01 Nov 2013

S.R. Mallery : “Unexpected Gifts”

3 Comments Book Reviews

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“Unexpected Gifts” by S.R. Mallery is a great novel, comprising of an excellent dive into American history of the 20th century, with a hint of a very palatable family saga, a kind of personal memoir and a psychological journey into self-discovery by the main character Sonia. 
Coming with her own set of problems Sonia is confronted with the ageing of her parents and when she finds diaries of family members in the attic she digs into her family’s colourful and intriguing past. Mallery takes us back to various eras of recent American history, as experienced by Sonia’s family members. With great attention to detail and intensive research the author transports us to the 1960ies, the draft lottery, draft dodgers and the actual fighting in Vietnam while in the US the hippies protest and the Beatles are all the rage. Bringing the personal into the political and showing how our characters are caught up in the spirit of the times this book does an excellent job at portraying the spirit of the times, to the author much more so than many other novels with similar subjects. 
Another great sequence in the book takes us back to Ellis Island in 1913 as the first members of the family are immigrants from Eastern Europe and then settle in Detroit before the Great War.
Told out of chronological sequence and with much reflection by Sonia as she is rooted in the present the book serves as a history lessons for us non-Americans as well as a psychological exploration of a woman who tries to find answers about her family but more so about her own problems, her character and her identity.
Warm, thoughtful and with great insight this is a wonderful book that has a lot to offer. Well written and cleverly structured it shows great literary talent and comes highly recommended.



Tell us a little about yourself.  Have you always written?

Actually, no.  Oh, of course in school for papers, but I really am a late bloomer when it comes that. Wish I had started it years and years ago, but so be it…. spilled milk and all that.

How did you have the inspiration for this story?  What was more important for you – the OCD issue, the personal development, the history, or the family aspect of your book.

I have always been interested in seeing my family albums––their modern–60’s–50’s–40’s–30’–20’s–1910 outfits and their faces; were they sad, happy, bored?  In addition, having always loved history, particularly about the U.S., I remember wondering how I could present different American time periods in a single book and have it work out logically.  The more I percolated, the more I speculated about the idea of one person reading the scribbling of her relatives and gaining insight from them. That way, I could integrate a modern character with different eras.  In addition, I wanted to have the main character somewhat flawed.  Hence, the OCD.  I really enjoyed researching the OCD part because I have some of that myself; the kind where the mind never shuts off!  So, to answer your question, it all was important to me.

Did you do a lot of research for it?

A ton!! I studied books/articles/documentaries about each time frame, looked at many photos, read about the language from not only those different places, but also separate periods.  For example, I looked up how people in Ireland talked during the early 1900’s, how African Americans talked up in Harlem during the 20’s; how in Bulgaria, they would shake their heads when they meant yes, and visa versa when they meant no; what the foods were like for each period and country, the clothes, the politics, you name it.  It took quite a while—the downside of being an historical fiction writer, I suppose.  On the other hand, the journey is wonderful and you sure do learn a lot!!

 How much of the story was fixed before you started writing and how much changed during the process?

The story was pretty much fixed, but in a very general way.  The first draft I sent my publisher was 650 pages in paperback format.  Yikes!  We both agreed that cutting out every single extraneous historical tidbit wasn’t going to hurt the characters or the plot, so half a book later, I realized it had become much more flowing.

Tell us a little about your writing and editing process.

I’m an ex-quilt designer, so I’m always thinking in little patch-worked pieces.  I start with a big expandable file and little scraps of paper—upon which I keep putting thoughts, ideas, motivations, descriptions, plots, book passages I’ve underlined, anything I can think of.  Then I make up envelopes marked with various characters’ names, ambiance/description, language, plot, etc.  From there comes a very generalized outline and as I start to look at all my paper snatches, I fill in the outline with more detail.

As for editing, I do a lot of my writing online, but sometimes I do write just on paper, type it, then edit it, and sometimes I do editing online.  I’m pretty flexible that way.

What is your writing environment like?  Can you tolerate music or noise or are you a reclusive writer?

I have been known to write entire scenes at a Carl’s Junior, but in general, I do write at home and do not want to have a lot of noise around me.  Music, however, is my great muse away from the writing.  It gives me all kinds of ideas about motivation, scenes, characters, plots, etc.  I listen while I drive or at home and it always works like a charm. For Unexpected Gifts I downloaded music from the various periods, and an Irish music CD for that chapter.

 Which of your characters was the most fun to write?

Daria.  I definitely don’t have a drop of Irish in me, but I do love Irish music and the sing-song rhythms of their language, so whenever I would reread what I had written about that Irish lass, no matter how small the passage, or simply a single sentence, I would use an Irish accent.  It really transported me.

Who would play her in a film?

Goodness, I don’t know….an unknown maybe?  Some lovely actress who could make her proud…

Are you like any of the characters?

Probably Sonia, because of some of her OCD tendencies and her growing love of finding out about her ancestors.

What is your life like?

At the moment, it’s fairly peaceful.  Of course these days that could change on a dime!  I live with my husband, daughter, and a couple of cats, in an unassuming, cottage-like house.  I teach part time to ESL adults whom I love and respect, and intermixed with that is writing, editing, research, promotional networking, family, friends, movies/series on DVD, light gardening, and laughter as much as I can muster. Good for the soul, what, what?

Who are your literary influences?  What are your favourite books/films/albums?

Authors: Harper Lee, O.Henry, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Dodie Smith, Victoria Holt, Mary Renault, and Betty Smith, William Styron and more.

Films: To Kill a Mockingbird, Friendly Persuasion, L. A. Confidential, Poltergeist, Love Actually, Bridge On the River Kwai, The Miracle Worker, Tootsie, etc., etc.     I guess I’m eclectic…..

Albums:  Stevie Wonder, Judy Collins, Mozart, Faure, Debussy, The Beatles, The Gaitlin Brothers, Irish music, movie themes, etc., etc….

What are your views on independent publishing?

At first I figured being published traditionally was really the only way to go. I’m changing my tune rapidly as the entire industry is changing and I see my friends getting more money and having more control.

However, I do admit that my publisher, Mockingbird Lane Press, has been very patient and kind to me and I have learned so much. Frankly, I really couldn’t have done it on my own as a new author.

Can you recommend any indie books/authors?

Lasher Lane’s Deadlight; Simon Okill’s  Nobody Loves a Bigfoot Like a Bigfoot Babe; Tony Riches’ The Shell;

and last, but certainly not least, YOUR book, Christoph, The Luck of the Weissensteiners!! (NO KISS UP HERE, simply the truth!)

Aw, thank you. What would your friends tell us if we asked for your best and your oddest qualities?

Interesting question….my oddest quality, which I totally attribute to my OCD, is I can’t let go of things easily.  For my kids, it has meant me reminding them over and over again to do something (they’ve learned to make a joke out of it), and if I get hurt by someone, it takes a while to clear my system.

My best quality, I have been told by family, friends, and students, is that I really care about them, and will always listen to them and help them if I can.

What are your favourite animal/color/outdoor activity?

Cat/periwinkle blue/used to be tennis (can’t because of knee issues), gardening

 What would you take to a remote island?

My husband (even though your question wasn’t with who).  He is so smart, he could figure out a way to provide me with food, shelter, and caring.

What are you writing at the moment and where would we find out about your next projects?

My website, www.srmallery.com, has synopses of both Unexpected Gifts and the upcoming Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads.  I am doing last minute edits on the latter. As for my next project, I am in the very beginning stages of it––research, formulating, etc, so I don’t really want to talk about it quite yet.  However, it will involve a missing persons case during the American Civil War. 

Here are some links:

Website:  www.srmallery.com

Facebook: S. R. Mallery (Sarah Mallery) http://on.fb.me/13fFI4T

Amazon page: http://amzn.to/13ar2pa

Book Trailer: http://bit.ly/18cSWUG

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/13NBxA2

Twitter: SarahMallery1


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