome male characters in these books to let readers know, there are some really fabulous men out there, too.
B: So what's next for the Butterfly Box series? What are you working on now?
M: I just found out that the third book comes out next April. The book will focus on the character of Andi, but will further the lives of all the girls, and, it will also resolve the mystery surrounding Ava's death. It's an important book that will take the readers to exotic locations as well as throw in a strong dose of excitement and mystery.
B: Can you give an idea of the whole series--will there be a book for each of the girls?
M: As far as the series is concerned: I had designed it to have one book per girl and was excited to write each of their stories, but have been told to wrap it up in the third book. So, all the conflicts will be resolved to a large degree in the third and final book. If something changes, I can easily return to the story lines and write the books. I am an eternal optimist and hope that happens.
B: Is there a character you particularly relate with or enjoyed writing?
M: A particular character: That is hard to answer because there is a part of me in each of them but I do love Jocelyn because I think she grows the most out of all the girls. She has everything stacked against her and overcomes so much hardship. I tend to cheer for the underdog and love stories of women who become strong and conquer their challenges. Jocelyn totally captures this in Hometown Girl
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