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It was the simple things that undid her, Annalisse had discovered. Something as ordinary as the scent of lilacs when the air was heavy, a brief measure of Tchaikovsky, or a dream. A dream like the one she’d awakened from last night—so real she could smell the Paris Metro in it. Any of these things could revive in a moment the memories she’d spent the last six years burying. They crept under the leaden shield around her heart and found the small, secret place where she still had feeling.

From the first paragraph Pieces of Paris gripped me. The story, by G.G. Vandagriff, didn’t matter then, the writing had enchanted. And then, I realized, the story did matter. Very much. I was carrying Pieces of Paris around with me everywhere I went.

Annalisse lived a life of music, Europe, and love that she never told her husband about. Because when that life crashed around her, in pain and horror, she shut it away and locked up her memories. “She had baked oatmeal cookies and resolutely shunned her piano and the road not taken.”

Dennis, the idealist, embraced lost causes, but unable to face reality when his efforts didn’t produce the end he envisioned, he always moved on. “There had been so many disillusionments, but in spite of them all, hadn’t he always been convinced that the promised land still awaited him somewhere?” When Dennis finds his “Eden,” he gathers up his family and moves them to a farm in the Ozarks.

Together they must face the crisis of Annalisse’s flashbacks that are dragging her into the pain of her past while Dennis’ Eden is sinking into a toxic mire.

The small cemetery lay hushed and sullen between a soot-blackened Catholic church and a bustling street of small businesses all crowned with dirty brick flats in the working-class part of Vienna. Behind a black iron fence that reached her shoulders, tall headstones stood uneasily in their surroundings, solemn gray sentinels on a green spring lawn.

Today’s society would suggest that Dennis and Annalisse separate to face individually those demons that are trying to destroy them. “But he was bound to Annalisse by vows and to Jordan and Bronwyn by love and responsibility.” I rejoiced in that line.

Pieces of Paris is about environmental abuses, narrow-mindedness, narcissism, bigotry, tragic memories, loyalty, vindication, rediscovered faith, love, resolution, and peace. It’s about a husband and wife, who learn that the best way to resolve the challenges of life is with each other. And with God.

Perhaps he had missed the significance of the shepherd entirely. Life wasn’t about avoiding death, avoiding pain. It never had been. That was why the Shepherd was necessary.

I highly recommend this book. I would suggest it to a book group. There are multiple ideas that could be explored. My own thoughts about Latinos fall somewhere between Annalisses’ and the bigotry of the Cherokee County Republican Women. I loved her description of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss: “chaste, but far more erotic than his nudes. . .The painting showed a once-in-a-lifetime love.” Her descriptions of Chopin had me racing to the tinny sounds in my computer and mourning that I didn’t have a live pianist before me.

For a while, they only walked in silence, their arms around each other’s waists. Couples embraced against the ramparts, cooing French words of love. In the distance, Annalisse heard a barge hooting and the klaxon of a police siren amidst muted car horns. But then they walked into a mystical fog and entered their own private world—a fairy tale place behind a scrim that protected them from the sudden turns of fate that were occurring all over Paris this night. Isn’t this why we read?

G.G. Vandagriff describes herself in her biography: “I realize that I am one of those rare people in the world who gets to live a life full of passion, suspense, angst, fulfillment, humor, and mystery. I am a writer.”

She also writes: “I studied writing in an advanced workshop when I was at Stanford, but was discouraged because everyone but me wanted to be J.D. Salinger. I hadn’t yet found my writing voice. But with my study abroad in Austria, I finally found the story I wanted to tell—the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its collapse into fascism. (I never for a moment thought that this might be a bit ambitious.) I eventually began this project while commuting to and from my job in Los Angeles as an International Banker.”

All I can say is, Whew! And that’s not the end of her story. Read it on her website as well as her blog.

Here is my interview with G.G. Vadagriff:

Me: Where does the name of your blog (Writer in the Cranberry Tower) come from?

GG: I realize it’s very obscure. However, my office is painted cranberry and it has a gorgeous view of the whole Utah Valley all the way to the mountains across the lake which are 50 miles away. It feels like a tower to me.

Me: On your blog, under “about me,” you tell of an experience where a professor recommended you for a creative writing seminar. You wrote, “’However,’ he said, ‘You’ll have to give up your religion if you want to go anywhere as a writer. It is definitely holding you back.’ I took the seminar, and remembering his words, tried to write material that would not touch on my innermost beliefs. All that was left inside me were pointless fairy tales. I was embarrassed to show them to anyone, for I knew they weren’t real.” What practical advice could you give new writers who are trying to make their stories “real?”

GG: Your only choice, if you want to live up to your potential is to write “from your bones.” Don’t try to be anyone else. Just write from the deepest part of yourself. Be honest. Sometimes it really hurts. Sometimes it’s not politically correct. Sometimes it’s surprising. If you worry about your audience rather than your writing, you will never write your best stuff. You should also not worry about being published. You should center all your energy on this amazing work you are creating out of your own head, and making it real or close to real life, so that your readers will feel it as though it were happening to them.

Me: When and where do you write?

GG: My husband and I get up at 6:30 every weekday, have a half hour devotional and then get right to work in our pj’s. His office is downstairs, mine is upstairs in the “cranberry tower.” I usually write straight on from 7 am to 11:30 when I take a break to exercise on my cycle for half an hour. Only then do I get showered, etc. After lunch, I am usually only good for marketing, not creating. My head is most clear when I first wake up. Marketing takes a tremendous amount of time. Also, there is rarely a day when I don’t have some commitment outside the office. I work most Saturdays, if I don’t have a signing. Oh, and one afternoon a week, we always go to the temple.

Me: Do you have a favorite character from one of your books? How much of them are you?

GG: I am Annalisse, Amalia, and Alex. I never realized they were all A names! My favorite character that is “me” is Amalia because of her tremendous inner strength. My least favorite character is Alex because she is the me before I overcame many of my “issues.” My favorite over-all character is Briggie from my Alex and Briggie mysteries. I am also very fond of Charles, Rudolf, and Dennis.

Me: What do you like to do when you are not writing or working on family history?

GG: I love to travel with my husband. I am writing this from our hotel room in Carmel, CA, where we have spent the day in one of the world’s most beautiful spots: Pt. Lobos. The Monterrey pines, the aquamarine of the sea, and the enchanting rock formations make it equal to or perhaps even more beautiful than the Greek Islands we visited last Spring. We also had a hair raising drive down Highway One which winds through Big Sur in the fog. It went on for hours and we couldn’t see the ocean. The highlight was our “vegan” chocolate cookies. My husband said he was glad we had saved some chicken’s life, and that maybe it was the chicken that met him in the men’s room of a very rustic rest stop.

Me: Do you have an inspiring family history story?

GG: My favorite story is about the time I felt impelled to pray to “know” my third great grandmother as though she were with me. I was even bold enough to ask to see her face. It was a strange request of the Lord, but he answered it almost immediately. The next day a long-lost cousin I had never known of called me from a town only a hundred miles away. She was the favorite granddaughter of the favorite granddaughter of this ancestor we shared. She arranged to meet me the next day at a city that was halfway between us. She brought pictures, stories, and even a hand-stitched crazy quilt! But the most wonderful treasure she gave me was a hand pieced quilt square that my 3rd great grandmother had stitched with her own hands. The stories of her are legend now in my family. I love this ancestor so much, and am so grateful to have been the instrument the Lord used to locate and connect her and have her ordinances performed so she could enter Paradise.

Me: If you could have a perfect day, with just you and your husband, what would it be?

GG: I would love to wake up in Lucca, a small walled town in Tuscany where Puccini was born. After breakfast, I would like to ride a tandem bike around the top of the city wall. Then I would like to lunch on prosciutto ham, canteloupe, and fig jam. In the afternoon, we would stroll through all the little boutiques (Lucca is the silk capital of Italy) and buy scarves and ties for friends and family. At 7:30 we would arrive at Puccini’s church and hear a concert of his arias. Afterwards we would eat some kind of mouthwatering pasta at the nearby outdoor café and finish with gelato and strawberries!

Now that she has just dragged us all off to Lucca, come back for a moment, and click to purchase Pieces of Paris.

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