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February Book Club Choice

The First Day of the Rest of My Life by Cathy Lamb

Cover of The First Day of the Rest of My Life

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An eloquent and triumphant tale about a fierce act of love and a family's legacy; about sisters, a battered and scratched violin with its own story to tell, a terrible secret and one woman's awakening to her own power...
As a renowned life coach, Madeline inspires thousands of women through her thriving practice - exuding enviable confidence along with her stylish suits and sleek hair. But her confidence, just like her fashionable demeanor, is all a front.
For decades, Madeline has lived in fear of her traumatic past becoming public. Now a reporter is reinvestigating the notorious crime that put Madeline's mother behind bars, threatening to destroy her elaborate façade. Only Madeline's sister, Annie, and their frail grandparents know about her childhood--but lately Madeline has reason to wonder if her grandparents also have a history they've been keeping from her.

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Author Q&A

Q. Most of your characters are larger-than-life, pretty ‘out-there’ or eccentric in one way or another. What makes you gravitate towards these characters?
Erica Wood, Norfolk

A. I strive to make my characters real – but interesting. They have flaws, quirks, problems, issues, tempers, nightmares, fears, and they push all sorts of boundaries. They laugh loud, they’re outrageous, they’re funny, they cry at odd moments and throw cherry pies. They run naked along rivers. They participate in Breast Power Psychic Night. They sell life – sized blow up dolls. They ‘water’ a Corvette belonging to an ex-husband. They give unconventional advice and have women dress like cats and smash chairs. I try to write characters that people can relate to. I want my readers to believe they could sit down and have dinner with these people, they could tell them their darkest secrets, they could share their dreams or their sadnesses, and they could connect with them on a deep level. I gravitate towards genuine, honest, emotionally available people in my own life, and I try to write like that, too. Plus, let’s face it. No one wants to read about boring characters and I certainly don’t want them in my books.

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Q. Your books have a lot of humour in them but also deal with very serious themes. Was this a deliberate choice to include this humour to balance the harsher aspects of the novel? Do you think it is important to have this balance?
M Delaney, London

A. Yes, it’s a deliberate choice to balance out the humor and the serious problems that my characters are struggling with. I have women telling me all the time that my books make them laugh and cry – sometimes when they’re sitting on the subway, or in airplanes, and people apparently look at them quite strangely. I love that women laugh and cry while reading my books. I laugh and cry while writing them. I think it’s important for books to touch people’s hearts. To make them think about life, about other people who are different from themselves, and about people who have suffered or experienced hardships they themselves haven’t. It makes us all more compassionate and understanding of others if characters make us cry and empathize with their struggles. And, I think laughter is important, in life and in literature. As for do I think it’s important to have humor balancing out serious themes in a book? It depends on the book and the subject matter. It depends on the author and author’s intent. It depends on the characters, the time in history, and if it’s authentic. For me, I don’t want to write books that are depressing from beginning to end, where there’s no hope or joy or light.

Q. I love the title of your book. Did you make any Resolutions for this year? Is there anything in your life you would change to start afresh?
L Cowen, Redditch

A. My editor, John Scognamiglio titles all my books and I have loved all the titles. He gets full credit. My resolutions for this year were to watch more sunsets, walk regularly, and to find really outstanding chocolate. There are a few decisions in my life, that yes, I would change if I could. At the time I didn’t have the knowledge base or experience or confidence to figure my way out of certain darker spots in my life. Now, I do. I’m better at thinking difficult situations through without letting my emotions cloud things up like a thunderstorm, complete with booming thunder and blinding lightning. I’m better at figuring out “end result,” for example, if I take Road A, this will happen, if I take Road B, this will happen. I’m not perfect at it at all, but I’m understanding things better and seeing the big picture. The thing is though, the not - so - great decisions that I made were the best I could do at that time. And, those mistakes probably needed to happen for me to grow and get where I am today. Plus, a bunch of my mistakes gave me story ideas...

Q. How did you develop the character of Madeline as a life coach? Have you had any experience with life-coaching talks or speak to life-coaches in order to follow or bend the notion of a life-coach?
Emma Johnstone, London

A. My editor suggested a life coach for my book and I took that and ran with it. Madeline was a life coach who knew how to coach others on their lives, but many aspects of her life were a mess. I did read parts of a couple of books on life coaching, I did talk to one life coach, and I tried to meet with a second life coach but she – twice – stood me up because she forgot the appointment. I thought that was very funny – a life coach who couldn’t even make it to her appointments. Basically, though, I threw everything out that I read and just wrote via Madeline. How would she handle certain problems that come up in life? What would she say to desperate/scared/whiny people? How would she, in an unconventional and creative way, help these people to help themselves? (None of the books I read on life coaching had anything like this in them.) I knew her background, her family, her history, her personality. I had an idea of where that would take a person. I know how her past effected her present. I knew she was strong willed and steel hard and she had confidence in her opinions, even though she was hiding from her past. I knew she had compassion and a perceptive, deep understanding of human nature. Basically with Madeline it was like watching a movie in my head. I followed her around and wrote down what she was saying and what she was doing. I give all my characters a structure, then I let them be who they are and don’t rein them in much at all.

Q. Who was your favourite character in this book?
C. M., Surrey

A. My favorite character was Madeline because that’s who I was writing through. I did relate to the mother, Marie Elise, though, as a mother myself. I also have an edgy side of me that related to Annie and her edgy side. And I felt for Ramon, the young man who had robbed a bank who needed a second chance. So many people need a second chance.

Q. Your novels feature a lot of dialogue – do you find this easy to write and would you have any advice for aspiring writers (like me) who find it hard!
Kathryn L Ryder, Cardiff

A. I do find dialogue fairly easy to write. That said, I edit all my books, every single page, eight times before it goes to my editor. In each edit, I add, delete, and re-arrange. I think it’s important not to hem your characters in. You need to know your character – but you need to know enough to know that they’ll bust out of any outline you give them – and you need to encourage and be comfortable with the busting. My characters will change even in the eighth edit. I’ll find something new about them, it’ll be a line here or there that will clarify who this person really is – and a lot of time that clarity is found in the dialogue. The best advice I can give aspiring writers is to read all the time and study the dialogue within your favorite books. Write, too. Write stories. Write snippets. Write two pages of imaginary dialogue between you and a stranger in the coffee shop, between you and the prime minister, between you and your favorite actor. Write down what you would say to someone who just said something mean to you. Then spin it out and mix it up, add characters, add setting, add a history. You have yourself a scene. Listen to people, too. Really listen. Find out what they’re not saying. Watch their body language. Take a problem you hear about and have two people, on paper, discussing it and giving their opinions. When you really know your characters, and you know the conflict or situation or relationship, and you’re allowing those characters some freedom, dialogue gets easier and easier to write.


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