by Heather Zahn Gardner
This is the first book I have read by G.G. Vandagriff though I’ve met her briefly a couple of times at Authorpalooza events. So first off, special thanks to her and Shadow Mountain for letting me take a sneak peek at her newest novel for women.
Told through the eyes of a married couple and from two alternate points of view, Pieces of Paradise opens with Annalisse, a woman in her twenties, living on a farm in the Ozarks. She is pregnant with her second child and suddenly finds herself being haunted by the past. Her stable life with husband Dennis, a local lawyer, begins to crumble as she can’t shake memories that come in the way of flashbacks. Meanwhile, Dennis is battling with a case which stirs up controversy and puts their family in danger. His lifelong dream of an escape to Eden and a peaceful life are threatened by Annelise’s sudden change in behavior and the hot bed of unrest in his town. The two of them pull apart for the first time as a couple and both begin to wonder if their marriage is not at all what they wanted or expected. Can Annelise salvage the passion and talent she once felt without losing herself to the past? Can Dennis love her as she really is?
Pieces of Paris does a masterful job of weaving a captivating story with real life issues like manic depression and the true definition of love. It’s a book that is likely to evoke strong emotions for anyone with experience with mental illness or PTSD. She pushes buttons on some hot topics: racism and environmental clean up as well as small town politics. The book has some very tough and graphic moments as Annelise learns she has to move through the pain or her past in order to overcome it. However, in the end the overall message is one of hope and finding a center that can’t be lost. It was evident from the detail in Pieces of Paradise that Ms.Vandagriff is a highly intelligent, cultured person with a deep knowledge of psychology. (We’re excited to interview her soon!) 25 years in the making, Pieces of Paradise is a glimpse of her talent. Visit her website at http://ggvandagriffblog.com/ to learn about her other published works and upcoming events.
Interview: Where did the idea behind Pieces of Paris come from? GG: I get ideas from the strangest places. This one started with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto which fills me to overflowing with passion. The passion spilled into the book. Then there was the PTSD. I didn’t know what it was, but I had it. I had shut off my feelings twenty years before when my fiancé was killed in Vietnam. Then, when we were living in the Ozarks, my haunting began. It was pretty awful, but resolving it through writing about it helped a lot. I haven’t had to revisit that time again. My publisher convinced me to change the trigger, because Vietnam books "didn’t sell."
Was it hard to write about something so personal? It was intensely difficult. I was basically haunted for the five years it took me to write the first draft. I worked my way through a lot of anger and tender memories that made me cry. However, I have an excellent marriage and I was always cognicent of the fact that I had married the better man for me.
Do you feel you relate to any of the characters? I relate almost entirely to Annalisse, although I didn’t come from anything like her nurturing home. I would have made a terrible biologist, and I can’t even read music. However, I fell for "unsuitable" men like Jules like a ton of bricks. I also share her feelings about the town I lived in which was the model for Blue Creek. There the prejudice was against Mormons, and the ignorance and bigotry of the citizens was extremely difficult. When it turned on my children, we finally moved away.
What advice would you give others suffering from PTSD? I have had PTSD on other occasions. It is literally a Gethsemane where you feel bottled up feelings all at once. There is no way out but through. You can’t chastise yourself or try to talk yourself out of it. It’s a process and you have to go through the shock, anger, pain, and grief. Then, eventually it becomes part of your life, and you can benefit from who the Lord has made you. I could never have gone through it and come out whole without the enabling power of the Atonement. In the book, Dennis leads Annalisse to this power at the end of the book when he tells her that the way was never meant to be easy, but that that was why we had a Savior to carry us. I keep Minerva Teichert’s picture of the Savior holding the black sheep hanging in my home so I will never forget His rescue of me.
Are you musical? I can’t read a note, believe it or not. But I respond to music so passionately that it is like another language to me. Right now I am listening to The Romance of the Violin by Joshua Bell. My favorite musical compositions are: 1.) The violin concertos of Tchaicovsky, Dvorak, and Mendelssohn; 2.) The piano concertos of Rachmaninoff; 3) Mahler’s First Symphony, Shastakovich’s Fifth Symphony, and of course, Beethoven’s Ninth. 4.) Puccini’s Arias.
Are environmental and racial issues something you wanted to educate readers about or are they jsut a part of the story line? I am not any kind of radical environmentalist, however the incident in the book did happen, although thankfully no one was killed. It was extremely scary and typically irresponsible of areas where there is no law in place about the disposal of toxic waste. As far as Latinos go, I was raised by a Latina maid whom I loved fiercely. While bishop in a BYU student ward, my husband was the instigator of Latino Outreach, a program which has since been adopted formally by the Church where the Latino youth are tutored by Anglo students. It has had miraculous results. It keeps kids out of gangs and off drugs and converts them to the Gospel. Mexico is a terrible place right now (as is East LA), and I don’t blame people for wanting to come here. My philosophy is: higher fences and broader gates. I think it should be easier for all nationalities to legally gain citizenship to the U.S. We are a melting pot and my own grandfather who was an illegal immigrant from Russia at the age of 2, contributed more to society than most men I know. He was a true renaissance man.
How long did it take you to write this book? Twenty-five years on and off. I wanted it to be just right.
What advice would you give to young writers? Writing is just as much an apprenticeship as learning to play a musical instrument. It is a process that can’t be hurried or accomplished superficially. Don’t worry about getting published. That is a huge mistake. If you have talent and patiently dig deeper and deeper until you are writing "from your bones" you will have begun your apprenticeship. I strongly recommend "On Moral Fiction" by John Gardner, and "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg. Your apprenticeship will not be wasted. Even if you are never published, you will still be a writer.
Tell us about any research or travel you did for this book? I have been to Paris many times, I lived fifty miles from Vienna for six months and visited there often. I lived in the Ozarks for 16 years.
What other books have you written and do you have any in progress? My bibliography is as follows:
1. Non-Fiction: Voices In Your Blood: Discovering Identity Through Family History (out of print, but I am working to update it and publish it as an e-book), Deliverance from Depression: Finding Hope and Healing Through the Atonement of Christ.
2. My genealogical mysteries: Cankered Roots, Of Deadly Descent, Tangled Roots, Poisoned Pedigree, and The Hidden Branch.
3. Suspense novels: The Arthurian Omen, Foggy With a Chance of Murder (due to be published next spring)
4. Historical epic: The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War (winner of 2009 Whitney Award for Best Historical Fiction.)
Pieces of Paris is my first "women’s fiction," but I am now working on a four book series about a group of women who are in the same therapy group. In the first book they seek healing in Florence, the second on a cruise to the Greek Isles, the third in Provence, and the fourth in the Scottish Highlands. The books are lighter fare than either Waltz or Pieces of Paris. They deal with real issues, but there are happy moments, comic moments, as well as times of serious reflection. When I finish those four books, I would like to do the sequel to The Last Waltz, and then a time travel about a 21st century young woman who wakes up in 16th century Medici Florence determined to stop a murder she knows is going to happen. By then, I’ll probably have Alzheimers
5. Any events coming up? Saturday, Oct 2 from 6-8, I’ll be signing in the Ft. Union DB, my grand launch with terrific doorprizes (Pieces of Paris stylish t-shirts, books of other well-known authors, and Sterling Silver Eiffel Tower Charms) will be Oct 9 from 1-4 at the Barnes and Nobel in Orem.