Theodor S. Geisel Awards Re-connects High School Classmates (46 Years Later!)

me and laylaAbove left–Layla Fiske, author of The Fig Orchard, with Lee Fullbright, author of The Angry Woman Suite

 

I have a story to tell—a short story, perhaps a dozen paragraphs. It’s about two girls who loved reading and writing above almost all else. They came of age in the 1950’s-60’s, in a suburb of San Diego called Allied Gardens, colloquially known as “Rabbit Hill,” because of the large number of children (who would one day be called “boomers”) who lived there with their very fertile parents (if you’re a post-boomer, google “rabbit test”).

One of the girls—Leila—lived at the top of the hill, where the bookmobile (post-boomers: google this too) parked every other Tuesday afternoon. The other girl was Eileen. She lived at the bottom, and had a long walk up Rabbit Hill on bookmobile days, over two miles, but she didn’t care; she’d have walked ten miles to check out five new-to-her books.

Now these two very young girls went to different elementary schools, and didn’t actually know of the other until their promotions to the large, and only, junior high school on Rabbit Hill. But even had they seen the other at the bookmobile on one of those Tuesday afternoons, they would’ve had no way of knowing they were looking at a soon-to-be peer who would, as a young adult, disappear from the other’s life, only to reappear mirroring a common dream, focus, and tenacity.

And so it follows that neither child could have known that this reappearance would not occur for over a half-century.

At their even larger, over-crowded high school, where it was way too easy to get and feel lost, the two girls had the same English teacher—but then, later, as is often the case after graduations, the two teenagers’ paths diverged. And although they stayed in the same city, Leila and Eileen never ran into each other in town, or at their high school reunions. They did, though, continue their reading and writing, separately and prolifically.

Over forty years passed before Eileen, whose name was now shortened to Lee, finished her second novel, one she considered possibly publishable, about a family in so much crisis only an unsolved double murder kept its members together. Lee’s agent titled it The Angry Woman Suite.

The Angry Woman Suite went on to win many awards, but the one Lee had always yearned after—the San Diego Book Awards’ Theodor A. Geisel Award for “best of the best”—is her treasure. It’s the award from her city (San Diego, eighth largest in the U.S.).

A year later, while perusing the nominated books for the 2014 San Diego Book Awards, Lee came across a photo of a woman she thought looked familiar, named Layla Fiske. Layla had written an award-winning novel titled The Fig Orchard, a story inspired by Layla’s grandfather’s capture by Ottoman Turkish soldiers and her grandmother’s subsequent choice of remarriage (entailing giving her children to her husband’s family), or finding a way to support her family on her own. She chose the latter, traveling to a convent in Jerusalem to learn the art of midwifery, then returning to her village to support and raise her children by herself.

But Lee couldn’t place Layla, so she messaged her, told her who she was, and asked if they knew each other.

Did they ever. Turned out Layla Fiske was the “Leila” who’d grown up in Allied Gardens at the same time Lee (then Eileen) Fullbright did. Oh, what a revelation! And oh, the perfection of it all, that two bookish Allied Gardens girls were now both authors! Of course, it was practically ordained that they re-meet, and so they did, forty-six years after their high school graduation, almost to the day.

Okay, isn’t this a cool story? Even if it is mine and Layla’s?

And wouldn’t you know I had to be out of town the night of this year’s San Diego Book Awards Association’s ceremony, and was on pins and needles rooting for Layla, waiting to hear if she’d won her category. At 10:10 p.m., I got the text that read, “I won!!!!!” which had me dancing around the room, and then wondering if Layla Fiske had captured the Theodor S. Geisel Award (for “best of the best” of 25 categories) as well. And of course she had!

So, yes, even more perfection—and then the inevitable and rhetorical question: What’re the chances that two authors from the same ‘hood would win back to back “best of the best” Theodor S. Geisel Awards?

And that the journey, begun so many years earlier, would start with a hill and a bookmobile.

(NOT) THE END

Book Cover Front for The Fig OrchardNEW TAWS cover

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Awards, Reviews, And Moving On To The Next “Woman”

I have taken a nice long novel-writing break since The Angry Woman Suite won the big San Diego book award (the Theodor Geisel Award) for ”Best of the Best” in June, 2013, but now that the holidays are behind us and I’m feeling caught up with myself again, I’m also feeling a need to dive back into the first draft of book #2, tentatively titled A Woman of Commitment, about a young veterinarian looking back on the mid-century conviction of her then-boyfriend for the murder of her best friend.

So before I re-bury myself in research (currently on how to commit the perfect murder (and one can research this particular “how to” via Google), here’s goodbye to an awesome 2013. And while this isn’t goodbye to blogging, it’s accepted (I hope) that I’m pretty “one- track” when caught up in creative writing; I will, though, check in from time to time and perhaps share snippets from A Woman of Commitment as I move along with her.

 In the meantime, I’ve shared (below) some of last month’s Goodreads and Amazon readers’ comments and ratings re The Angry Woman Suite (Amazon link: http://amzn.to/ZBCGGg). I have not edited readers’ spelling and/or syntax.

I value all your comments (um, just the good ones, actually) and the amazing generosity you’ve shown me since The Angry Woman Suite debuted. Thank you so much, and Happy 2014!

5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely insightful, intriguing and impressively written book!,

By John P. Cohan (houston, TX USA) – Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

I generally do not give reviews, but was compelled to do so with The AWS as the author deserves recognition for creative talent. Great characters who are well developed and worth getting to know. Take your time to enjoy this great book!

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!!,

By Heather MAmazon Verified Purchase(

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

This book was fabulous! You fell in love with different characters, hated others, and grew empathetic to the rest! Lee had some great life lessons that she taught to the reader, and educated us on history as well! The three different voices kept you interested throughout this book!

5.0 out of 5 stars The Angry Women’s Suite: thumbs up

By kristi nugent Verified Purchase(This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

A great book-club read. My book-club just finished and discussed Fullbright,s award winning book. A masterpiece in thought with characters you may hate at first, then love or …every reader at club has her own favorite character, either who they wanted to become or who they despised. I was amazed at how three protagonist all worked together to create a relationship, family struggles, a complicated web of emotional ties. Fullbright also seems to understand human nature, history and has a writing style that captivates from the first chapter. I bought this book on my Kindle on my iPad. I took a screen shot of her first two pages outlying the three protagonists inner circle. I referred back to it often and recommend to be sure to look for this especially in electronic version. This book for me brought up emotions but Fullbright was careful to not go too far, emotionally, but keeps you wanting to read to the end. The last half of the book has surprises.

4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written story 

By Mark Phillips – Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

Understated storytelling where drama is built gradually from well written and flowing episodes. The passage of time unveils a subtle yet interesting story with memorable characters.

5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and compelling

By AMB Amazon Verified Purchased This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

This is not a light read, but it is one that drew me in and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. Excellent writing, good characters and an interesting plot, this book deserves the positive reviews it is receiving.

5.0 out of 5 stars Unique read!

By Jaclyn HeiserThis review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

Awesome, unique, I was glued to it from beginning to end. Riveting story, great historical references. I Would definitely recommend!

5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!

By deborah leelingAmazon Verified Purchase This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

A real mystery! I read it straight through the day, couldn’t put it down. It kept me guessing until the very end!

5.0 out of 5 stars Very deep!

By bj2131Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

This book was rather hard to follow, but not so much that I lost interest. It got better and better because little tidbits of information were constantly being revealed. The way the author jumps back and forth between decades was like an interesting puzzle. I was constantly having to pay close attention to who was speaking and what era they were in. But, in the end, all my questions were answered. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone whose just looking for light reading. This author digs down deep into the heart and sole of her subjects, and sometimes it isn’t very pretty. But then, neither is life…sometimes.

4.0 out of 5 stars A Story of Forgiveness and Redemption  

By Tammy JohnsonThis review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

This book gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of three people whose destinies are hopelessly intertwined and the journey to acceptance and forgiveness…of self, of others, and of circumstances beyond our control. Historical significance mingled with hope for a different outcome in a story that is carried full circle from Washington on the Brandywine to the Vietnam Era, this story artfully ties the past with the present and art with life.

4.0 out of 5 stars the angry woman suite  

By Pamela Carroll (Mary Esther, FL USA) – See all my reviews

Amazon Verified Purchase)

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

It’s an interesting story and helps readers understand better why it’s important to nurture children. Ideally children should have a warm loving home environment; however, realistically, many time it doesn’t happen that way. For those times, there can be a serious consequence that is passed on to future generations. It’s alarming how many lives are affected by a seed of anger.

4.0 out of 5 stars The Angry Woman Suite  

By J. Shap Amazon Verified PurchaseThis review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

Hauntingly beautiful. Provocatively inspired. So many twists and turns, as in every life lived. As the story grows through differing eyes, you will be captured!

4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing

By Amber Henson (Huntsville, TX, US) – Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

Very different and loved every bit of it. A recommended reading for any one who enjoys a twists and turns.

4.0 out of 5 stars Quite the puzzle!

By MaryAnneAmazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

The story is there. It just takes a while to figure it out. Kind of like unwinding a tangle of thread. So many twists and turns and characters to figure out. Good narrative and overall tale.

4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating,

By lucyvanpelt27Amazon Verified Purchase This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

The Angry Woman Suite is a captivating novel with twist and turns that leave you hanging on the last words and wanting to push on through to the end to find out the outcome. Wonderfully written.

5.0 out of 5 stars Story of a twisted family and its fight for survival

By Kindle CustomerAmazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

I really liked the twists and turns of this story. Reminds me to be very careful of the way we act and talk in the surroundings of children, be they ours or someone else’s. Very well written and will keep you turning pages .

5.0 out of 5 stars Margie

By margie tenleyAmazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

This was one of the best books I have ever read . You usually know how it will end a lot of twist and turns but this book was challenging

5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!

By Carol Petersen – Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

Complicated plot and story, wonderful character development. I couldn’t wait to read till the end and then sorry it was finished.

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read

By Kathrine J SchroederAmazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Angry Woman Suite (Kindle Edition)

This book is a paradox. I found the characters unsympathetic as a whole, but The Angry Women Suite is beautifully written.Many times I put this down determined not to read any more of it, but I couldn’t stop until I had finished it.

 

Via Goodreads:

Michelle rated it 5 of 5 stars

Amazing book! I don’t have words enough to condense a review into a few short sentences. there are so any dynamics evolving at one time that it was occasionally hard to follow. But the author does an amazing job keeping on track and wrapping it all up beautifully. Loved this book!

Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars

Fullbright crafts an intricate narrative, layered with fear, deception, heartache, child abuse, and constant chaos. An aging mansion in Pennsylvania, and a missing suite of paintings, become the bones binding together this skeleton of a family. The story unravels dramatically in detailed, diary-like accounts, written by three main characters, each representing jagged pieces of the past, the present and the possible future of the Grayson legacy.

I found Fullbright’s writing style to be poetic and musical, engaging all of the senses. I also found it to be haunting, staying with me days after I had finished reading the book. In fact, the farther back I stood from the passages, the more depth and detail I saw. It’s as if the characters and the story line continued to present themselves, demanding my attention, reminding me of some basic life lessons that should not ever be forgotten.

“It’s a ludicrous expectation for women to have of men, thinking they live to fill their empty spaces.”

This book is not an easy read, it does require attention and the ability to be patient while the story unfolds. Although each chapter is beautifully written, they require one another for the full impact, much like the way a photo-mosaic requires a distance to see the whole picture. I would recommend this book for individual enjoyment, but I do believe it would be an excellent book for a book club. In fact, I will be recommending it to mine.

Barbara‘s review

4 of 5 stars

Complicated, frustrating, compelling – a great read! Halfway through the book, I concluded that it was a book I would probably read more than once, which is something I very rarely do.
Alternating characters and across several decades, the narrator switches voice, detailing in first person narrative the development of characters in three generations, each with complicated stories which leave profound legacies for those who follow. If you don’t pay attention to whose voice you are hearing, you can quickly become confused (pay attention to chapter titles). To my surprise, the method works quite well.
The insights into how and why children might quietly accept physical and mental abuse and even blame themselves is quite disturbing. Also disturbing is hearing from an abuser how such abuse can be rationalized. One might expect there to a direct link from the dysfunction in one generation to the next, and yet perhaps such is not totally inescapable. There are surprises here. The ultimate answer to the question of whether personality is the product of heredity or environment will not be easily nor definitively answered.
Those who have lived in the Chadds Ford area of Pennsylvania (Delaware, Maryland) will appreciate the intertwining of art, music, and history in that area, from Revolutionary War times to the present. The characters spend time in different parts of the country, including time in the deep south as well as California, but it is the Chadds Ford area that features most prominently. References to the Revolutionary War are prominent no matter where the characters are temporarily based.
A fascinating book, which I will revisit.

Pooja (On books!)‘s review

4 of 5 stars

bookshelves: 2013, ohmyeffingodsobrilliant

Lee Fullbright’s writing is definitely what made this story seamless despite the breadth of the misery, damage, history, longing, lust, apathy, “matter-of-fact” twists and downright chills the book is packed with. Even more laudable is the tightly-woven intricacy with which the conflicts of the narrators are handled; leading to a coming of age, the letting go and making peace spanning over all of the three generations ! It takes an exemplary writer to be able to incorporate so much, and still leave us wanting more. I would’ve nearly thought it impossible before I read The Angry Woman Suite, so kudos to the writer for that!

One thing I must mention, though, is that The Angry Woman Suite is definitely not something you read when you’re in the mood for something fast or flippant. It’s going to demand every bit of your attention, suck you into the darkest corners of the human psyche and entrance you with its realness. It rewards the patient reader with its thoroughness and insights; with its re-readability and incredible writing… which definitely makes me want to recommend you make time for it!

Wendy ‘s review

5 of 5 stars

The writing is superb. The imagery brilliant and the writer seems to have thorough knowledge and understanding of psychosis and the different levels at which it affects its sufferers. This is not your average definition of crazy in stray jackets. It’s the type that goes on behind closed doors unnoticed or rather ignored. And then it builds members of society who are damaged and left unable to cope with life but have created just enough of a veneer to be considered “normal”.

My recommendation is that if you are looking for something challenging and entertaining you should certainly get the book. With that have something handy to throw, wail into or a friend to call. I can guarantee that unless you have had a perfect upbringing, your own demons will rise.

Stephanie‘s review

5 of 5 stars

This family saga was well done and super intense. Not many happy moments, but redemption always seems possible. The Graysons include two lovely individuals, but the rest are insane. I think maybe Buster was one of my favorite characters. He and Aidan are overshadowed by the fabulous Papa, however. Papa, we could all use a grandpa like you. Meeting you was worth reading the whole book. Elyse, I feel you.
I only hesitated to read this book because I didn’t want my darling husband to think I was “an angry woman”. The title is scary!

I realized after I wrote the review that the complex and finally insane paterfamilias was named Lear and he had three daughters. So obvious, yet I didn’t make the connection. I don’t like it when that happens.

Maria Barry‘s review

5 of 5 stars

Brilliant, utterly brilliant.
The darkness, the game play.
Anyone who has grown up in a dysfunctional family will feel the psychological games that exudes the pages of this novel.

The characters are full, rounded and jump off the page at you. I want to read it again, just to absorb the storytelling further.

Ladory rated it 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good book! The first few chapters especially pulled me in. I thought the author brilliantly captured how the mind of a precocious, gabby little girl worked. Her wise grandfather taught her a whole lot and I learned a lot from his teachings, as well! I was actually enthralled with the first third of this book. It gave me a lot of very good food for thought. It’s about three very dysfunctional families who included jazz musicians, artists, and historians. The storyline is very complex including murders, abuse, disease, and theft, and I felt lost a few times; but things were always explained eventually. So it does keep one guessing. The chapters were each written from the viewpoint of a different character. Some were more likable than others, of course, but the reasons for what drove these people to become what they did made sense for the most part, in my opinion.

I found the author to be very intelligent and insightful. I look forward to reading more from her!

Ginger rated it 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly fascinating study of three characters told from each person’s first person point of view. A very well done study of the unreliable narrator as first person as the story unfolded. This would make a great book club discussion book.

The Angry Woman Suite: The Gold

gold-shiny-web

I’d almost forgotten I’d answered Readers’ Favorite’s call for submissions for the RF’s annual international competition. It seems a hundred years ago that I’d submitted my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, though somewhere in the back of my brain, I more or less remembered it was September that winners would be notified.

Yesterday was September 1. I sat down to my computer first thing, like always, and there it was, a big congratulatory announcement: The Angry Woman Suite had been awarded the Gold in the Historical Mystery category. Wow! The award ceremony is next month in Miami. Thank you, Readers’ Favorite!

Following is the lead judge’s critique (I’m amazed how s/he summed this book up—great job!):

“The Angry Woman Suite is quite a ride. Set in the early 1900s, it is a story of family conflict, mystery, drama, and love. Young Francis Grayson grows up with a slew of women referred to merely as “the women,” consisting of two aunts and a grandmother. Unfortunately, Francis is subjected to abuse at their hands. Young Francis does not know much about his history and even the true identity of his father is kept from him. Elyse, Francis’ stepdaughter, tells the story from her point of view in a rather compelling manner. A third narrator is history buff and schoolmaster, Aiden Madsen, who also plays the roles of music teacher and friend to young Francis. Francis is talented, something that runs in the family, but he lets his desire for fame get the best of him.

Filled with deceit, outright lies, anger and resentment, this book is very cleverly written, with different points of view bringing unique perspectives to the story. The characters are fully developed and easy to understand, and as the story comes together one finds oneself empathizing, loving and sometimes even hating them. The novel is quite a trip through time as the characters tell history as they see it. It seems that each character is on a quest for truth. It is hard to decipher whose version is correct, but this adds to the flavour of this outstanding novel.”

“Debut novelist wins top San Diego award”

Lee-Fullbright-receiving-her-Geisel-Award

The above header is a San Diego U-T headline, and I’m the “debut novelist.” The Angry Woman Suite (also a Discovery Award winner and Kirkus Critics’ Pick) is my baby—and I am still walking on air after winning the 2013 San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery last weekend AND then the Geisel Award for “best of the best.”

I’m still saying to myself, Really?

I went to the awards ceremony intending only to show my appreciation to the San Diego Book Awards Association for moving my historical-psychological mystery novel forward to finalist status—and was SURE I’d be home in bed with dog and book by 9 PM—in fact, couldn’t wait to get home to bed, book, and dog. I didn’t even prepare comments (and preparing for every eventuality (tsunamis, malaria outbreaks, stock market plunges) is part of my job—er, makeup; Felix Unger has nothing on me), but that’s how sure I was about the TEN hours of reading and shut-eye I’d scheduled for later that night.

Well, goes to show … let down your guard for one minute and the universe pounces—this time, though, in the best way imaginable—although the mind picture of me walking down to that stage twice with no comments prepared—a wordless writer!—makes me cringe (and laugh—gotta laugh, because, oh, the lovely irony).

What I ended up saying (I think) when I was “crowned” with that familiar red and white Cat in the Hat chapeau (San Diego’s Geisel Award, which is awarded to each year’s judges’ pick for “best in show,” is named for our city’s own Theodore Geisel aka Dr. Seuss, the world’s most beloved children’s author), was of course “thank you” (a million times) and then I told a little story (I think)  about DDF (my husband who passed last year), and how supportive he’d always been, and how thrilled he’d have been seeing this, and that I intended placing my two trophies alongside the very first print copy of The Angry Woman Suite, which became DDF’s, the book I’d presented to him shortly before he died (and he’d been ecstatic—seriously ecstatic).

But not quite yet.

Yep, you caught me: I’m still carrying them around with me everywhere.

(Of course not really) *smile*Image