Graduate Deb Kristina on How Grandma Taught Her How to Party

Kristina Riggle is a Graduate Debutante from the class of 2009, where she celebrated the release of her debut, Real Life & Liars. Her new book, The Life You’ve Imagined, releases Tuesday. The new novel tells of three friends and a mother connected by a dying family business, learning to cope with life as it is, not as they planned. It’s an IndieNext Notable pick for September.

Thanks for having me back at the Ball! I love going to a party, and I also love to throw a party. The planning, shopping, food preparation, even the cleaning! I love that few minutes when the house is clean, set up, and I’m just waiting for the first guests. Even though my parties are casual, I’m usually a little dressed up, because why not? It’s an occasion, even if the occasion is something like, Hey, we haven’t had anyone over in a while… I’m a fiercely social person and it’s one of my simple joys to sit in the midst of a crowd of people in my house, a buzz of chatter all around me.

At first, the origins of my hostess habit seem mysterious. My parents are on the shy side, and gatherings at our house were infrequent.

But there’s my Grandma Riggle. Mary Helen, as she is known to everyone (never just “Mary”) has always been the consummate hostess. When my husband first had dinner at her house, I cautioned him to take only about half the food he thought he’d eat, because she would insist he take second helpings. As gentle as she is, saying no to her is well-nigh impossible.

Grandma loved a picnic, either in her backyard, or at the beach. These events were swarming with relatives, and every horizontal surface was covered with plates, bowls and platters of divine summer food. There were deviled eggs, sweet corn, grilled meat, salads of every kind, pitchers of lemonade and iced tea (not sweet, we’re northern, after all) and cans of beer for the men who would gather in a circle around my Grandpa at the grill, talking about fish and baseball and whatever else men discuss at picnics.

The screen door would creak open and snap closed all day as the women rushed in and out getting more of this and that dish, extra napkins, more ketchup.

Some days rain threatened, but Grandma never doubted the sun would burst through the clouds. Often it did, just in time. Sometimes, it rained, and we’d cram into the house, or under the beach pavilion, and we had fun anyway. Deviled eggs, lemonade and beer, how could we not?

Mary Helen is now 94, and her hostessing days are behind her. She’s ill, and at the moment in a nursing home. Recently I visited her with my parents. As we sat under the gazebo talking of old times, Grandma said, “Say, John, why don’t you go to the fridge and get us some beers?”

In the twilight of her life now, no longer at home, she’s still playing hostess. What I would have given to conjure up some real beer right then! (We made do with cold water.)

No matter how long she has left with us in his life, a part of her will always be with me, especially when I prepare hors d’ouerves (she used to jokingly call them “horse doovers” and for years I thought that’s what they were really called). She’ll be with me when I greet my guests, invite them in, and make sure they have second helpings.


News Flash, November 22

The very first review of Restoring Harmony by Deb Joelle is up at Princessbookie‘s site and she gave it five cupcakes! If you want a sneak peak, she’s also organizing (for a limited time) an ARC tour by mail.

Author Irene Zutell is giving away a copy of her book, Pieces of Happily Ever After! To enter, just leave a comment on Irene’s guest blog on The Debutante Ball from Nov. 14. She’ll pick a winner this week!

And the winner of the giveaway for Wendy Lyn Watson‘s book I Scream, You Scream is Kim Stagliano! Keep watching and commenting on our guest authors – we’re going to have more giveaways!

Graduate Deb Kristina is celebrating a new book deal for two more books! That makes a total of four under contract for those keeping score at home. (The Life You’ve Imagined is due out August 2010). The Publishers Marketplace announcement goes like this: “Author of Real Life & Liars Kristina Riggle’s HERITAGE HILL, a novel of a blended family in which a missing teenager and a volatile ex-wife could destroy the fragile bonds of a struggling household built on the optimistic premise that love can conquer all, again to Lucia Macro at Avon, in a very nice deal, in a two-book deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (NA).”


News Flash, November 1

Graduate Deb Kristina
will be signing Real Life & Liars at Literary Life Bookstore & More, 758 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday, Nov. 5 starting at 7 p.m. She’ll also have postcards available for a sneek peek at the new book coming out in August, The Life You’ve Imagined.

Founding Deb Anna David has a new book deal! As announced recently in Publishers Marketplace: “Author of Party Girl and Bought, journalist Anna David’s WHAT I SAY I WANT: One Woman’s Quest to Find the Perfect Man or the Perfect Me, about the year she spends following the advice of Cosmo’s Helen Gurley Brown to change her life — and finally determine if she really wants to find “the one” and settle down or accept her life the way that it is, to Jennifer Schulkind at Harper Paperbacks, by Andy McNicol at William Morris Endeavor.”

Graduate Deb Meredith is very pleased to announce she has been picked as NJ Bergen County’s “Invite an Author” for the month of November. The libraries will be showcasing POSED FOR MURDER and inviting her to book discussion groups.

News Flash, September 6

The Debutante Ball has been nominated for a Book Bloggers Appreciation Week Award for the most collaborative blog. Way to go Debs AND all of our fabulous collaborators!

Australian rights sold for The Opposite of Me by Deb Sarah! Simon & Schuster Australia will publish simultaneously with Simon & Schuster’s Atria/Washington Square Press imprint on March 9, 2010.

Deb Joelle is excited to announce her first blurb for her novel Restoring Harmony (Putnam, May 2010) by one of her favourite authors. Armed with only a fiddle and a keen sense of the land, Molly is the best kind of heroine–smart, feisty and courageous. Anthony writes with tenderness and imbues her story with hope. Suzanne Selfors, author of SAVING JULIET and COFFEHOUSE ANGEL (read the entire blurb here)

Want to see Graduate Deb Kristina in action? An eight-minute television interview aired recently on a local TV show called Take Five, and is archived here. Also, Real Life & Liars is a September pick at Book End Babes, a cool new chain of book clubs launched by former Deb guest Malena Lott. To that end, there’s a video of Kristina reading from Liars, here.

Check out what else Malena and the Book End Babes are up to by clicking here, including information on how to start your very own chapter so you can party with your girlfriends and start a reading revolution!.

Hi Joelle,

I had a chance to look at your site today. I know I said I wouldn’t modify anything before I contacted you again, however I found some dangerous files on your site, and felt immediate action was more appropriate.
There were two different exploits hidden on your site. One was a package called “c999sh” which can allow a hacker to gain shell access to the underlying server (behind WordPress). That is very dangerous. This exploit was stored in a file “wp-includes/wp-functions.php” but this is not a real WordPress file. I’ve deleted this file, its not necessary for the correct operation of WordPress.
The second exploit was prepended to your current theme “Beautiful Day”. Like the other exploit, this allowed someone to execute code on the underlying server. I couldn’t locate a correct copy of that theme from anywhere online but in reading the way the code was constructed I’m pretty certain I’ve neutralized the threat. The exploit was stored in a file “wp-content/themes/beautiful-day-10/header.php”. I’ve removed the offending code but otherwise left the theme itself intact.
I also manually looked for other similar exploits but didn’t find any.
You should probably copy the text above and forward it to your friend. Its possible this exploit has affected his other sites too.
There was one file heavily modified from the original WordPress distribution for the currently installed version. I don’t quite understand why but the modifications do not appear to be dangerous. I need to do some more research before I can safely attempt an upgrade.

It’s the last dance… by Deb Kristina

It’s the last dance, each beat of the last dance…

I have a Frank Sinatra CD and those words above begin one of my favorite songs on the album, and Ol’ Blue Eyes is crooning in my head as I write this.

Is it really my last dance as a 2009 Debutante? It seems like only yesterday I was playing with my string of pearls, tugging my gloves tight and adjusting my tiara, tapping my foot impatiently for my turn on the floor, seeing as I was the last Deb out.

I think I’m ready to take my bow, though.

I worried there would be a post-dance letdown. When I was a kid, I used to build up important, long-awaited events to such an impossible proportion that sometimes the letdown occurred right in the middle of the fun. I’d count the days, even the hours until a vacation and then I’d be there at the beach with the lake water too cold and sand in my sandwich thinking, well, crap this wasn’t as great as I thought it would be.

I feared this for my book launch. It was the culmination of six years of work, and many years of daydreaming before that. I’d even bought a book launch dress, on clearance last fall, and never wore it until my debut night at my local bookstore Schuler Books and Music.

I walked into Schuler – extremely early, because I’m particular like that – and my heart started pounding at the sight of all those empty chairs. It was a hot, gritty day, the kind that feels like you’re standing under a hair dryer every minute outside. Did no one want to venture to their cars in weather like this? Maybe everyone ran out of time at the last minute…

Then my heart jumped into my throat as I saw a woman stroll casually by with a copy of my book – my book! – in her arms. I ducked behind a shelf in case she knew who I was. I wasn’t ready to be “on” yet.

I wandered the store to distract myself from the empty reading space, and by the time I wandered back, I exhaled. There were people. Enough for a respectable turnout. By the time I started reading, the respectable turnout had become “standing room only,” at least until more chairs were fetched.

The audience held friends old and new, relatives, store book club members, aspiring writers, and teachers who knew me from elementary school and brought photocopied yearbook pages. Afterward, we gathered at Pietro’s down the road and I got more time to talk to people who were proud of me, celebrating with me.

Was there letdown? No, actually, not a bit. Because I had an event the next night, and the night after that. They were each special in their own way. Even my most sparsely attended reading was nice because I posed for a picture with a young lady who wants to be a writer, too. To her, I was a celebrity, someone worth a souvenir photo. I hope I get to come to her book party someday.

Book events are spilling over into the fall, too, and now they feel like part of my job. Fun, but not on par with say, my wedding day, or the birth of my children.

I get a break for most of September and then I’m back at it in October. If you want to keep track of me after I take my bow here at the Ball, you can go to my website’s “Events” page, and even better sign up for my newsletter at the Contact page. You can also friend me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter. I plan to continue blogging Mondays at Red Room.

In the meantime, as fun as this dance was, I’m ready to curtsy and be seated.

These shoes are killing me.


News Flash, August 23

bookcoverThe Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Deb Tiffany is featured in the Kirkus Big Book of Fall Fiction under Debut Fiction. Look for a well-written summary and a brief interview. Little Giant will be released in paperback this January.

Deb Kristina‘s REAL LIFE & LIARS is a Target “Breakout” pick now through October, highlighted as a book “everyone will be talking about” alongside former Deb guest Allison Winn Scotch and the paperback version of her New York Times bestseller, Time Of My Life.

Debs are reading

Deb Kristina is reading SELF STORAGE by Gayle Brandeis, which she won in an auction to support the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, a worthy cause worth a click to check out. (Also, SELF STORAGE is engrossing and compelling!)


In which Deb Kristina says “son of a %#&#*!”

liarscoverthumbnailMy bad habit is something I’ve by now given up. Well, mostly.

Swearing. It’s coarse, tacky, definitely unladylike … but let’s face it, nothing vents pressure like letting fly with a really satisfying curse. The apex of my swearing history occurred during my news reporter days when, in certain situations, I would swear like a merchant marine. I’m a little ashamed to admit this when I consider certain people who have never heard me swear and would be shocked to imagine this filthy habit. But then, not really ashamed. It was situational: I wouldn’t swear in front of children, or people who would be offended, or during settings where professional, appropriate behavior was expected.

But newspaper people can be a boisterous, gruff bunch. And the beat that I covered at the paper, City Hall, meant I was often rubbing elbows with old-school politicians and union guys: at work, yes, but also at happy hour downtown or the neighborhood dive bar. I was acting like one of the boys. It wasn’t a calculated effort, it just happened. And I can’t lie, I’ll admit I enjoyed watching the union guys look shocked when I cursed right along with them. See, I’m of petite stature, and overall I’m a pretty boring, do-good kind of gal. There’s not much about me that’s shocking. It’s a rare treat.

Though the late George Carlin seemed to think the shock over swear words is pretty stupid, I think we have to admit that these words have power. Maybe their only power comes from the fact that they’re forbidden, but it’s power nonetheless. If there’s a word we are not allowed to say because it’s shocking and crude in polite society, when a really strong, sudden emotion comes up, it’s only natural to want to exclaim with one of those forbidden, powerful words.

Cursing is on my mind lately because I recently received a gentle admonishment from a relative about some swearing in Real Life & Liars. It went something like this —thoughtful and intelligent people find other words to use. Well, she’s right. But I fall back on the classic author defense: My characters were not behaving in a thoughtful and intelligent way when they cursed. I write realistic fiction, and the kind of people I write are fallible in many ways, occasional foul language being only one of them.

I’ll give you an example, but I’ll bleep it out because we have young-adult authors and readers around here. My character, Katya, is furious because Charles, her husband, seems confused and overwhelmed by what to do with his own children, and she thinks – she thinks it, does not even say it out loud – Tend to them yourself for once in your life, you lousy, selfish (blankety blank.) It rhymes with “what a trucker.” Not thoughtful or intelligent I’ll grant you, but honest and angry.

Recently, when working on my second book, I was writing an exchange of dialogue and in one character’s speech, the worst swear word I know came right out of my keyboard. Four letters, starting with C. Yep, that one. Even in my merchant-marine days that would have made me cringe.

The character uttering this vile word is a despicable, abusive cretin, and he was trying to be as vicious as possible. In other words, absolutely in character.

However, I deleted the word and used another expression that still drove the point home. You see, that word is the most shocking one I could choose and I fear that if I used it, the reader would be yanked out of the moment, shocked so badly that the one word would overshadow the whole scene.

Even in swearing, I choose my words carefully, and that’s what being a writer is all about.

Now. This post is supposed to be about Deb bad habits. I’m not a reporter anymore. I’m a mom, and as such I’ve (mostly) cleaned up my language. That means if I drop a pan on my foot I’m inclined to mutter, “Son of a.” and stop right there. (Which meant my infant daughter went around once saying something that sounded like “Suh-va! Suh-va!”)

I generally try to use thoughtful and intelligent language in my everyday speech (though it’s harder when I drop a pan on my foot). No promises, though, when it comes to my badly behaved, impulsive, occasionally crass characters.

[Brief aside: The fabulously successful and talented Jennifer Weiner had to confront this recently in the setting of a public reading, when a bookstore asked her to please tone down her language considering the Sunday afternoon time of the reading and the proximity to the children’s section. The whole story is here on Edward Champion’s blog. Looking this up allowed me to Google “Jennifer Weiner reading cock” by the way, which I thought was really funny.]


News Flash, August 16

Deb Kristina‘s REAL LIFE & LIARS is the book of the month at Literary Life & More bookstore in Grand Rapids. Meanwhile, the blog Bookfinds calls the novel “amazing” and says, “It is the kind of book you want to curl into on a rainy Sunday and finish in one sitting.” Read the whole review here.

Deb Eve will be promoting FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA in Delaware this week. She’ll be at Atlantic Books on Highway 1 in Lewes on Friday, August 21, from 10:30 – 1:30 and at Browse About Books in Rehobeth Beach on Saturday, August 22. She’ll also be interviewed on 92.7 FM on Thursday morning.

Graduate Deb Tish Cohen announced that “film rights to INSIDE-OUT GIRL sold to producers Steven Pearl (Untraceable, The Baster) and Rosalie Swedlin, with the wildly talented Allison Burnett (Fame, Untraceable, Autumn in New York, Feast of Love) adapting for film” with Tish herself signed on as consulting producer!


In which Deb Kristina uses books as comfort food (not literally)

liarscoverthumbnailOne of my habits is to turn back to old favorites in times of stress. I suppose this is like “comfort food”. There are certain movies I’ve watched so many times I can recite whole scenes, for example. I laugh before I get to the funny parts because I know they’re coming and laugh again when they happen. There’s comfort in that.

I do something similar with books. I’m reading THE EMBERS by Hyatt Bass right now and I just love it. I’m so engaged with this family, so caught up in their struggles, that I dare not read it before falling asleep, for fear I won’t be able to stop thinking about them when I turn out the light. But I nearly always read before I go to sleep. What to do, then?

I turn to my old favorites. This is a weird selection, I realize. They are not necessarily the best books in my collection. BELOVED by Toni Morrison is an amazing novel, but I can’t read it to relax. It’s too exquisite and powerful for that. Nor are my comfort food books always light, relaxing reading. I don’t try to understand myself anymore, I just go with it. (I think my husband has the same thought about me.)

So, here’s an incomplete sampling of some of those comfort food books (and who wouldn’t need comfort when stranded on a desert island?)

THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. What? You might reasonably ask. A 40-year-old treatise on feminism that was assigned to you in a college class is comfort reading? What’s wrong with you? All I can say is that this book resonated with me in the 1990s and still does. Despite all the strides women have made, I still sometimes feel guilty pursuing my passion when I could be baking homemade cookies for my kids, and I know I’m not the only woman to still feel this way. Reading this book reminds me that it’s not only OK, for me it’s necessary to have a life beyond the home. Thanks, Betty Friedan.

, by Zoe Heller. Another one that’s not light reading. But I’m astounded by the skill Heller displays in this book with her deft character development and the many layers of her narrator. I admire it like a car nut would walk around and around a vintage restored muscle car, giving it a low whistle of approval.

BREATHING LESSONS, by Anne Tyler. I’ve blogged about this one before. This is one of the major inspirational books of my writing life.

WAITING TO EXHALE, by Terry McMillan. It’s a fun, engaging read, and by now it’s started to seem quaint, having come out in 1990 or so. It’s almost nostalgic, even, for that reason.

THE LAST GIRLS, by Lee Smith. I heard her read from this book at a literary festival in Key West, and got a chance to exchange a few words with her. Thus one of my favorite things to do is re-read the chapter she read aloud, which means I hear it in her lilting Southern accent, especially the very funny line (hilarious in context): “Hell is direct lighting.” This book is a beautiful, finely drawn blend of comedy and drama with delicate character portraits. I was reading it last night, in fact.

So there you go. I don’t know what this list says about me, but as I said, I don’t try to understand or question everything I do anymore. I just like what I like and on a desert island, who’s going to care, anyway?


In which Deb Kristina doesn’t hear from Oprah

liarscoverthumbnailI’m willing to bet it’s the Number One thing a new author hears: “You should go on Oprah!”

There’s so much packed into that statement. It’s a compliment: “You really could get on Oprah! You’re book is just as good as MIDDLESEX!” It’s optimism: “Your book would stand out from the pack, I just know it!” It’s cheerleading: “I want you to be a success and I know that would do it for sure!” And yes, it’s naivete: “Just send your book in! Maybe she’ll love it! It can’t hurt!”

I wonder how many books Oprah gets? And by “Oprah” I mean “Harpo Studios” where I imagine a platoon of assistants combing through thousands of packages. I imagine a horde of publicists on the phone and over e-mail, pitching to Oprah’s staff. And even more books sent in by hopeful authors – literary novelists from trade publishing houses and Aunt Bertha with her self-published memoir about quilting – on the premise that “It can’t hurt.”

I don’t know exactly how Oprah chooses her books. If I knew that – along with the top-secret list of which stores report to The New York Times bestseller list — I’d hold the keys to the kingdom. I’m willing to bet it’s a mix of personal preference, recommendations from friends (the same way you and I choose books) and maybe some publicists make their way through the layers of approval to get books in front of Ms. Winfrey herself. And I’ll bet that tiny percentage of books making it through still leaves a sizable pile for her to read and consider.

Well, of course it would be great to be chosen. Great? Who am I kidding? It would be an amazing honor. I remember watching Ken Follett (PILLARS OF THE EARTH) greeted by Oprah’s studio audience with a deafening, passionate ovation usually reserved for Brad Pitt or Bono. I thought: wow, anyone who can do that for the written word is my kind of person.

I’m sure if the publicity team at HarperCollins had any way to get me on that stage, they would. But just like I can’t mail my book to Meryl Streep and expect there’s one single iota of likelihood she’ll star in the film version of REAL LIFE & LIARS (wouldn’t she make a great Mira, though?) chucking my book onto the mountain at Harpo wouldn’t accomplish much more than adding to the job security of the aforementioned platoon of assistants.

It really is sweet though, that these people who want me to have success beyond my wildest dreams. So I’ve developed a standard answer to the Oprah remark. I smile and say, “Stranger things have happened. In fact, stranger things have happened on Oprah!”

In the meantime, I’ll content myself with the warm reception I get from readers and booksellers, because even without a rock-star ovation, that’s an honor, too.

Deb Kristina

p.s. Speaking of warm receptions, the closing days of my summer book tour were excellent. Those of you on Facebook can see a short video of me reading from LIARS and answering questions (such as, how many rejections did I get on the book?) at Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Michigan. It can be found on my profile, and the profile of Saturn, too.