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Ghost Canyon

Jacquelyn Mitchard  (Author - 'Cage Of Stars') Jacquelyn Mitchard (Author - 'Cage Of Stars')

'Enveloping The Ritual of Art'

Jacquelyn Mitchard's first novel, 'The Deep End of the Ocean' (Viking, 1996), launched Oprah's Book Club and became a hugh international bestseller, hitting #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and selling over three million combined copies.

Mitchard has appeared on the Today show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, MSNBC, and numerous other local and national television and radio programs. She is a contributing editor for Parenting® magazine and writes a weekly syndicated column which appears in more than 100 newspapers across the country. Her articles have appeared in Newsweek, Life®, Reader's Digest, TV Guide, Ladies' Home Journal, and many other publications.

Now the author of 'The Deep End of the Ocean' delivers a compelling, emotionally charged tale of tragedy, revenge, and redemption in her latest book, 'Cage Of Stars.'

12-year-old Veronica Swan's idyllic life in a close-knit Mormon community is shattered when her two younger sisters are brutally murdered. Although her parents find the strength to forgive the deranged killer, Scott Early, Veronica cannot do the same. Years later, she sets out alone to avenge her sisters' deaths, dropping her identity and severing ties in the process. As she closes in on Early, Veronica will discover the true meaning of sin and compassion, before she makes a decision that will change her and her family's lives forever.

Chatting recently with Jacquelyn with regard her brand new novel 'Cage Of Stars,' I first wondered what had been the spark that had ignited the idea for this novel? Was it based on any real-life crime? "Only twice in my career have real-life crimes suggested the “opening notes,” if you will, of novels I later wrote. Both incidents were so haunting I could never escape them. I thought about one of them for years before I ever wrote fiction. Thirty years ago, when I was starting college, a boy named Stephen Stayner was kidnapped on his way home from school. After seven years, he was returned to his family, when the same man abducted another boy—a boy roughly the age Stephen had been when he was taken. The man was a pedophile, who alternately abused and “fathered” Stephen. In 2000, two of the five children of a family named Carpenter were murdered when a stranger armed with a pitchfork attacked the children, who were at home in the care of their oldest sister, 14 year-old Jessica. In my novel The Deep End of the Ocean, Ben, the boy who was abducted, had an older brother, Vincent, who became deeply troubled and delinquent after the family’s loss. Though I never knew this, Cary Stayner, the older brother of Stephen—who became a motorcycle police officer and died in an accident in his 20s—became not a troubled teen who stole a teacher’s cars but a killer. Cary Stayner murdered a mother and daughter and their guest, a foreign exchange student, in Yosemite. Even more strange is the fact that both the original crimes took place in the small town of Merced, California, a fact I did not know at the time I began my research."

You said on your Web site ( that 'Cage of Stars' was a “... chance to grapple with a character’s moral struggle, and with those ancient questions (such as, do two wrongs make a right?).” Why did you make the main character, Veronica “Ronnie” Swan, the sister of the victims, rather than one of their parents? Was age a factor? "Age was a factor. Barely more than a child herself, Veronica didn’t have the maturity or even the full security of her religious faith to help her through the stages of grief. Even her parents, who were both devout, barely functioned in their family and community for years. I saw Ronnie’s age as giving me a protagonist who was both more vulnerable and liable to take risks—both of which were important to the story. However, those questions of moral rectitude and the efficacy of revenge bedevil all of us, no matter what age we are."

Why did you choose to make the family Mormons? Since the novel does discuss a great deal about the Church of latter-day Saints and the beliefs of its members, where did you get your insights and information? "First of all, it’s not intended to be an exposé or even to entirely re-create factually the life of a real Mormon family, as some rituals and beliefs among Mormons are private. I chose to make the family Mormon because I wanted their faith to set them apart from the world, but also allow them to be of the world—in a way that would not have been possible had they been part of a more “cloistered” religion, such as the Amish faith. I have longtime friends who are Mormons, and I went to live with them in their home and attend their church for a short time in Provo, so that I could render much of at least the sense of the LDS faith in a genuine way. Mormons also have a strict code of behavior. They believe that deeds and not only words of contrition are necessary to atone for a wrong. And yet, my friend knew a couple whose child had been killed by a negligent driver, and lived in torment until they were able to forgive him. Like the Swans, they were faithful but unusually liberal Mormons, which is not the norm."

A love story runs parallel to the novel’s theme of retribution and justice. It, however, presents another conflict for Ronnie. Did you have a particular message in mind, such as love is blind (as is justice)? "It is, of course. But what I was actually thinking more about was the axiomatic belief that love can overcome anything—even grief and death."

There is great emotional pain in this novel. Do the content and themes of a book you are in the process of writing affect you? How do you handle the transition from the world of your novel to your daily life? "It’s excruciating. I don’t write about these things to manipulate the emotions of my readers, or to torment myself. I have seven children, and the loss of one of those children is probably the only thing on earth that would drive me mad—as I’ve lost a mother, a brother, a husband. I write about these emotions sometimes, because they become so compelling to me that I can’t handle them—process them—in any other way than writing."

How much do you consciously use symbolism in your writing? For instance, why did you choose Swan as Ronnie’s family name? "If a writer is entirely conscious of the symbols he or she chooses, the reader is going to feel a heavy hand on the back of the neck, saying, “Look here!” I suppose I simply believed it was a pretty name; but I know what swans symbolize in terms of transformation and, moreover, how fiercely protective they are of their young."

Fate, more than choice, determines many events in this novel. Are you telling readers that life’s seemingly random events do happen for a reason? Or is it simply one of the joys of writing that an author can give meaning to senseless tragedy and coincidence? "The latter. I think that it is true that fate tips the balance. But we are in the presence of our fate in part because of the choices we’ve made. The children’s death was a random event; but Ronnie’s choice was determinant and intentional. What happened as a result of that choice was a combination of fate and choice. I think Ronnie would believe that all of the events had happened for a reason, as part of God’s plan."

Will you share some of your creative process with us? How do you go about developing a story? Do you base characters on real people? How carefully do you plot your novel before you write it? "I plan and outline my story before I ever sit down to write the first sentence. It must have a title and a general shape, though the way that I will “color in” the lines is a huge part of the creative choice. Down to the number of chapters and almost to the nature of the ending, and even the last sentence, I know generally where the story is headed. Some characters, such as Anne Singer in my second novel, The Most Wanted, are entirely based on real people. Gordon McKenna in A Theory of Relativity was almost completely based on my brother’s stories of himself in his early 20s—Gordon even is his middle name. Most of them are like vegetable soup—a little of this and a little of that—and all of them are, of course, to some degree, the author."

You began your writing career as a journalist, and you still write a nationally syndicated column. How has that influenced your discipline as a writer? Would you advise aspiring writers to find a job that requires them to write for their daily bread? "Being a reporter helped me learn discipline, how to make language precise, and to make choices quickly. I think it helped me be concise in writing (though some would argue with this). It helped me learn how to go to the sources of information I needed. But personally, I think more lawyers and physicians make the transition to writing fiction successfully than we reporters do."

Since you were and are a journalist, how did that shade your depiction of the journalists in this novel? How do you feel about the “feeding frenzy” of media coverage created by a sensational crime? "Naturally, I find it disturbing and so do all reasonable reporters. But the frenzy is self-perpetuating; the media presents it, and the public drives it by hungering for more and yet more. The most upsetting component of that kind of news coverage is the way it catches families in the headlights, unshielded and unprepared."

You also wrote on your Web site that besides The Deep End of the Ocean, your best known work, you have written other bestsellers, and some were even better than the one that made you famous. Which is your favorite book and why? "I think that this book, without being coy, is the best—the leanest and most precisely told. I didn’t “kitchen-sink” this book by overstuffing the plot. However, my favorite is probably The Most Wanted, which also is the most flawed of all my books, probably because of the obsessions it explores."

You travel quite a bit, it seems. What are some of your favorite places? Have they or will they appear in your books? "It seems that way, doesn’t it? It’s usually always for work or research. But I wrote the novella Christmas, Present while in Italy researching another book not yet written, and the British Virgin Islands will figure hugely in my next novel. Italy is undoubtedly my favorite place on earth; and I’ve set parts of novels on the east coast, which has been another important place to my family. I’ve been to Australia only once, but I’m mad to go back."

What’s in your near future? Have you another novel “in the works”? Is there anything developing in your personal life that you can share with us? "There’s certainly not another child, I can assure you! Seven is the limit! But a new novel about four women in the most unlikely jeopardy is upcoming, as well as possible stories that have as part of their underpinnings conflicts over Mexican immigration, artistic theft by a husband of a wife’s ideas, a twist on the desperation of infertility and on the psychic closeness of twins…I don’t think I’ll run out!"

If you would like to win a copy of Jacquelyn Mitchard's new book 'Cage Of Stars,' just answer this easy question: Twelve-year-old Veronica "Ronnie" Swan witnesses the murder of her two sisters in her family's yard in tiny Cedar City, Utah. Murderer Scott Early is immediately apprehended, but is diagnosed with schizophrenia and ends up spending just three years in a state mental hospital. When Ronnie comes of age she tracks Early to San Diego, but what job does she undertake at that initial time?

Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new books! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'CAGE OF STARS BOOKs' to:

'Cage Of Stars' Book Purchase Link

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